No Going Back

“Looking back is a bad habit”, said John Wayne in “True Grit”. Biblically speaking, he was dead right. Jesus warned us to remember Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32) who, we are told, looked back with fatal results (Gen. 19:26). He also said that anyone who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is unfit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Admonishments like these suggest that Scripture as a whole has much more to say on the issue, and it is worth further exploration.

The Bible begins at the beginning (of creation). This very fact implies it has an end, both an objective and a terminus. Creation (Genesis) leads inexorably to consummation (Revelation). For the earth was created to be inhabited (Isa. 45:12,18; Jer. 27:5) until, like the law (Mt. 5:18; 2 Cor. 3:11) but in contrast to the word of the eternal God (Mt. 24:35), it has served its purpose of producing the children of God (Rom. 8:21) and ceases to exist (Gen. 8:22), mission accomplished (Rev 21:1).

It is scarcely surprising that in this broad setting of forward movement the Bible provides many pictures illustrating conformity to the basic pattern. This assertion would appear to be contradicted almost at the start by the sin of Adam and Eve which was essentially a sign of or a bid for independence. Yet, while they can hardly be said to have made acceptable moral progress, their ejection from the Garden of Eden to which they cannot return (Gen. 3:24), has at least launched them, and indeed mankind, on a journey under the grace of God towards the unseen goal of a glorious salvation in Christ. In the event, until the covenant with Noah is put into effect, moral degeneration seems to preponderate. But, despite the judgement of the flood, God commits himself to dealing graciously with man despite his inherent tendency to sin (Gen. 8:21f.). Thus we are led to draw the conclusion, suggested in the preceding paragraph, that God will complete his purpose despite man (cf. Gen. 28:15). In other words, with him there is no going back, for as we learn later he remains faithful to the end and cannot deny himself (Jer. 31:3; 2 Tim. 2:11-13, cf. Heb. 6:17-20). Even the judgement on Babel and the scattering of the people, which thwarted man’s attempt to reach heaven by his own efforts, will contribute to the achievement of the divine objective.

Abraham

The nature of the God’s purpose is clarified by the story of Abraham. Having separated him from his background in Ur of the Chaldees, God tells Abram that he will make him a blessing to all the families of the earth by making him a great nation and giving a land to his descendants (Gen. 12:1-7). It is a question here of a divine destination and destiny from which there can be no ultimate deviation despite the ever-present tendency, characteristic of Adam and Eve and hence of all mankind, to “follow after your own heart and your own eyes” (Num. 15:39, cf. Gen. 8:21). The implication is that Abraham’s original separation from Ur of the Chaldees is permanent and the fulfilment of the promises is a dominant theme from the time Abraham first believed them till Joshua leads the people across the Jordan into Canaan. For, though, as the author of Hebrews tells us, there was opportunity to return, Abraham and his family were seeking another homeland (Heb. 11:13-16). So, if we may speak somewhat anachronistically and metaphorically, they had crossed the Rubicon, burnt their bridges behind them. The forward march of history, despite setbacks, frustrations, disappointments and above all lapses into sin, evidenced particularly in the life of Jacob, was now firmly established.

Evidence of Abraham’s refusal to return, undergirded by his deep commitment to his calling and unwavering faith in God’s promises, is provided in Genesis 24. Here it is a question of a wife for his only son Isaac who inherited the promises made to his father (Gen. 18:19; 22:16-18; 24:7; 26:3-5, etc.). In his instructions to his servant Abraham makes it palpably plain that the very idea of a Canaanite wife for Isaac is out of the reckoning (Gen. 24:3f., cf. 28:1 re Jacob). And even if a girl from his own country and people is unwilling to accept a proposal, on no account is Isaac to be taken back there (24:6,8). In the event, Rebekah commits herself and the promise remains secure. In due course, Esau and Jacob are born, and the latter’s progeny form the foundation of the nation of Israel. In contrast, the former, who is rejected, finds Canaanite wives acceptable (26:34) despite the opposition of his parents (26:35, cf. 28:8f.).

The Exodus

While the moral and social separation of Abraham’s posterity from the rest of the heathen is again brought out in the story of Dinah (Gen. 34) and the blessing (48:8- death and burial of Jacob (Gen. 49:28-50:14) despite the temporary (Gen. 48:21) return of Joseph and his brothers (50:14), it is more dramatically demonstrated in the story of the exodus. In Egypt, Israel remains distinct as an alien race (46:34; Ex. 1:9f.; 8:23; 11:7) and it is as such that they are rescued from their bondage. Throughout their sojourn, the promises of God to Abraham remain prominent (Ex. 2:24; 3:8,17; 6:4,8; 12:25; 13:11, etc.) and provide strong motivation for the exodus as such. As has already been stressed, there was to be no deviation from the divine destination (cf. Num. 15:39), and the Israelites should have pursued their goal with complete commitment (Dt. 1:8,21, cf. 41). But they did not. The people are scarcely out of Egypt and launched on their journey to Sinai before they start to complain, wishing to return (Ex. 14:10-12, cf. 13:17; 16:2f.,7f.). They are urged to go forward (14:15), however, by God himself who goes before them leading them by pillars of cloud and fire (Ex. 13:21f., cf. 23:21,23; Dt. 1:30-33) towards their intended goal (15:13,17). After the giving of the law the basic disposition of their hearts is eventually manifested by an ignominious lapse into and return to idolatry (Ex. 32, cf. Acts 7:40f.). Humanly speaking, it is only the intercession of Moses, noticeably based on the divine promise to Abraham (v.13), that saves the day.

The conflict between those who, like Moses, wish to complete their pilgrimage to the Promised Land and those who wish to return to Egypt with its wide variety of food (Num. 11:5, cf. 16:13) is a major motif in the picture painted in the book of Numbers. Confronted by his Herculean task of leading a reluctant rabble, consumed with fleshly craving (Num. 11:4; Ps. 78:18,29f.), towards their divinely appointed destination, Moses regularly intercedes with God’s promise in mind (e.g. Num. 11:12). When Israel eventually arrives on the fringes of Canaan, even the spies chosen to survey the land are divided. While the majority give a report calculated to produce a crescendo of murmuring and rebellion (14:2ff.), Caleb and Joshua are powerfully impressed by the “exceedingly good land” (14:7) they have reconnoitred and counsel faith in the God who has promised to give it to them (vv.8ff.,40). In the event, despite further rebellion, setback and testing of one kind or another, the pilgrimage is completed. Before his death on the very border of the land Moses warns regarding future kings that there must never be a return to Egypt whether for horses (Dt. 17:16) or wives – a warning that was flagrantly flouted by Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 10:28; 11:1ff.; Neh. 13:26) and others who made ungodly alliances and compromises with the surrounding nations (Ezra 9). This led inevitably, according to Jeremiah, to their going backward and not forward (7:24, 15:6, etc.), to the people becoming in some instances worse than their forefathers (Jer. 7:26; 11:10; 16:12) thus bringing judgement on themselves (cf. Jer. 15:6).

Joshua

In contrast with the perennial tendency to “return to Egypt” (Acts 7:39), there were those who showed a different spirit. Outsiders such as Rahab and Ruth (cf. the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah), like Abraham before them (Jos. 24:2f.), were prepared to move forward by leaving their ancestral idolatrous religions and link themselves with Israel and the purposes of God. Joshua, like Jacob before him (Gen. 35:2f.), provides a graphic indication of what is at issue when he challenges the people to reject the false gods of their forefathers, tear down their idolatrous altars and commit themselves unreservedly to the Lord (24:14f., cf. Gideon in Jud. 6:25-27 and Samuel in 1 Sam. 7:3).

The Rest of the Old Testament

And it is failure to do so that results in dire judgement later in Israel’s history. For the truth is that in the exiles to Assyria and Babylon the people of God do in effect go back to “Egypt”. On these occasions, however, it is not a question of rescue from famine, as it had been originally when Joseph in the plan of God had gone ahead and prepared the way (Gen. 45:5,7; 50:20), but punishment (1 K. 14:14-16; 2 K. 17:6; Hos. 7:16; 10:6; 8:13; 11:5) as Moses had warned (Dt. 28:27,58-60,64,68). Exile to Babylon meant that the people of God went back almost to Ur and recapitulated Abraham’s experience! In other words, it was like returning to childhood (cf. 1 Cor. 13:11). Even then God remained true to his purposes and, though he acted as a sanctuary to his people during their exile (Ezek. 11:16), he nonetheless fulfilled his promise of bringing them back to their land from Babylonian captivity (Jer. 25:11f.; 29:10; 32:36ff.) in a second exodus, as we learn especially in the book of Ezra (cf. Isa. 40:3-5; 41:17f.; 42:14-16; 43:1-3,14-21; 48:20f.; 49:8-12; 51:9f.; 52:11f.). Yet it has to be noted that while they are in their own land they suffer to all intents and purposes the ravages of exile as Nehemiah poignantly observes (9:36f., cf. Dt. 28:47f.), a situation that prevailed later even up to the time of Jesus when the Romans exercised their iron-fisted domination. Far from being the head they were the tail. Instead of going up, they had in effect gone down (Dt. 28:13, cf. Jer. 2:27; 7:24; 15:6).

Future Hope

While in one sense God’s people were the prisoners of hope (Zech. 9:12), eventual freedom beckoned in the form of the servant whose ear would be open, who, far from being blind and deaf (Isa. 48:8), was not rebellious and would not like Jonah turn back (Isa. 50:5). Rather, he would be totally committed to doing his Father’s will (John 4:34; 8:29) until he achieved the glory and honour of the perfection of God himself (Mt. 19:21; Heb. 1:3).

The New Testament

Though the teaching of the OT could be treated in more detail and reference made to the distant promise that the time will come when all nations will go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord (Isa. 2:2-4; Mic. 4:1f.; Zech. 8:20-23), it is time now to find out whether the same emphasis on going forward and opposition to going backward is manifest in the NT. We have already seen in the introduction words of Jesus suggesting it is. There is, however, much more to be said.

John the Baptist and Jesus

First, we need to remember that once the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land, they came more and more, particularly in the time of David, to look forward to the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God. 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 highlight the promise made by God to David build a house for his name and establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Thus eventually John the Baptist, the messenger promised long before by Malachi, when preaching in the wilderness of Judea called on the people to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Mt. 3:1f.). He insisted that the one who came after him, that is Jesus, was greater than he and possessed a superior baptism. Consequently, being true to his word, he urged his disciples to look to Jesus while his own ministry decreased (John 3:30). Even before, as well as after, John completed his course (Acts 13:25) in death at the hands of Herod, Jesus and his disciples confirmed and expanded his ministry (John 4:1f.). Much stress fell on the idea of fulfilment especially of the law, on which the Jews set great store (Mt. 5:17f.), and of the promises (Acts 2 and 3). In the event, tradition ruled the thinking of many, especially the Pharisees and their followers. The inevitable consequence of this was at best spiritual inertia and a complete failure to recognise the day of their visitation (Luke 19:44); at worst a repetition of the sins of the fathers which had been so characteristic in the OT (Mt. 23; Luke 6:23,26; 11:48; Acts 7:51f., etc.). So just as the fathers in their stubbornness killed the prophets God sent them, the Jews finally murdered the God’s own Son (1 Thes. 2:15).

So far as Jesus himself was concerned, he made it very clear that he had a mission to accomplish and taught plainly that he had come with the purpose of serving and of giving his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45, cf. John 10:17., etc.), of putting his hand to the plough by setting his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) where he would accomplish his exodus (Luke 9:31) without turning back (Isa. 50:5, cf. John 8:29; 14:31), of pioneering the regenerate life of his people (Mt. 3:15; Heb. 2:10), of finishing his course (cf. Luke 13:32; Heb. 5:9) by completing the work he had to do (John 4:34) despite his natural revulsion at the suffering that lay ahead of him (Mt. 26:39; Heb. 12:2), of returning to his Father (John 16:28), of sending the Spirit (John 16:7) and eventually of coming again to judge his enemies (2 Thes. 1:7f., cf. John 5:27; Acts 17:31) but also to bring salvation for those who love his appearing (John 14:3; 1 Thes. 4:16f.; 2 Tim. 4:8, etc.). Like Joshua and the angel of God (Ex. 33:2) in the OT, our Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us (John 14:2f.) in anticipation of presenting us to the Father (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Pet. 3:18). In sum, Jesus’ entire earthly life is one of progressive spiritual maturation, of complete or perfect human development in conformity with the will of God (Mt. 5:48; John 4:34; 5:30; 8:29, etc.) fitting him to become the paradigm of his people (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:3; 3:1f.). His, as B.B.Warfield correctly maintained, was “the only strictly normal human development, from birth to manhood, the world has ever seen” (Selected Shorter Writings, p.160). In other words, as the true Son of God, Jesus began his ascent to heaven, uninterrupted (except by the cross which involved the hiding of his Father’s face) from the moment of his conception until he was received in glory (Heb. 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:16).

The Apostolic Church

Once the Holy Spirit had descended on the disciples the same pattern of the progress or advance of the kingdom of God was evident among Christian witnesses as the true spiritual descendants of Abraham who God had promised would inherit the world (Rom. 4:13, cf. Gal. 3:29). Apostles and disciples imbued with the Spirit of God invaded the devil’s domain (Acts 8:1,4) as Jesus had done before them (Mt. 12:29) with the result that people turned from darkness to light (Acts 26:18; 1 Pet. 2:9; Col. 1:13) in accordance with the promise made long before in Isaiah (42:6; 49:6). Like Jesus, Paul gave himself unstintingly to his Saviour’s cause. He too, convinced that God would complete the work he had begun (Phil. 1:6), sought to finish his course (Acts 20:24; 2 Tim. 4:6f.), forgetting what lay behind and straining forward to what lay ahead (Phil. 3:12-14), confident, like Peter (1 Pet. 5:4) and James (1:12), that God would grant him the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8, cf. 1 Tim. 6:12). Needless to add, all believers who persevere in the faith once delivered to the saints have before them the prospect of conquering through Christ (Rom. 8:37, cf. 1 John 5:4, etc.), who himself overcame the world (John 16:33, cf. Heb. 2:9), and of being granted a seat at his side (Rev. 3:21).

Sound Doctrine

Emphasis on not turning back is not confined to the process of sanctification and ultimate perfection, however. While the NT certainly stresses the need to make progress and grow in faith, knowledge, holiness and above all in love (1 Cor. 3:1-3; 13; Col. 1:10; 2 Thes. 1:3; Heb. 5:14-6:1; 2 Pet. 3:18), it underlines the urgency of remaining doctrinally sound and, since creed determines conduct (2 Tim. 1:13f.; 3:14,16; Tit. 1:9,13; 2:1f.), believing the tradition or body of truth that has been given to us. In the letter to Galatians Paul indicates that there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8f., cf. Eph. 4:4-6) just as there is only one God (1 Cor. 8:4), and deliberately to desert or pervert it has disastrous consequences. For Gentiles to relapse into heathenism like a dog returning to its vomit (2 Pet. 2:20-22, cf. Gal. 4:8f.) or Jews who make a profession of faith only to toy with the idea of reverting to Moses, circumcision and the law that can give neither righteousness (Gal. 2:21) nor life (Gal. 3:21) is potentially fatal. At the very least it signifies a relapse into immaturity and childish behaviour (cf. Gal. 3:23-4:7), reversing the movement from flesh to spirit (1 Cor. 15:46) by returning to the flesh (Gal. 3:3). For adults to behave like children is radically reprehensible (cf. 1 Cor. 13:11). Rather, all are called on to dispense with the imperfect and pursue the perfect (cf. Mt. 5:48; Rom. 8:29; Jas. 1:4), to put away childish things (1 Cor. 3:1-3; 13:11, cf. Heb. 6:1) and in understanding strive for mature manhood (1 Cor. 14:20, cf. 3:1-4) both as individuals and as a body (Eph. 4:13-16). Not surprisingly, the Christian’s armour does not protect his back (Eph. 6:10ff., cf. Phil. 3:13f.)!

Hebrews

The author of Hebrews also spells out the result of failure to persevere by contrasting the judgement that occurred under Moses (10:28) and that which will eventuate under Christ (10:26ff., cf. 6:4-8). Indeed, it is precisely this writer who graphically portrays the ascent of believers from earth to heaven, or from the temporal to the eternal (cf. Heb. 12:22-24), by comparing it with the pilgrimage of their immature pre-Christian brethren from Egypt (the world) to the Promised Land (heaven) with its interlude at Sinai (12:18-21). And just as there was to be no return to Egypt (Dt. 17:16) so there will be no return to this temporary world of the flesh where sin, death, corruption, destruction and condemnation rule (Gal. 1:4; 6:7f., cf. John 6:63; Rom. 8:13). Rather all will be perfected together when what was promised will finally be fulfilled (11:39f.). It is worth mentioning that two of the greatest characters in the OT are said in Hebrews 11 to look forward, Abraham to the city of God (v.10, cf. 12:22; 13:14) and Moses to the reward (v.26, cf. 10:34) that lay ahead. They were strangers and exiles on the earth (11:13, cf. 1 Pet. 2:11) who clearly figured among those who did not shrink back (10:38f.) but proved themselves to be true members of the fellowship of the redeemed (1 John 2:19).

The Return of Jesus

This prompts us to ask about the return of Jesus. Does not this basic belief contradict the rule of not returning? Here we need to recall that just as Moses, after meeting God at the burning bush, returned to his people in Egypt to rescue them (Ex. 3:10) and herald judgement of the Egyptians and their gods (Ex. 12:12), so Jesus will return in the glory of the Father not to rule on earth but to rescue his own from the divine wrath and judgement (1 Thes. 4:17; Heb. 9:28, cf. 2 Thes. 1:7f.; Amos 4:11; Zech. 3:2; Jude 23) and to banish idolatry for ever (cf. Zech. 13:2; Rev. 22:3)! When this occurs the wilderness pilgrimage of believing aliens and exiles (1 Pet. 2:11) who, like Abraham (John 8:56), have glimpsed from afar the eternal city (Heb. 11:8-16, cf. 1 John 2:25; John 6:40; 17:3) and refuse to love this temporal world of temptation and sin (cf. Heb. 13:14), will be brought to its glorious end in the freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). The travail of pregnancy will finally give way to the joy of birth (John 16:20f.; Rom. 8:22f.). Then the pain and the tears of this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) will sink into oblivion (Rev. 21:3f.), lost to view in the glorified bride’s vision of her Saviour King in all his heavenly splendour (John 17:24; Rev. 22:4).

All this was of course summed up in the earthly life of Jesus himself. He who descended from the Father had it in mind from the start to ascend back to him who sent him (John 3:13; 6:62; 13:1,3; 16:28; 17:5, cf. 1 Tim. 3:16) but with many sons in train (Heb. 2:10). This entailed his doing his Father’s will to perfection, in other words, of finishing his work (John 17:4; 19:30, cf. Luke 13:32), of being himself perfected (Heb. 5:9; 7:28) and thereby perfecting his people (Heb. 5:9; 7:27; 10:5-10,12,14, cf. 9:9; 10:1,11). In light of this and the cloud of witnesses mentioned by the author of Hebrews, it is vital for us to lay aside every weight and sin and run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that lay ahead of him endured the cross and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1f.; Rev. 3:21). There he will rule until he has put all his enemies under his feet and God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

Conclusion

The old nursery rhyme had it that the pussycat had been up to London to see the queen. It is our intent as Christians, who by the grace of God have become the bride of Christ, to ascend into heaven to see the King (John 17:24; Rev. 22:4). So, as long as we are in this world, let us ever keep him in mind, steadfastly refusing to look back. John Wayne said it is a bad habit! It is more than that: it is a matter of life and death.

Footnote

What has been written above is of vital religious importance. Throughout the Bible retreat into the religious past is condemned. It is particularly noteworthy that for Abraham, Moses and Elijah, the greatest figures in the OT, going back to unadulterated heathenism was out of the question. In the NT the same is true for Paul (see especially Galatians, e.g. 3:10; 5:3 and Philippians 3, e.g. vv.7-11), Peter (1 Pet. 1:14; 4:2f.) and the author of Hebrews, e.g. 6:1-8 and 10:26:31) who warn repeatedly against returning to Judaism and heathenism alike. It is like an enlightened and responsible man deliberately returning to the ignorance and irresponsibility of childhood (cf. 1 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:14). So in these days of religious pluralism it is essential for Christians to stand their ground and resist the temptation to embrace the world’s religions, ideologies, philosophies and cults. Central to the biblical viewpoint is the teaching that there is one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent to be the one and only Saviour (John 17:3, cf. 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5). This is the pearl of great price which must be guarded at all costs. To lose it is to lose life itself (cf. Mt. 16:26).

There is perhaps a final point to make and that is that all those who refuse to turn back follow God. It is he who goes ahead of his people like a medieval king leading his troops victoriously into battle (Ex. 14:14; 15:3; Dt. 3:22,28; Jos. 24:8,11). Thus we read in Deuteronomy 1:30 (cf. 9:3; 31:3,8) how the Lord goes before the children of Israel, fights for them and leads them unerringly to their eventual destination, the Promised Land. This scenario is repeated in the NT where Jesus, the Joshua of the new covenant, is represented as going ahead of those who put their trust in him as the pioneer of their course into heaven itself (John 14:2f.; Heb. 2:10; 4:14; 6:20; 9:24;12:1-2,22-24;13:13f.).


Interpreting Romans 7

It would appear to be universally agreed that Romans 7, like Romans 11, is difficult to interpret, and there is still at the time of revising this article (2010) disagreement as to its meaning. I want to suggest that the main difficulty with the chapter arises from false presuppositions which derive from an erroneous Augustinian conceptual framework or worldview. My own conviction is that the real context is provided by covenant theology as reflected in the individual who recapitulates and epitomizes the race as depicted in chapters 1-3 (on which further below and note 10). My contention is that if exegetes seek to expound the chapter on the basis of Augustinian assumptions like original sin, which it is falsely claimed is taught in Romans 5:12-21, there is little wonder that this chapter poses potentially insoluble problems. (1* See my Thoughts on Romans 5:12-14, Thoughts on Sin in Romans, Some Arguments Against Original Sin, J.I.Packer on Original Sin, Does Romans Teach Original Sin?, Imitation, etc) Without denying the impact of Adam’s sin which he clearly teaches in Romans 5 (pace Pelagius), Paul nonetheless clearly implies its imitation or repetition in Romans 7:7-12. If this is so, to assume the imputation of Adam’s sin as opposed to its imitation is in effect to charge the apostle with self-contradiction. For it is here in Romans 7 that the re-iterated warnings of the biblical writers not to imitate the sins of the fathers reflect their permanent relevance (Ps. 78:8; 2 Chr. 30:7; Ezek. 20:18, cf. 2:3; Zech. 1:4; Acts 7:51-53).

It seems to be more widely agreed nowadays than it used to be that the law is central to this controversial passage. While it is generally agreed that one of the most pervasive contrasts in the entire Bible is that between flesh and spirit (Spirit), here in Romans 7 the contrast, even antipathy, that exists between flesh and law is the focus of attention. Why should this be so?

A clue to the answer might be that in 7:14 (cf. v.12) the law is said to be spiritual. But that does not take us far since, judging by what is said in chapter 8, there is a basic contrast between law and Spirit. However, recognition that Paul is deliberately pointing up two different categories, implying two different covenant dispensations in which the basic functions of the law and of the Spirit in relation to the flesh are different, is important. For though the law being spiritual (7:14) is inimical to the evil works of the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:7; Heb. 9:10), it lacks power (cf. Gen. 3:6; Num. 15:39). In contrast, the opposition of the Spirit to the flesh (cf. Gal. 5:17) comes with power (cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:2,13). Thus, while under the old covenant the clash between the flesh and the law results in inevitable defeat and death (Gal. 3:10-12; 5:19-21, cf. Rom. 6:23a), under the new covenant the mutual opposition between flesh and Spirit/spirit (Gal. 5:17) leads to victory and life (Gal. 5:16,18,22-24 ESV; Rom. 6:23b). Simply expressed, while the law exercises a ministry of death in those who are held captive by it (Rom. 7:6a, 23-25, cf. 2 Cor. 3:6b,7,14f.; Gal. 3:23), the Spirit exercises a ministry of life in those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 7:6b, 25a, cf. 8:4,10f.,13f.; 2 Cor. 3:6c,17f.). Or again we might say even more concisely that while mind over matter spells failure (Rom. 7:24), Spirit over matter spells success (Rom. 7:6,25a, cf. 2 Cor. 3:6; John 6:63). The difference is that between two covenants.

Sin Defined as Transgression of the Law

Already in 2:12 and 3:19f. Paul has virtually defined sin as transgression of the law (cf. James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17). In 4:15 he has made a categorical statement that where there is no law there is no sin. In 5:13 he repeats this assertion but with a slightly different nuance. In chapter 7, however, he first (v.1, cf. v.7) points out that the law operates only during a person’s (conscious) lifetime (cf. Mt. 5:18), then proceeds to illustrate this in a manner the point of which commentators in general seem to miss. In referring to the wife whose husband dies, Paul is saying yet again that where there is no law there is no sin (cf. v.6). So long as the husband is alive, the law is in force. But once the husband dies, it dies too (v.8), and, since it no longer applies, the wife is free to remarry without being stigmatized as an adulteress. (2* Cf. Fee who maintains that Paul’s point is that by identification with Christ in his death, believers, as the wife whose husband has died, are no longer bound by the law, p.503 n.84.) In verse 4 Paul draws the logical conclusion from this: since believers (the wife) are now married to a different husband, that is, Christ (and hence to the Spirit as opposed to the law/mind), they are enabled to bear fruit for God. (To paint the picture more graphically, we might say that when we are married to and fertilized by the law we bring forth sin and death, 7:5; when we are married to and fertilized by the Spirit we produce obedience, 8:4, which leads to life, 8:6.)

In verse 5, Paul implicitly maintains his assertion that there is no sin apart from (the) law which constitutes certain passions sinful (cf. Gen. 3:6). While we are in the flesh (Rom. 7:5), that is, unregenerate, we are all Jew and Gentile alike under (the) law which inexorably renders all our otherwise morally neutral passions (3* Cranfield, p.337, Fung, p.274) which involve its transgression, sinful (Rom. 3:9,19f.). (4* The idea that the law ‘arouses’, RSV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, our sinful passions not only adds to Scripture since it is not in the Greek, but also completely misses Paul’s point and does violence to his thought. Even Calvin disallowed this Augustinian idea in comment on 5:21, p. 214. How could Paul possibly make such a suggestion when he depicts so graphically, first, the unrestrained passions of the heathen who were without the Mosaic law in 1:18ff., and, second, the goodness of the law, Rom. 7:12? The passions are only sinful when they transgress law as the Genesis account of Adam and Eve makes clear, 3:6. When they received the commandment our first parents were still free to indulge their passions and eat freely of all the other trees in the garden, 2:17, cf. 3:2, cf. Dt. 30:15,19,20. So it must be firmly asserted yet again that where there is no law there is no transgression, cf. Gal. 5:23.) The truth is, as Paul says later in verse 23a, the flesh is a law to itself, that is, it follows its own inclinations, impulses or ‘motions’ (KJV) regardless of the law like fleshly animals which are ruled by the flesh but, not knowing the law, are amoral. So, bearing in mind verses 1-3 we may conclude that while there was no law against Abigail, whose husband was dead, giving way to her passion for David (cf. Gal. 5:23), there certainly was one against Bathsheba whose husband was alive (cf. 1 Cor. 15:56). In other words, when the flesh and its passions clash with law, which is incapable of acting as an adequate restraint (cf. Calvin, p.248), the inevitable result is sin (cf. 7:14, 23b) and death (7:24f.). Under the law, man as flesh and unregenerate, that is, without the Spirit, faces inevitable defeat as God always intended (Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; 1 Cor. 1:29; 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 2:16; 3:11,22, etc.). (At this point the reader might contemplate the difference between the preceptive and decretive will of God.)

All this is supported by verse 6 where Paul again implies that where there is no law, sin does not exist. Consequently, since we believers in Christ have died to the law and are no longer in bondage to the old written code (2 Cor. 3:6), we are free to serve in the new life of the Spirit.

Is the Law Sinful?

In verse 7 Paul anticipates that some of his readers, if not all, will have drawn the conclusion from what he has said that the fly in the ointment is the law. (I have heard it seriously argued in the political field that it is possible to abolish crime by abolishing the law! Whoever made such a claim had obviously never read the book of Judges.) Paul rejects this idea out of hand insisting that when the good law (v.12) dawns on our consciousness, we then become aware of the existence of sin, of covetousness in particular. Apart from Adam and Eve (cf. Gen. 3:6), he doubtless has in mind the state of the heathen, which he had portrayed earlier (Rom. 1:18ff.). So he goes on in verse 8 to indicate that sin, which does not exist where there is no law (commandment), seizes the opportunity that its proclamation and recognition affords (Rom. 7:7) and strikes its victim like a snake with a venomous and fatal bite (cf. Gen. 4:7).

Apart from Law Sin is Dead

So yet again Paul makes his point crystal clear by emphasizing that where there is no law sin lies dead (cf. the dead husband of verses 1-3). Now if this is true, we are forced to infer ineluctably that babies, like the rest of animate creation which lacks both law and the understanding (mind) by which the law is apprehended (Rom. 3:19f.; Ps. 32:9 and note Job 35:11; Ps. 94:12; Luke 12:24), cannot be sinful, since sinfulness is determined by (mental recognition of) law (cf. 2:12; 3:19f.; 7:7,22). Then, as if to put his point beyond doubt, the apostle indicates that there was once a time when he himself, like Adam and Eve before him prior to Genesis 2:17, was not under law (commandment) and hence not sinful but in fact ‘alive’ (7:9, cf. Dt. 1:39; Rom. 9:11). And it was only when the (parental) commandment (cf. Prov. 1:8; 4:1-9; 6:20) made its impact on his developing young mind that sin, seizing its chance, came to life, and Paul, like all his predecessors (cf. Rom. 3:23; 5:12) bar One, earned its wages in death. (5* The “Christian” or rather Augustinian idea that babies are sinful is totally alien to the Bible where it is plainly taught that we sin from our youth, Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:24f., not from infancy, Dt. 1:39; Rom. 9:11, etc. See again my articles on original sin including D.M.Lloyd-Jones and J. Murray on the Imputation of Adam’s Sin, Imputation, Straightforward Arguments Against the Imputation of Adam’s Sin to his Posterity at www.kenstothard.com /.) He adds for good measure that it was the commandment which promised life (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) that had the opposite effect of dealing out death. In verse 11, in words reminiscent of Genesis 3:13 (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14) when Eve was duped into eating the forbidden fruit, he underlines the nature of his death by deception which stemmed from his childlike transgression of the commandment. So he concludes that despite the indispensable role of law in his death (cf. 1 Cor. 15:56), the law/commandment as such is nonetheless holy, righteous and good (v.12).

In verse 13 Paul apparently feels compelled to raise again the question he raised in verse 7 regarding the goodness of the law. Was it tainted after all? He rejects the suggestion out of hand: it was sin, not the good and holy law that worked death in him. Why was this?
The reason was so that sin might be shown to be what it is and displayed in its true character by means of the commandment, that is, as transgression of known law. Since Paul here relates the commandment to an increase in the seriousness of sin (cf. 5:20), we must assume that there was a transition in his mind leading him from Eve’s sin, which involved an element of ignorance and deception (cf. the heathen in Rom. 1:18ff.; Eph. 4:22), to that of Adam whose sin was open-eyed and explicit (1 Tim. 2:14) like that of the Jews who had the law of Moses (cf. Gal. 3:19).

The War Between the Law and the Flesh

In verse 14 Paul brings before us the radical antipathy that exists between the spiritual law and physical flesh referred to above. The result of their collision is inevitable: the flesh or natural man being weak and susceptible to temptation like Eve and/or even rebellious like Adam is unable to keep the law (cf. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16), and once he has transgressed it, he is constituted a sinner (cf. 1 Tim. 2:14; Rom. 7:5). The apostle thus discovers his lack of self-understanding for he does the very thing he hates. So even he, the sinner, who acts in a manner contrary to his best intentions, acknowledges that the law in which he delights is good (cf. v.22). To say that, however, suggests that there is a sense in which he himself is not to blame for his law-breaking behaviour but that indwelling sin is the problem (v.17, cf. Jer. 13:23; John 8:34; Rom. 6:16, etc.). Yet, on the other hand, he realizes that there is nothing good in his natural fleshly self (cf. John 6:63) since, though he can will what is right, he cannot do it (v.18). (It might usefully be noted here that prior to his reception of the Spirit at his baptism even Jesus did no positive good. What he did do in contrast with the rest of us was keep the written law and thereby win his Father’s approval at his baptism, Mt. 3:13-17, in accordance with the original promise made to Adam, Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.)

In verse 19 Paul is forced to recognize the fact that while he cannot do the good he would like to, he falls prey to the evil he would prefer to avoid. So again, in verse 20 he sees that since he does what he does not want, it must be sin that has got a hold over him. This is precisely what Jesus had intimated in his teaching (John 8:34, cf. Jer. 13:23). Verse 21 is virtually a repetition of verse 17. In verse 22 Paul says what the Psalmist had said before him (119:14,16, etc.), that is, that he delights in God’s good law on the intellectual level, but that there is another law in his fleshly members (cf. 6:13,19; 7:5) at war with the law of his mind (vv.23,25) bringing him into bondage to sin. (At this point the reader might well reflect on the difference between deliberate and unintentional sin alluded to in both Testaments.)

The Natural Passions of the Flesh

The truth is that the natural appetites and passions of our fleshly bodies (e.g. hunger, thirst, sex, sweating, defecation, urination, etc., some of which on occasion we refer to euphemistically as calls of nature) operate spontaneously and autonomously and are not prompted by our minds (6* I have good personal reason for believing in the autonomy of the flesh. On 3 November 2004 in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide I donated one of my kidneys to my brother. Though removed entirely out of any control my mind might conceivably have exercised over it, it functioned with immediate beneficial effects in the body of its new host and continues to do so at the time of writing (2010) years later. Of course, the problem with Augustinians who believe in original sin is that they cannot conceive of the unregenerate mind delighting in the law of God despite the fact that the Psalmist (e.g. 119) lived under the old covenant, and that until Christ came to fulfil the law in the flesh, Rom. 8:3, regeneration, which was conditioned on keeping the commandment/law, Gen.2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc., could not and did not exist except as a promise, Dt. 30:6; Jer. 31:33, etc. Jesus himself must, like the Psalmist, have delighted in God’s law (cf. John 4:34; 6:38) before he received the Spirit at his baptism or he would not have kept it. In light of this, it must be remembered that though they were justified by faith, not one of the heroes of Hebrews 11 was born again since all were sinners. Pace those who argue that faith is the fruit of regeneration! See further my articles on The Order of Salvation, Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology) But since the law regulates some of its operations (sex, for example, cf. vv.1-3), we, in contrast with animals, are called on to control them (cf. Gal. 5:16). In this situation Paul has to admit he is a wretched failure (cf. v.7). As a consequence, his body of flesh which is a body of sin (Rom. 6:6) is doomed to death (Gen. 2:17, cf. 8:10,13; Gal. 6:8), and he urgently needs someone to deliver him. That someone is Jesus Christ who uniquely conquered in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). Paul ends chapter 7 by repeating what he has already said earlier: even though he acknowledges the goodness of God’s law, he nonetheless realizes that he continues in sin and can do no other. Thank God, however, that the defeat of chapter 7 is followed by the expression of gratitude in verse 7:25a and the triumph of chapter 8 (cf. 7:6).

So our conclusion must be that if what has been presented above is anything like correct, Paul is deftly describing not only his own but the natural or pre-regenerate life under the law of mankind in general, for the law belongs, as the flesh or body of sin and death belongs, to this age and to this world (Mt. 5:18; Luke 20:34-36; Rom. 7:1,7; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13, etc.). The next world or age to come whose goodness and powers Christians have tasted (Heb. 6:5) is the spiritual world of the pre-incarnate Christ to which he has returned in glory (John 14:2f.; 17:5,24).

Yet more can be said. All this can be further highlighted by the “stark contrasts” (Fee, p. 505) of fruit borne for God in ‘marriage’ to Christ (7:4, cf. Gal. 5:22f.) and fruit for death produced by the passions of the flesh which are constituted sinful under the law (7:5, cf. Gal. 5:19-21). Since sin does not exist apart from law, once we as Christians are freed by ‘death’ in Christ (cf. 6:3f.,14,18; 8:2) from its jurisdiction, we are then at liberty to serve under a new master (or husband), that is, Christ who leads us by the Spirit. On the assumption that verses 7-25 are basically an elaboration of verses 1-6, the same conclusions apply in both cases.

It should be noted that Paul talks almost exclusively about law and flesh in Romans 7. His only reference to the Spirit, the hallmark of regeneration, is in verse 6. This serves to sharpen the contrast between chapters 7 and 8, for in the latter there are twenty-one such references (Cranfield, p.371). The conclusion must therefore be drawn that the Augustinian interpretation of Romans 7, which maintains that Paul has the Christian in view in verses 14-24, must be ruled out of court (pace Packer, p.81). So we must ask why in fact it has not been so ruled.

Original Sin

The reason is of course that it has been almost universally held since the time of Augustine that Romans 5:12-21 teaches original sin (cf. Art. 9 of the C of E). However, as I have argued extensively elsewhere this nefarious Augustinian dogma is impossible to justify on both exegetical and theological grounds. (7* See especially my articles J.I.Packer on Original Sin, Imitation, etc.) If I am wrong, then Paul is clearly contradicting himself as 7:9-10 makes crystal clear. In any case, all the reader needs to do at this point is to recognize that Romans 4:15 alone, not to mention 7:8, renders original sin untenable since babies do not know the law. So far as the specific notion of the imputation of Adam’s sin is concerned, Romans 4:1-8 make it plain that wages, and hence death, 5:12; 6:23, which are due only to work actually done, are excluded. See again my articles on imputation referred to above. So once imputation is rejected, we have no alternative but to recognize that the language of Romans 5:12 is not only compatible with the Pelagian interpretation which indicates actual sin, cf. Murray, p.182, it makes it indisputable. Babies are necessarily exonerated because they can neither work nor believe. If they die, something else is afoot. What that is Paul makes plain in Romans 8:18-25, on which see my Romans 8:18-25)

(NOTE on the flesh under the Spirit: It must always be remembered of course that even the Christian is constantly warned in the NT not to indulge his flesh, e.g. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:11, etc. Even Jesus was tempted after his baptism by the Spirit, Mt. 4:1-11. This points unerringly to the fact that so long as we are flesh, we are unavoidably subject to fleshly temptation as James 1:14f. indicates. Under (the) law, we experience regular defeat as the entire OT makes clear. There, while justification by faith is prominent, Heb. 11:1-38, eternal life and its ultimate perfection which characterizes the NT, cf. John 3:16, is conspicuously absent, Heb. 11:39-40. However, as Christians led by the Spirit we can enjoy a measure of, Gal. 5:22-24, if not total, 1 John 1:8, success. Sinless perfection is a chimera.)

Other Effects of Augustinianism

It must be stressed that the adoption of Augustinian presuppositions vitiates our understanding of Romans 7 in other ways. First, original sin deflects commentators from an adequate appreciation of verse 11, which is reminiscent of Eve both in thought and language. Despite their recognition of this, Bruce (p.142) and Moo (p.230), for example, set it aside because their minds are dominated by the erroneous assumption that we fell “in Adam” – a clear case of adding to Scripture if ever there was one. Second, Augustinianism prevents recognition of the fact that all human beings (with one exception) imitate (or better repeat or recapitulate) many of the actions and experiences of their forebears (8* The biblical evidence for the imitation/repetition of sin is massive and pervasive, e.g. 2 Kings 17:2,8,11,14-23,33f.,40f., Ps. 106:6; Dan. 9:11; Rom. 3:9,12,23. etc. See further my Imitation.) against explicit Scriptural command (e.g. Ps. 78:8; Zech. 1:4; Mal. 3:7, cf. Acts 7:51-53, etc.). In fact, Romans 7 provides an excellent illustration of the principle of recapitulation in general. Furthermore, Paul’s stress on the role of law completely undercuts the notion that we fall “in Adam”, unless this is taken to mean “in the flesh” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22). Imitation is of course anathema to Augustinians who suffer from pathological anti-Pelagianism (9* See Art. 1X of the C of E, Murray, CW 2, p.50, etc.), but one does not have to become a Pelagian or to deny the grace of God to adopt recapitulation. Third, Augustinian presuppositions forestall recognition of the fact that Romans 7:7-8:17, like 1:18-3:31, is covenantal in structure and is hence comparable with Galatians 3:1-4:7. Paul is in fact saying that he himself, like all men apart from Jesus, was (a) once a deceived child of nature like Eve (Rom. 7:7-11; Eph. 2:3; Tit. 3:3, cf. Rom. 1:18ff.), then (b) a sinner under the law like Adam (7:13ff.) and finally (c) a Spirit-led believer in Christ (7:25a; 8:1ff.) on his way to the perfection (Phil. 3:12-14) which was impossible under the law (Heb. 7:11,19). So he was successively a (heathen) slave, a (Jewish) servant and a (Christian) son like Jesus himself (Mt. 2:15; Gal. 4:4f.). In saying this I am by no means implying that Jesus was the subject of adoption. While he was truly the virgin-born Son of God, his ‘natural’ sonship nonetheless required its confirmation by his law-keeping and consequent acknowledgement by God (Mt. 3:13-17). Expressed more theologically, Jesus underlined his ontology by his actions and proved his pedigree unmistakably (cf. Acts 10:38). The covenantal markers in his life were, however, clearly etched (cf. Gal. 4:1-7). (10* See further my articles on Covenant Theology, Covenant Theology in Brief, Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?)

Conclusion

I conclude then that having described the covenant life of the race, first, under Noah (Gentile) and, second, under Moses (Jew) in chapters 1:18-3:20, Paul’s concern in Romans 7 is to describe covenant life as it is recapitulated by the individual, first as a Gentile (Eve) and then as a Jew (Adam) under the law (vv.1,7) prior to regeneration (second Adam). To do this he uses himself as the model or paradigm who epitomized or recapitulated the history of the race (Rom. 1:18-3:20) like Jesus (Gal. 4:1-7). (11* In other words, the Bible like science plainly implies that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. If it does not, Jesus could not have been the second Adam and the atonement would have been impossible, cf. 1 John 2:2. See further my I Believe in Recapitulation, Recapitulation in Outline) This inference receives yet further support from passages like Galatians 5:16-24 where natural “life” (Rom. 7:1) under the law involves sinful works of the flesh that lead to inevitable death (7:5; Gal. 5:19-21), while regenerate life under the Spirit bears fruit against which there is no law (7:4; Gal. 5:16,18,22-24).

Finally, it remains to add that since recapitulation implies the denial of original sin, it is one of the great ironies of the history of biblical interpretation that its false assumption has perverted our understanding not only of Romans 7 but also of much else in the NT. Or, to put the issue more positively and concisely, my contention is that Romans 7 correctly understood underlines the truth of recapitulation on the one hand and gives the lie to belief in original sin on the other.

Additional Note on The Flesh

What has been argued above raises the question of the meaning of the word ‘flesh’. Because of its Augustinian bias, the NIV is notorious for translating the word ‘sarx’ as ‘sinful nature’ and relegating ‘flesh’ to the margin. This I believe is a profound mistake reflecting manifest misunderstanding of Paul’s argument. Basically the flesh is our natural or physical nature that stems from the ground (Gen. 2:7) over which man as made in the image of God in contrast with the animals is meant to exercise dominion in preparation for glory (Gen. 1:26,28; Ps. 8; 21:5; John 3:1-8; Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9f. Pace those who believe in the original glory, perfection and righteousness of Adam!). The war between flesh and Spirit arises primarily not from sin but from nature as Genesis 1 ought to make clear. When the weakness of our created nature is confronted by inflexible moral law it inevitably capitulates (cf. Rom.7:18; 8:8). Since the flesh is a law to itself (Rom. 7:23,25, cf. Gal. 5:16f.), which when unrestrained (cf. Gal. 5:17) like uninhabited land that is desolate (e.g. Isa. 6:11, etc.) acts in accordance with that law (cf. animals), it is meant to be subject to the control (under the dominion, Gen. 1:26,28) of the spirit (Spirit) as a horse (flesh) is to its rider (Jas. 3:2ff.). So even Jesus, in contrast with his Father (James 1:13) had to resist fleshly temptation (Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15, etc.) and avoid pleasing himself (John 6:38; Rom. 15:3, etc.). (12* See again my J.I.Packer on Original Sin) Admittedly, once, like Adam and Eve, we cave in to sin, we are permanently tarnished by a sinful nature (Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 3:7), and this becomes an exacerbating factor in our own war as Jesus pointed out (John 8:34, cf. Jer. 13:23; Hos. 5:4). For all that, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

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References

F.F.Bruce, Romans rev. ed., Leicester, 1985.

J.Calvin, Romans, Grand Rapids, 1947.

C.E.B.Cranfield, ICC Romans, Edinburgh, 1975.

G.D.Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, Peabody, 1994.

D.J.Moo, Romans, Grand Rapids, 2000.

J.Murray, Collected Writings 2, Edinburgh, 1977.

J.Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, London, 1967.

J.I.Packer, The “Wretched Man” Revisited in Romans and the People of God, ed. Soderlund and Wright. Grand Rapids, 1999.

Have We Inherited Lies?

In a box somewhere I have a book entitled ‘Faith of our Fathers’. It is a long while since I read it but, as I recall, it is a semi-popular history book describing the beliefs and exploits of some of our English forebears. It is the sort of book that Christians, especially lay people, should be aware of since it helps fill in the background needed to understand the church or at least the Churches. But while we might well admire and even emulate our forebears’ struggle of faith, it by no means follows that we should adopt all their doctrinal beliefs. To suggest that we should is to deem them infallible and regard the tradition they have bequeathed to us as unalterable. This is Pharisaism all over again and a betrayal of the reforming spirit (semper eadem, always the same, instead of semper reformanda, always in the process of reform).

It is worthy of note that in the Bible itself there is much evidence of progress in doctrine, for the early beliefs and practices of many of the forefathers are strongly reprobated (cf. e.g. Ezek. 20:7f.,27f.). Careful reading soon impresses on us the fact that heroes of the faith themselves grew in understanding and to do so they usually had to enter uncharted territory. Abraham doubtless left behind him some of the false ideas he had learned in Ur (Jos. 24:2); Moses, though well versed in the wisdom of Egypt, was willing to set it aside in obedience to God in order to lead his people towards the Promised Land (cf. Acts 7:22 and Ezek. 23:3ff.); Joshua had to challenge his charges with commitment and obedience to the Lord (24:14f.); and Rahab (cf. Jos. 2:11) and Ruth (1:16) had to abandon the faith of their forefathers in order to serve the living God (Mt. 1:5). The pattern is constantly repeated throughout Scripture. In the NT we have only to think of the apostles, Paul in particular (see e.g. Acts 22:3; 24:14f.; Gal. 1:13-16; Phil. 3:7f.; 1 Tim. 1:13-16), Cornelius (Acts 10), and, of course, the Gentiles in general (Col.1:13; 1 Thes. 1:9f.). So the lesson we are meant to learn is that progress is only achieved by abandoning what is false, or at least inadequate, and embracing what is true (Acts 26:18,20; 1 Pet. 1:18f.) bearing in mind that suppression of truth is not peculiar to pagans (cf. Rom. 1:18).

The Situation Today

In light of this it is hardly surprising that the forefathers or ancestors often get a very poor press in Scripture, and imitating them in their stubbornness is strongly criticised (cf. Ps. 78:8; Jer. 3:25; Zech. 1:2-4; Acts 7:51-53, etc.). It may be replied that much of what our forefathers believed is perennial truth and solidly biblical. Perhaps, but when we accept their teaching we need to be sure that this really is the case. It is imperative for us to avoid the situation described in Jeremiah where the Rechabites are commended for honouring the command of their forefather, Jonadab, while the Judahites in general are criticised for failing to accept the instruction of God himself (35:12ff.). So when many nowadays set up the Fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformers, the Puritans, the early Methodists and others as a standard for our own times, we need to distinguish carefully between their justifying faith, which we rightly emulate, and their articles of belief, which may well need close examination before they are accepted. As Bishop Westcott once pointedly indicated, “And the sovereign pre-eminence of Scripture as the vehicle of spiritual knowledge lies in this, that it finds fuller interpretation from growing experience. The Scripture does not change, but the power of entering into its meaning changes” (The Epistles of John, London, 1883, p.305). Failure to recognise this principle may well mean that our predecessors’ faith becomes a serious stumbling block and a hindrance to us in our own day. In fact, it is precisely in this way that false traditions arise, which end up nullifying the word of God (Mark 7:7f.). If such traditions are not purged from our thinking, it is almost impossible for new light to shine. And this would seem to be the impasse confronting us at the moment. We must be prepared to consider that the possibly futile ideas we have inherited from our fathers are blocking or blurring our vision (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18). If this is so, the sooner we gain new lenses the better.

Jeremiah and Inherited Lies

Jeremiah’s standing as a true prophet was often in serious question. In the conviction that God had called him he bravely stood his ground and even went on the offensive. In 16:19 in a prayer to God he maintains that the nations will one day confess that they have inherited lies (cf. Jer. 14:14; Ezek. 20:18 and Amos 2:4 regarding Israel). He goes further, especially in chapter 23, and denounces many of his own contemporaries as false prophets, accuses them of knowingly telling lies and hence of perverting the word of God (see e.g. 23:31f.; 29:21,29, cf. Isa. 28:15,17). Jesus, of course, did the same at a later date (see e.g. Mt. 23; Luke 6:23,26; 11:37ff.). In fact, there is good reason for thinking that religious traditionalists proved his greatest opponents as they did of Paul (Mark 7:1-23; 2 Cor. 3:1-18). It was Paul, in fact, who warned frequently of false teachers who more often than not were fellow Jews, the self-proclaimed devotees of Moses. It is reasonable to conclude that if this was true in NT times, the same may well be true in our own day. So the question we must seek to answer is, Have we inherited lies? Regrettably, my response to this is an unequivocal yes, and some of them at least I will proceed to outline below.

Personal Difficulties with Received Covenant Theology

Nearly forty years ago I was irritated and somewhat puzzled by my failure to understand current teaching about the covenant. I read Calvin’s Institutes and the systematic theologies of stalwarts like Hodge and Berkhof and numerous smaller works to no avail. It seemed to me even at that stage that Berkhof’s assertion that the covenant with Abraham and the Sinaitic covenant were essentially the same was simply false (pp. 297f., cf. Murray, CW 2, p.50). In about 1965 I gave attention to Murray’s “The Covenant of Grace”, but received no help. The main problem here was that Murray seemed to be saying, especially with regard to the Mosaic covenant, what the Bible specifically disallowed. I was further disoriented by the title of Kevan’s “The Grace of Law”, and helped not at all when I read such comments, as “The outcome of the Puritan debate was that, on the whole, it was agreed that the Mosaic covenant was a form of the Covenant of Grace; and this view was embodied in the Confession of Faith” (p.117, cf. Heppe, p.399; Murray, CW2, p.50). It was not until the end of 1969 that a friend, who had a good knowledge of Reformed theology, confirmed what I had suspected, that is, that the Mosaic covenant was indeed considered part of the covenant of grace. In other words, Reformed theology regarded the law not simply as a gift of grace but as grace in itself – a Pelagian idea that my Bible forbade me to believe. I knew then that I had to try to understand exactly what the biblical view was. Strangely, it did not take me long to find out. It soon became clear that the ‘unity of the covenant’ (or one covenant in two dispensations) idea was impossible. Not only did some Reformed theologians reject it and opt for the federal view but, since the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants were as different as chalk and cheese, the five divine covenants could not simply be merged in such a way as to eradicate their distinctive, even contrasting, features. Thus I concluded that there were three principal or dispensational covenants: the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Moses and the Christian covenant. On the basis of my reading of Luke 1:32f.,54f., 72f. and Romans 4:1-8 I saw the Abrahamic and the Davidic covenants as being essentially promises. In view of this I was led to believe that the covenants taken as a whole constituted a triad, a revelation of the Trinity in saving power. To date I have had no reason to doubt the validity of this. In fact, a more detailed examination of federal theology, which I undertook somewhat later, seemed to confirm my findings.

The Adamic Covenant

At the time I gave little thought to the so-called covenant with Adam, which does not appear in the Bible. However, I am persuaded that our forebears had good reason to consider it as having all the hallmarks of a covenant. The problem is that they treated it as if it resembled, even paralleled, the covenant of Christ, which is conditioned on faith. In fact, as I eventually came to realise, if the Adamic administration, as it is referred to by Murray (CW 2, pp.47ff.), is to be considered a covenant at all (and Murray denies this), it is clearly a precursor, or rudimentary version, of the later and fuller Mosaic covenant. And just as the latter, while it had a mediator who acted on behalf of God, had no head, neither had the Adamic arrangement. Furthermore, just as the Mosaic covenant of law promised blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience (Dt. 30:15-20; Isa.1:19f.; Jer. 21:8f., etc.) so did the Adamic covenant (Gen.2:9,17, cf. Rom. 7:9f.). This being so, the inference we are forced to draw from the notion that Adam acted on our behalf as our covenant head and representative and that we were ‘in him’ (apart from faith) as we are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) is that a ghastly error has been perpetrated.

Original Sin

This brings us to the second lie we have inherited, that is, the idea of original sin so enthusiastically espoused by Augustine and perpetuated so far as Protestants are concerned in the 39 Articles (9) and the WCF (6). The plain fact is that this iniquitous dogma is neither taught nor can be taught in the Bible, where it is made pellucidly clear that babies, who know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., cf. 8:4), cannot be guilty of sin (John 9:41; 15:22,24; Rom. 3:19f.; 7:1,7), least of all the sin of their fathers including Adam (Dt. 24:16; Job 21:19-21; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 3; 18; 33). Apart from any other consideration, and there are many others, if original sin were true, Jesus, the second Adam, being genuinely a son of the first (Luke 3:38), would necessarily have been implicated, and this the Bible rigorously disallows.

Original Righteousness

Thirdly, the dogma of original righteousness and of a fall from it is clearly a lie. How could Adam, who knew neither good nor evil, have ever been righteous when righteousness is attained only by keeping the law or commandment he so obviously failed to keep once it was given (Gen. 2:17; Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7, etc.)? Righteousness was, of course, the goal or end of his life, not its beginning (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8). Even Jesus as man had to attain his standing by keeping the law, for he also, like Adam, was born knowing neither good nor evil (Isa. 7:15f.). To start with perfection would have been logically to dispense with probation (cf. e.g. Dt. 8:2,16) and in effect to put the cart before the horse. If Adam fell at all, he ‘fell’ from innocence as we all do (Rom.3:23; 5:12; 7:9f.; 9:11). But whereas Adam had no predecessors to affect his moral conduct, unless we regard Eve as one, we are all affected by his, as Paul is at pains to teach in Romans 5:12-21 (cf. Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f.; Num. 14:18; Jer. 11:10; 14:20; 16:11f.; 32:18f., etc.), a passage which Augustine failed abysmally to understand, though it must be said in fairness partly through a bad Latin translation (see e.g. Needham, p. 50 n.4). He was, however, particularly blameworthy for failing to take seriously Pelagius’ insistence on imitation, or better repetition, for which there is massive support from Genesis to Revelation (e.g. John 8:39ff.; Acts 7:52; 3 John 11). At the end of the day we are all followers, first of Adam and then, as believers, of Jesus, the second Adam, as we are empowered by the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49).

Original Perfection and Cosmic Curse

Yet another lie associated with the Augustinian teaching is the original perfection of creation, including man, and the notion of a cosmic curse. While Scriptural evidence for it is almost entirely lacking, unless more is read into Genesis 3:17-19 than is there and Romans 8:19-25 is quite unwarrantably dragged in, for sixteen centuries at least the church has taught it and as a consequence failed miserably to see that the very first words of Scripture give the lie to it. Since creation has a beginning (Gen.1:1) and hence an end (cf. Heb. 7:3,16), being temporal, it is ipso facto imperfect, i.e. incomplete and in strong contrast to the eternal God (Isa. 40:6-8) who alone is perfect (Isa. 57:15; Mt. 5:48). But if we have failed to recognise this by logical reasoning, we should have learnt it long ago by the simple process of reading it, for it is extensively taught in the Bible (see e.g. Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 51:6,8; Mt. 5:18; 24:35; 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17; Rev. 6:12-17; 16:17-21; 20:11; 21:1-4, etc.). Once its harvest has been reaped, the present material creation will be dispensed with as was always intended (cf. Gen.8:22; Rev.14:14-20). While there is no denying that all sins carry curses (Gal. 3:10-13; Heb. 2:2; 10:28), the fundamental impermanence and imperfection of creation are intrinsic and largely, if not entirely, unrelated to them. This is surely what Paul is saying in that much abused and sadly paraphrased (see v.21) passage Romans 8:19-25.

A New Creation

This leads to yet another point. Under the influence of Augustine it is still widely held that having been born again spiritually we shall be fitted physically for a new material creation. Even though this is manifestly denied by Jesus (John 3:1-8) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:42ff.; cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-5:5), it is held tenaciously by those for whom tradition has compelling power. The truth is, of course, that we shall be given spiritual bodies like that of Christ to fit us for heaven and the presence of God (1 Pet. 4:6). When we consider that even the stars are not clean in God’s sight (Job 25:5, cf. 4:17-19; 15:14; Rom.3:19f.; 1 Cor.1:29), the idea that dust will somehow be immortalised or eternalised is a massive blunder. God has always intended to perfect us in heaven, that is, in his own presence and as his children. And since he is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), the relevance of Isaiah’s question is beyond dispute: “Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” (33:14, cf. James 5:3).

Regeneration

Augustine’s manifestly unbiblical dogma of original sin necessarily gave rise to yet another serious heresy. For, on the assumption that we are born sinful, the need to be born again to counteract our dreadful condition becomes paramount. In other words, the cure for original sin becomes regeneration (cf. Needham, pp. 59,251, etc.). The falsity of this ought to be obvious. First, regeneration, if words mean anything at all, normally relates to ordinary generation, to our natural birth as flesh (cf. John 3:4). But just as Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven since it is perishable by nature (1 Cor. 15:50), so Jesus informs us that, biblically speaking, regeneration or being born from above (cf. Gal. 4:26) refers to the spirit. This is surely the meaning of John 3:6 where flesh and spirit are presented in antithesis. It is not surprising, however, to find our forebears, operating under Augustine’s influence, contrasting spirit with (sinful) flesh (see e.g. Hodge ST, 2:242; Ryle, p.3; Litton, p.191). How different is the exegesis of more recent commentators such as Morris (p.219), for example. Next, while regeneration has the effect of sanctifying our lives (Tit. 3:3-7), nowhere does the Bible suggest that it can purge our guilt whether original or personal (cf. Needham, e.g. p. 251). That is the work of the atonement (Rev. 1:5). And to confuse sin and grace on the one hand with flesh and spirit on the other has catastrophic theological implications. The plain fact is that rebirth was NOT instituted to counter original sin but to prepare us as creatures of flesh and blood for the presence of God (1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6, etc.) as was ever the divine intention (John 17:24; Rom. 8:15b-18,29; 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:4ff.; 1 John 3:2). Regeneration is integral to perfection, that is, spiritual completeness and maturity (cf. James 1:4), and had Jesus himself, as one who was truly human, not attained to righteousness, been born again (Mt.3:17; 12:18) in accordance with the promise of Leviticus 18:5 (cf. Gen. 2:17) and then enabled to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15, cf. 19:21), he could not have been perfected (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28).

If my analysis of regeneration is correct and it relates primarily not to sin but to our natural condition which needs to be transcended to enable us to enter heaven, it surely follows that the idea that you can be born again before you are born naturally is, to put it bluntly, absurd. Yet many (including Packer, p.158) over the years, viewing Jeremiah (1:5) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), have drawn that conclusion even in spite of the fact that Jesus pointedly refers to John as the greatest of those “born of women” (Mt.11:11). But this idea arises inexorably from a false covenant theology, coupled with the dogma of original sin, which makes it indispensably necessary for even a baby to be born again. Since this cannot happen through faith engendered by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18) and confession of sin, it is little wonder that Augustine laid great emphasis on baptismal regeneration which continues to haunt the Catholic wing of the church to this day. (I can sympathise to some degree with Needham’s opinion that Augustine’s motives were noble, but I am not at all impressed with his contention that baptismal regeneration “becomes a brilliant illustration of God’s grace in salvation”, p.34. In my view it reflects the inadequacy of his theology and a man-centred attempt to manipulate divine grace.) And though this dogma is widely denied in Protestantism, despite the terminology of the Anglican liturgy (see Australian Prayer Book, p.501), infant baptism is still regarded as fundamental to Reformed theology.

Our Heavenly Bodies

In these days when Islam and other world religions such as Hinduism are resurgent, it is absolutely vital for us to understand that our bodies in heaven will be spiritual and not physical/material. This is the point of what Jesus is saying in John 3:1-8 and of Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 15. If it is true that the physical creation will pass away, there is no place for physical bodies. Paul indicates that the flesh (earth) precedes spirit in God’s scheme of things (15:46,23) and that resurrection will also involve transformation. Jesus, in telling Nicodemus that he cannot re-enter his mother’s womb, implicitly denies the possibility of re-incarnation, which in turn undermines basic teaching of Hinduism, Buddhism and the Muslim idea of a sensual paradise in the next world. (It also undermines the premillennialist teaching that Jesus will return to earth in the flesh!) Regrettably for them the misguided young men who flew their hijacked planes into the twin towers in New York on 11 September 2001 have not been greeted by a bevy of virgins, despite Osama Bin Laden’s assurances. On the other hand, they would hardly have gathered this from the teaching of some Christians whose court of appeal is tradition but certainly not the word of God.

Other Lies

Of course, there are still more skeletons in the fundamentalist-traditionalist cupboard, but this is hardly the place to draw a bead on them. Perhaps it should be said by way of conclusion that failure to understand the covenant, the framework within which the teaching of the Bible is presented, is the most prolific source of misunderstanding. Error at this point is to put practically everything out of joint. Here, however, I have to make a confession myself. I originally worked out my own view of the covenant as explained above. And though I had seen odd references to ante legem, sub lege et post legem or sub gratia (before, under and after the law or under grace) in various places (cf. Gal. 6:15, etc.) usually historical works, I read with something of a shock that Pelagius of all people held to a similar view in his dispute with Augustine. The latter’s failure to be impressed by such “dispensationalism” (see Needham, p.88) has in the event been calamitous. (Calvin also failed to develop a covenant theology. For all that, the following comment from his Institutes is profoundly thought-provoking: “… if a householder instructs, rules, and guides his children one way in infancy, another in youth, and still another in young manhood, we shall not on that account call him fickle and say that he abandons his purpose”, 2:11:13, quoted by Ryrie, p.41. It is a pity some of those who claimed to follow in his footsteps later, not to mention the Dispensationalists of our own day, failed to read Galatians 3:23-4:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:32, for example, and come to similar conclusions.) It is still not too late to put matters right. But that would be to call for a new reformation and the end of the equation of fundamentalism with evangelicalism. Are we prepared for it? If we are not and persist in taking refuge in lies, we are making a covenant with death (Isa. 28:14-22, cf. 30:12ff.).

References

L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

C.Hodge, Systematic Theology, London, 1960.

H.Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, Grand Rapids, 1978.

E.A.Litton, Introduction to Dogmatic Theology, ed. Hughes, London, 1960.

L.L.Morris, The Gospel According to John, Grand Rapids, 1971.

J.Murray, The Covenant of Grace, London, 1954.

J.Murray, Collected Writings 2, Edinburgh, 1977.

N.R.Needham, The Triumph of Grace, London, 2000.

E.F.Kevan, The Grace of Law, London, 1964.

J.I.Packer, Concise Theology, Wheaton, 1993.

J.C.Ryle, Holiness, London, 1956.

C.C.Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, Chicago, 1965.


I Believe in Recapitulation

The doctrine of recapitulation is integral to Scripture and apart from it I believe the Bible cannot properly be understood. Yet, consult your Bible dictionary and the chances are that it will not be mentioned. What follows is in part an attempt to show why this is so. I also hope to set the ball rolling and inspire others to go into far greater detail in their examination of a subject that really requires book-length treatment.

I first became aware of the doctrine in question when I was studying early church history and early Christian doctrine in particular. In his work on the latter J.N.D. Kelly alluded briefly to the teaching of Irenaeus with respect to it. Later I had cause to refer to the idea in a book (unpublished) I was writing. Later still, I read with great interest B.B.Warfield’s essay “The Human Development of Jesus” and was greatly stimulated by it. Subsequently, I caught up with works like J.Lawson’s “The Biblical Theology of St. Irenaeus” and G.Wingren’s “Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus.” These works apart, it seemed to me that the notion of recapitulation was fundamental, and I agreed whole-heartedly with James Orr’s observation that “a theology … which sees in Christ the ‘recapitulation’ of humanity … is one regarding which it is not presumptuous to hold that the Church has a long way to travel before it leaves it behind” (p.70). I consider that the same holds as true today in 2006 as when Orr made his comment in 1901.

If the father of theology, Irenaeus (fl. c. 175-c.195), laid such emphasis on recapitulation, why has it to all intents and purposes disappeared from modern theological thought? Briefly, there appear to be two main reasons. First, like the Trinity, unless Ephesians 1:10 and Romans 13:9 are translated in such a way as to bring it out, the word as such, in contrast with the idea which pervades it, does not appear in Scripture. Secondly, the thinking of Irenaeus was largely eclipsed by that of Augustine (354-430) (1*).

Recapitulation in Nature

Perhaps the most obvious way in which Scripture teaches recapitulation (the imitation, repetition, replication or summary of an original model or paradigm) is by its insistence in the first chapter of Genesis that all flora and fauna are procreated according to kind and hence repeat or go through the same process of birth, growth to maturity, decline and death (cf. Mark 4:26-28) like creation itself (Heb. 1:10-12). In mortal man’s case, he is made in the image of God and meant to attain to the likeness of God (Gen. 1:26,28; Mt. 5:48; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 1:3, etc.) and thus transcend death (Gen. 2:17, cf. Ps. 8:5). Thus Adam is at once the archetypal individual, who produces sons in his own image and that of God (Gen. 5:1-3), and the community or race that stems from him. Since Adam is not simply the name of an individual (Gen. 4:25) but a generic term, mankind as a whole is also destined to attain to the divine likeness and become the bride of Christ, a corporate personality. Again, the race, which is made up of individuals as a wall or building is made up of single bricks, is intended to become a full-grown man epitomized in or by Christ, the second and perfect Adam (cf. Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15; 4:13). In 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 Paul underscores the distinction between the two Adams who both have God as their Father (Luke 3:38), but while the first derives from the earth the other has his origin heaven (1 Cor. 15:45-49). All of us take on the image of both (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; Rom. 8:29) as we progress towards maturity (cf. 15:46), but this maturity or completeness is only achieved (through faith) in Jesus who alone attained to the perfection (completeness, maturity) of both his physical and spiritual development. He who was the Son of God proved his pedigree by attaining to the likeness of God as a man (Mt. 3:15; 5:48; 19:21; Heb. 1:3; 2:10; 5:9; 6:20; 7:28; 12:2, cf. John 1:14; Rom. 8:3,29; Gal. 4:4) and brought freedom and life to his fellows (John 8:34-36; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 2:10f.).

Original Sin?

It may be asked at this point why it was necessary for there to be a second Adam? The answer lies in the fact that the first man, Adam, having been initially created innocent, that is, without knowledge of good or evil like a baby (Dt. 1:39), broke the commandment that promised life (Gen. 2:17; 3:6f.) and was cast out. As Jesus himself was to point out, in sinning all become the slaves of sin (John 8:34), and as fleshly slaves who lack righteousness (Gen. 3:22-24) they are unable to remain in the house forever (John 8:35). It is thus plain that we all with the notable exception of Jesus himself recapitulate or fall victim to the paradigmatic sin of Adam and are cast out of the house, garden or land. This pattern is graphically illustrated, for example, by the slave Ishmael who, though born in the house, like Adam personified the flesh and was cast out (Gal. 4:29f., cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-50; 2 Cor. 5:1). Other examples are provided by Esau who was disinherited, the Canaanites and the Jews who underwent exile, and most notably Paul who, expressing the issue somewhat differently, claimed that, having experienced ‘life’ in embryonic fellowship with his Creator like Adam in the Garden, ‘died’ when he broke the commandment (Rom. 7:9f.). In sum, all who are created in the image of Adam (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) recapitulate or repeat the sins of Adam and Eve. This is surely what Paul is saying in Romans 5:12. Since all sin, all die and earn their wages (Rom. 6:23). To paint the picture on a broader canvas, all who are without the (Mosaic) law sin without the law and all who are under the law sin under it (Rom. 2:12; 1:18-3:20). This difference is clearly typified by the difference between the respective sins of Adam and Eve (1 Tim. 2:14; 2 Cor. 11:3).

Imitation

While traditional dogmatic theology frequently maintains that we sin “in Adam”, despite the failure of Romans 5:12 to say so, no one reading the OT with attention can miss noting, first, that babies, like Adam and Eve before they received the commandment, know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:3, 29-33; 1 K. 3:7; Isa. 7:15f.; Rom. 9:11; Heb. 5:12-14, etc.), and, second, that as they grow older they imitate or repeat the sins of their ancestors, including Adam, as the following sample of references makes clear: 1 Samuel 8:8; Ezra 9:7; Nehemiah 1:6f.; Psalm 106:6f.; Jeremiah 3:25; 11:10; 22:21; Isaiah 65:6f.; Ezek. 2:3; 23:8,19,27; Daniel 9:5f.,11,16 and Acts 7:51-53, despite being warned not to do so (2 Chr. 30:7f.; Ps. 78:8; Zech. 1:4). Ultimately, it may be said that in doing good we all imitate God (Mt. 5:48; Eph. 5:1) and in doing evil we imitate the devil (John 8:39-44; 1 John 3:4-10; 3 John 11). Imitation, which pervades the Bible, effectively puts paid to the notion of original sin. If it were true, we would be forced to infer that God created us, and even Jesus himself, evil!

Adam and Israel

The attentive reader can hardly fail to note that certain parallels exist between Adam and Israel. Just as Adam was created from the earth outside Eden and placed there by God, so Israel emanated from Egypt (cf. Ps. 80:8) and was divinely directed to the Promised Land. Again, whereas Adam, the son of God was given a commandment to regulate his immature life, Israel, also collectively the son of God (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1), was given the law of Moses. And it was transgression of the commandment/law which eventually led to exile for both. (It might also be observed in passing that just as Eve’s sin highlighted the lust of the flesh, Gen. 3:6, so did the sins of the heathen, Rom. 1:24ff.) Dumbrell, who notes this, also draws attention to the fact that there is a parallel between Eden and the land flowing with milk and honey (pp.119f.). All in all, repetition, imitation or recapitulation, not to mention typology, appear to be of the essence of Scripture.

Recapitulation and Jesus

Since recapitulation is almost entirely ignored in dogmatic theology, what has just been written needs elaboration. As I have already implied recapitulation is most clearly illustrated in the life of Jesus, the second Adam. While on the one hand as the incarnate Son of God he was truly a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) who grew, as Irenaeus strongly insisted, from infancy to mature physical manhood (Luke 2:41ff.), he also recapitulated or re-enacted the history of his people Israel. Though uniquely emanating from heaven in contrast with Adam who stemmed from the earth (cf. 1 Cor. 15:47-50), like them, as one born of woman he initially knew neither good nor evil (cf. Isa. 7:15f.) became a child of nature and even experienced “slavery” in Egypt (Mt. 2:15 (2*); cf. Gal. 4:1f.). Then, like them, he was a servant subject to the law of Moses, and like them he was called to full or mature sonship in the likeness of God (Gal. 4:4f.). (One might almost say that in Jesus’ case his action, that is, his sinless life, recapitulated his ontology. Certainly his sinlessness proved, ratified, endorsed and established his unique identity.) But whereas his early life under the law was a perfect recapitulation of the imperfect life of his forebears, his acknowledged sonship (Mt. 3:17) arising from his keeping of the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc., cf. 1 John 3:22) led to his blazing the trail or his pioneering (or, to coin a word, ‘precapitulating’) the regenerate life of the true Israel under the Spirit (cf. Mt. 3:15; 19:21). In other words, his life under the Spirit after his baptism was paradigmatic and hence one that serves as a model for all who put their trust in him (1 Pet. 2:21). To imitate Jesus is to be like him, to imitate the perfection of God (Lev. 11:44f.; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15f.) which is our most basic calling (Gen. 1:26; Mt. 5:48; Eph. 5:1; Col. 3:10). Needless to say, only Jesus achieved that perfection (Mt. 3:15; 19:21; Heb. 1:3; 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) and we achieve it through faith in him (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 4:4-6; 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). See further below.

Prophet, Priest and King

We may go further and point out that Jesus recapitulated in his own person three other strands of OT teaching, those of anointed prophet, priest and king (cf. Ps. 110). That he was all three is hardly disputable (cf. Green, 2*). While he was clearly the prophet like Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18:18 (Acts 3:22), his priesthood and kingship were less obvious. For priesthood on earth he was disqualified on genealogical grounds (Heb. 7:14; 8:4): as a king he never sat on the earthly throne of David whose son he was, but implicitly repudiated it (John 6:15; 18:36). We are left in no doubt, however, that he is our eternal royal high priest like Melchisedek in heaven (cf. Acts 15:16-18; Heb. 2:17; 8:2-6; 9:11; Rom. 8:34) who will rule until he has put all his enemies beneath his feet (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

The Goal of Perfection

So far, so good. But how does this affect us? How are we who are failures to achieve life and perfection? How are we to imitate or recapitulate the perfect life of Jesus and make ourselves acceptable to our holy God who is too pure to see evil (Hab. 1:13) and requires us to be holy as he is holy and righteous as he is righteous (1 Pet. 1:15f., etc.)? We do it first by accepting Christ’s atonement for and consequent forgiveness of our sin. Then, since righteousness is the indispensable precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 32:46f.; Ezek. 20:11,13,21; Rom. 5:17,21; 6:16-22, etc.) (3*), we are justified by faith in him who is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). This righteousness is not achieved by works but through our faith in him (Phil. 3:9). In other words, our righteousness is his righteousness, the very righteousness of God (Rom. 3:25f.; 2 Cor. 5:21). So, just as Jesus kept the law flawlessly and was accounted righteous, so in him are we. And just as he received the life promised to those who kept the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 32:46f.; Mt. 3:17, etc.) in direct contrast to Adam who broke the commandment, so do we who believe in him. Just as he was sealed, consecrated and sanctified by the Spirit (John 6:27), so are we (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). And just as he ascended into heaven, so will we (1 Cor. 15:51ff.); just as he was glorified (Acts 3:13), so will we (Rom. 8:30); and just as he rules, so will we (Rev. 3:21, etc.). For where he is we will be also (John 12:26) and because he lives so will we too (John 14:3,19). In short, just as Jesus initially recapitulated the life of the first Adam in the flesh, now we, after a fashion, recapitulate his (Jesus’) life in the Spirit (cf. Rom. 6:4; 8:2,4). It is not therefore without reason that the author of Hebrews insists that just as we were all related to Adam so now we who are believers are all related to Christ (2:10ff., cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49; 2 Cor. 5:14f.). And just as Jesus, the man, is the perfected Son of God, so we also are the adopted children of God and fellow heirs with him (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:6f.; 1 John 3:2). And it is with him that we take our place in the very presence of God (John 14:2f.; 1 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 3:21, etc.).

On reflection the failure of the Western church in particular to appreciate the import of recapitulation is striking. For example, Jesus insists in John 15 that he is the true vine. A little Bible study will soon reveal that the vine in the OT which takes its start in Egypt is Israel, the redeemed people of God’s own possession (Ps. 80:8ff.; Isa. 5:1ff.; 27:2-6, etc.). In Christ, the very Son of God, we Christians belong to the true vine as its fruit-bearing branches (John 15:5). Thus we are the true Israel (1 Pet. 2:9) or the true circumcision (Phil 3:3), the very Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). While it is true that as Gentiles we may never have been circumcised Jews in a physical sense, we have nonetheless by faith become true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29) and undergone circumcision in Christ (Col. 2:11). It is with him that we have experienced baptism, death, burial and resurrection from the dead (Rom. 6:1-11) and will finally take our place with him at God’s right hand (Rev. 3:21, cf. Eph. 2:6). As Paul elsewhere expresses it, as those whom God foreknew and predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (his own image, Heb. 1:3), we have been called, justified and glorified (Rom. 8:29f.). In Christ, the future sums up or repeats the past, hence Paul’s use of what has been called the prophetic perfect. We are already more than conquerors through Christ (Rom. 8:37) for nothing in all creation can separate us from his love (Rom. 8:39).

Hebrews

The author of Hebrews takes a somewhat different tack but arrives at the same port. He points out that it was man’s destiny as one who was created in the image of God from the start to subject the physical creation to his dominion (Heb. 2:8; Gen. 1:26,28) and thus to be crowned with glory and honour (cf. Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7). The fact that the first Adam and all his posterity like him failed served to highlight the fact that the second succeeded. Though he suffered (Heb. 5:8), he nonetheless achieved perfection (Heb. 2:9-10), and just as we all have one origin so we shall all have one destiny (Heb. 2:11). The One who was perfected thus became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him and identify themselves with him (5:9).

Historical Theology

If recapitulation is at the heart of biblical theology, it calls in question many aspects of received dogmatic theology. For example, it is obvious that if the Augustinian dogma of original sin is true, then Jesus himself was necessarily implicated. (Forlorn attempts to exclude him by reference to the Virgin Birth or to Luke 1:35 simply prompt a whole range of theological problems.) On the other hand, if we reject this idea as a blatant distortion of what the Bible teaches, then it immediately becomes apparent that Paul’s assertion that we all sinned (Rom. 5:12) means not that we sinned “in him” (that is, in Adam, unless this is taken to mean “in the flesh”, cf. 1 Cor. 15:22), which words do not appear in the text, but that we all eventually became guilty of actual sin (as he had made clear in chs. 1-3) with the one exception of Jesus (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22, etc.). In other words, just as we recapitulate the physical and mental growth of Adam, so we repeat his experience of actually sinning – a fact beyond reasonable dispute. (Pelagius said we imitate him: better, we in our turn repeat his sin, contra Art. 1X of the C of E. Augustine apparently misunderstood his point.) All of us sin from our youth (Gen. 8:21; Dt. 9:7,24; 1 Sam. 8:8; Jer. 3:25, etc.). Prior to that we cannot sin since, like Adam in his innocence, we do not know the law (cf. Gen. 2:17; Dt. 1:39, etc.) apart from which sin does not exist (Rom. 4:15; 7:8; Jas. 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17, etc.). And since Jesus as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), indeed the second Adam, also recapitulated Adam’s experience (Heb. 2:17f.), he was born innocent too (Isa. 7:15f.). But even when he did come to know the commandment, he did not, like Paul (Rom. 7:9f.), break it, rather he kept it even in its mature Mosaic form, inherited the life it promised and went on to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) and as the Righteous One (Acts 3:14) to be perfected as the image of God (Heb. 1:3, cf. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28).

One of the most pervasive of OT teachings is that sons follow in the steps of their forebears of whom Adam was the first. They repeat their sins (Ps. 106:6; Dan. 9:11,16; Acts 7:51, etc., and note especially the books of Judges and Revelation where the repeated pattern of rebellion, retribution, repentance and rescue is plain for all to see). Paul, for example, sees himself as having recapitulated the sin of first Eve then Adam before becoming a true son of Abraham when he accepted Christ (Rom. 7:7ff.). But this also draws attention to the fact that having become sinners like our first forebears we also sometimes follow in the steps of the faithful like Abraham (Heb. 11, etc.) too. (By recapitulation it is possible to be the offspring of either Abraham, Gal. 3:14,29, or of evil fathers, Luke 6:23,26.) As noted above, all this is summed up in John 8:39ff., 1 John 3:4-10 and 3 John 11 where it is made clear that ultimately we imitate either God or the devil. In the final analysis we are the children of light or of darkness.

So again I am insisting that Adam’s sin was paradigmatic. Like all sin it stemmed ultimately from the devil who is too strong for us, frail creatures of dust that we are, and who not surprisingly is overcome by Jesus alone (cf. Mt. 4:10f.; 12:25-29, etc.). Speaking more proximately, the Bible makes it pellucidly clear that the reason all men and women, even in their youth, fall prey to the devil is that they are weak in the flesh. As children we all recapitulate Eve’s experience: we are all tempted like her and we all give way like her (contrast Jesus who was also born of woman but who successfully resisted temptation, Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15). The same is true with regard to the more specific sin of Adam (cf. 1 Tim. 2:14); as adolescents, males if not actually Jewish ones, we all fail to keep the law in its fullness (John 7:19), even if we do not actually, like Paul, rebel against it (Rom. 7:14-25). As the apostle affirms, we all alike, Jew and Gentile, sin and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:9,12,23). We all begin like the king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:13,15) and the king of Egypt (Ezek. 31:2ff.) innocent in Eden, the womb of the race, give way to temptation and are cast out (cf. Ezek. 31:11). This is the universal and perennial truth of experience and history and, this being so, only Jesus can meet our need, for he alone of all who ever lived condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22). It was clearly God’s intention from the start to ensure that before him no flesh should boast (1 Cor. 1:29; Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Eph. 2:9). He categorically refuses to give his glory to another (Isa. 42:8; 48:11) but guarantees that before him every knee will bow (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:9-11).

Universal Death

The doctrine of recapitulation has more to teach us contrary to received dogma. For example, traditional theology would have us believe that death in general stems from sin. But not according to the Bible. For just as we all are born of woman (and hence stem from the earth like Adam from whom Eve derived), become infants, children, adolescents and adults, so we all, man and animal alike (Ps. 49:12,20: Eccl. 3:18-20) experience aging and succumb naturally and finally to death (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-5:1). In the words of Joshua this is the way of all the earth (Jos. 23:14, cf. 1 K. 2:2), which makes sex and procreation or recapitulation (Gen. 19:31) a necessity (Gen. 1:11, cf. Heb. 7:23; Luke 20:36). Why is this so? Because the earth, indeed, the physical creation as a whole, in contrast with God who has neither beginning nor end (Rom. 1:23; Heb. 7:3), is naturally subject to ageing and death (Rom. 8:19ff.; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12) and we as its product inexorably follow (recapitulate) its pattern. Throughout the Bible there is a distinction between the apparently “everlasting” hills (Gen. 49:26) or earth and the eternal God (Ps. 89:37; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6-8; 54:9f.; Jer. 31:35-37; 33:20f., etc.). From this we are compelled to draw the conclusion that Adam was not created immortal as Augustine imagined but was promised life if, and only if, he kept the commandment, that is, achieved righteousness (Gen. 2:17, cf. Ps. 8:5f.). He did not, and so as flesh he lapsed into the dust from which he was taken (3:19, cf. Gal. 6:8) (4*). The same is of course true of Jesus. As one who was born of woman and was therefore earthy, he also was subject to death. Even he got older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57) and would have died even apart from sin had he remained long enough in the flesh. But he inherited life, that is, eternal life, because, unlike the rest of us, he did not sin (Heb. 2:27; 4:15). He was thus born of the Spirit, acknowledged as the Son of God (Mt. 3:13-17) and, apart from his death as our substitute, ascended into heaven transformed in accordance with the original (5*) promise (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51ff.). Thus having brought life and immortality (Gk. incorruption) to light for the first time, he paved the way for all who entrusted themselves to him (2 Tim. 1:10). As Paul intimates, this is the essence of the gospel.

True Children of our Ancestors

If it is true that history does not strictly speaking repeat itself, it is nonetheless true that the pattern of human behaviour remains the same or is recapitulated throughout the generations. Just as the law is transgenerational or genealogically continuous, so is sin (cf. Lev. 26:39; Ps. 106:6; Ezr. 9:6f.; Neh. 9:33, etc.). The proverb like mother like daughter (Ezek. 16:44) or like father like son (Jer. 32:18f.; Luke 6:23,26; Acts 7:51) is a general if not an invariable truism set in concrete (Ezek. 18; 2 Chr. 30:7f.; Zech. 1:4). But imitation is basic to Scripture (cf. 3 John 11). And it is not surprising that ultimately we are all, as was noted above, either children of the devil or of God (cf. John 8:44ff.; 1 John 3:1-10). So far as the church is concerned, if there were Sadducees and Pharisees in Jesus’ day, so there will be in our day. If there are reformers, there are also reactionaries, and so on. The modern church is decorated with progressives, traditionalists, conservatives, liberals, sacramentalists, zealots and a host of others who appear in their different guises in the NT. The entire gamut of human conduct re-appears in every age, not least in our own. It is only the superficialities (like cars instead of coaches) that change. While the heathen gods of wood and stone in their crudest form may almost have disappeared, they are nonetheless very much with us in more sophisticated hue and are as much as ever the work of men’s hands. Idolatry and immorality (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2; Rev. 2:20) are still boon companions. So even today, just as there are true believers, true children of Abraham, there are also false ones (John 8:44), and they all remain to be finally distinguished on the Day of Judgement.

Gregory Nazianzen is famous for saying that what was not assumed is not healed (see e.g. Cunliffe-Jones, pp.125f.). We might say then that in order to redeem his people Jesus had to perfectly recapitulate the life of his people. Hebrews 2 is especially relevant here. As the Redeemer he had to fulfill the Scriptures. The point is underscored in the words of Alan Richardson who writes: “Many of the recorded acts of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels are set forth as fulfillments of the story of redemption told in the Law (i.e. the Pentateuch), which the prophets had declared must be fulfilled. ‘The Son of Man goeth as it is written of him’ (Mark 14.21); the Scriptures were fulfilled (Mark 14.49). Each of the Synoptists underlines this truth in his own way. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan as Israel had been in the Red Sea (cf. 1 Cor. 10.2); he sojourns in the Wilderness forty days, being tempted, as Israel was tempted (or tempted God) forty years long; on a mountain he calls a New Israel and appoints the Twelve (Mark 3.13-19) and gives a New Law (Matt. 5.1; Luke 6.12-49); on a mountain he stands transfigured with Moses and Elijah, who each had of old time encountered God on Horeb; he gives the signs of the Bread from Heaven, as Moses and Elisha once had done. Finally he goes up to take his Kingdom, passing as the old Joshua (Gk., Jesus) had done through Jericho; and before he departs he ratifies a new covenant in his blood and institutes a new Passover which his disciples shall keep until his return in glory” (pp.21f.). The relevance of typology – the idea that just as Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14) so were Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and so forth – to our understanding the Bible becomes clear at this point, but it needs to be distinguished from recapitulation in general (6*).

Christianity and Science

Even in a brief essay such as this, the doctrine of recapitulation raises the question of the relationship between Christianity and science. I suspect that one of the reasons why it has not been examined is out of fear of the Darwinian notion of evolution which is clearly contrary to biblical truth. But if recapitulation is true, it would appear undeniable that the evolutionist’s claim that ontogeny (the development of the individual) recapitulates phylogeny (the racial history or the development of the species) is thoroughly biblical. Why then its rejection? It would appear that part of the problem lies with Ernst Haeckel who is rightly accused of cooking the books (7*). There are two main points. First, Haeckel’s view was idiosyncratic to the extent that he apparently assumed that all species were related not simply as flesh (cf. Gen. 6:17) but that they all developed from one source or ancestor according to Darwin’s Tree of Life, hence the idea that our father was an ape! In the Bible our original ancestor was Adam, man or mankind according to the flesh and we are all, including Jesus who was born of woman, created in his image (Gen. 5:1-3). (That there were prehuman or pre-adamite precursors of human beings as we now know them would seem to follow necessarily from the fact that the embryo and fetus precede the baby in the individual. The fundamentalist notion that Adam was not subject to development but was created full-grown in one day seems to me to contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, not least his mental and moral development as portrayed in Genesis 2. Man was not like Athene who sprang fully mature from the head of Zeus! Adam was as much the product of earthly seed as the rest of us, as David implies, Ps. 139:13-16, cf. 1 Pet. 1:23. If not, then his recapitulation by the rest of us would seem to require that we should also be “born” fully mature, something which is belied, not least, by the story of the Second Adam who underwent nine months of gestation (Luke 2)! It scarcely needs adding that a creature that does not develop is not a human being at all, let alone the archetype of his posterity.) (8*). Secondly, the evidence he produced for his famous drawings was false. Having said this, however, it is difficult to deny that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny in the same species or kind (cf. Gen. 1). Man produces man, dog dog and so forth, but a transgenic animal (or plant), which is usually artificially produced like a mule, remains infertile. In evolutionary terms it is a dead end. In other words, the biblical teaching regarding kinds appears to accord with science. And to posit a contradiction between them is to ignore the evidence.

(Since writing this some years ago, in November 2009 I have watched with interest (on BBC Knowledge) Professor Armand Marie Leroi’s “What Darwin Didn’t Know”. He seems to be more appreciative of Haeckel than some of my informants! Darwin’s Tree of Life may not be as outlandish as I had been led to believe. After all, the Bible lumps all flesh together in Genesis 6:17, cf. 1:24f. 2:7. According to Leroi the DNA evidence in particular would appear to be strong. On the assumption that it is correct, I  find it far more convincing than fundamentalist ideas that owe as much to Augustine’s false worldview as to misinterpretation of the Bible.)

Eschatology

There is much more to be said. However, suffice it to say here that while events like the flood (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans are specifically exploited by Jesus to prefigure the end of the world which in some sense recapitulates them on a grand scale (see Mark 13; Luke 17:26-30; 21; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.), it is Jesus himself who stands as the supreme example of recapitulation as Irenaeus long ago recognized. The race is perfectly summed up in him (cf. Eph. 1:10). Just as Adam was created in the earth (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 139:15) and planted like seed in Eden the womb of mankind (Gen. 2:8,15), so Jesus left heaven and, “contracted to a span” (C.Wesley), was placed in the womb of Mary to gestate like the rest of us (Luke 1:35, cf. Ps. 139:13). Just as the race as a whole was subject to the covenants of nature (Noah), law (Moses) and grace, so Jesus epitomized its covenantal history in himself (Gal. 4:4, cf. 1 Cor. 15:47-49, etc.) (9*). And just as Jesus attained to the glory and perfection of God (Heb. 1:3), so do we in him (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4f.). If this were not so, it is difficult to see how his world atonement (1 John 2:2), indeed his human life and work in general, could have been effective, as the author of Hebrews in particular implies. As an individual, Jesus meets the individual’s need; as a corporate figure, the second Adam, Jesus redeems all who, throughout world history, exercise faith in him (even in shadowy form as in John 8:56 and Hebrews 11) (10*) and who together constitute his bride. In light of this, truly may it be said that in the end a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the throne and before the Lamb and cry, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9f.).

(1*) On this, see, for example, the work of Catholic theologian Denis Minns OP, “Irenaeus”, especially pages 132ff.
Another factor in the failure of modern evangelical to handle recapitulation is the unwarranted fear of evolution. It is well known that Haeckel had his own idiosyncratic views on it. See further below.

(2*) The comments of W. Hendriksen on Matthew 2:15 (pp.178f.) are both helpful and
instructive. He writes: “The Messiah was, as it were, recapitulating the history of his people Israel. Nevertheless, it is hardly enough to say that Israel was a type of Christ. … when Israel was effectually called out of Egypt, Christ, too, was called out.” Hendriksen goes on to draw attention to a number of the “striking passages” in which Christ and his people are linked together. These include Acts 22:7; John 15:18-21; Col. 1:24; 11:26, etc.
See also Michael Green’s introduction to his BST volume on Matthew, pp.39ff.

(3*) Note here how obedience leads to righteousness (v.16), to sanctification (v.19), to eternal life (v.22).

(4*) While in a sense it is not always wrong to translate ‘flesh’ as ‘sinful nature’ as the NIV does, it is seriously misleading in that it fails to draw attention to the part played by our fleshly earthly nature. The flesh constitutes a major problem for us and like the earth from which it derives has to be overcome (Rom. 8:3). As Romans 8:13 and Galatians 6:8 in particular indicate, the flesh is naturally corruptible.

(5*) Though historically the promise was made first to Adam, it had an eternal origin (2 Tim. 1:1,9; Tit. 1:2): it was clearly inherent in the plan of salvation (Eph. 1:4f.; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).

(6*) See, for example, Foulkes’ “The Acts of God”, Nixon’s “The Exodus in the New Testament” and Motyer’s BST Exodus, pp.22f. For rare acknowledgement of recapitulation, see R.G.Gruenler in “The Glory of the Atonement”, ed. Hill & James, pp.100,101,104, and D.L.Bock in “Jesus according to Scripture”, pp.64,71f.,76.

(7*) See, for example, Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, ch. 3.

(8*) It would appear that man follows the pattern of creation. In other words, procreation is a reflection or recapitulation of creation. Just as God took the seed of man (Adam) and placed it in the Garden and so produced Eve (Gen. 2:8,15), so man, who is the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7) places his seed in the garden or womb of his wife to produce children (fruit) in his own image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; 1 Cor. 11:8).

(9*) It may be objected at this point that only the Jews were circumcised and hence subject to the law of Moses. While this point in its strictness may be conceded, what was exclusively the possession of Israel has in fact made its impression on the race in its maturity in Christ. Even non-Jewish Gentiles in these days of universal education are in a sense subject to what the KJV happily terms a schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24).

(10*) True covenant theology clearly provides for diminished responsibility in both the race and the individual!

References

D.L.Bock, Jesus According to Scripture, Grand Rapids, 2002.

H.Cunfliffe-Jones, A History of Christian Doctrine, Edinburgh, 1978.

W.J.Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, Exeter, 1984.

F.Foulkes, The Acts of God, London, 1958.

W.Henriksen, The Gospel of Matthew, Edinburgh, 1974.

J.N.D.Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, London, 19

C.E.Hill & F.A.James eds., The Glory of the Atonement,
Downers Grove, 2004.

Alec Motyer, BST The Message of Exodus, Leicester, 2005.

R.E.Nixon, The Exodus in the New Testament, London, 1963.

L. Strobel, The Case for a Creator, Grand Rapids, 2004.

Note

Our days are modeled on or recapitulate the days of creation described in Genesis
Our physical lives, modeled on God’s action at our creation (or procreation), recapitulate creation. Adam created as seed in the ground, placed in Eden or the womb, etc. On this model a man who is the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7) places his seed in the womb of his wife. In other words, in procreating he repeats the creative action of God. Note how God is still said to create in the womb (Gen. 30:2; Job 31:15, etc.). Just as God reduced chaos to order, so do we. We still have to keep the earth in subjection by tilling, etc. When we fail in this, it becomes a desolation. Thus we imitate God.


Preunderstandings of the Millennium?

In “Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond” edited by Darrell L.Bock, Grand Rapids, 1999, it seems to be generally agreed that the reason why writers who claim to accept in common the authority of Scripture arrive at different conclusions regarding the millennium is that they have different presuppositions or preunderstandings (pp.214,264,267,285ff., etc.). There is little doubt in my mind that this is true. So, in rejecting outright a literal millennium, it is necessary for me to make my own preunderstandings clear.
Interpretation
First, I believe that the teaching of Christ and the apostles in the earlier part of the NT forms the foundation of our faith (Eph. 2:20, cf. 1 Cor. 3:11) and that the book of Revelation repeats it in symbolic and apocalyptic form. Therefore, it seems to me, despite the fact that a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:2-7 is exegetically possible, that (a) the burden of proof lies heavily on those who claim that new truth about a literal thousand-year millennium is being taught, and that (b) on its assumption a general consensus about what it involves must, in principle, be attainable. To my knowledge both proof and consensus have hitherto eluded us. Consequently, I am convinced that any attempt to read the book of Revelation literally without the confirmation of the rest of the NT is not only fraught with danger but also incapable of substantiation. Other considerations apart, the notion of a literal millennium must ever remain deeply suspect.
The Finished Work of Christ
Next, I believe that the notion of a literal millennium undermines the finished work of Christ. According to the book of Genesis, in order to achieve glory and honour man’s vocation was to exercise dominion over the temporal earth (1:26,28; Ps. 8:5f.), to keep the commandment (2:16f.) and to resist the devil (3:1-6). He failed. By contrast, the second Adam, as Hebrews 2:9, Matthew 3:17 and John 14:30f., for example, demonstrate, accomplished all three. Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, exaltation and heavenly session (Acts 2:24,33-36) put this beyond reasonable doubt. But more to the point, as Hebrews 2:9f. in particular indicate, Jesus’ victory was representative His achievement embraced all those who believed in him (cf. John 12:26;17:24; 2 Cor. 4:14) on whose behalf he came in the first place (Mark 10:45, etc.). According to the author of Hebrews he is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, and according to Paul we are already more than conquerors in him (Rom. 8:31ff.).
If this is true, then a return to earth on the part of Christ and his fellow believers is redundant. (See further my A Summary of Reasons Against the Return of Christ to Earth, Is Jesus Coming Back to earth? at www.kenstothard.com /)  Since he has already overcome the world (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12f.), it is totally unnecessary. To posit its repetition is like going back to Egypt in denial of the exodus (Dt. 17:16; Acts 7:39). It detracts from his finished work and brings into question the entire plan of salvation. Any hint of repetition suggests imperfection, as the author of Hebrews is at pains to indicate (Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28, etc.). I therefore conclude that a literal millennium is an addition to and hence in effect a subtraction from the gospel that was originally received (Gal. 1:9). It is in its logical outworking another gospel (Gal. 1:7) and hence to be rigorously rejected. It is propagated only on pain of anathema (Gal. 1:9, cf. Rev. 22:18).
The Work of the Holy Spirit
On the face of it, it would seem that a literal millennium also undermines the effectiveness of the work of the Holy Spirit. As I understand it, Christ sent his Spirit into the world to apply his finished work or accomplished redemption to all subsequent believers “till the work on earth is done” (1* This is part of the refrain of the gospel song “There is a Redeemer” by Melody Green.) and the number of the elect is complete (Rev. 6:11, cf. Rom. 11:25f.). As Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (cf. Eph. 1:20-22; 1 Pet. 3:22) our Saviour rules from his heavenly throne putting everything in subjection beneath his feet (cf. Mt. 28:18). There is no suggestion that the work of the Spirit requires supplementation by means of a literal millennium. Again I conclude that addition means inevitable subtraction.
Transformation
Fourth, the NT makes it clear that the incarnation involved the transformation of the Word of God from previous glory (John 1:1f.,14; Phil. 2:6; 1 Tim. 3:16). In order to achieve as man for man the purpose of God, Jesus, the second Adam, had to be born of woman, that is, made flesh (Mt. 1; Luke 2; Gal. 4:4) as a true son of the first Adam (Luke 3:38), but only for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9). In the words of Paul, he had to empty and humble himself in order to take on the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7f.). But once he had accomplished his mission and proved victorious in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3, etc.), it was necessary for him as flesh to undergo transformation once more (cf. John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51ff.) – back to the divine glory and perfection he had enjoyed before (John 17:5,24). For flesh and blood can no more inherit the kingdom of God than the impermanent (corruptible) can inherit the permanent (incorruptible, 1 Cor. 15:50). Thus, at his ascension, he was transformed and passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14) permanently separate(d) from sinners (Heb. 7:26) and made perfect forever (7:28; Eph. 4:10). Like his heavenly Father, on whose throne he sat (Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21), he ruled in the world to come (Eph. 1:20-22; Heb. 1:6; 2:5). It is at this point that Jesus’ full humanity and divinity coincided (cf. John 10:30); the divine had permanently assumed the human. In heaven the throne is that of the God and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13; 6:16; 7:10,17).
Retransformation Excluded
From this we are forced to draw certain conclusions. First, Jesus will never be flesh again. To be so he would have to enter his mother’s womb again (Luke 1:35, cf. John 3:4). But this, even if it were necessary or possible, would mean that his mother who, like David, experienced corruption (Acts 2:29) would also have to re-enter the womb of her mother who has also been subject to corruption. Thus we are involved in a process of regression which cannot logically terminate till the earth itself has been re-created. But where does a literal millennium fit into this scenario? The question hardly requires an answer.
Second, if Jesus has now regained the glory of God he shared before the foundation of the world, he cannot dwell on the earth (1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:49f.). In view of this it is not at all strange that Paul denies his return to earthly corruption in any form (Acts 13:34). (2* See further my No Return to Corruption, No Going Back. This belies Ladd’s assertion, p.236, that the consummation means nothing less than the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem to earth, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. He refers to Revelation 21:2 which fails to mention earth at all – not surprisingly, since it has already passed away as 20:11 and 21:1 indicate. Ladd then informs us that God will finally visit men to transform a fallen order and dwell among men on a redeemed earth. This is a clear indication that his thinking is governed by the worldview of Augustine, on which see my The Biblical Worldview, Worldview. He seems to have forgotten that God visited the earth briefly, Heb. 2:7,9, in Christ not to redeem it but men from it, cf. my Escape! Earth by its very nature is visible, temporary and corruptible. It is therefore paramount for us to be rescued from it as the Israelites were from Egypt.)  When he returns (3* I become increasingly convinced that the term ‘return of Christ’ is overworked and misleading. While acknowledging that Jesus himself says he will come again (palin erchomai, John 14:3, cf. Acts 1:11; Tit.2:13, etc.), the word parousia strictly means presence and, according to Dunn, is never used in the NT in the sense of return, p.296 n.11. In light of the fact that Jesus tells his disciples that he will be with them to the end of the age, Mt. 28:20, the other two words used in this connection with the second advent, epiphaneia or appearing and apocalypsis or revealing, suggest that his present invisibility will give way to visibility, cf. Michaels in comment on 1:7 in WBC 1 Peter, 1988, p.32, at which time creation will flee away, Rev. 20:11; 21:1, cf. 6:14; 16:20. Clearly, more needs to be said in this connection.) it will be in the glory of the Father (Mt. 16:27; 25:31; 26:64; Luke 9:26) not to deal with sin again (repetition) but to rescue his people (Mt. 13:27; Heb. 9:28; 1 Cor. 15:51f.). He will thus bring them transformed in his moral and generic likeness (1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4) into the heavenly presence of God as his children (2 Cor. 4:14; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18).
Third, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that so far as man is concerned there is a progressive movement from flesh to spirit (1 Cor. 15:46) or from ground to glory. This movement is epitomized in Jesus’ earthly career which ended with his ascension to heaven. Thus, the idea that this process should be reversed when Jesus returns to this earth in the flesh is contrary to the gospel, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 3:3, for example. In any case, Paul banishes the notion in Acts 13:34 where he tells us that Christ’s resurrection (4* I take it that Paul is using the word resurrection in this passage to include ascension, exaltation and heavenly session, as the second part of the verse implies.) precludes any possibility of a return to earthly corruption.
Our Heavenly Call
The initial call of mortal man in Genesis 2:16f. (cf. 3:1-6), which is also implied in Genesis 1:26-28 (cf. Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7), is to gain eternal life and incorruption. This call is strongly underscored in the NT by references such as John 3:16,36, 20:21, 1 John 2:25 and 5:11-13.  Paul (Phil. 3:14; 1 Thes. 2:12), Peter (1 Pet. 5:10) and the author of Hebrews (3:1) also stress that our call is a heavenly call to glory. It is almost superfluous to add in the light of this evidence that Christ is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) which we shall share with God (Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 4:17). And just in case we have any illusions that this hope is earthly both Paul (Col. 1:5, cf. Rom. 8:20,24f.) and Peter insist that it is heavenly (1 Pet. 1:3f.). We are thus forced to conclude that an earthly millennium is not on the horizon, and, not surprisingly, believers who have trimmed their lamps go directly to the marriage feast (Mt. 25:10, cf. Luke 20:34-36). (It might profitably be added here that once we are married to Christ, there will be no divorce!)
Sin the Only Problem?
The hidden assumption of premillenialism, like so much of Western theology, is that all our problems stem from sin. Thus, it is almost universally held that the sin of Adam brought death not merely to himself but to the entire universe! The sin-obsessed Augustine, whose erroneous thinking still governs us even in the 21st century, failed to recognize that, as Genesis 1:1 implies, a temporal creation is necessarily subject to corruption (cf. Ps. 89:47). God made it that way in hope (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). The truth of this is underlined by the paradox of Jesus himself who on the one hand as a man of dust, a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), had a beginning, grew older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57) and hence was ready to vanish away (2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 8:13), but on the other hand possessed indestructible life (Heb. 7:3,16). In other words, as flesh, a product of the corruptible earth, he was necessarily mortal even apart from sin; it was only as spirit that he was immortal and incorruptible. So while he died in the flesh, he continued to live in the spirit (1 Pet. 3:18) which he committed to his Father even as he died on the cross (Luke 23:46). To object here that Jesus did not see corruption after his death but rose again in the flesh is beside the point. In dying for others he was not earning wages on his own account. His resurrection, which demonstrated the efficacy and validity of his death on our behalf (Rom. 4:25) and clearly underscored the return of his spirit to his lifeless body (cf. Luke 8:55; James 2:26), did not obviate the necessity of his ascension, transformation and glorification (John 20:17). For how else could he inherit the eternal blessings promised to David (Acts 13:34, cf. Luke 1:32f.).
The premillennial assumption seems to be that Christ must return to earth to demonstrate man’s dominion subverted by Adam’s (imputed) sin and a universal curse on the earth. But as has already been made clear, the victory of Jesus as the second Adam over a sinful world and a recalcitrant creation was representative and does not require repetition. A literal millennium achieves nothing that has not already been achieved. Christ’s work was both a finished and victorious work (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12f.).
The Kingdom of God
Fifth, Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). In light of this he did not pose a political threat to the rule of Rome. Pilate seemed to be convinced by this, though many of Jesus’ followers were not (cf. John 6:15; Acts 1:6). In any case, the kingdom of God to which Jesus frequently refers is in Matthew’s gospel usually designated the kingdom of heaven wherein righteousness dwells (Mt. 5:6,20; 6:10,33, cf. Rom. 14:17; 2 Pet. 3:13).
When reflecting on the kingdom, it is vital for us not to forget that Jesus was a Son of David who was promised eternal rule (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89). Luke tells us that the Lord God will give  Jesus the throne of his ancestor David and that his kingdom will be endless (1:32f.). Apart from other teaching along the same lines (e.g. Acts 2:34-36; 13:34; 15:16f.), it is hard indeed to see how Jesus can (cf. Acts 7:49f.) and why he should return to reign on a temporal earth.
The author of Hebrews also lays stress on Jesus’ heavenly rule (1:6; 2:5) and priesthood (5:6; 7:17). In both cases their everlasting or eternal nature is underscored, as it had been long before in 2 Samuel 7:13 and Psalm 89:27-29,36f. (cf. Luke 1:32f., etc.). Since this is so, a temporal earthly rule of a mere thousand years is not on the horizon.
This Age or the Age to Come
This raises the question of the age to which the millennium belongs. As we have just seen, it cannot occur in the eternal age to come. And since dormant sin re-appears at the end of the thousand years when the devil is released, it must belong to the present age. This of course should be evident from the fact that the saints are in the flesh which derives from a temporal earth. Again, however, we are confronted with a re-incarnated Jesus. Just how he can be flesh again after ascending transformed to his Father in heaven without, as suggested above, re-entering his mother’s womb is more than a little difficult to explain. (It might be remembered at this point that some premillennialists argue that 1 Corinthians 15:50 refers only to sinful flesh. Behind such thinking seems to lie the Augustinian idea of an originally perfect and hence immortal Adam!)
But this by no means brings our difficulties to an end. For if Jesus and the saints who like David have already seen corruption are going to return to earth in the flesh, then they are also going to be subject to aging and corruption once again. One premillennialist writer whose book is on my shelves avers without batting an eyelid (on video) that Jesus is going to return in the flesh just as he was when he ascended, and still 33 years old! While he apparently recognizes that in heaven Jesus’ aging process was suspended despite his still being in corruptible flesh (!), he fails to realize that once he comes back to earth his biological clock will begin to tick again. Since this is so, at the end of the millennium Jesus will be 1033 years old, putting Methuselah, who was only 969, in the shade. Even if, however, we reject the notion that individuals such as Adam, who is clearly both individual and community, achieved such stupendous ages, there will inevitably be marriage and birth during the millennium (contrast Luke 20:34 and cf. Heb. 7:23). I humbly suggest this is a highly unlikely scenario. As I shall insist further below, apart from the fact that an intermediate earthly kingdom is unknown to Scripture, the very idea is based on a fundamental misconception. But in any case, we are yet again faced with the problem of repetition. If the literal millennium is all it is said to be, then Jesus’ victory in the flesh (John 16:33; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:9, etc.) prior to his death and resurrection is an illusion. On this assumption, Paul should never have written Romans 8:31ff. (cf. Rev. 3:21, etc.).
Perfection
As intimated above, it is Augustinian theology that forms the background of premillennial thinking. Augustine fostered the notion that God originally created the world and its inhabitants Adam and Eve perfect and as a result had to posit a calamitous fall and a consequent cosmic curse. But the idea that creation was originally perfect is belied by the very first verse of the Bible. Only God is perfect and he has neither beginning nor end (Isa. 57:15, cf. Heb. 7:3). While heaven is his throne, earth is his footstool (Isa. 66:1; Mt. 5:34f.). In light of this it comes as no surprise that the Creator and his creation are distinguished throughout Scripture (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; 103: 15-17; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). The one is to be worshipped but the other not (Dt. 4:19; Rom. 1:25, etc.). Perfection (maturity, completion, Jas. 1:4) is the goal of man made in the image of God (Lev. 11:44f.; Mt. 5:48); he alone of all flesh has both the vocation and the concomitant capacity to attain to the divine likeness and be perfected as Jesus himself was (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). The material creation, like the flesh, is a law to itself and achieves its own fleeting perfection before its ultimate demise.
The Perfection of the Creature
So far as man’s flesh is concerned, it achieves perfection (maturity, completeness) in this world. As the lamb becomes a sheep, so a baby becomes a man or woman. Then in accordance with the law of its creation (Rom. 8:20) it declines in subjection to its natural  corruptibility and entropy (2 Cor. 4:16, cf. Mt. 6:19f., etc.). On the other hand, what is spiritually perfected (Heb. 2:10; 5:9) remains perfect forever (Heb. 7:28), while the imperfect passes away (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10). Acts 13:34 apart, I conclude that Jesus’ return to a corruptible earth is out of the question. Perfection once achieved does not return to imperfection. Retrogression in Scripture is a sin (Dt. 24:16; Jer. 7:24, etc.), while progression to spiritual maturity seen in terms of both destiny and destination is of the essence of the gospel (Eph. 4:8-16; Col. 1:28; 4:12; Jas. 1:4). As intimated above, Paul makes this especially clear in Galatians. While in 1 Corinthians 15:46 the apostle indicates that man moves from flesh to spirit (and from law to Spirit, Rom. 7-8), in Galatians 3:3 he remonstrates with those who seem intent on reversing the process. After being born again by the Spirit, ending in the flesh is inherently contradictory. Again in 4:9 and in Colossians 2:20 he is implicitly saying the same thing. Going back results inevitably in curse and death as it did in the wilderness (Jer. 7:24; 1 Cor. 10:5; Heb. 3:17, etc.); going forward leads to blessing and life (Jer. 32:39-41; 1 Pet. 2:11f., etc.). Spiritual and corporeal (somatic) perfection are attained in heaven not on earth.
Augustinian Theology
It is one of the ironies of history that premillennialists who are so hotly critical of Augustine’s opposition to chiliasm are nonetheless so profoundly governed by his worldview. (See further my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview.) They readily accept the traditional but radically unscriptural dogmas of original perfection, Fall, original sin and a universal curse on creation, yet it is precisely these that give rise to what they see as the need for a millennium. Once these are excised, as they should be, from our thinking, no amount of exegetical ingenuity and hermeneutical expertise will elicit a literal thousand-year millennium on this earth. The entire Bible is opposed to it. Or is it?
Covenant Theology
This brings us to covenant theology. As I have described elsewhere, many years ago I ran into trouble trying to understand traditional covenant theologies and eventually concluded that both the Reformed and the Dispensational varieties were flawed. It is impossible to go into detail here, but one of my main conclusions was that while old and new covenants are to some degree ethically continuous, they are nonetheless essentially different or discontinuous (cf. my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity).  The old covenant is oriented to this material world and not unnaturally emphasizes the rule of law which, being transient and provisional (2 Cor. 3:11, etc.), operates only so long as the world exists (Mt. 5:18, cf. Rom. 7:1). The new covenant relates essentially to heaven (cf. Mt. 6:10) or the world to come and remains forever (Mt. 24:35). It existed here on earth only as a promise (Jer. 31:31-34) until it was inaugurated, like the kingdom of God, by Jesus (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). It is essentially spiritual and is dictated by the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 3).
If this is so, it is almost inevitable that premillennialists, especially those of the dispensational variety, who are governed by a literal interpretation of the OT entertain the largely materialistic hopes of the OT. Even a scholar of the calibre of G.E.Ladd, a classical premillennialist who rejected dispensationalism, was earth-centred in his eschatology. Like so many others, he was conditioned by the Augustinian worldview. He failed to recognize that this material world, of which man in the flesh is a part, was created temporal (Gen. 1:1) and naturally corruptible but in (invisible) hope (Rom. 8:18-25). Thus the plan of salvation involves our escape from it (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 8:20,23). This present (temporal) age must give way to the (eternal) age to come. And since we, the children of dusty Adam (Ps. 103:14, etc.), are incapable of meeting the condition of our escape, that is, a sinless life in the flesh (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 32:46f. Ezek. 33:15, etc.), it has been achieved for us by Christ (Rom. 8:3). Our own undeniable sins (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:23) have been covered by his death and we are saved by his life (Rom. 5:10).
The plain truth is that the old covenant is spiritualized in the new covenant. An obvious example of this is the non-literal inheritance of Abraham in Hebrews 11. (Strictly speaking, it is literal as opposed to allegorical, spiritual as opposed to material. Like the temple, it is real or true as opposed to shadowy.) The city or land he looked for was invisible and therefore  heavenly (Heb. 11:8-16; 12:22; 13:14, cf. Phil. 3:20). Like Jesus’ kingship (John 18:36), it was not of this creation (Heb. 9:11). The tragedy of premillennialism is that it attempts to pour new wine into old wineskins with the result that the significance of the true gospel is largely lost (Mark 2:21f.).
Biblical covenant theology points to another matter of basic importance. I have argued at some length in my Covenant Theology, Covenant Theology in Brief (cf. Did God Make a Covenant With Creation? Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity, that proper study of the Bible evinces three dispensational covenants affecting the race – one each respectively with Noah, Moses and Christ (cf. Rom. 1-3). While the first two continue to operate in this world, they are inherently provisional pending the end of history and of the material creation (cf. Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1). Only the Christian covenant is permanent (Mt. 24:35, cf. the promissory Abrahamic and Davidic covenants). But it needs to be recognized that since the individual recapitulates the history of the race, these covenants are miniaturized and epitomized in the individual, not least in the second Adam who is thereby fitted to become universally representative (cf. 1 John 2:2). This is made especially plain in Galatians 4:1-7 where Jesus is shown to be first a child or slave of nature (Gentile), second, a son of the commandment (Jew), and, third, the beloved Son of his heavenly Father and archetypal Christian (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). (So far as Paul himself was concerned, see Romans 7-8.) If this is true, on premillennial presuppositions we ought to expect a mini-millennium in the life of Jesus himself. But we do not. What we do see is increasing opposition and hostility culminating in his death. And we see precisely the same in the eschatological experience of his people as a whole, as non-millenarians (amillennialists) have frequently testified. All of us go through (the) tribulation in one form or another (Acts 14:22, cf. Gal. 5:16f.; 1 Pet. 2:11). But those who are alive at the end of the present dispensation can expect not a golden age but persecution of a particularly vicious kind when evil achieves its own maturity or perfection (Gen. 15:16; 1 Thes. 2:16; Rev. 13). And with the rejection of the gospel in the West and intense opposition to it elsewhere, one cannot help but wonder if that end is drawing close (Rom. 13:11—14). One thing is clear: nature itself is beginning to manifest more obvious birthpangs than usual (Mt. 24:8). (Not to mention recent earthquakes and tsunamis, I write this on a day when Victoria in Australia in the grip of drought is ablaze.)
Conclusion
On the basis of my preunderstandings of the Bible, a literal thousand-year millennium under the rule of Christ in the flesh and on the earth is out of the question. It reflects a basically unbiblical worldview and anthropology. Furthermore, it is an addition to Scripture which Scripture itself severely condemns (Rev. 22:18). It should be rejected out of hand and its devotees called on to repent on pain of divine judgement (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).
ADDITIONAL NOTE on Historic Premillennialism
Since writing the above I have read with immense interest and profit A Case for Historic Premillennialism, ed. Blomberg and Chung. Short of writing an extended separate critique along the lines of the above, I here append some comments on Gnostic dualism.
On page 129 Donald Fairbairn in a fine essay on Contemporary Millennial/Tribulational Debates tells us that at the heart of Gnosticism lies a profound dualism which he apparently regards as false, though see my Biblical Dualism.  He maintains that it surfaces in four crucial areas.
First, he says it leads to the idea that the material world is evil and unredeemable. This however, from a biblical point of view is false logic, since from Genesis 1:1 the Bible depicts the material creation not as evil but as intrinsically temporal and corruptible (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 51:6; Mt. 6:19f.). Furthermore, to infer from this that salvation applies only to the soul and not to the body is again to err. Scripture clearly teaches the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:45-49) but certainly not of the flesh which derives from the naturally corruptible (Rom. 8:18-25), visible and temporary (2 Cor. 4:18) material creation which is destined for destruction (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50; Heb. 12:27, etc.).
Second, Fairbairn says that Gnosticism denigrates history. Perhaps it does, but to draw the conclusion from the destruction of the material creation which is clearly taught in the Bible that the panorama of history played out in the physical world is of little consequence is quite misguided. After all we are judged by the deeds we do in the body! The world is the testing ground in which we as those who are created in the image of God are called to exercise dominion (Gen. 1:26-28, etc.) with a view to our ultimately becoming children of the resurrection. Jesus as the second Adam achieved his victory on earth and in so doing ensured our own triumph (Heb. 2:6-13).
Third, Fairbairn contends that Gnosticism leads to a distinction between two competing gods – the lesser, material god of the OT and the higher, spiritual God of the NT. In the Bible, however, God is the God of both testaments. For all that, there is no denying that the old covenant in contrast with the new relates primarily to this material earth and to the flesh (Mt. 5:18; Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10 contrast Mt. 24:35, etc.). As scholars regularly point out the OT people were more earthly than heavenly oriented (e.g. Bruce, pp.298f.,339; Ladd,). Both Paul and the author of Hebrews insist on the limitations and defective nature of the law which, like the creation itself, is temporary and provisional (see e.g. 2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 7:18f.).
Fourth, while it may be true that Gnosticism implicitly harbours a docetic view of Christ, this is not true of the Bible which clearly emphasizes the reality of the incarnation. If Jesus did not conquer in the flesh as the second Adam (Rom. 8:3), then he did not conquer at all (Heb. 2, etc.). But it must be promptly added that his victory in the flesh led not merely to his physical resurrection from the dead but to his transformation ascension and return to former glory (John 17:5,24). As Irenaeus, despite his premillennialism, once said, he became what we are so that we might become what he is, and that is certainly not corruptible flesh, which would make nonsense of  Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.
As intimated above, the problem with premillennialism of whatever hue is, first, its Augustinian worldview and, second, its lack of an adequate covenant theology.
(See further my essays on the redemption of creation and original sin including A Brief Critique of ‘Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright, A Brief Review of ‘The Mission of God’ by  C.J.H. Wright. Note also Romans 8, Covenant Theology, Manufactured or Not So, The Corruptibility of Creation, Spiritualization, The Biblical Worldview, Worldview, Did Jesus Rise Physically from the Grave?, Thoughts on the Redemption of Creation, etc.  at www.kenstothard.com / )
Note:
Christians are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9) who rule on the earth (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). They also rule in heaven with Jesus (Rev. 3:21; 20:4,6, cf. 1 Cor. 6:2f.). The thousand years of Revelation 20 is clearly the Christian dispensation and there is no evidence whatsoever of an intermediate kingdom which in any case serves no discernible purpose. Christ has already conquered (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5, etc.). Already in the process of putting his enemies under his feet, he is heading for the grand finale or consummation.
REFERENCES
Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, eds., A Case for Historic Premillennialism, Grand Rapids, 2009.
F.F.Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids/London, 1964.
J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 2003 ed.
G.E.Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1974.
J.R.Michaels, WBC 1 Peter, 1988.

In “Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond” edited by Darrell L.Bock, Grand Rapids, 1999, it seems to be generally agreed that the reason why writers who claim to accept in common the authority of Scripture arrive at different conclusions regarding the millennium is that they have different presuppositions or preunderstandings (pp.214,264,267,285ff., etc.). There is little doubt in my mind that this is true. So, in rejecting outright a literal millennium, it is necessary for me to make my own preunderstandings clear.


Interpretation

First, I believe that the teaching of Christ and the apostles in the earlier part of the NT forms the foundation of our faith (Eph. 2:20, cf. 1 Cor. 3:11) and that the book of Revelation repeats it in symbolic and apocalyptic form. Therefore, it seems to me, despite the fact that a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:2-7 is exegetically possible, that

(a) the burden of proof lies heavily on those who claim that new truth about a literal thousand-year millennium is being taught, and that

(b) on its assumption a general consensus about what it involves must, in principle, be attainable. To my knowledge both proof and consensus have hitherto eluded us. Consequently, I am convinced that any attempt to read the book of Revelation literally without the confirmation of the rest of the NT is not only fraught with danger but also incapable of substantiation. Other considerations apart, the notion of a literal millennium must ever remain deeply suspect.


The Finished Work of Christ

Next, I believe that the notion of a literal millennium undermines the finished work of Christ. According to the book of Genesis, in order to achieve glory and honour man’s vocation was to exercise dominion over the temporal earth (1:26,28; Ps. 8:5f.), to keep the commandment (2:16f.) and to resist the devil (3:1-6). He failed. By contrast, the second Adam, as Hebrews 2:9, Matthew 3:17 and John 14:30f., for example, demonstrate, accomplished all three. Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, exaltation and heavenly session (Acts 2:24,33-36) put this beyond reasonable doubt. But more to the point, as Hebrews 2:9f. in particular indicate, Jesus’ victory was representative His achievement embraced all those who believed in him (cf. John 12:26;17:24; 2 Cor. 4:14) on whose behalf he came in the first place (Mark 10:45, etc.). According to the author of Hebrews he is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, and according to Paul we are already more than conquerors in him (Rom. 8:31ff.).

If this is true, then a return to earth on the part of Christ and his fellow believers is redundant. (See further my A Summary of Reasons Against the Return of Christ to Earth, Is Jesus Coming Back to earth? at www.kenstothard.com /)  Since he has already overcome the world (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12f.), it is totally unnecessary. To posit its repetition is like going back to Egypt in denial of the exodus (Dt. 17:16; Acts 7:39). It detracts from his finished work and brings into question the entire plan of salvation. Any hint of repetition suggests imperfection, as the author of Hebrews is at pains to indicate (Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28, etc.). I therefore conclude that a literal millennium is an addition to and hence in effect a subtraction from the gospel that was originally received (Gal. 1:9). It is in its logical outworking another gospel (Gal. 1:7) and hence to be rigorously rejected. It is propagated only on pain of anathema (Gal. 1:9, cf. Rev. 22:18).


The Work of the Holy Spirit

On the face of it, it would seem that a literal millennium also undermines the effectiveness of the work of the Holy Spirit. As I understand it, Christ sent his Spirit into the world to apply his finished work or accomplished redemption to all subsequent believers “till the work on earth is done” (1* This is part of the refrain of the gospel song “There is a Redeemer” by Melody Green.) and the number of the elect is complete (Rev. 6:11, cf. Rom. 11:25f.). As Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (cf. Eph. 1:20-22; 1 Pet. 3:22) our Saviour rules from his heavenly throne putting everything in subjection beneath his feet (cf. Mt. 28:18). There is no suggestion that the work of the Spirit requires supplementation by means of a literal millennium. Again I conclude that addition means inevitable subtraction.


Transformation

Fourth, the NT makes it clear that the incarnation involved the transformation of the Word of God from previous glory (John 1:1f.,14; Phil. 2:6; 1 Tim. 3:16). In order to achieve as man for man the purpose of God, Jesus, the second Adam, had to be born of woman, that is, made flesh (Mt. 1; Luke 2; Gal. 4:4) as a true son of the first Adam (Luke 3:38), but only for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9). In the words of Paul, he had to empty and humble himself in order to take on the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7f.). But once he had accomplished his mission and proved victorious in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3, etc.), it was necessary for him as flesh to undergo transformation once more (cf. John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51ff.) – back to the divine glory and perfection he had enjoyed before (John 17:5,24). For flesh and blood can no more inherit the kingdom of God than the impermanent (corruptible) can inherit the permanent (incorruptible, 1 Cor. 15:50). Thus, at his ascension, he was transformed and passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14) permanently separate(d) from sinners (Heb. 7:26) and made perfect forever (7:28; Eph. 4:10). Like his heavenly Father, on whose throne he sat (Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21), he ruled in the world to come (Eph. 1:20-22; Heb. 1:6; 2:5). It is at this point that Jesus’ full humanity and divinity coincided (cf. John 10:30); the divine had permanently assumed the human. In heaven the throne is that of the God and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13; 6:16; 7:10,17).


Retransformation Excluded

From this we are forced to draw certain conclusions. First, Jesus will never be flesh again. To be so he would have to enter his mother’s womb again (Luke 1:35, cf. John 3:4). But this, even if it were necessary or possible, would mean that his mother who, like David, experienced corruption (Acts 2:29) would also have to re-enter the womb of her mother who has also been subject to corruption. Thus we are involved in a process of regression which cannot logically terminate till the earth itself has been re-created. But where does a literal millennium fit into this scenario? The question hardly requires an answer.

Second, if Jesus has now regained the glory of God he shared before the foundation of the world, he cannot dwell on the earth (1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:49f.). In view of this it is not at all strange that Paul denies his return to earthly corruption in any form (Acts 13:34). (2* See further my No Return To CorruptionNo Going Back. This belies Ladd’s assertion, p.236, that the consummation means nothing less than the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem to earth, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. He refers to Revelation 21:2 which fails to mention earth at all – not surprisingly, since it has already passed away as 20:11 and 21:1 indicate. Ladd then informs us that God will finally visit men to transform a fallen order and dwell among men on a redeemed earth. This is a clear indication that his thinking is governed by the worldview of Augustine, on which see my The Biblical Worldview, Worldview. He seems to have forgotten that God visited the earth briefly, Heb. 2:7,9, in Christ not to redeem it but men from it, cf. my Escape! Earth by its very nature is visible, temporary and corruptible. It is therefore paramount for us to be rescued from it as the Israelites were from Egypt.)  When he returns (3* I become increasingly convinced that the term ‘return of Christ’ is overworked and misleading. While acknowledging that Jesus himself says he will come again (palin erchomai, John 14:3, cf. Acts 1:11; Tit.2:13, etc.), the word parousia strictly means presence and, according to Dunn, is never used in the NT in the sense of return, p.296 n.11. In light of the fact that Jesus tells his disciples that he will be with them to the end of the age, Mt. 28:20, the other two words used in this connection with the second advent, epiphaneia or appearing and apocalypsis or revealing, suggest that his present invisibility will give way to visibility, cf. Michaels in comment on 1:7 in WBC 1 Peter, 1988, p.32, at which time creation will flee away, Rev. 20:11; 21:1, cf. 6:14; 16:20. Clearly, more needs to be said in this connection.) it will be in the glory of the Father (Mt. 16:27; 25:31; 26:64; Luke 9:26) not to deal with sin again (repetition) but to rescue his people (Mt. 13:27; Heb. 9:28; 1 Cor. 15:51f.). He will thus bring them transformed in his moral and generic likeness (1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4) into the heavenly presence of God as his children (2 Cor. 4:14; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Third, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that so far as man is concerned there is a progressive movement from flesh to spirit (1 Cor. 15:46) or from ground to glory. This movement is epitomized in Jesus’ earthly career which ended with his ascension to heaven. Thus, the idea that this process should be reversed when Jesus returns to this earth in the flesh is contrary to the gospel, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 3:3, for example. In any case, Paul banishes the notion in Acts 13:34 where he tells us that Christ’s resurrection (4* I take it that Paul is using the word resurrection in this passage to include ascension, exaltation and heavenly session, as the second part of the verse implies.) precludes any possibility of a return to earthly corruption.


Our Heavenly Call

The initial call of mortal man in Genesis 2:16f. (cf. 3:1-6), which is also implied in Genesis 1:26-28 (cf. Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7), is to gain eternal life and incorruption. This call is strongly underscored in the NT by references such as John 3:16,36, 20:21, 1 John 2:25 and 5:11-13.  Paul (Phil. 3:14; 1 Thes. 2:12), Peter (1 Pet. 5:10) and the author of Hebrews (3:1) also stress that our call is a heavenly call to glory. It is almost superfluous to add in the light of this evidence that Christ is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) which we shall share with God (Rom. 5:2; 2 Cor. 4:17). And just in case we have any illusions that this hope is earthly both Paul (Col. 1:5, cf. Rom. 8:20,24f.) and Peter insist that it is heavenly (1 Pet. 1:3f.). We are thus forced to conclude that an earthly millennium is not on the horizon, and, not surprisingly, believers who have trimmed their lamps go directly to the marriage feast (Mt. 25:10, cf. Luke 20:34-36). (It might profitably be added here that once we are married to Christ, there will be no divorce!)


Sin the Only Problem?

The hidden assumption of premillenialism, like so much of Western theology, is that all our problems stem from sin. Thus, it is almost universally held that the sin of Adam brought death not merely to himself but to the entire universe! The sin-obsessed Augustine, whose erroneous thinking still governs us even in the 21st century, failed to recognize that, as Genesis 1:1 implies, a temporal creation is necessarily subject to corruption (cf. Ps. 89:47). God made it that way in hope (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). The truth of this is underlined by the paradox of Jesus himself who on the one hand as a man of dust, a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), had a beginning, grew older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57) and hence was ready to vanish away (2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 8:13), but on the other hand possessed indestructible life (Heb. 7:3,16). In other words, as flesh, a product of the corruptible earth, he was necessarily mortal even apart from sin; it was only as spirit that he was immortal and incorruptible. So while he died in the flesh, he continued to live in the spirit (1 Pet. 3:18) which he committed to his Father even as he died on the cross (Luke 23:46). To object here that Jesus did not see corruption after his death but rose again in the flesh is beside the point. In dying for others he was not earning wages on his own account. His resurrection, which demonstrated the efficacy and validity of his death on our behalf (Rom. 4:25) and clearly underscored the return of his spirit to his lifeless body (cf. Luke 8:55; James 2:26), did not obviate the necessity of his ascension, transformation and glorification (John 20:17). For how else could he inherit the eternal blessings promised to David (Acts 13:34, cf. Luke 1:32f.).

The premillennial assumption seems to be that Christ must return to earth to demonstrate man’s dominion subverted by Adam’s (imputed) sin and a universal curse on the earth. But as has already been made clear, the victory of Jesus as the second Adam over a sinful world and a recalcitrant creation was representative and does not require repetition. A literal millennium achieves nothing that has not already been achieved. Christ’s work was both a finished and victorious work (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12f.).


The Kingdom of God

Fifth, Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). In light of this he did not pose a political threat to the rule of Rome. Pilate seemed to be convinced by this, though many of Jesus’ followers were not (cf. John 6:15; Acts 1:6). In any case, the kingdom of God to which Jesus frequently refers is in Matthew’s gospel usually designated the kingdom of heaven wherein righteousness dwells (Mt. 5:6,20; 6:10,33, cf. Rom. 14:17; 2 Pet. 3:13).

When reflecting on the kingdom, it is vital for us not to forget that Jesus was a Son of David who was promised eternal rule (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89). Luke tells us that the Lord God will give  Jesus the throne of his ancestor David and that his kingdom will be endless (1:32f.). Apart from other teaching along the same lines (e.g. Acts 2:34-36; 13:34; 15:16f.), it is hard indeed to see how Jesus can (cf. Acts 7:49f.) and why he should return to reign on a temporal earth.

The author of Hebrews also lays stress on Jesus’ heavenly rule (1:6; 2:5) and priesthood (5:6; 7:17). In both cases their everlasting or eternal nature is underscored, as it had been long before in 2 Samuel 7:13 and Psalm 89:27-29,36f. (cf. Luke 1:32f., etc.). Since this is so, a temporal earthly rule of a mere thousand years is not on the horizon.


This Age or the Age to Come

This raises the question of the age to which the millennium belongs. As we have just seen, it cannot occur in the eternal age to come. And since dormant sin re-appears at the end of the thousand years when the devil is released, it must belong to the present age. This of course should be evident from the fact that the saints are in the flesh which derives from a temporal earth. Again, however, we are confronted with a re-incarnated Jesus. Just how he can be flesh again after ascending transformed to his Father in heaven without, as suggested above, re-entering his mother’s womb is more than a little difficult to explain. (It might be remembered at this point that some premillennialists argue that 1 Corinthians 15:50 refers only to sinful flesh. Behind such thinking seems to lie the Augustinian idea of an originally perfect and hence immortal Adam!)

But this by no means brings our difficulties to an end. For if Jesus and the saints who like David have already seen corruption are going to return to earth in the flesh, then they are also going to be subject to aging and corruption once again. One premillennialist writer whose book is on my shelves avers without batting an eyelid (on video) that Jesus is going to return in the flesh just as he was when he ascended, and still 33 years old! While he apparently recognizes that in heaven Jesus’ aging process was suspended despite his still being in corruptible flesh (!), he fails to realize that once he comes back to earth his biological clock will begin to tick again. Since this is so, at the end of the millennium Jesus will be 1033 years old, putting Methuselah, who was only 969, in the shade. Even if, however, we reject the notion that individuals such as Adam, who is clearly both individual and community, achieved such stupendous ages, there will inevitably be marriage and birth during the millennium (contrast Luke 20:34 and cf. Heb. 7:23). I humbly suggest this is a highly unlikely scenario. As I shall insist further below, apart from the fact that an intermediate earthly kingdom is unknown to Scripture, the very idea is based on a fundamental misconception. But in any case, we are yet again faced with the problem of repetition. If the literal millennium is all it is said to be, then Jesus’ victory in the flesh (John 16:33; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:9, etc.) prior to his death and resurrection is an illusion. On this assumption, Paul should never have written Romans 8:31ff. (cf. Rev. 3:21, etc.).


Perfection

As intimated above, it is Augustinian theology that forms the background of premillennial thinking. Augustine fostered the notion that God originally created the world and its inhabitants Adam and Eve perfect and as a result had to posit a calamitous fall and a consequent cosmic curse. But the idea that creation was originally perfect is belied by the very first verse of the Bible. Only God is perfect and he has neither beginning nor end (Isa. 57:15, cf. Heb. 7:3). While heaven is his throne, earth is his footstool (Isa. 66:1; Mt. 5:34f.). In light of this it comes as no surprise that the Creator and his creation are distinguished throughout Scripture (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; 103: 15-17; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). The one is to be worshipped but the other not (Dt. 4:19; Rom. 1:25, etc.). Perfection (maturity, completion, Jas. 1:4) is the goal of man made in the image of God (Lev. 11:44f.; Mt. 5:48); he alone of all flesh has both the vocation and the concomitant capacity to attain to the divine likeness and be perfected as Jesus himself was (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). The material creation, like the flesh, is a law to itself and achieves its own fleeting perfection before its ultimate demise.


The Perfection of the Creature

So far as man’s flesh is concerned, it achieves perfection (maturity, completeness) in this world. As the lamb becomes a sheep, so a baby becomes a man or woman. Then in accordance with the law of its creation (Rom. 8:20) it declines in subjection to its natural  corruptibility and entropy (2 Cor. 4:16, cf. Mt. 6:19f., etc.). On the other hand, what is spiritually perfected (Heb. 2:10; 5:9) remains perfect forever (Heb. 7:28), while the imperfect passes away (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10). Acts 13:34 apart, I conclude that Jesus’ return to a corruptible earth is out of the question. Perfection once achieved does not return to imperfection. Retrogression in Scripture is a sin (Dt. 24:16; Jer. 7:24, etc.), while progression to spiritual maturity seen in terms of both destiny and destination is of the essence of the gospel (Eph. 4:8-16; Col. 1:28; 4:12; Jas. 1:4). As intimated above, Paul makes this especially clear in Galatians. While in 1 Corinthians 15:46 the apostle indicates that man moves from flesh to spirit (and from law to Spirit, Rom. 7-8), in Galatians 3:3 he remonstrates with those who seem intent on reversing the process. After being born again by the Spirit, ending in the flesh is inherently contradictory. Again in 4:9 and in Colossians 2:20 he is implicitly saying the same thing. Going back results inevitably in curse and death as it did in the wilderness (Jer. 7:24; 1 Cor. 10:5; Heb. 3:17, etc.); going forward leads to blessing and life (Jer. 32:39-41; 1 Pet. 2:11f., etc.). Spiritual and corporeal (somatic) perfection are attained in heaven not on earth.


Augustinian Theology

It is one of the ironies of history that premillennialists who are so hotly critical of Augustine’s opposition to chiliasm are nonetheless so profoundly governed by his worldview. (See further my WorldviewThe Biblical Worldview.) They readily accept the traditional but radically unscriptural dogmas of original perfection, Fall, original sin and a universal curse on creation, yet it is precisely these that give rise to what they see as the need for a millennium. Once these are excised, as they should be, from our thinking, no amount of exegetical ingenuity and hermeneutical expertise will elicit a literal thousand-year millennium on this earth. The entire Bible is opposed to it. Or is it?


Covenant Theology

This brings us to covenant theology. As I have described elsewhere, many years ago I ran into trouble trying to understand traditional covenant theologies and eventually concluded that both the Reformed and the Dispensational varieties were flawed. It is impossible to go into detail here, but one of my main conclusions was that while old and new covenants are to some degree ethically continuous, they are nonetheless essentially different or discontinuous (cf. my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity).  The old covenant is oriented to this material world and not unnaturally emphasizes the rule of law which, being transient and provisional (2 Cor. 3:11, etc.), operates only so long as the world exists (Mt. 5:18, cf. Rom. 7:1). The new covenant relates essentially to heaven (cf. Mt. 6:10) or the world to come and remains forever (Mt. 24:35). It existed here on earth only as a promise (Jer. 31:31-34) until it was inaugurated, like the kingdom of God, by Jesus (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). It is essentially spiritual and is dictated by the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 3).

If this is so, it is almost inevitable that premillennialists, especially those of the dispensational variety, who are governed by a literal interpretation of the OT entertain the largely materialistic hopes of the OT. Even a scholar of the calibre of G.E.Ladd, a classical premillennialist who rejected dispensationalism, was earth-centred in his eschatology. Like so many others, he was conditioned by the Augustinian worldview. He failed to recognize that this material world, of which man in the flesh is a part, was created temporal (Gen. 1:1) and naturally corruptible but in (invisible) hope (Rom. 8:18-25). Thus the plan of salvation involves our escape from it (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 8:20,23). This present (temporal) age must give way to the (eternal) age to come. And since we, the children of dusty Adam (Ps. 103:14, etc.), are incapable of meeting the condition of our escape, that is, a sinless life in the flesh (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 32:46f. Ezek. 33:15, etc.), it has been achieved for us by Christ (Rom. 8:3). Our own undeniable sins (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:23) have been covered by his death and we are saved by his life (Rom. 5:10).

The plain truth is that the old covenant is spiritualized in the new covenant. An obvious example of this is the non-literal inheritance of Abraham in Hebrews 11. (Strictly speaking, it is literal as opposed to allegorical, spiritual as opposed to material. Like the temple, it is real or true as opposed to shadowy.) The city or land he looked for was invisible and therefore  heavenly (Heb. 11:8-16; 12:22; 13:14, cf. Phil. 3:20). Like Jesus’ kingship (John 18:36), it was not of this creation (Heb. 9:11). The tragedy of premillennialism is that it attempts to pour new wine into old wineskins with the result that the significance of the true gospel is largely lost (Mark 2:21f.).

Biblical covenant theology points to another matter of basic importance. I have argued at some length in my Covenant TheologyCovenant Theology in Brief (cf. Did God Make a Covenant with Creation? Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity, that proper study of the Bible evinces three dispensational covenants affecting the race – one each respectively with Noah, Moses and Christ (cf. Rom. 1-3). While the first two continue to operate in this world, they are inherently provisional pending the end of history and of the material creation (cf. Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1). Only the Christian covenant is permanent (Mt. 24:35, cf. the promissory Abrahamic and Davidic covenants). But it needs to be recognized that since the individual recapitulates the history of the race, these covenants are miniaturized and epitomized in the individual, not least in the second Adam who is thereby fitted to become universally representative (cf. 1 John 2:2). This is made especially plain in Galatians 4:1-7 where Jesus is shown to be first a child or slave of nature (Gentile), second, a son of the commandment (Jew), and, third, the beloved Son of his heavenly Father and archetypal Christian (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). (So far as Paul himself was concerned, see Romans 7-8.) If this is true, on premillennial presuppositions we ought to expect a mini-millennium in the life of Jesus himself. But we do not. What we do see is increasing opposition and hostility culminating in his death. And we see precisely the same in the eschatological experience of his people as a whole, as non-millenarians (amillennialists) have frequently testified. All of us go through (the) tribulation in one form or another (Acts 14:22, cf. Gal. 5:16f.; 1 Pet. 2:11). But those who are alive at the end of the present dispensation can expect not a golden age but persecution of a particularly vicious kind when evil achieves its own maturity or perfection (Gen. 15:16; 1 Thes. 2:16; Rev. 13). And with the rejection of the gospel in the West and intense opposition to it elsewhere, one cannot help but wonder if that end is drawing close (Rom. 13:11—14). One thing is clear: nature itself is beginning to manifest more obvious birthpangs than usual (Mt. 24:8). (Not to mention recent earthquakes and tsunamis, I write this on a day when Victoria in Australia in the grip of drought is ablaze.)


Conclusion

On the basis of my preunderstandings of the Bible, a literal thousand-year millennium under the rule of Christ in the flesh and on the earth is out of the question. It reflects a basically unbiblical worldview and anthropology. Furthermore, it is an addition to Scripture which Scripture itself severely condemns (Rev. 22:18). It should be rejected out of hand and its devotees called on to repent on pain of divine judgement (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).

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ADDITIONAL NOTE on Historic Premillennialism

Since writing the above I have read with immense interest and profit A Case for Historic Premillennialism, ed. Blomberg and Chung. Short of writing an extended separate critique along the lines of the above, I here append some comments on Gnostic dualism.

On page 129 Donald Fairbairn in a fine essay on Contemporary Millennial/Tribulational Debates tells us that at the heart of Gnosticism lies a profound dualism which he apparently regards as false, though see my Biblical Dualism.  He maintains that it surfaces in four crucial areas.

First, he says it leads to the idea that the material world is evil and unredeemable. This however, from a biblical point of view is false logic, since from Genesis 1:1 the Bible depicts the material creation not as evil but as intrinsically temporal and corruptible (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 51:6; Mt. 6:19f.). Furthermore, to infer from this that salvation applies only to the soul and not to the body is again to err. Scripture clearly teaches the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:45-49) but certainly not of the flesh which derives from the naturally corruptible (Rom. 8:18-25), visible and temporary (2 Cor. 4:18) material creation which is destined for destruction (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50; Heb. 12:27, etc.).

Second, Fairbairn says that Gnosticism denigrates history. Perhaps it does, but to draw the conclusion from the destruction of the material creation which is clearly taught in the Bible that the panorama of history played out in the physical world is of little consequence is quite misguided. After all we are judged by the deeds we do in the body! The world is the testing ground in which we as those who are created in the image of God are called to exercise dominion (Gen. 1:26-28, etc.) with a view to our ultimately becoming children of the resurrection. Jesus as the second Adam achieved his victory on earth and in so doing ensured our own triumph (Heb. 2:6-13).

Third, Fairbairn contends that Gnosticism leads to a distinction between two competing gods – the lesser, material god of the OT and the higher, spiritual God of the NT. In the Bible, however, God is the God of both testaments. For all that, there is no denying that the old covenant in contrast with the new relates primarily to this material earth and to the flesh (Mt. 5:18; Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10 contrast Mt. 24:35, etc.). As scholars regularly point out the OT people were more earthly than heavenly oriented (e.g. Bruce, pp.298f.,339; Ladd,). Both Paul and the author of Hebrews insist on the limitations and defective nature of the law which, like the creation itself, is temporary and provisional (see e.g. 2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 7:18f.).

Fourth, while it may be true that Gnosticism implicitly harbours a docetic view of Christ, this is not true of the Bible which clearly emphasizes the reality of the incarnation. If Jesus did not conquer in the flesh as the second Adam (Rom. 8:3), then he did not conquer at all (Heb. 2, etc.). But it must be promptly added that his victory in the flesh led not merely to his physical resurrection from the dead but to his transformation ascension and return to former glory (John 17:5,24). As Irenaeus, despite his premillennialism, once said, he became what we are so that we might become what he is, and that is certainly not corruptible flesh, which would make nonsense of  Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.

As intimated above, the problem with premillennialism of whatever hue is, first, its Augustinian worldview and, second, its lack of an adequate covenant theology.

(See further my essays on the redemption of creation and original sin including A Brief Critique of ‘Surprised by Hope’ by Tom WrightA Brief Review of ‘The Mission of God’ by C.J.H.Wright. Note also Romans 8:18-25Covenant TheologyManufactured Or Not SoThe Corruptibility Of CreationSpiritualisationThe Biblical WorldviewWorldviewDid Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?Thoughts on the Redemption of Creation, etc. )


Note:

Christians are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9) who rule on the earth (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). They also rule in heaven with Jesus (Rev. 3:21; 20:4,6, cf. 1 Cor. 6:2f.). The thousand years of Revelation 20 is clearly the Christian dispensation and there is no evidence whatsoever of an intermediate kingdom which in any case serves no discernible purpose. Christ has already conquered (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5, etc.). Already in the process of putting his enemies under his feet, he is heading for the grand finale or consummation.

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References:

Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, eds., A Case for Historic Premillennialism, Grand Rapids, 2009.

F.F.Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids/London, 1964.

J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 2003 ed.

G.E.Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1974.

J.R.Michaels, WBC 1 Peter, 1988.

Christ the Conqueror

The belief of Christians that they are more than conquerors in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:31ff.) is precious to them, but it is questionable whether they fully appreciate the extent to which Christ himself was a conqueror or champion (see espec. Lane, index). It is a sad fact that the traditional conception of Jesus is somewhat docetic. The churches and theologians alike frequently fail to realize that while their Saviour was truly the Son of God, he was fully human, genuine flesh and blood (Heb. 2:11,14). (One of the few benefits delivered to us by liberalism was a deeper appreciation of Christ’s humanity.) Tested severely by fleshly temptations, vulnerable to the worldly pressures and passions common to us all and susceptible to the wiles and machinations of the devil, Jesus was like his fellows in all respects except that he did not personally sin (Heb. 2:17; 4:15).

But this was the calling of man from the start (Gen. 1:26,28; 2:17). Since as flesh Jesus stemmed through his mother from the temporal earth, he was inevitably mortal by nature and as such stood in direct contrast to his eternal Father (Rom. 1:23). Nonetheless, though a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he was also the Eternal Word or Logos and hence “created”, or rather incarnated (cf. Heb. 10:5-7), in the image of God and promised eternal life if he obeyed the commandments (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:15-20, etc.). Alternatively expressed, while he had by nature the image of God and hence indestructible life (Heb. 7:16), he had to attain to the full likeness of God in mortal flesh. And whereas the first Adam followed by all the rest of his posterity failed to fulfil the law, Jesus as man, the second Adam, having triumphed in the human condition became the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 John 2:1). As man he did for man what had proved beyond the capacity of all his fellows (Mt. 5:17; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:9f., cf. Rom. 3:19f.; Gal. 2:16, etc.). He is thus our one and only Mediator.

It is clear then that Jesus had a truly human course or pilgrimage to complete (cf. Luke 13:32) and work to accomplish (John 6:38; 17:4) before attaining to the perfection of likeness to God (Mt. 3:15; 5:48; 19:21). Like all mankind, as the second Adam he had to begin at the beginning and recapitulate the whole gamut of human life (cf. Isa. 53:2). Like the rest of us he was conceived, underwent gestation in his mother’s womb, was born, became an infant and child. As the latter, like his Jewish ancestors, he spent time in Egypt in the house of bondage (cf. Mt. 2:15). In his adolescence he became a son of the commandment and lived under the law of Moses (cf. Luke 2:41ff.). In his maturity, having satisfied the requirements of his heavenly Father under that law, he was sealed by the Spirit (John 3:34; 4:14) and openly acknowledged as God’s Son (Mt. 3:17). Thus as flesh and reborn, or born from above, by the Spirit he proceeded to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15). But it was not until, in accordance with his Father’s will, he had laid down his life for his sheep (John 10; Heb. 2:9) that his earthly work was finally finished (John 19:30). And having accomplished the work that his Father gave him to do, he rose from the grave, ascended and was transformed and glorified as man in the heavenly presence of God with the glory that he had enjoyed before the world began (John 17:4f.).

Paul sums all this up from our point of view in a purple passage in his letter to the Galatians. There in chapter 4:4f. he writes: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (ESV). The point is, as the author of Hebrews explains, that Jesus became one of us in order, first, to pioneer to perfection our earthly pilgrimage (2:9-11), second, to die for us (2:9,14) and, third, to conquer death on our behalf (2:15). In the words of Irenaeus who, incidentally, stressed the notion of recapitulation, he became what we are so that we might become what he is. Just as he was the Son of God and proved himself to be such, we who believe in him become the children of God. By the grace of God, we are fellow heirs with him (Rom. 8:15-17; Tit. 3:7).

Irenaeus

Few people have understood the human development of Jesus as well as the father of theology, Irenaeus. B.B.Warfield, the famous Princeton (Reformed) theologian whose life bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, recognized this in his own essay on the subject (pp. 158-166). Claiming that Jesus’ growth to maturity (perfection) was “the only strictly normal development, from birth to manhood, the world has ever seen” he quotes Irenaeus as follows: “He came to save all by means of himself, all, I say, who through him are born again unto God – infants, and children and boys and youths and old men. He therefore passed through every age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.”

While this passage is open to criticism at certain points, far more serious has been the obscuration of its basic truth by the theology of Augustine (1*). It is on account of the latter that until comparatively recently the biblical doctrine of perfection has fared badly in theology in general. So to that that we now turn.

Perfection

It is the author of Hebrews in particular who highlights the perfectibility of man first implied in Genesis 1-3. This was obscured, if not totally hidden, by the Augustinian notion of the original perfection of Adam by creation followed (inexplicably) by his fall. (To posit initial perfection is a clear example of putting the cart before the horse! It implies that the baby begins life full-grown, which is a contradiction in terms. It is not surprising that some writers, who pride themselves on their biblical orthodoxy and a literal seven-day creation, tell us that when Adam was created, he looked 20-30 years old!) But the perfectibility of the second Adam is plain for all to see, as has already been indicated above. For even Jesus, the Son of God began his incarnate life, like Adam, without (the) law and knowledge of good and evil (Isa. 7:15f., cf. Dt. 1:39). As he grew in wisdom and understanding (cf. Luke 2:40), he lived out his life like his forebears, after a stint in Egypt, under the law, and without deviating from it to the least degree. When he received the approbation of his Father at his baptism, he was publicly acknowledged as his Son (Mt. 3:17). From then on, he proceeded to fulfil all righteousness, impossible under the law (Heb. 7:18f.), until he laid down his life for his sheep and finished his work on the cross (John 19:30). That he had lived the perfect human life was demonstrated by his victorious resurrection from the dead (for as one who had kept the law he was not personally subject to death) and his subsequent ascension, transformation, glorification and heavenly session at God’s right hand. Well might we say, “Behold the man”, the only man in the whole history of the human race to achieve the perfection God had intended from the start (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 1:3, cf. 2 Cor. 5:5).

The author of Hebrews expresses all this in unmistakable language. First, he says that Jesus was finally crowned with glory and honour (2:9; Rev. 5:12f., cf. 4:11). This, according to the Psalmist (8:5f.), was implicit in Genesis 1. Then in 2:10 our author indicates that in bringing many sons to glory God made Jesus, the founder of their salvation, perfect through suffering. In 3:1 (cf. Phil. 3:14; 1 Thes. 2:12; 1 Pet. 5:10) there is a reference to our heavenly calling which was less explicit, but clearly implied, in Genesis 2:17. Needless to say, it was Jesus as man who consummated that calling and “being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5:9). Clearly he did not do this merely by keeping the letter of the law under which perfection was impossible (cf. 7:11, 18f.). But under a better covenant (of which Jesus himself became the guarantor, 7:22) the One who had been appointed a Son was made perfect forever (7:28, cf. 12:1-2).

Christ’s ascension, exaltation and heavenly session were of course proof positive that he had fulfilled the role the first Adam (and indeed all his posterity) had been given but had failed through sin to play. In contrast, Jesus as the second Adam overcame the world (John 16:33, cf. Gen. 1:26,28), the flesh (Rom. 8:3, cf. Gen. 2:17; 3:6) and the devil (John 12:31; 14:30, cf. Gen. 3:1-7). And by faith in him we are enabled to do the same (1 John 2:14-17). If we succeed, we also shall be conquerors like him (Rom. 8:31ff.; Rev. 3:21, etc.).

It is against this necessary background, that is, Jesus’ human triumph or victory in the flesh, that he was enabled to finish his work on the cross. Had he not proved himself a lamb without blemish, he would never have been in a position to offer himself, his body and blood, as a perfect sacrifice to his Father on behalf of his fellow man. In the event, however, it was by his crucifixion that Jesus demonstrated supremely his love both for God and his neighbour. Here he was conqueror indeed, as Paul was well aware. He served as our forerunner (Heb. 6:20) and as the one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God became the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Not only had Jesus, the man, achieved perfection and won his way to heaven for himself, but he had done it also for his friends who had failed to meet the challenge they all shared with Adam (cf. Heb. 1:3; 2:9f.; Rev. 3:21, etc.). In this way he summed up all mankind in himself (Eph. 1:10). It is thus through him, and him alone, that we who are failures ourselves can conquer and achieve the perfection God requires of all who enter his awesome presence. For as Scripture never forgets, God is a consuming fire (Dt. 4:24; 9:3) with, as Jesus reminds us, the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Luke 12:4f.). Well may we ask with Isaiah, “Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings” (33:14, cf. Heb. 12:29)?

More Than Conquerors

The good news of the gospel then is that Jesus has conquered (Rev. 5:5,12f.), and as conqueror he has abolished death (cf. Rev. 1:18) and brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light (2 Tim. 1:10). As one of us, as our brother in fact (cf. Heb. 2:10-13), he has paved or pioneered the way to heaven so that those who trust in him can conquer too (Rev. 12:11, cf. Gal. 5:24; 6:14). Reconciled to God by his death, they are saved by his life (Rom. 5:10). Through him they can enter the very presence of God (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18) and be forever with him (John 12:26; 14:2f.,19; 17:24; 2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thes. 4:14-17). Truly may it be said that there is no other way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 4:4; 5:4f.). Before him every knee will eventually bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:9-11).

*1 See for example “Irenaeus” by Denis Minns OP, London, 1994. John Hicks’ “Evil and the God of Love”, London, 1966, is by no means irrelevant to the subject.

REFERENCES

B.B.Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings 1, ed. J.E.Meeter, Nutley, 1970.


Augustine: Asset or Liability?

No one has had a greater influence on the church than Augustine of Hippo. He was and remains a colossus. In an article published in “Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics” ed. James Hastings, pp.219-224, and reprinted in “Calvin and Augustine” pp.305-324, B.B.Warfield rightly said early in the twentieth century that Augustine determined the course of the history of the church in the West up to the present day. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism were deeply indebted to him, and his impact on the theology of the Eastern Church was also substantial.

In the 21st century the situation has scarcely changed, and the Church usually remains eager to claim for itself the support of his name.

The Churches have regularly had their heroes and all readers of the history of dogmatics can, like the author of Hebrews (ch.11), reel off the names of the great men of the Church – Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and so forth. The question that prompts itself, however, is whether these men have always been assets rather than liabilities. In general, while Protestants have entertained doubts about Aquinas, Catholics have tended to regard the influence of Luther and Calvin as baneful. On the other hand, as I have already intimated, Augustine is highly regarded by both Catholic and Protestant. Augustine always claimed he was a Catholic Christian, and even if Roman Catholic theology in the course of history lost some of his emphasis on grace, its doctrine of sin and its ecclesiology remain greatly indebted to him. In contrast, Luther and Calvin’s stress on sin and grace is perceived to be central to their theology even if their ecclesiology, the latter’s in particular, deviated somewhat from that of Augustine.

Warfield points out that despite the “irrefragable authority” (p.309) granted to him by various Roman bishops and almost equal standing with the apostle Paul himself (p.363), the teaching of Augustine never achieved perfect consistency. Like Irenaeus he was not a systematic theologian of the type that was to appear on the scene later in the history of the church. Warfield draws attention to “the amazing variety of doctrine, on almost every conceivable subject throughout the Middle Ages, and later in the Church of Rome (which has) sought support for itself in some saying or other of his”. Considering Augustine’s enormous output, this is hardly surprising, but it again prompts the question of whether or not it has always been helpful. So far as evangelical Protestants are concerned, Augustine’s legacy is most noticeable in, but by no means confined to, Reformed theology whose pedigree its advocates triumphantly trace back through the Puritans, the Reformers and ultimately to Paul. Most of us come to know Augustine as the champion of grace in the battle with Pelagius who emphasized good works and imitation (cf. Art. 9 of the C of E; Needham, p. 49). They tend inevitably on that account alone to see him through rose-coloured spectacles and refer to him with uncritical hagiographic hyperbole. But while the stress of Augustine on grace may be said to be Pauline, it is imperative to ask if Paul was as Augustinian as is frequently claimed? The question, though in a sense anachronistic, is worth examining.

The Goodness of Creation

First, Augustine’s journey through a pagan education, Manicheism and Neo-Platonism hardly fitted him to understand the early chapters of Genesis (cf. e.g. Hick, pp.49ff.,176ff.). While conceding its mutability, Augustine laid such heavy stress on the goodness of creation as the work of the all-good Creator that he failed to appreciate the basic differentiation the Bible makes between the two. For him creation was good but was now corrupted; it had fallen away from its original state of perfection (cf. Hick, p. 90). In contrast, Paul tells us that creation is still good, that is, useful or serving a definite purpose like Eve’s fruit (Gen. 3:6; 1 Tim. 4:3f., cf. 1 Cor. 10:26,30; Ps. 65:9-13; 67:6; 85:12, etc.). For him, as for the author of Genesis, the reason why creation sometimes fails to yield its full richness and abundance is not because it is now cursed or fallen but because it is either uninhabited (Isa. 6:11, etc.) or sinful man fails to exercise his proper dominion (cf. Gen. 3:17-19; 4:12; Lev. 26:19f.; Prov. 24:30-34; 28:19, etc.). However, the pervasive witness of Scripture is that unlike its Creator, it is as God’s handiwork (“made by hand”) inherently corruptible (Ps. 102:25-27, etc.). The mere fact that its fruit can be used for food testifies to this (cf. Gen. 1:30), for man who is himself naturally perishable cannot live on perishable bread alone (Mt. 4:4; John 6:27). In any case, the material creation being temporal (Gen. 1:1) is also ultimately futile (Rom. 8:18-25) like the flesh which stems from it (John 6:63). And to worship an intrinsically temporal creation is inevitably to derogate from the glory of the eternal Creator (Dt. 4:19; Rom. 1:25).

Mankind

The natural goodness of creation in Augustine’s estimation inevitably involved the moral goodness, even the perfection, of Adam and Eve, our first parents. Thus we see the original beauty of mankind only in them. For Augustine, since our first parents’ time, all mankind has been corrupted not so much because they were made in Adam’s image but because they sinned in him (cf. Latin Vulgate: “in quo omnes peccaverunt”). How do we respond to this? We need to recognize that according to Scripture, far from being good in the Augustinian sense, Adam and Eve, though designed as God intended them to be, were morally neutral; not having (the) law they knew neither good nor evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22) and were, as we might expect, though physically adult, spiritual babies (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). As a consequence, since like produces like (Gen. 1; John 3:6), all their posterity, being made in their image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3), without knowledge of the law and hence of good and evil, were also morally neutral (Dt. 1:39, etc.). Certainly Adam and Eve like all parents had, contrary to the teaching of Pelagius, an impact for weal or woe on their descendants, but their sin was their own (Lev. 26:39; Ps. 106:6; Ezek. 18, etc.). It, and it alone, was subject to punishment (Dt. 24:16) and judgement (Rom. 2). So while the Augustininian view of Adam (mankind) is patently idealistic like that of the rabbis (cf. Hick, p.71), that of Paul, who sees Adam as stemming from earthly corruption, is pejorative (Rom. 5:12ff.; 1 Cor. 15:21f.; 45-50)! The same can certainly be said of John who sees all earthly things as being unprofitable (1:13; 3:31; 6:63, etc.).

In order to explain the “evil” that characterizes this world, Augustine was compelled to posit a “Fall” from a previous state of perfection. While Adam and Eve were originally holy and righteous, they inexplicably “fell” into sin and in so doing brought ruin and curse to the “good” creation they were called to rule! But the Bible knows nothing of this. In fact, original righteousness and original sin are clearly felonious fabrications which pervade the whole of Augustinian and so-called Christian theology. The truth is that man, like the creation from which he emanates according to the flesh, is as I have already intimated naturally mortal and corruptible. Adam did not, as Augustine contended, lose the immortal life he once possessed; rather he failed to attain to it when it was offered (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 3:23). The glory and honour, which he was promised if he properly exercised dominion (Gen. 1:26,28; Ps. 8:5f.), failed to emerge because he failed to obey the commandment. As one who was made in the image of God and his vice-regent, man should have ruled over nature as God himself had done (Gen. 1:2). He should have reigned as a man rules over the horse he is riding (cf. James 3:2f., cf. Isa. 31:3). In effect, however, he allowed his flesh to rule his spirit (Gen. 3:6, cf. 4:7). Such has been the pattern of sin ever since (Rom. 7:14; Eph. 4:22, etc.). All men and women in the weakness of their flesh sin for the same reason: they give way to the world, the flesh and the devil they are meant to rule over. Consequently, they all in their turn come short of the glory of God and have to be rescued.

Contrary to the teaching of Augustine, the problem is not generation (we are all born sinful) but imitation or recapitulation (as those made in their image we all follow in the pattern established by our forebears, Jer. 7:26; 9:14; 16:11f.; Dan. 9:5,11, etc.). The idea that the children are punished for the sins of their forefathers is explicitly denied. What Irenaeus had taught at an earlier stage of the Church’s history was eclipsed by the misunderstandings or fabrications of Augustine whom Bentley-Taylor, perhaps truer to his word than he intends, describes as a “biblical magician” (p.61)!

Paradise

So man does not need to recover a lost earthly paradise to which he cannot by nature return (cf. John 3:4) but to aspire to a heavenly one which was the goal of his creation from the start. Even the sinless Jesus, who recapitulated the life of Adam and his pre-Christian descendants, had to leave the womb, the Eden of his earthly gestation, endure slavery in Egypt (Mt. 2:15,cf. Gal. 4:1), keep the law and embark on a pilgrimage to the heavenly Eden (Mt. 3:15; Rev. 22). He who descended had to ascend by succeeding where Eve, Adam, Gentiles and Jews had so abjectly failed (John 3:13; 6:62; 16:28; 17:5, etc.). As a man he also had to undergo the trials and tribulations inevitably associated with life in this naturally corruptible world (Heb. 4:15). Since his aim from the start was to return to the glory he had shared with his Father in eternity, he had to conquer on the same battlefield where the first Adam had been defeated (cf. John 16:33). Furthermore, he had to give his life for his fellows who like Adam had failed and, as their representative, take them in tow (Heb. 2:9f.; 12:2; John 17:24).

The Flesh

Augustine was convinced that the flesh, as a result of Adam’s sin, was evil (Needham, pp.123, 243). But Paul and John saw it rather as the creation of God which emanated from the corruptible earth (Gen. 2:7). Though ultimately unprofitable (John 3:1-8; 6:63), it was good or useful to the extent that it served as the earthly tent in which Jesus dwelt (1 Cor. 15:45-49; John 1:14). So the problem with the flesh, which features so prominently in Scripture, is that, like the earth from which it derives it requires cultivation and control, discipline and dominion (1 Thes. 4:4, etc.). Being earthly, it is naturally corruptible, mortal, weak, subject to temptation and, when confronted by the law, prone to sin. According to the OT, to go no further, no man or woman in the entire course of history had tamed it. That was left to the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)! All had given way before it just as Adam and Eve had (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 106:6; 130:3; 143:2; Jer. 17:5, etc.). This, however, was in accordance with the plan of God whose intention was that no ‘flesh’ should boast before him (Rom. 3:19f.,27; 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:8f.). His goal was that he himself should be the Saviour of his people, and this he became in Christ (Isa. 45:22f.; Phil. 2:9-11; Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22).

Whereas Augustine taught original righteousness and subsequent fall, Paul taught original innocence followed by sin on the arrival of the commandment (cf. Rom. 7:9f.). Whereas for Augustine Jesus had to avoid the taint of sin by being born of a virgin apart from carnal concupiscence, for Paul and the author of Hebrews he was born like Adam of an earthly mother by the same Father (Luke 3:38) and in every respect just as we are (Heb. 2:17). But whereas Adam’s original womb was the earth (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 139:15; 1 Cor. 15:45-49) that of Jesus was the bosom of the Father (John 1:14,18). The essential difference between the first and second Adams lies here, and it has nothing to do with carnal desire which, so long as it does not contravene the written law (Ex. 20:14), is wholly natural and ordained by God (Gen. 1:27f.). And whereas the first Adam failed to conquer the world, the flesh and the devil, the second Adam brilliantly succeeded and that in first Adamic flesh (John 8:46; 14:30; 16:33; Rom. 8:3).

Proclivity to Sin

So what the Bible is teaching is not our fall ‘in Adam’ – a travesty of the teaching of Scripture which pervasively rejects the imputation or transmission of sin apart from faith – but the universal susceptibility of all fleshly men and women under the law to come short of the glory of God with the single exception of Jesus (Rom. 8:3). He alone in the weakness (2 Cor. 13:4) and corruptibility of his flesh (John 8:57) triumphed over temptation and never sinned (Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22, etc.). He alone earned the approbation of his Father being publicly acknowledged as his Son, and he alone, for the first and only time in the history of man, attained to eternal life in fulfillment of the promise made long before to the first Adam (Gen. 2:17).

Jesus’ Universal Relevance

It is this, of course, that gives Jesus his universal relevance. Christians do not promote Jesus in a spirit of superiority and triumphalism. What they do, or should do, is testify to his unique perfection as man (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 2:10; 7:28). If God promised ultimate perfection and glorification to man by keeping the law in both letter and spirit (Gen. 1:26,28; 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9; Rom. 2:7,10), it had to be achieved by man. The only man to achieve it was Jesus who as the second Adam did it as mankind’s representative (Heb. 5:9f.; 6:20; 12:2). And it is to him that we must all, without exception, turn in humble submission (Phil. 2:9-11).

While Augustine presented the first Adam as holy and righteous by creation, Scripture presents him as a spiritual baby. He is ‘born’ innocent and weak like the second Adam who in order to secure the salvation of his fellows has to recapitulate his experience (cf. Isa. 7:15f.). And when the parental ‘no’ is impressed on his developing mind (cf. Gen. 2:17) he, along with Eve, gives way and loses his innocence. As such he becomes the father of all his offspring who, like father like son and like mother like daughter (cf. Ezek. 16:44), follow in his footsteps and become by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3, cf. John 8:34). Paul specifically describes his own early life in terms of Eve and Adam (Rom. 7:9ff.), and what is true of Paul is certainly true of the rest of us. Augustine’s problem was that he put the cart before the horse. Instead of seeing that the material creation was but the temporal testing ground preceding eternal life in heaven and man as flesh as but part of it and imperfect, that is, immature by nature, he put the creation/creature on a par with its Creator and hence had to posit the “Fall” and its consequent cosmic curse. Of this Scripture knows nothing.

Perseverance

It is one of the ironic quirks of history that those who claim Augustine as their doctrinal mentor implicitly undermine their own belief in perseverance. For if Adam was originally righteous (justified!) and did not remain so, then there is no reason to believe that anyone can. The conviction of Arminians that even regenerate believers can fall away from salvation would appear to be supported by Adam’s fall. Of course, it can be replied that Adam was not confirmed in his righteousness, that he was not regenerate, if you like, and had to be tested (though in the rest of Scripture righteousness achieved by keeping the law is the indispensable prerequisite of life, Gen. 2:17; 3:22-24; Rom. 5:21; 1 John 2:29, etc.). But if he was already righteous such testing was superfluous. Having begun at the end, he had nowhere to go! He had arrived before he set off. It is noticeable, however, that his later descendants who were said by Augustinians to be born sinful were also subject to testing (Ex. 20:20; Dt. 8:2,16, etc.). The obvious lesson to be learned from this is that both original sin and original righteousness are false. They both have to be gained. Where there is no law, as in the case of babies (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.), there is no transgression (Gen 2:16; Rom. 4:15; Gal. 5:23). But when the law is announced, it determines the moral standing of the one to whom it is addressed (cf. Rom. 7:9f.). He who keeps the law is thereby constituted righteous (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7); he who like Adam breaks the law is thereby constituted unrighteous (Gen. 2:17; 3:22). Here lies the practical difference between the two Adams: the first broke the law and paid for it in death (Gen. 3:19), the second kept the law, received eternal life and thus confirmed his pedigree as God’s Son (Mt. 3:17). We also like Adam sin, die (Rom. 5:12) and forfeit our fleshly bodies (Gen. 3:19; Ps. 49; 104:29; Rom. 8:10), but by the grace of God we also believe in Christ, share his righteousness and along with him inherit life, sonship (by adoption) and glory (John 11:25; Rom. 5:21; 8:12-17,29f.). And, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:45-50, our bodies follow the pattern established by both. If the first Adam’s flesh was the prototype of ours on the earth (cf. Phil. 3:19), the second Adam’s body is the prototype of ours in glory (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:21, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1).

Romans

Nowadays Augustine’s influence is felt by evangelical Protestants perhaps most noticeably through commentaries on Paul’s letter to the Romans. These continue to be dominated by Augustinian thinking even though the Bishop of Hippo, with his limited understanding of Greek, gave up his own attempt to write one himself (cf. Bentley-Taylor, pp.51,55). While Paul teaches actual sin (i.e. like our parents including Adam and Eve, cf. Ex. 32:33; Lev. 26:39; Ps. 106:6; Jer. 32:18f.; Ezek. 18, etc., we all sin on our own account, 1:18-3:20), Augustinians promote imputed sin (i.e. we all sin ‘in Adam’). Though Paul differentiates between actual sin (wages, cf. 6:23) and righteousness (free gift by faith, 4:1-8), Augustinians insist that in Romans 5:12 death comes to all who sin ‘in Adam’! In doing so they add to Scripture and completely pervert Paul’s meaning, for death for man is the wages of sin (cf. Gen. 2:16f.). By contrast, on the Augustinian showing, death is a free gift (imputation!) granted to babies apart from faith and knowledge! If this is true, God is the author of evil on the one hand and guilty of injustice by imputing sin to those who do not have it on the other. Elsewhere in Scripture condemning the guiltless is always reprobated (e.g. Gen. 18:25; 1 Sam. 22:15; 1 K. 21; Mt. 12:7) except in the sole case of Jesus to whom our sin was imputed by faith (John 10:17f.; 2 Cor. 5:21).

So, to sum up, while for Paul sin is a work which is committed in violation of the law and earns wages, for Augustine sin is a free gift of God which also earns the wages of death!!! Alternatively expressed, Augustine made sin a gift of grace (!) instead of a work of the flesh (see espec. Gal. 5:19-21). This flatly contradicts what the apostle teaches in 4:1-8 where imputation and wages are shown to be mutually exclusive.

Once the dogma of original sin has been established to the satisfaction of Augustinians in Romans 5, it is inevitable that their distortion of Romans 7 follows. While Paul clearly teaches, as I noted above, that as a child he went through the same process of sin as, first, Eve, who was deceived (cf. 7:11), then Adam in his rebellion against the commandment/law before he became a Christian (Rom. 8), Augustinians usually maintain that the chapter at issue describes the Christian life. Having failed completely to appreciate Paul’s covenant theology and his position with regard to the flesh, for them belief in original sin and its resultant deadness exclude the possibility that the chapter can describe anything but the Christian life. The truth is, of course, that the flesh, like the earth from which it derives, is a problem throughout our lives. It was in Jesus’ case, though he overcame it (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22); it is so in ours, and we have to be warned even as Christians not to give way to it (Rom. 13:14, etc.).

In some ways the worst blunder comes in Romans 8:18-25. Here Paul is intent on contrasting eternal heavenly glory with temporal earthly corruption. As in John 3:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 there is no reference to sin here. All the emphasis falls on nature as created by God. Difficulties in its interpretation arise mainly from the word ktisis. Does it mean creation or creature (cf. KJV), or is Paul playing on words as he does elsewhere (e.g. with regard to Adam, Israel, seed, etc.)? Augustinians tell us that there is little doubt (sic) that the passage in question reflects Genesis 3:17-19 (e.g. Cranfield, p.413). But does it? There is not the slightest evidence that it does, and to my knowledge the contention has never been substantiated. Surely, what Paul is saying is not that creation was cursed on account of Adam’s sin (see e.g. Collins, pp.162-166) but that God himself of express purpose subjected it to corruption from the beginning. He made it that way. Even Genesis 1:1 implies this and, as we have seen above, creation’s perishable food cannot sustain eternal life. Just as creation itself is subject to aging (Heb. 1:11, cf. 8:13), so is all that stems from it – even the incarnate Jesus (John 8:57, cf. Mt. 5:36; 6:19f.). And while it may be true that sin exacerbates the difficulties man encounters in the world over which God has given him dominion, it is nonetheless naturally subject to corruption and inherently futile. In the event, the letter to the Romans, which Augustinians regard as peculiarly their own, has been subject to massive distortion.

Augustine a Liability

In fact, we may go further. On account of his enormous influence, Augustine has proved perhaps the greatest perverter of our understanding of Christianity that ever lived. While it may be true he won a great victory over a potentially pernicious Pelagianism and gloriously upheld the grace of God, he did it at tremendous cost.

Creation

First, as I have noted above, his virtual equation of the goodness of creation with the goodness or perfection of the Creator and his exclusive stress on sin as an explanation of nature’s corruption have been disastrous: they have given us a worldview that is not merely at odds with that of the Bible but is patently absurd. In this area, modern science can give us more help in understanding the meaning of Scripture than Augustine. But if the Reformed have erred at this point, how much more the (dispensational) premillennialists who, while objecting to Augustine’s rejection of chiliasm, have basically accepted his worldview (original sin, universal curse, etc.) and would have us believe that the Jesus, who has passed through the heavens, attained to glory (John 17:5,24) sits at the right hand of the Father (Rev. 3:21) and exercises universal authority (dominion, cf. Mt. 28:18; Heb. 1:6; 2:5), will return in the flesh (sic) to reign for a thousand years on this corruptible earth which he has already conquered (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; 9:28; Rev. 5:5,12f.).

So, whereas for Augustine the problem with the earth arose from the curse, for Paul it was a ‘country’ (cf. Heb. 11:16) of temporal bondage like Egypt from which it was necessary for exiles (1 Pet. 1:1) to escape through the wilderness of the world in hope of reaching the heavenly Promised Land (Rom. 8:18-25, cf. 1 Pet. 2:11). And whereas for Augustine the primary problem with the fleshly body was that is was radically affected by Adam’s sin, for Jesus (John 3:1-8) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:42-50; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:5) it was that it stemmed from the earth and was inherently subject to corruption (cf. Gen. 6:3). In other words, even apart from sin, it was never designed to last forever. It necessarily required transformation or replacement (1 Cor. 15: 51ff., etc.).

Regeneration

Next, the impact of Augustine’s understanding of the new birth has been immense. While he presented it exclusively as the means of countering the effects of sin, especially original sin (Needham, pp. 59,121, etc.), Jesus taught that birth from above was necessary means of overcoming the inability of the flesh, or the natural man, to inherit eternal life. (This is not to deny its relevance to sin, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17, and the natural man’s spiritual incapacity which Paul deals with in 1 Cor. 2:14-16.) In the Bible, since the eternal heaven and the temporal earth are naturally incompatible, a spiritual body, which succeeds the spiritual new birth, is paramount for survival in heaven (3:6, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50). So whereas for Augustine regeneration was to all intents and purposes a moral imperative on account of sin, for Jesus and Paul it was a natural necessity. Of course, it needs to be recognized that sin prevented the attainment of life in all cases apart from that of Jesus and that regeneration in this world plays a fundamental role in sanctification (Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3-7, etc.). No matter what, faith in him as Saviour became indispensably necessary. For he alone brought life and incorruption (Gk.) to light (2 Tim. 1:10).

The Order of Salvation

But, third, the Augustinian view of regeneration did untold damage in another way. As the cure for original sin, it had to be placed first in the order of salvation (ordo salutis). This has at least three appalling implications. First, the new birth precedes the righteousness which is meant to lead to it (Rom. 5:21). (1* Note how in Romans 6 obedience leads to righteousness, v.16, righteousness leads to sanctification ,v.19, and sanctification leads to eternal life, v.22.) In other words, we are sanctified before we are justified, given life before we are righteous and implicitly cemented eternally in our sin. This idea is ruled out of court by Genesis 3:22-24 where we read that Adam was prevented from having access to the tree of life precisely because he had sinned and was regarded as unrighteous. Second, if we have eternal life before we even aspire to holiness and righteousness, why bother? Antinomianism is the logical and often practical result. And, third, since we are born sinful, Christian baptism, which in the NT signifies repentance, faith and regeneration, has to be imposed on us as babies by the hand of man like circumcision. This implies that since we are born unconscious flesh in the image of Adam, our temporal flesh is eternalized! Sadly, this is apparently what some Christians believe.

Baptism and Sin

Thus, fourth, the “exact” (Piper, pp.90ff.) or “perfect parallel” (Berkhof, p.214, cf. Murray, pp.20,34,40) beloved by Augustinians between the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity in Romans 5 (apart from faith!) led willy-nilly to infant baptismal regeneration and nurtured the false ecclesiology which Warfield attacked as unbiblical. Warfield was apparently convinced that grace would have triumphed completely in Augustine’s theology had he lived longer (p.382). This hypothesis is extremely unlikely. And for such a fine theologian to assume that it did so at the Reformation borders on the naïve (pp.322,383). Even today the battle is far from won. It is rendered acutely uncertain by the blatantly inconsistent advocates of Reformed theology of which he was such an able exponent! Perhaps that is why Warfield himself never wrote a systematic theology. His essay on the human development of Jesus, to go no further, begged all sorts of questions (Selected Shorter Writings, pp. 158ff.).

The Flesh Evil

Fifth, Augustine’s belief that the flesh, following Adam’s sin, was evil, as opposed to inadequate, temporal and provisional like the law (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 7:18f.) and the material cosmos (Mt. 5:18), has led even modern translators of the Bible into error. The tendentious NIV in particular constantly translates “sarx” as “sinful nature” thereby distorting Paul’s meaning most blatantly in verses like Romans 8:13 and Galatians 6:8. (These verses are rightly seen for what they are by James Dunn, pp.52, etc.).

Sex

Sixth, Augustine’s views on sex are an embarrassment even to modern Roman Catholics. His failure to fully accept with Scripture that sex is the gift of God but one that must be managed according to law has had catastrophic effects. It has led inevitably to the imposition of celibacy on the priesthood and to the cult of the Virgin Mary which Protestants and many Catholics find deeply disturbing.

Saint or Sinner

Though a book or books would be necessary to deal properly with his theology, so far as this essay at entering the lions’ den is concerned, it would perhaps be unfair to leave Augustine at this point. The question must be asked: Was Augustine a saint or a sinner? Of course, the answer cannot be exclusively the one or the other, for the illustrious Bishop of Hippo was, like all Christians, both, or, as Luther put it, “simul justus et peccator”. It is, however, difficult to read Warfield on his Confessions or Brown’s full-length biography without concluding that despite his faults, which included his persecution of the Donatists and churlish dismissal of valid points made by Pelagius and others like Julian of Eclanum (see e.g. Chadwick, pp.111ff., Rist, 321ff.), that Augustine was committed and sincere and, on Catholic assumptions, justly canonized by the Church. Ultimately, the problem is not so much Augustine himself but his teaching and writings which have also been uncritically canonized by Catholic and Protestant alike despite his own reservations or Retractations. What we all have to learn is that sincerity, not to mention public stature or religious fanaticism, does not equate with veracity. Our job is not to decide whether or not Augustine went to heaven – God will do that – but whether or not what he taught accords with the word of God. I myself have concluded that he erred profoundly and that the Reformers though accomplishing much failed to rectify many of his mistakes. (The Reformation was never more than a half-way house.) While they dealt impressively with the mass, they came well short of recognizing that practically all of NT theology is subsumed under baptism. The real tragedy is that their successors have succumbed to the same traditionalism that the Reformers themselves criticized. And thus Reformed orthodoxy, despite its heart-warming emphasis on grace, has from a biblical point of view become today’s heresy. (Perhaps this is why IVP books like “The God of Covenant” ed. Grant and Wilson, “Christian Zionism” by S.Sizer, “Always Reforming”, ed. McGowan and “Who Can Be Saved” by T.L.Tiessen have been recently published. There is clearly a strong undercurrent of feeling that all is not well in the evangelical camp. In fact, as I have tried to indicate, the situation is somewhat worse than most are aware.)

The mere fact that Jesus himself was baptized on the threshold of adulthood after being tested and proved under the law (Ex. 20:20) should have alerted all to the absurdity of infant baptism which according to Augustine prevented babies from being consigned to hell. But about this the NT, not surprisingly, says nothing. What it does say militates overwhelmingly against it. If we want complete reformation and full understanding of NT Christianity, we would all do well to ponder the issue in all its ramifications.

In these days when the world religions are resurgent and rampant, it is vital for Christianity, or the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), to be presented in all its glorious truth and not in the various forms of its Augustinian distortion. Failure at this point will involve the perpetuation of what is perhaps one of the greatest frauds in all history.

REFERENCES

D.Bentley-Taylor, The Apostle from Africa, Fearn, 2002.

L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, rev. ed, London, 2000.

H.Chadwick, Augustine, Oxford, 1986.

C.J.Collins, Genesis 1-4, Phillipsburg, 2006.

C.E.B.Cranfield, ICC Romans 1-8, Edinburgh, 1975.

J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 1998.

J.Hick, Evil and the God of Love, Fontana ed. London, 1968.

J.Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, Phillipsburg, 1979.

N.R.Needham, The Triumph of Grace, London, 2000.

J.Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, Wheaton, 2002.

J.M.Rist, Augustine, Cambridge, 1996.

B.B.Warfield, Calvin and Augustine, Philadelphia, 1956.
Selected Shorter Writings 1, ed. Meeter, Nutley, 1970.


Romans and Plain Logic

It is one of the disturbing facts of history that in the West the traditional interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans is governed by Augustine of Hippo. Yet, he had only a limited grasp of Greek and, having begun his exposition of Romans, gave up after the first seven verses lapsing “into easier things” (D.Bentley-Taylor, The Apostle from Africa, p. 51).

(1) Since Paul is at pains to establish, list and categorise the actual sins of both Gentiles and Jews in chapters 1-3, it is reasonable to conclude that when he says that “all sinned” in 5:12, he is referring to actual not imputed sin as he is in Romans 3:23. See further below.

(2) In 1:20 (cf. 2:1) Paul tells us that sinful men are without excuse. However, if they are born with a sinful nature, this simply does not follow. They clearly have the excuse that they are following nature as, according to 1:26f., they are expected to do.

(3) In 1:23 the apostle contrasts the immortal God with mortal man. This being so, Augustine’s belief that Adam was created perfect and immortal is false. In any case, plain logic teaches us that if Adam was ever immortal, by definition he was so forever! One can no more lose immortality than one can lose eternal life (John 3:15f.; 1 John 2:19, etc.). According to the author of Hebrews, Christ has the power of an indestructible life (7:16), yet even he died “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22), that is, in his adamic nature, which was mortal flesh (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18).

(4) In 1:32 Paul establishes the connection between actual sin, desert and death (cf. 2:1-11; 6:21,23; 7:5; 8:10). This rules out the possibility that death can be the result of imputation (i.e. free gift, cf. 4:1-5) and logically forces us to conclude that death in 5:12 is the consequence of actual sin. Reasons for denying this must be compelling, and, to my knowledge, they are well short of that.

(5) In 2:7,10 Paul infers from his belief in the natural mortality of man (1:23) that we are obliged to seek immortality. After all, he is fully aware that God has promised eternal life to all who keep the commandments (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, cf. Rom. 7:9f.).

(6) 2:1-11 teaches that judgement is based on works (v.6). Babies can’t work, so they cannot be judged by a law of which they are ignorant (3:20,27,28; 9:31f.) or by deeds of which they are incapable (8:13). In other words, they cannot be regarded as either righteous or sinful. Like Adam and Eve in Eden, they are innocent or morally neutral. They know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39, etc.). See further (19) below.

(7) In 2:12f. Paul first grounds sin, even that of the heathen, in law, and then asserts that it is not the hearers but the doers of the law who are righteous (cf. Dt. 6:25; Rom. 6:16; 1 John 3:7). If this is true, then Adam could never have been righteous. Logic alone requires us to reject the Augustinian dogma of his original righteousness. The only moral quality the Bible attributes to Adam is his sin which stemmed from his transgression of the commandment.

(8) While in 1:26f. Paul says that some sin against nature, in 2:14 he says that on occasion the Gentiles do by nature what the law requires (cf. Luke 11:13). This surely contradicts the idea that we are born sinful.

(9) In Romans 3:23 (cf. v.12) the Greek word for “sinned” (hemarton) is the same as the one used in 5:12. It is reasonable to infer that it has the same meaning in both instances. Denial of this requires convincing evidence, and that, to my knowledge, has still to be produced. (To argue that original sin is implied by the aorist in both cases is not only weak in itself but is plainly contradicted by Paul’s line of reasoning.)

(10) As was hinted above, in 4:1-5 Paul avers that wages and imputation are mutually exclusive. Thus it follows as surely as night follows day that the traditional dogma that Adam’s imputed sin produces the death of babies is false. Even if it were true, the imputation of sin, which is a gift (4:4), cannot produce death, which Paul specifically describes as the wages (6:23) that are due to work (4:4, cf. 2 Pet. 2:15f.). The so-called doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin is a felonious fabrication.

(11) Romans 4:15 (cf. 5:13; 7:8) tells us that where there is no law, there is no transgression. Babies, like Adam and Eve before them, are created without knowledge of law in any form (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:13, etc.) and have to be taught it in the course of their development (Ps. 78:5f.). They cannot therefore transgress what for them is a non-existent law (cf. Gal. 5:23). Plain logic declares them innocent.

(12) It is claimed that the classic text of original sin is Romans 5:12. Apart from the fact that the vital words “in Adam” do not appear, it is imperative to note that in line with the Bible at large Paul unmistakably links sin with death in 1:32; 2:5,8f.; 5:21; 6:21,23, 7:5 and 8:10. Since death is wages, logical consistency alone requires him to mean here that all actually sinned. Furthermore, since the apostle says that all men died because all actually sinned, the traditional notion that Adam’s sin brought about death in the animal world must be dismissed as patently false. Since animals do not sin, the reason for their death must lie in the nature of creation which, as was implied above, stands in contrast with the eternal God (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). Incorruptibility is characteristic of heaven, not of earth (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; 1 Pet. 1:3f., etc.). See on 8:18-25 below.
If it is complained that this negates a la Pelagius the impact that Adam had on his posterity, we need to bear in mind that Scripture constantly refers to the effect parents have on their children. To go no further, Jeremiah tells us that people stubbornly follow their own hearts AND that they are taught by their fathers (9:13f., cf. 11:10; 14:20; 16:11f.; 31:29f.; 32:18f., etc.). Imitation is intrinsic to Scripture and is pervasively taught (cf. 3 John 11). Solidarity in sin is not mechanical and does not negate personal responsibility (cf. Ezek. 18, etc.).

(13) Romans 5:14 rings the death-knell of original sin for two basic reasons. First, if we all sin “in Adam”, then simple logic tells us that we all sin in exactly the same way. Yet Paul’s point is that the sins of those who lived between Adam and Moses were different. So, in plain language Augustine’s view is a blatant contradiction of what Paul says! Secondly, in chapter 2 Paul has already carefully distinguished between Gentile sin apart from the law and Jewish sin under the law of Moses. Thus, the only reasonable inference we can draw is that he is making the same distinction here. Since, in contrast to Eve (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14), Adam received a direct commandment from God, his sin was the archetypal sin against the law.

(14) In chapter 5:15-19 five times Paul points up the difference between the free gift of Christ (i.e. his imputed righteousness) and the effect of Adam’s sin (which he fails to specify). If they are both free gifts as tradition teaches, then we are forced to conclude, first, that in principle they are the same and not different, and, second, that both depend on faith as their instrumental means. Unfortunately, it is universally agreed that babies cannot exercise faith. So our conclusion once more must be that the imputation of Adam’s sin is a theological mare’s nest, a figment of men’s imaginations. The oft-proclaimed parallel is logically impossible and manifestly absent. Let us be glad it is so since, if Adam’s sin is imputed to all his posterity, then inevitably Jesus, as his son (Luke 3:38), is implicated. There is no way of avoiding this inference – unless, of course, we want a docetic Christ, that is, one who was not truly human. But if this is the case, he is excluded from his role as Saviour. (Augustine’s attempt by having recourse to the virgin birth and denial of carnal concupiscence to exclude Jesus from Adam’s sin was a lamentable failure. If we try to obviate the problem by appeal to Luke 1:35, as some do, then logically we have the same problem as those who attribute original sin to Seth, Genesis 5:1-3, who was at once the son of God, v.1, and the son of Adam, v.3. If Seth inherited Adam’s sin, then Jesus inherited Mary’s sin. But what is worse, God himself is implicated. See further 18 below.)

(15) Catholic and Reformed theology has traditionally placed regeneration first in the order of salvation (ordo salutis) and made faith its fruit. In violent contrast, Paul places righteousness before the new birth and, like the OT (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) makes it its indispensable prerequisite (Rom. 5:17,18,21; 10:5). The implication of what he teaches in chapter 6 is the same, for there Paul says that obedience, which is dependent on faith (1:5; 16:26), leads to righteousness (v.16), righteousness to sanctification (v.19) and sanctification to eternal life (v. 22).

(16) 6:23 leaves us no option but to believe that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, imputed sin, which by definition is a gift (4:5), even if it exists, cannot lead to death, as was affirmed above. Wages and hence death are inexorably excluded. The sole exception is the imputation of our sin to Christ who in his mature manhood freely exercised faith as our sin-bearer (cf. John 10:11,15,17; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).

(17) In 7:1 the apostle tells us that only those who know the law are under it (cf. 3:20; 7:7). Babies, being ignorant and in need of teaching (Dt. 4:9; Ps. 78:5f.; Isa. 28:9), are therefore out of the reckoning. The reason why the widow who remarries is not guilty of adultery is that the law governing her first marriage has been abolished by death (cf. vv.6,8). In other words, since she is not under law, that is, the law which binds her to her husband, she is guiltless if she remarries. As Paul puts it in Galatians 5:23, against such there is no law. If there were, it would be the power of sin as it was when her husband was alive (1 Cor. 15:56). Again, we are forced to conclude that where there is no law there is no transgression (4:15, etc.).

(18) In verses 8 and 11 Paul expands on the above and expresses somewhat differently the thought of 4:15, etc. He now tells us that since sin requires a legal foundation, it cannot exist until (the) law makes its appearance. Once it does, however, it strikes like a snake and brings death to all who break it (7:9f.). I conclude that law is as indispensable to sin as knowledge is to guilt (John 15:22,24).

(19) In verses 9f., the apostle, clearly with Genesis 2 and 3 in mind, points out that as a child, like Adam and Eve before they knew the law, he was ‘alive’, that is, innocent and therefore potentially capable of attaining to the eternal life that it promised (Gen. 2:17). However, when he learnt the commandment, he broke it and hence earned the wages of death. (See further on 9:11 below.) So once more, we are forced to conclude that the imputation of sin to little children is ruled out of court. If it was not imputed to Paul, who became the arch-persecutor of the early church, then manifestly it cannot be imputed to the rest of us. The reason why unconscious babies die has (normally) nothing to do with sin (see further below). The logic of this is irrefutable. It might be added in confirmation of this reasoning that in 1 Tim. 1:13 Paul specifically mentions ignorance as a mitigating factor in his ante-anti-Christian sin.

There is another point here. If we are born sinful, then God creates us so. This inevitably implies that God himself is evil, since it is he precisely who creates in the womb (Gen. 30:2; Job 31:15; Isa. 44:2; 49:5, etc.), not least in the Virgin’s womb (Luke 1:26ff.; Heb. 10:5). However, since Paul says he was “alive”, we must assume that it was because he was a creature of God and hence in “fellowship” with him as Adam had been at the beginning. However, he imitated or repeated first Eve’s (NB v. 11) then Adam’s sin (7:13ff.). He had strayed like a lost sheep (Isa. 53:6, etc.), but eventually returned (1 Pet. 2:25) to be finally glorified in Christ (1 Pet. 5:4; Rom. 5:2).

In 7:14 Paul informs his readers of the basic reason why they sin (apart from parental influence and example, cf. Rom. 5:12; Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f., etc.). As flesh, even when they are well disposed and admire the law (cf. Ps. 119:14,47f., etc.), they lack the power and/or will to keep it (cf. Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.). When fleshly unregenerate man collides with the law, like Adam and Eve he inevitably sins and his body becomes a body of sin and death (6:6; 7:24, cf. 8:10; Gal. 5:16-18). Instead of exercising dominion over what is earthly in him (cf. Col. 3:5), he permits it to rule over him (cf. Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19).

(20) Traditionalists have regularly characterised the flesh as sinful (see especially the tendentious and highly misleading translation of sarx in the NIV, e.g. Rom. 7:18; Gal. 6:8, and Art. 9 of the C of E), but this Paul implicitly denies when he says that God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3, cf. Heb. 2:14f.). In other words, though the flesh is closely associated with sin since it serves as its bridgehead, it is not identified with it. After all, God created it and Jesus embraced it. Jesus alone of all who ever lived in the flesh perfectly kept the law and so attained to righteousness and life (Rom. 2:13, cf. Mt. 3:17, etc.). He alone, though severely tempted, as all fleshly human beings are, was without sin (Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 2:18; 4:15, cf. Jas. 1:14f.).

(21) The expression “the likeness of sinful flesh” in 8:3 has been a stumbling block to some. However, we can safely dismiss the idea that the flesh as such is evil. First, we need to note that God created man as flesh from the “good” (i.e. useful) earth (Gen. 2:7; Job 10:8f.; 1 Cor. 15:45-49), and, secondly, that Jesus himself as “born of woman” was truly flesh and was thus able to redeem his fellows in the flesh (Heb. 2). This points to the fact that the prime problem facing mankind is not Adam’s sin imputed to all his posterity, which logically includes Jesus, but Adam’s nature as flesh which certainly includes Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2) who overcame it (Rom. 8:3). If this is the case, then once more logic rules out original sin. In fact, it makes it, first, superfluous, and, secondly, absurd and blasphemous: for why would God compromise his holiness by imputing sin to those who have not broken the law (i.e. condemning the guiltless, Mt. 12:7) when he had already made them flesh in all its weakness and susceptibility to temptation? Not for nothing did Paul say that no flesh (literally) would be justified in God’s sight (1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.). Rather they would be held accountable by the law (3:20) with a view to his freely exercising his mercy (11:32).

Paul goes on to say that to set the mind on the flesh is death (8:6). Why? There are two reasons: first, indulgence of the flesh leads inevitably to sin (i.e. lack of dominion and hence death) whenever the law is transgressed (8:7f.), and, secondly, since the flesh is part of a naturally corruptible creation (Gen. 3:19; Ps. 104:29; Eccl. 3:20, etc.), it leads remorselessly to corruption (Rom. 8:13, cf. Gal. 6:8). That is the way God made it (Rom. 8:18-25). So long as he was in the flesh, even the sinless Jesus got older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57). Even if he had not died for his fellows (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18), he would have died naturally had he not inherited life, ascended and been transformed (Rom. 6:9f.; 14:9, cf. 1 Cor. 15:51ff.).

(22) At this point it is important to return to Romans 7:5. As noted above this verse is set in a passage dealing with the function of the law in making sin sinful (vv.1-13). Yet such has been the influence of Augustine on Western theology that virtually all translations (the KJV is a noteworthy exception), not to mention commentators, tell us that the passions are “aroused” by the law. There are insuperable objections to this. First, there is no word in the Greek for “aroused”, which contrasts with the comment made by Paul in 5:20 that the law increased sin or caused it to abound. Secondly, Paul has already described at inordinate length the grossly licentious sins of the Gentiles who had not got the written law. Thirdly, he tells us in the verse 12 that the law is holy and good which would be impossible if it aroused the passions (cf. Ps. 78:5f., 2 Tim. 1:8-11). Fourthly and most importantly, it destroys the logic of his argument which is that where there is no law there is no sin (note the deadness of the husband in v.3 and the deadness of sin in v.8). Apart from noting that the passions in themselves are not sinful (e.g. in the marriage relationship, 2 Tim. 4:3; Heb. 13:4), they are constituted so by the law as in adultery, for example! And it is precisely here in 7:1-6 that Paul is at pains to indicate that when the law is abolished, there can be no adultery. The plain truth is that to add the word “arouse” to 7:5 is as serious an error as to add the words “in Adam” to 5:12 and “to obtain”, or the like, to 8:21, on which see below.

For Paul it is the flesh in rebellion against the law that spawns sin as 7:5 itself implies when it is translated literally as “the passions of sins through (or by) the law“ (cf. James 1:14f.). In fact, the flesh which is a law to itself (7:23,25, cf. Gal. 5:17), does not discriminate as does the mind instructed by the law (7:1-3). This can be illustrated by reference to David whose wooing of Abigail whose husband was dead is apparently approved by Scripture but whose pursuit of Bathsheba whose husband’s death had to be arranged certainly is not. Not without reason has it been crudely but effectively averred that an erect penis (that is, the flesh) has no conscience. It is governed by its own law (cf. breathing, sweating, urinating, hunger, thirst, taste, etc.), and is intrinsically amoral (cf. 7:23)!

(23) The logic of Paul’s argument respecting flesh and spirit (Spirit) in Romans 8:5-11 puts it beyond reasonable dispute that our future bodies will be spiritual, supernatural, heavenly (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff.; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10). Verse 10 sums up the issue. The fleshly body will die and see corruption (cf. Gen. 3:19), but the spirit will live (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6. Jesus was born and attained to the age of thirty-three in the flesh but spiritually had neither beginning nor end, Heb. 7:3!). At the last day, we shall be endowed with an appropriate body of glory like that of Jesus who was himself obviously transformed (1 Cor. 15:50ff.) at his ascension (Phil. 3:21; 1 Tim. 3:2). In a word, the flesh, which is meant to be our slave not our master (cf. Gen. 4:7) is cast out (Gal. 4:29f.; John 8:34-36).

(24) Romans 8:18-25 is difficult to exegete, though I have attempted the task elsewhere. To cut the story short, it should be noted, first, that in verse 18 there is an obvious contrast between the sufferings of the impermanent present (evil) age (cf. Gal. 1:4) and the permanent glory of the coming age that is still to be revealed (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Thus, it surely follows that verses 19ff. are to some extent an exposition of this contrast (cf. the contrast in 1:23,25 and 2:7 between the immortal God and the mortal creature). In light of this, we must be on our guard against any attempt to eternalise, regenerate or redeem the material creation which is by nature impermanent (Heb. 1:10-12, cf. John 3:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:50b). If man’s earthly, that is, his fleshly body, like the earthly temple (Mark 14:58), is destroyed (2 Cor. 5:1) since it cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50), logic dictates that the material creation from which it derives is also destroyed. As a matter of fact, this line of reasoning receives massive biblical support from Genesis 1:1 (cf. Heb. 7:3) through to Revelation 21:1,4. As was intimated above, on the assumption that ktisis in v.21 means ‘creation’ (which is arguable), to add words like “to obtain” or “to share in”, which are not in the Greek, is to pervert Paul’s meaning and to render his thinking contradictory. For he clearly teaches, as do the rest of the NT writers, that the material creation, which had a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and will hence have an end in time (Heb. 12:27), is intrinsically impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Rom. 8:24, etc.), and in direct contrast to the eternal God himself (cf. Isa. 40:6-8; 54:10; Mt. 24:35, etc.).

It is at this point that we can infer why it is that babies, that have not come to know the commandment as either promise or threat, die. As flesh (cf. John 1:13) and therefore part of a naturally corruptible creation, they die naturally (cf. Isa. 40:6-8). As with mortal plants and animals, moral considerations are not on the horizon. (It might usefully be added at this point that there is no covenant with Adam who, in racial terms, symbolised man in his fleshly infancy. The relationship or fellowship that he and Eve enjoyed with God was in essence the physical one experienced between Creator and creature, like that of a baby with its parents, its mother in particular. Cf. 9:11 and note 26 below.)

(25) Romans 8:39, like 18-25, suggests that it is precisely “creation” that separates us from God. This, Paul, like the author of Hebrews who refers to the flesh of Jesus as a curtain (10:19f.), teaches elsewhere (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 5:6,8). So long as we are in this world in the flesh, even apart from sin, God remains inaccessible both as consuming fire and unapproachable light (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16, cf. John 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:27). As was intimated above, being created both as mortal flesh and in the image of God (spirit), man from the beginning was urged to transcend his natural mortality and to seek immortality by keeping the commandments (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10, etc.). Or, to put the issue another way, his calling was to exercise dominion over the earth, of which his fleshly body was a prime derivative, with a view to being crowned with glory and honour (Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9f.). As James (ch. 3) notes, like Adam he had some success but when put to the test failed to control his own body. The problem remains today! No wonder Paul, like John, warns his readers not to love this world or this age (1 Cor. 7:31; Col. 3:2; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:15-17). By its very nature, whether apart from or including evil (cf. Gal. 1:4), it prevents access to God (cf. Phil 1:21-23). To pursue its pleasures to the neglect of its purpose leads inevitably to death (Gal. 6:8, etc.).

(26) In Romans 9:11 in what appears to be a deliberate attempt on his part to demonstrate that election is not based on the moral standing of Esau and Jacob, Paul states the ‘obvious’ fact that in the womb neither Esau nor Jacob had done either good or evil. They were, as he himself was, “alive” (7:9a) before the commandment came. He thus implies that they were innocent like Adam and Eve in Eden, the womb of the race. To import moral considerations, including original sin, at this point is to undermine his argument regarding election. Furthermore, doing so implies yet again that God who creates in the womb is the author of evil. The plain fact is that babies/infants who do not know the law are regarded as innocent throughout Scripture (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:3,29-33, etc.). They are flesh like the animals without understanding (Ps. 32:9) and they sometimes die as such (Job 3:10,16; Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18ff.; 6:3; Jer. 20:17).

It might be further pointed out that according to Paul and the Bible in general sin is a work performed against the law just as obedience is a work performed in accordance with the law (e.g. Rom. 2:12f.; 9:31f., cf. 6:16). It is by the law that people are held accountable (3:19) and where there is no law there is no transgression (4:15, etc.). Here Paul specifically states that Esau and Jacob had done nothing either good or evil (cf. Seth in Gen. 5:1-3). The inference is inescapable: they were innocent and hence guiltless. The condemnation of guiltless babies is Pharisaical (Mt. 12:7, cf. John 9:2,34).

All this rules out any suggestion that sin is in any way to be considered genetic.

(27) In 11:32 (cf. Gal. 3:22) Paul says that God has consigned all human beings to disobedience so that he may have mercy on all. Since disobedience occurs when law is transgressed (Rom. 2:12f.; 3:9,19; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17), all have sinned against the law (3:23; 5:12). And since no flesh is capable of being justified (by keeping the law) in his sight (3:19; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.), all must turn in faith to Christ in order to receive mercy. Apart from him who alone kept the law (Rom. 8:3) and so gained access as man to the presence of God, there is no salvation (John 14:6). The exercise of mercy on those who like unconscious babies have not sinned is meaningless.


Does Romans Teach Original Sin?

The intention here is to demonstrate that it is unnecessary to appeal to anything outside the letter to the Romans to show that Paul’s thinking excludes the very possibility of the Augustinian dogma of original sin, that is, that when Adam sinned we all sinned ’in him’ (Needham, pp.43-49, cf. Hodge 2, pp. 227ff., Murray, etc.).

Exegesis

First, Romans 5:12 is supposed to provide the classic foundation of this dogma. It needs to be recognised, however, that when Augustine first formulated it he was relying on a Latin translation which read ‘in quo’, meaning ‘in whom’ (i.e. ‘in Adam’) instead of ‘in that’, ‘inasmuch as’ or ‘because’. (The latter is nowadays almost universally accepted as the meaning of the Greek, Needham pp.49f.; Moo, pp.321f.) Though many deny it, Augustine’s error constituted a serious exegetical fallacy on which much of (Western) theology has been built. Inevitably, it has done enormous harm to the church’s understanding and practice of the gospel, given us a false worldview and radically perverted the teaching of Paul himself. In fact, the words ‘in Adam’, in contrast with the 164 NT references (according to V. Roberts in Life’s Big Questions, p. 54) to ‘in Christ’, do not appear in Romans, though they have often been unwarrantably provided. (They occur only in 1 Corinthians 15:22 which echoes verse 21 with which it is in synonymous parallelism. The context is Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the body, and his assertion that we die ‘in Adam’ expresses the truism that we, like Jesus, die in the flesh which was Adamic man’s chief characteristic, 1 Cor. 15:45-49, cf. 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.)

During my reading of the major commentaries on Romans over the last 45 years or so, I have failed to come across a single case convincingly establishing the dogma in question on an exegetical basis. This is hardly surprising since, as I shall now seek to show, it is in open conflict with other assertions made by Paul in the letter to the Romans itself.

Paul’s Arguments in Romans

Actual Sin

First, we must ask why, if we all sinned ‘in Adam’, Paul did not say so at the start. The truth is, however, that given the overall length of the epistle Paul takes considerable pains especially in 1:18-3:20,23 to establish the fact that all human beings, Jesus apart (8:3), commit actual sins (cf. Ps. 130:3; 143:2). And he underlines this basic point by alleging that all who are under law, apart from which sin does not exist (Rom. 4:15, etc.), are thereby held accountable to God (3:19, cf. James 2:10). In Romans 4 he is intent on indicating that even Abraham, the father of Israel, was an ungodly sinner (v.5) who needed to be justified by faith like the rest of us for whose “trespasses” Christ was put to death (v.25, cf. 5:8). If original sin were true and we were all born sinners, the universal commission of sin would from one point of view be axiomatic and from another irrelevant since we all, including Jesus who was also a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), would be acting according to nature, as indeed we are expected to do (cf. 1:26f.). In other words, if I am born a tiger, I am bound to behave like a tiger, and, by parity of reasoning, if I am born a sinner, I am bound to conduct myself like a sinner. So, given original sin, for Paul to spend an inordinate amount of time and space listing and categorising actual sins is on the face of it a somewhat strange and meaningless procedure. On the other hand, on the assumption that Paul does not teach the imputation of Adam’s sin, we should be predisposed to believe that when he says in 5:12 that “all (have) sinned” (cf. 3:23) he means that all have actually sinned. This is made absolutely certain by the fact that the wages of death are paid and, as we shall see below, imputation, being a free gift, does not pay wages.

The Law and Sin

Next, like Scripture in general, Paul clearly regards law as foundational of sin. Why otherwise does he devote so much attention to it? In fact, he goes so far as to assert three times that where there is no law there is no sin (4:15; 5:13; 7:8). This explicit evidence receives further support in 7:1-6 where the apostle argues that the legal relationship binding a married couple together ceases to exist when the husband dies (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39). In this situation, his widow is at liberty to remarry free of guilt since death has abolished the law respecting her first marriage. We are therefore forced to the conclusion that where there is no law there is no adultery. It is ruled out of court. Thus Paul concludes that we who have died to the law are also free of guilt, and “married” to Christ we are led by the Spirit (v.6).

The Law Gives Sin Its Opportunity

Expanding on this, in Romans 7:7ff. the apostle, with his eye on the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, tells his Roman readers that sin does not come into existence until the law (or commandment) gives it its opportunity (vv.8,11). Only then does it spring to life (cf. vv.9f.). Prior to that time it lies dead (v.8). Paul highlights his teaching with reference to his own early life, which clearly recapitulated the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Like them he was ‘alive’ until the commandment was given (presumably through his parents). It came promising life (cf. Ex. 20:12) but in the event, through the weakness of the flesh (cf. 8:3), it produced death.

Knowledge and Sin

It may be responded at this point that since the time of Moses all children are born ‘under law’ (cf. Gal. 4:4f.) and are therefore under an obligation to keep it. Paul appears to agree for he says that the law speaks to those who are under it (3:19). However, he makes it evident in 7:1,7 that to be under it is to know it and understand it. It follows from this that all who lack understanding, like animals, or babies who need to be taught it as they gain the ability to learn (1*), are not under law (2*). This is exactly what we would expect, since in chapters 1-3 he has already referred extensively to the sins of the heathen who did not have the law of Moses but were nonetheless a law to themselves (2:14, cf. 5:13).

No Excuse

From all this it is clear that those whom Paul claims to be without excuse and subject to judgement are people, both Gentiles and Jews, who have knowledge of law in some sense (1:20f.; 2:1-16). As 2:6 in particular indicates, all will be judged according to (the) law by their works (cf. 3:20).

Sin a Work

For Paul, in Romans as elsewhere, sin is a work, something that is actually done (2:13; 3:28; 9:31f., cf. 1:18-3:20,23,25,28, etc.). This being the case, sin is beyond the capacity of babies. They cannot work, so they cannot commit sin or be condemned for it (though Augustine said they could!). In their case, judgement is out of the question (Rom. 2:1-11; 4:4; 6:16,23). Lacking the law and the ability to exercise faith, they are susceptible neither to condemnation nor to justification. In other words, like Adam in his innocence, until they learn the law they can neither know nor do good or evil (Rom. 7:1,7,9; 9:11).

Gift and Wages

In Romans 4:1-8, Paul produces an even more devastating argument completely nullifying the claim that he teaches original sin. Here he distinguishes between imputation (free gift) and works. As we have just seen, works are paid wages, even death (1:32; 6:21,23). So Paul tells his readers that the worker is paid his due (4:4) (3*). On the other hand, the one who does not work cannot be paid wages, and what is free whether in the form of imputed righteousness which leads to life (5:21) or imputed sin which leads to death as in Jesus’ case clearly excludes wages. This is further implied by the apostle’s argument in Romans 5:12ff. where he distinguishes between the free gift of righteousness and the result or effect of Adam’s sin (vv.15-17). Admittedly, at this point Paul does not explain the nature of the effect (4*), but that it is not imputed sin is logically impossible to dispute. To insist that it is involves equating wages with gift and thereby undermining Paul’s whole point. What is more, if there is “an exact parallel” of imputation in Romans 5:12-21, as is often claimed, then Paul is making a distinction without a difference.

Strictly speaking, all that we need to ask of those who support the notion of the imputation of Adam’s sin to all his posterity is, How can imputed sin pay wages? (Or, we might ask what is basically the same question, How can imputed righteousness pay wages?, cf. 6:23.) The plain fact is, on the assumption that he is a consistent thinker and is not contradicting himself, Paul in Romans 4:1-5 precludes the very possibility that he teaches the imputation of Adam’s sin in Romans 5:12-21 or elsewhere. In blunt terms, the dogma of the imputation of Adam’s sin is based on a glaring fallacy.

Imputation and Its Instrumental Means

There is no question that Paul teaches imputed righteousness by means of faith in Romans (e.g. 1:16f.; 3:21f.;10:4). But if it is assumed, or rather presumed, that sin is imputed as it was to Christ (cf. 3:25f.) (5*), one is forced to ask by what means, especially since it is universally agreed that babies are as incapable of exercising faith as they are of performing works. Paul implies, however, as we ought to expect, that sins are imputed only to those who commit them (4:8; 11:27). So once more babies are out of the reckoning.

Sin and Death

It is basic to Paul’s teaching in Romans that actual sin, which is a work, merits or earns death. This is first asserted in 1:32, implied throughout 2:1-13, re-asserted in 6:16,21 and 23; 7:5,9-11,13, implied 7:24, asserted in 8:2, and implied again in 8:6f.,10,13. In light of this, we have no option but to assume that 5:12-21 is consistent with this teaching. The attempt to maintain that 5:12 implies sin “in Adam” is undermined, first, by the fact that Paul has already argued at length that the sins of the heathen, who were without the law of Moses, were different from that of Adam. The latter, in contrast with Eve (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14), was given a specific commandment (Gen. 2:17) which made him the type of the second Adam who kept the entire written law. Secondly, in 4:1-8 Paul flatly denies that imputation or gift merits wages.

Romans 7:9-10

Far from suggesting that he himself was the victim of original sin, Paul says that he was once alive apart from the law. In this he resembled Adam and Eve in the Garden. They too were alive until they broke the commandment, albeit in different ways. Thus Paul implies that he himself as a child was first deceived like Eve (7:11), then sinned deliberately like Adam who had received the commandment directly from God (7:13).

Babies and Death

It may be complained at this stage that since Paul insists that death is the wages of sin and babies die, then babies must reap the wages of sin which is death. In light of what has been written above, this argument is patently fallacious. It ignores the connection between sin and law on the one hand and Paul’s insistence that all have to (actually) sin (Rom. 3:23; 5:12) in order to reap its wages (4:4; 6:23) in judgement (2:6). The reason why babies, who have not offended against the law, die is implied in Romans 1:23; 2:7,10; 7:9f. and 8:18-25. The fact is that while babies who are ignorant of the law cannot sin against it and so earn its wages neither can they receive its promise of life (7:10). So in a world given by nature (creation) to futility (Rom. 8:20), they die like created things in general of age, disease or disaster all of which are, normally speaking, devoid of moral implications. Sinless grass, trees and animals die, so why not sinless babies? After all, being flesh (earth) and not spirit (heaven), they are naturally mortal (1:23; 6:12, cf. 8:13) like the rest of the temporal creation.

To sum up, let me say that I have tried to let the letter to the Romans speak for itself. By a judicious use of logic and reference to other parts of the Bible including Paul’s other writings I could have presented an even more devastating case. However, it seems to me that the evidence presented above makes it plain beyond reasonable doubt that Romans not only does not teach original sin but cannot do so. Any commentator who claims to be able to make a case for it on exegetical grounds simply advertises the fact that he has abysmally failed to follow Paul’s thought.

In conclusion, it must be stated categorically that the imputation of Adam’s sin is based on a glaring error of logic. According to Paul, wages and free gift are mutually exclusive. If death is wages, it cannot be Adam’s free gift. In any case, as Paul makes plain in 1:18-3:20, all who know the law break it (cf. 3:23) and are hence constituted sinners, as God always intended (11:32).

What about the effect of Adam’s sin which Pelagius denied? Clearly it only exacerbated his posterity’s situation. If like him as flesh they could not keep the law (cf. 3:20), how much less could they under his baneful influence as a sinful parent (cf. Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Ps. 106:6, etc.). On the other hand, Scripture makes it plain that they could not be punished for his sin (Dt. 24:16, etc.).

1* Cf. Ps. 32:9; Job 35:11; Dt. 1:39; Ps. 78:5f.; Isa. 7:15f.; 8:4; 28:9; Heb. 5:12f.

2* The commandment, like the law of Moses, is transgenerational. Just as Adam was taught the commandment by God, his heavenly parent, so children are taught it by their parents (cf. Ex. 20:12; Dt. 4:9, etc.). It has rightly been said that the first thing a child understands is the word ‘no’.

3* Throughout the Bible wages are paid for work done. It is worth noting some of the references other than those in Romans: Gen. 2:17, cf. 3:17; Ex. 32:33; 1 Sam. 15:24; 2 Sam. 12:5,9,13f.; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18:4,20; 29:19f.; 1 Cor. 3:8,12-15; 9:17; Gal. 6:7; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Pet. 2:13,15. It is emphasised in Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar, who is God’s servant (Jer. 27:6) is paid wages for the work that he does (29:19f.). The question at issue in Luke 23, for example, is what has been done (4,15,22,41). It is also worthy of note that to impute sin to someone who has done nothing is evil (1 Sam. 22:15; 1 K. 21, etc.). On the other hand, the good news and wonder of the grace of God is that he does not impute sins actually committed to those who repent and put their trust in him (Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19).

4* However, on the basis of teaching like Ex. 20:5; Num. 14:18; Jeremiah 9:13f.; 11:16; 14:20; 31:29f.; 32:18f.; Ezekiel 18, etc., we can safely guess. Compare Moo, p. 328.

5* This logically excludes children! Sin cannot be imputed both to Christ and to babies without bringing into question the former and his ability to bear it.

References

C.Hodge, Systematic Theology 2, repr. London, 1960.

D.J.Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids, 1996.

J.Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, Phillipsburg, 1979.

N.R.Needham, The Triumph of Grace, London, 2000.

Additional Note

A syllogism:
First premise: Sin, which is a work, pays the wages of death (Rom. 6:23).
Second premise: Imputation excludes wages (Rom. 4:1-8).
Therefore, since Romans 5:12 says all sinned and earned the wages of death, imputation is ruled out of court.

In view of this, we are forced to conclude that John Murray’s book “The Imputation of Adam’s Sin”, like his exegesis of Romans 5:12-21, is based on a blatant fallacy.

Note further how Paul links law and works (Rom. 2:13; 3:27f.; 9:32, cf. Gal. 2:16, etc.) and hence wages and death (Rom. 2:12; 5:12,14; 5:21; 6:21,23, cf. John 1:17).


Cosmic Curse?

 

It has become almost a commonplace in modern evangelical theology that not only man himself is regenerated in the purpose of God but also the world in which he lives along with him. It has long been held in the church that Genesis 3:17-19 indicate that the consequence of Adam’s sin was a universal or cosmic curse on his environment, and that once sin has been dealt with by Christ at the end of the age, then creation itself will be renewed (or restored, redeemed, renovated, repristinated, purged, transformed or recreated) and made fit for regenerate mankind’s habitation (Rom. 8:19-25; 2 Pet.7,10-13; Rev. 21:1). However, in view of a great deal of specific biblical evidence militating against it, including arguably the very references just used, it is more than doubtful whether this scenario can be substantiated. What is more, it presents us with a worldview, which on the face of it seems completely unreal, even absurd.

No less a conservative traditionalist than Murray mentions almost casually in comment on Romans 8 that we are not able to understand the implications of the vanity arising from the curse for creation as a whole, but insists that all is affected (p.303). A.K.Ruler puts the matter much more bluntly when he suggests that the notion that events in human history like sin and redemption might affect inanimate nature can only seem ‘superstitious and bizarre’ (p.710, col.1). For all that, he adopts a restorationist stance (cf. L.Berkhof, p.399; H.Berkhof, p.523; Erickson, p.655; Grenz, pp.52, 110ff., 588, 644ff.; Wright (2), etc.). Elsewhere I have argued at some length that Romans 8:18-25, which passage does not even allude to sin, bears no relation to Genesis 3 and hardly teaches what nearly all commentators, apparently on the basis of Augustinian theology, assume it does.

 

Preliminary Considerations

The very idea of a cosmic curse is rendered suspect at the outset by the cultural mandate expressed in Genesis 1:26,28. Why, if the earth God has created is perfect or complete is man called on to exercise dominion over it? This question becomes all the more acute when we consider that in Genesis 2:5,15 the distinct impression is given that creation cannot attain to its full potential unless it is inhabited (cf. Isa. 45:18) and tilled (cf. Ezek. 36:33-36). Clearly the earth, even Eden (cf. Gen. 2:5,15), is not entirely an autonomous benefactor. It would appear that just as God has played his part, finished his work of creation and imposed order on the original chaos (Gen. 1:2), man, as God’s vice-regent, is now required to play a similar role and impose order on the earth (Ps. 8:6-8). Failing this, presumably the land will languish and remain a wilderness (Isa. 6:11, etc.). This view is supported by an appropriate comment by Stott: “’Nature’ is what God gives us; ‘culture’ (or cultivation) is what we do with it. Without a human cultivator, every garden or field quickly degenerates into a wilderness” (p.193, cf. p.133). An uninhabited land is desolate (Isa. 6:11; 27:10; Jer. 51:29; Zech. 7:14, etc.).

 

Genesis 3:17-19

Admittedly, these verses are difficult to understand; verse 18 certainly gives the impression that the ground as such is cursed (cf. Gen. 19:24f.; Dt. 29:20-28; Jer. 7:20). However, this prompts at least three questions: What is meant? Is the curse permanent? And, is it universal as has traditionally been maintained?

It needs to be recognised that we are dealing here with primitive material and the immediate text and context are not all that helpful. But in light of what is taught in clearer terms later in Scripture we should be able to make some plausible deductions.

What appears to be fundamental is that on the one hand the ground is recalcitrant, fails to respond autonomously and needs a responsible tiller, and on the other it remains relatively fruitless and unproductive to man, the law-breaker or sinner (cf. Lev. 26:18ff.). In view of the fact that it inherently requires habitation and cultivation (Gen. 2:5,15; 3:23; 4:2), it suffers from the disruption or failure of Adam’s rule or dominion arising from his moral disorientation (cf. 6:11-13, where the earth is said to be corrupt because all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth, but contrast Dt. 26:14f.; Ps.128:1f.; Prov. 12:11; 28:19). The earth, like the flesh which derives from it, though not evil in itself (it is ‘good’, that is, useful, Gen. 1:12, etc., in the sense of Eccl. 3:11 NRSV, etc., cf. Dt. 20:19; Job 5:6f., Ps. 85:11; Hos. 10:4,8; Hab. 3:8), is no longer subjected to his control as it was before (Gen. 2:15,19f.) and still less, in fact not at all, once he is cast out (cf. Jer. 4:25f.; 44:2f.). Though its failure to respond as it did before the law was broken (cf. 4:12) easily gives the impression that the fault lies with the land rather than with its tiller (contrast Prov. 24:30f.; Isa. 24:4ff.; Jer. 23:10; Hos. 4:1-3), the truth is that the earth, like our physical bodies (cf. Col. 3:5), has been subjected to futility by God himself in hope (Rom. 8:19ff.) and is by nature unprofitable (cf. John 6:63). Only when it is directed by spirit, that is, man made in the image of God, does it become useful (Gen. 2:15, cf. v.5). Thus we are called to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20, cf. Rom. 12:1). (It perhaps needs to be made clear before I go any further that in stressing the role of man I am not trying to downplay God’s own part as evinced, for example, in Lev. 26:3ff.; Dt. 11:13-17; 29:20-28; 1 Kings 8:35f.; Isa. 5:6; Ezek. 34:25-27. Ultimately God’s providential sovereignty is universal and lies behind everything, cf. Mt. 28:18 and note 1 Cor. 3:6, but we need to recognise that from the human point of view he frequently acts in response to our actions in both blessing and curse, in life and death. Note Ps. 107:33-38.)

Secondly, that the curse is not permanent is proved by reversals that are said to take place elsewhere in Scripture when blessings flow from repentance and renewed law-keeping. Passages like Leviticus 25:18f.; 26:3ff.; Psalm 107:33-38; Isa. 32:14f.; 41:17-20 and Ezekiel 17:24 suggest that blessings and curses in general are perennial possibilities confronting all human beings throughout history. Whichever eventuates depends largely on the fluctuating conduct of the contemporary local inhabitants (see Isa. 7:23-25; 24:4ff.; Ezek. 15:8; 33:29; Mic. 7:13 for curses, and Dt. 7:13; 28:4,8,11; Pss. 67:6; 107:36-38; 128:1f.; Isa.1:19; Jer.23:3; Ezek. 34:13-16,25-27; 36; Amos 9:11-15; Hos. 2:21-23; Zech. 8:9-13 for blessings).

Thirdly, the so-called Adamic curse can hardly be universal or the picture would be monochrome, as we shall see below when dealing with Hebrews 6:7f. (1* The fallacy of a universal curse and a fallen world can be inferred from Hebrews 2:8 where we learn that Jesus’ victory over the world (cf. John 16:33; Heb. 2:9) did not lead to its overall subjection. The necessary inference is that Jesus, as second Adam, overcame as an individual representing his people and was, since he was confined to one place at one time, successful only in his own environment and immediate sphere of influence. If this is denied, we must conclude that he came short of the complete reversal affecting the whole cosmos which was required to rectify the alleged consequences of Adam’s fall and the subsequent curse on creation. On the basis of this reasoning, we are forced to conclude that the curse that followed on Adam’s sin was confined to his own restricted surroundings (Gen. 3:17, cf. 4:12; Prov. 24:30ff., etc.) (cf. 2*). The idea that the sin of one individual human being could have a catastrophic impact on the entire creation seems to me to be intrinsically absurd. We need to bear in mind that the word Adam normally refers not merely to an individual but to the race, mankind as a whole. And it was the latter who were called to exercise progressive dominion over all creation. In the twenty-first century after Christ we are seeing irrefutable evidence of this dominion before our very eyes.). But while Cain (Gen. 4:11f.) and perhaps Noah’s father (5:29) are said to suffer the curses resulting from their own ungodliness, Noah himself and his family are blessed despite their relative sinfulness (Gen. 8:21-9:17, cf. Ps. 78:21ff.). Perhaps more to the point, Genesis 13:10 (cf. Dt. 6:10f.; 8:7-10; Jud. 18:7-10 and note esp. Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:5; 16:13; Isa. 36:17) indicates that despite the curse associated with Adam in Eden, land like it remained unaffected until the Sodomites ran riot (Gen.19) and righteous Lot had to be rescued (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5-10). Clearly, if the earth was universally affected, it would be impossible to distinguish good land from bad, and the questions of the nations, such as those found in Deuteronomy 29:23f., could never be posed. Wenham (p.82) writes that land blessed by God is well-watered and fertile, and alludes to Deuteronomy 33:13-16, comparing it with Genesis 2:8-14 – a rather odd point to make if the curse operates universally. In comment on 3:17, he also points out that land, a key word, is mentioned at the beginning and close of the curse “until you return to the land”, thereby forming an inclusion (v.19), which suggests that it does not operate permanently but only during Adam’s own lifetime. The inference is that, though his progeny will be affected by the conditions he has established (cf. Dt. 29:22ff.), the curse as such is not forever (Num. 14:3,18,31-35; 32; Ex. 20:5; 34:6f.; Dan. 9:17-19, etc.). On the other hand, when Adam’s posterity repeat his sins, curses will surely follow (Isa. 24:5f.). In light of the above we can readily concur with Kidner who, commenting on Genesis 3:18, maintains that thorns and thistles are “eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching”, and pointedly alludes to the sluggard’s field in Proverbs 24:30-34 and Job 31:38-40. They are clearly a sign of man’s moral degeneracy and his childlike inability to discipline and control himself in order to exercise his proper dominion. And as Kidner (1) further intimates, thorns and thistles become a perennial threat like the unconquered Canaanites to the Israelites (Num. 33:55).

(See further below on the defiling of the future land flowing with milk and honey by the Canaanites and their being vomited out like Adam out of Eden. This reversal alone, apart from other considerations, surely gives the lie to the permanent universal curse of traditional theology.)

Genesis 3:19 also teaches us that Adam, the sinner, is now at odds with creation as well as with himself and his wife, for work has become a burden as it apparently has with Noah’s generation (5:29; Eccl.1:18). So while the earth itself is not “morally sensitive” (Motyer, p.200, cf. p.220), it reacts either negatively or positively in relation to the (moral) attitude of the one who rules over it. Thus the first Adam stands in strong contrast with the second Adam who committed no sin (1 Pet. 2:22) and whose very food was to do his Father’s will (John 4:34, cf. Heb. 2:9). Yet even he experienced natural or fleshly fatigue (John 4:6, cf. Luke 8:23).

Finally, in verse 19, apart from his exile or expulsion from the Garden, Adam learns that the wages of sin really are death (2:17) despite what the devil told Eve (3:4). This again prompts the question regarding his descendants: Is his sin also theirs as tradition would have us believe? Do they inherit both his sin and his curse? The answer must be a firm negative on both counts. As we shall see even further, the curse is not universal but is repeated in some form wherever there is disobedience (cf. Heb. 2:2 and note “trans-generational inclusiveness” referred to below). If the wages of sin is death, then death must be earned (Rom 6:23), and this is precisely what Paul intimates in Romans 3:23 and 5:12 and implies when he says in accordance with Scripture in general that judgement is by works (Rom. 2:6, etc.). To say this is, of course, not to deny a la Pelagius that Adam contributed to his descendants’ sin and death as Paul unequivocally insists (Rom. 5:12-21). But this is what all parents do in some measure (Ex. 34:6f.; Num. 14:18; Ps. 106:6; Jer. 9:13f.; Dan. 9:16, etc.). As Cole pertinently comments on Exodus 20:5, “Since this is God’s world, and since we are all involved with one another, breaches of God’s law by one generation do indeed affect those of future generations to come. Slavery, exploitation, imperialism, pollution (one might say in this context ‘defiling the land’!, cf. Isa.24:5), immorality are all examples of this principle” (p.156, cf. p.228 and see also Andersen, pp.69f., and Wenham, p.91).

 

The Inadmissibility of the Imputation of Adam’s Sin

There are numerous reasons why the imputation of Adam’s sin must be disallowed, though only four need be mentioned here. First, imputed sin is at once a free gift and/or a natural endowment for which we cannot be held responsible; second, we are told not to imitate our sinful forebears (2 Chron. 30:7; Ps.78:5-8; Zech. 1:4) – an impossibility if sin is imputed; third, children must not be punished for their fathers’ sins (Dt. 24:16; Ezek.18) unless they repeat them (Num. 32; Jer. 3:25; Mal. 3:7; Luke 11:47f.; Acts 7:51, cf. Job 31:38-40), and, fourth, Jesus himself was a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) but lived a sinless life as the second Adam.

In view of this, to go no further, we can safely conclude that what Paul is intimating in Romans 5:12ff., where he repeatedly distinguishes between the free gift (of righteousness) and the effect of Adam’s sin, is that the latter is determinative (for us in our fleshly weakness) but not fatalistically deterministic (so that even Jesus was born a sinner and hence under a curse).

 

Genealogical Continuity

This conclusion is bolstered by another consideration. Before we leave Genesis 2-3, it is important to note that during the time of his moral innocence (not righteousness and holiness, as Augustine and his followers have mistakenly taught, since the commandment had not been given, cf. Dt. 6:25), Adam was blessed. This being so, we can safely conclude that the subsequent and repeated stress on what Thompson (1) calls the ‘genealogical continuity’ of the covenant (p.281, cf. Robertson, pp.34ff.), involving the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience throughout the OT, has its origin in the pattern established in Genesis 2-3. In other words, just as the commandment applied to Adam and Eve in their childlike immaturity, so it applies to all human beings in theirs (cf. Rom.7:7-12). Just as Adam was taught the commandment by his divine Father (Gen. 2:17; cf. Gen.5:1-3; Luke 3:38), so our parents teach us (cf. Dt.4:9; 6:7; 32:46f.; Ps.78:5-8, cf. Eph.6:1f.). It has been said that the first thing we understand is the word ‘no’, and it is the first commandment we all disobey. In other words, the commandment of Genesis 2:17 is paradigmatic, just as the Mosaic law was for Israel (cf. Dt. 31:12f.), and as such it is repeated and re-applied to every generation throughout history. (Thus Wright (1) refers to the ‘trans-generational inclusiveness’ of the covenant, p.287). Once we see this, we can abandon the Augustinian dogma of original sin, fraught with insoluble problems as it is, as superfluous, for we all become sinners by committing sin personally (John 8:34 contrast 1 Pet. 2:22, Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 1 John 3:4). It is a question of repetition, imitation or recapitulation, not generation (pace Art. 9 of the C of E).

 

Adam and Moses -The Choice between Life and Death

What conclusions can we draw from this? Surely the arrangement God had with the first Adam (Gen. 2:17) was the Mosaic covenant in embryo. The choice that Adam made was repeated by the Israelites in Moses’ time (cf. Ex. 32). They too had to choose between blessing and curse (Dt. 11:26-32), between life and death (Dt. 30:15-20, cf. Isa. 1:19f.; Jer. 21:8, etc.). This choice is perennial: it is one that faces every individual, community and nation throughout history at different stages of their existence. But if both sin and curse were permanent features of life set in concrete, there would be no room for choice. The sinless life even of Jesus would be impossible. As it is, while all with One exception do sin and fall short, by the grace of God repentance (note 2 Kings 22:19), separation and life are real possibilities. What is more, as history and experience amply demonstrate, there can be a real change from desolation to fruitfulness. As Thompson (1) expresses the matter, “The primary requirement of the (Mosaic) covenant was complete obedience to the covenant obligations as expressed in the law. In the wake of obedience followed blessing, prosperity, security, continued possession of the land, etc…. Sin among the people defiled the land and as a result nature failed to yield her abundance among the crops, the flocks and the herds (28:16-18,38-42; cf. Am. 4:6-9, etc. Moreover the land which was the gift of Yahweh and upon which Israel had no claim, might be taken away and Israel exiled (28:25,47-52,62-67)” (pp. 73f.). Again he writes in comment on 11:1-9, “There is a close link between obedience and the successful development of the land of promise (10-17,22-25). Children should be taught these important facts (18-21). The final choice before Israel was obedience or disobedience, blessing or cursing (26-32)” (p. 151). If he had been writing, making the necessary changes, about Adam we would hardly have known the difference. Genealogical continuity of covenant and promise (Acts 2:39), however, is one thing but that of sin, blessing and curse is another. As it is, the choice between good and evil and their results, far from being foreclosed, remain open throughout the OT and especially in the NT where repentance and faith are the foundation of blessing and eternal life (2 Tim. 2:11-13; James 2:8-10, etc.). So we are surely right to maintain that God’s dealings with mankind (Adam) in his infancy established a pattern from which we can expect increased sophistication but hardly deviation.

Ultimately, then, we all imitate good or evil, obey or disobey, and choose either God or the devil, life or death (John 8:31ff.; 1 John 3:4-10; 3 John 11). But if we, as the descendants of Adam, were born sinful into a world under unmitigated curse, choice would be impossible. Apart from the spillover that inevitably occurs through our solidarity with the race – no man is an island – our sins and curses, like those of Adam and Eve, are our own (cf. Ps. 106:6; Jer. 4:22; 11:10; Dan. 9:5,11,16, etc.). If this is indeed the case, it will be borne out by biblical teaching in general. It is important therefore to examine it, if somewhat briefly, to see if my contentions receive the support they need.

 

Genesis 4:11-14

In Genesis 4:7 it is implied that for Cain there is a choice between obedience and sin. In the event, we learn that, having murdered his brother Abel, he is cursed from the ground. It will no longer yield its best for him (v.12), not least because he becomes a wanderer and is alienated from it. It is noticeable, however, that the curse is a direct result of Cain’s own action not that of Adam, and, as Wenham notes, Cain likens his expulsion from the face of the ground to that of Adam and Eve from Eden (p.108. 2* Though I have long held this view, it was not until I read W.J.Dumbrell’s essay “Genesis 2:1-17: A Foreshadowing of the New Creation” in “Biblical Theology” ed. Hafemann, that I found scholarly support for it (though see Thompson (1), p.151 quoted above). Dumbrell writes, “ … it seems preferable to suggest that what is impaired as a result of the Fall is human control of the ground, not the ground itself” (p.64).). The implication is, therefore, as Hebrews 2:2 indicates, that every individual transgression produces its own effect (‘just retribution’), and does not hark back to one original or universal Adamic curse (cf. Job 31:38-40. For a rather awe-inspiring tabulation of the Mosaic covenant curses, see Stuart, pp.xxxiii-xl. The succeeding list of covenant restoration blessings is rather small in comparison (pp.xlif.). Cf. Dt. 28). So even at this stage of the argument we are in a position to cast doubt on the validity of a procedure that moves from the particular to the general without express warrant. What holds with regard to Adam’s sin, which cannot be imputed to his offspring until they repeat it (Dt. 24:16; Ezek. 18, etc.), also holds with regard to the curse except insofar as the child inherits the physical and spiritual conditions fashioned by its father. Having said that, however, sayings like father like son and like mother like daughter are not empty proverbs (Ezek. 16:44; cf. Neh. 9:32; John 8:44; Acts 7:51).

 

Genesis 5:29

In 5:29 the traditional contention regarding a permanent Adamic curse enveloping all would appear at first sight to receive more plausible support. But does it? As suggested above Lamech appears disinclined to accept the divine mandate to work and perhaps responsibility for his sin. On the other hand as a Sethite, he might simply have been caught up, like Lot, in the effects of the sins of his contemporaries or, as Exodus 20:5 suggests, been suffering the results of curses imposed on one of the generations immediately preceding him. Whatever the case, he looks to Noah, as we look to Christ, for relief. In light of what follows in 6:5ff. it is reasonable to conclude that Noah’s contemporaries in general were suffering, as Cain did, from the consequences of their own evil actions and moral degeneracy. Indeed, this is precisely what 6:5-7,11-13 would lead us to believe, for the curse of the flood stems not from Adam’s sin but from their own ungodliness (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5).

 

Genesis 8:21-22

This conclusion is supported by what is said in 8:21 where we learn that God in his grace, despite continuing sin, will never again curse the ground with a similar flood while the earth remains (v.22). In fact, it is roundly asserted that the evident blessings of seedtime and harvest will continue to the end of the age apparently unaffected by any universal curse purporting to emanate from the time of Adam (cf. Luke 17:27). (It perhaps needs to be remembered that prior to the covenant with Noah, creation was uncovenanted, that is, lacked a covenantal guarantee, and hence from man’s point of view was under threat as the flood demonstrated. In the event, Noah and his descendants are given confidence in the long-term future of creation until God’s purposes are fulfilled.) In view of this, other considerations apart, is it not better for us to assume that cursing and blessing are part and parcel of the permanent pattern that God established in nature as is surely implied by what is taught in those two crucial chapters Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28? That obedience leads to blessing and ultimately to (eternal) life (N.B. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17) and disobedience to punishment and death is re-iterated time and time again in the OT (Ex. 34:6f.; Lev. 26:3-5; Dt. 7:12-15; 8:7-10; 11:8-17,26-32; 28:1-5; 30:9f.,15-20; 31:16f.; Jos. 23:14-16; 1 Kings 9:1-9; Isa. 1:19f.; Ezek. 11:19-21, etc.). But the mere fact that blessings, like Exodus 23:25, Leviticus 25:18f.; Deuteronomy 6:11, 8:7-16, 11:10-15, 14:22-29, 15:4-6,10,14,18; 26:15; 28:4,8,11; 30:9f.; Jud. 18:7,10; Pss. 65:9ff., 104:10-15 and Mal. 3:10ff., feature prominently at all, alongside indisputable curses (e.g. Lev. 26:18ff.; Isa. 24:6; Mic. 6:10ff.), constitutes a serious problem for those who argue for an Adamic curse, since, if the latter is still in operation, blessings are difficult to account for. Why, on its assumption, should or could there ever be a land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27) and a type of Eden, especially one that had earlier been defiled (Lev. 18:24-30) by the lawless Canaanites (Ex. 3:8, cf. Isa. 36:17; Dt. 6:11; Jos. 24:13; Ezr. 9:12 and Neh. 9:8,25,36, cf. Gen.13:10)? (3* As I have intimated above, this view is clearly supported by the ‘history’ of the Promised Land. For while it vomited out or exiled its sinful inhabitants, the Canaanites (Lev. 18:24-28), as Adam had been banished from Eden, it was nonetheless a land flowing with milk and honey and an exceedingly good land (Num. 14:7f.) for the Israelites (Lev. 20:23f.) so long as they remained subject to the covenant (see especially Lev. 26 and Dt. 28). When they were not, they too in their turn were exiled. As a consequence God’s vineyard, a type of Eden, in its untilled state became a desolation, the home of briers and thorns (Isa. 5:5f.; 7:23-25). On the other hand, when they repented they were enabled, in contrast with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:24), to return once more to enjoy the fruits of their still fertile though inadequately cultivated land.

An interesting question is, Why was the land not cursed while it was inhabited by the highly immoral Canaanites? The answer surely lies in the fact that as nature worshippers they proved worthy tillers of the soil and provided the Israelites who replaced them with a fine inheritance (cf. Dt. 6:10f.; 8:7-10). However, it was on account of their sin that the land vomited them out (Lev. 18:24f.; 20:22ff.) as it had Adam and at a later date did the same to the Israelites themselves (cf. Lev. 20:22). This again suggests that it is not the land as such that is cursed (cf. the flood), but that it becomes a desolation when it is uninhabited or is inadequately managed. It is worth noting that even Egypt is described as a land flowing with milk and honey in Numbers 16:13, cf. 11:5f. After all, it had had Israelite slaves to work it!). The truth is, of course, that man’s ability to control both himself and nature fluctuates throughout history. It usually depends on religious and/or philosophical motivation. Commitment to truth and justice brings blessing (Prov. 14:34); submission to idolatry or false religion, secular philosophies of materialism and meaninglessness leads to moral and in time to personal and national disaster (Isa. 42:24). The decline and fall of Rome was no accident and arguably neither was the rise of the West, to be followed in turn, doubtless, by its collapse. History may not repeat itself but it is certainly recapitulated. The pattern recurs in one form or another time and again (cf. Judges). But while man has amazing potential to control external nature (James 3:3,4,7), as is evident in this modern technological age, his failure to control himself remains a perennial threat (James 3:2,5,6,8).

 

Improper or Inadequate Dominion

It is man’s perpetual inability on account of sin to exercise his dominion adequately that leads to the constant repetition of ‘curse’. A farmer who does his work well and conscientiously can expect to be rewarded (cf. 2 Tim. 2:6; Prov. 12:11; 28:19); the one who neglects his land through drunkenness, for example, reaps a wilderness (Prov. 18:9, cf. 28:24). This assessment of the situation is supported by various biblical references. Proverbs 24:30ff. (cf. 10:4f.; 15:19; 20:4,13; 22:5), as we have seen, refers to the sluggard whose vineyard is overgrown with thorns and his ground covered with nettles (cf. Isa. 5:6; 7:23-25; 32:13; 34:13; Jer.9:11; 12:13; Hos. 10:4,8; Zeph. 2:9). The same picture is painted in Psalm 107:33-38 (cf. Isa. 32:9-20): wickedness leads to desert (cf. Dt. 29:22f.; Job 12:24), goodness (implied) to blessing (Lev. 26:3ff.; Isa. 41:18) and even rejoicing (Lev. 23:40; Dt. 12:7,18; 14:26; 16:11; 27:7 and note Acts 14:17). We are reminded in these verses, as Kidner (2) points out (p.386), of the land vomiting out its corrupt inhabitants (Lev. 18:28) and of blessing in Deuteronomy 28:1-5 along with the idyllic Isaiah 35:6f. Again, Psalm 128:1f. (cf. 67:6; 85:11f.) inform us that those who fear the Lord eat the fruit of the labour of their hands (cf. Pr. 6:9-11; 20:13; 28:19; Isa. 1:19 and note Neh. 9:36f.; Dt. 28:30-33). According to Isaiah 30:18ff. blessings follow repentance (cf. Amos 9:13f.). Though some references are apocalyptic and eschatological (see Webb’s tabulation of the contrast between Isaiah’s first, ch. 5, and second songs, ch. 27, p.113), their message for the present is clear.

 

Leviticus 18:24-28 and 20:23

These verses, which refer to the vomiting out of the inhabitants of Canaan on account of their sin, are reminiscent of God’s casting Adam and Eve out of Eden on account of theirs. It is interesting to note, however, that the land, like Eden, is seen as a land flowing with milk and honey in 20:24 leaving us with the clear impression that the land itself was not cursed as we might expect (cf. Isa. 24:4ff.; Jer. 23:10). Perhaps the Canaanites, despite their relative sinfulness, were committed to the working their land under the aegis of their fertility gods (cf. Ps. 105:44). However, in light of the general instruction of Moses regarding future fruitfulness (see espec. Lev. 25,26 and Dt. 28), it is plain that the land must be inhabited and properly tilled or it will indeed become a desolation (cf. Ex. 23:29; Dt. 7:22) and enjoy its Sabbath rest as at the time of Israel’s exile.

 

Desolation

Much is made in the OT, in Leviticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for example, of the desolation of the land (Isa. 6:11, cf. Mic. 3:12; 7:13). Leviticus 26:31-35 (cf. 18-20) especially is rich in allusions to it. Again as elsewhere (e.g. Jer. 44:2,22), what is striking is that what might be termed ‘absentee landlords’ bring it about. As I have just indicated, the earth needs cultivation apart from which it becomes a wilderness (Lev. 26:43; Isa. 5:6; 6:11f., cf. Ex. 23:29f.) or reverts to chaos (Isa. 24:10; 34:13, etc.) as does the fleshly body without the spirit (Jas. 2:26; Gen. 3:19; 2 Cor. 5:1). This is further brought out in Jeremiah 4:23-28 (cf. Ezek.38:18ff.). Thompson (2) says nature in its entirety seems to be involved here and suggests a reversal of the Genesis 1 account (p.230). Ezekiel 33:23-29 is yet another passage which fails to refer the reader back to an Adamic curse, though in 36:33-38 it is noticeable that the reversal is back to the idyllic Garden of Eden (cf. Jer. 31:12; 33:10-13; Isa. 51:3; Joel 2:3; Zech. 7:14). On the human level, another picture emerges: according to Isaiah 62:4, when God redeems Israel, he (she) will no longer be likened to a desolate woman (cf. 2 Sam. 13:20), that is, one who is without a husband and without children, the fruit of the womb, but Beulah, married, hence ‘sown’ and prolific (cf. Isa. 54:1; Gal. 4:27 and note Isa. 56:4f. re the eunuch).

Hosea also provides us with more evidence of Israel’s fluctuating fortunes and of the connection between current conduct and consequent blessing or curse as 2:8f.; 4:1-3; 5:11f. and 10: 4,8 make clear.

In Isaiah 24:4 (cf. v.6), 33:9, Jeremiah 12:11, 23:10 (cf. 24:9; 26:6; 29:22) and Hosea 4:3 the land is said to mourn on account of the sins of its contemporary inhabitants, not that of their distant progenitor, Adam.

 

Reversal

The mention of reversal above raises an interesting question. Further to Genesis 1:26,28, Psalm 8 leads us to believe that man made in the image of God was intended to rule over the physical creation and ultimately be crowned with glory and honour. Once he failed, as he did from the beginning, he forfeited his high calling and has done, with One exception, ever since.

Hebrews 2, however, informs us that Jesus, in contrast with Adam, did in fact succeed and was consequently crowned (2:9). But the author pointedly adds that we do not yet see everything subjected to him. In view of this we are bound to infer that Jesus’ victory in the flesh did not bring about a reversal of the alleged cosmic curse which was supposedly the result of Adam’s sin. To express the issue alternatively, though Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9, etc.), he did not change its God-ordained constitution. In fact as incarnate, he himself was subject to corruption and inevitably grew older (John 8:57, cf. Heb. 1:11). It is difficult therefore not to conclude that such a curse never existed in the first place. As was maintained above, both curses and blessings, far from operating mechanically on a universal scale, relate primarily to the individuals, communities and nations who receive them either by faith and obedience or earn them by disbelief and disobedience. Again it must be insisted that this is not to deny that there is a spillover arising from our solidarity and involvement with others (cf. Rom.5: 12-21; Ps. 106:6; Lam 5:7,16). But personal choice and separation are by no means negated in any community as numerous biblical examples illustrate (Dt. 30:15-20; 3 John 11, etc. The perennial openness and trans-generational nature of the promise is made particularly plain in Hebrews 4:1ff.).

 

A Problem

Having said all this, however, we need to remember that there is nonetheless a problem. For just as sin and/or righteousness are not always directly, or mechanically, related to the apparent blessing or punishment of people – a point laboured by Job, Ecclesiastes and the Psalmist (e.g. 73), so the same can be said with regard to the land. Moral issues do not apparently figure in the seven years of plenty and seven years of drought in the Egypt of Joseph’s day (Gen. 41:14f., cf. 2 Kings 8:1; Ps. 105:16; Hag. 1:11; Acts 11:28). So far as the seven good years are concerned, they, like the promised land itself, would seem to belie a universal curse, as, for example, does Abraham’s, and even Hagar’s, remarkable fertility (Gen. 16:10; 17:1-6,20, cf. 9:1,7) and the emphasis on fruitfulness in general (cf. Isa. 32:15f.; Ezek. 36:8-11; Mt. 5:45; Acts 14:17) not to mention the time of Jubilee (Lev. 25:21f.; 26:10). All that is evident here is that both good and bad are in the purpose of God (Gen. 41:32; Lam. 3:37f.) reminding us of what is said about Joseph himself (45:5,7; 50:20, cf. 1 Sam. 2:6; Isa. 45:7).

If there is no direct connection with specific sin as the OT writers tended to assume, what is the problem? Why are there famines, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, diseases and the like? It is worth considering that Moses’ defective speech (Ex. 4:11), and Hannah’s (1 Sam. 1:5f.) and the eunuch’s (Mt. 19:12, cf. Dt.23:1; Isa. 56:3f.) infertility are not attributed to sin (cf. Lev. 21:16ff.; 22:19-25). In the blind man’s case this is positively disallowed (John 9:3) since his lack of sight, like Lazarus’ death, is for the glory of God (John 11:4. Cf. Sarah’s barrenness.). If sin is not the answer, it must lie ultimately, as has just been hinted with regard to Joseph’s Egypt, in the purposes of God (cf. Rom. 8:28). Creation is neither eternal nor perfect but, as Paul taught in that most misunderstood of passages, Romans 8:19-25, inherently subject to futility and decay, despite being, or better, because it is pregnant with hope for something better (cf. Gen. 2:17). Being intrinsically temporal (Gen. 8:22; Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 51:6,8; 54:10; Mt. 5:18; 24:35, etc.), it is in the pangs of birth (cf. Mark 13:8). And once it has served its purpose and produced its harvest, it will be dispensed with like the body of flesh (2 Cor. 5:1). (Traditionally Christians have made much of the goodness of creation, see Gen. 1:4 passim. It is seldom, if ever, pointed out that the Greek LXX word that is used is ‘kalos’ meaning beautiful or useful, cf. 1 Tim. 4:3f. and Col. 2:22, not ‘agathos’ which relates to the moral goodness of God, e.g. Mark 10:18. Admittedly the two words are often used synonymously, cf. Mounce, p.32, etc. The problem that has to be faced by the advocates of a universal curse is that according to Paul creation is still ‘good’ or useful, Acts 14:17; Rom. 14:14,20; 1 Cor. 10:26-33; 1 Tim. 4:3f., cf. Mark 7:19; 1 Chr. 29:14, even though it is also clearly perishable, John 6:27, etc.) Indeed, the sheer ‘shakability’ of creation is fundamental to Scripture (Isa.13:13; Hag. 2:6,21; Heb. 12:27). There is no security or permanence in it and it threatens to engulf us at any moment (cf. Luke 13:1-5). This very fact is meant to teach us to look elsewhere, to heaven and not to earth, to God and not to man (Ps.118:8f.; Jer. 17:5, cf. Isa. 13:19) for our ultimate salvation. Not for nothing is God said to be our refuge in time of trouble (Ps. 40:17; 46:2ff.; 121:1; Jer. 16:19; 17:17; Hab. 3:17-19).

 

Warnings

Many, however, refuse to entrust themselves to their transcendent Creator. Despite the admonitory plagues that he encountered in Egypt, Pharaoh simply hardened his heart. Writers have often maintained that the Egyptian plagues were basically natural phenomena more miraculous for their timing than for their content. The same remains true today: the ‘plagues’, natural disasters and the like which man encounters in our own time and has had to encounter throughout history, are meant to teach us, warn us and lead us to repentance (Luke 13:1-5; Rev. 9:20f.). But they are not usually recognised as warnings even in the churches (Mt. 24:7f.; Mark 13:7f.); and modern man still worships idols, perhaps not of wood and stone but certainly the work of his own hands – the false gods of science, technology, created things in general (cf. Rom. 1:25). But in this he is doomed to disappointment since these gods cannot save either (Isa. 57:13). They belong very much to this world which itself is headed for eventual destruction and removal (Heb.12:27-29; Rev. 20:11; 21:1-4).

All this is heralded in the OT in Isaiah 24-27, the little apocalypse, for example, where the earth is defiled by its present inhabitants and languishes under a curse of universal proportions. Its background is apparently the flood of Genesis 6-9, but gradually God’s unfruitful vineyard people (Isa.5:1-7; cf. Luke 13:6-9), having been involved in the cataclysmic judgement, resurface to be regathered ‘in that day’ (27:12, cf. 24:21; 25:9; 26:1; 27:1,2) and saved as in the later apocalypse of the NT, the book of Revelation.

 

The Day of the Lord

Mention of the day brings to mind another OT theme – the day of the Lord (see Am. 5:18-20; Isa. 2:12-21; 13:34f.; Zeph. 1-3; Joel 1-3). Though salvation is present here, judgement dominates and on a universal scale (see esp. Zeph. 1:18;3:8). As Martens says, “The cosmos will go into convulsions … the sun will refuse to give its light, the moon and the stars will cease to shine (Isa.13:10). Joel, preoccupied with the subject, cites wonders in heaven and on earth, including the moon turning to blood (Joel 2:30-31)” (p.146). The day of the Lord spills over, of course, into the NT (see e.g. 1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6,10) and appears perhaps most significantly in 2 Peter 3:12. But the question is, While judgement is clearly in evidence here, does it arise from an original curse on the cosmos stemming from Adam’s sin? Hardly so. For, as was intimated above, the creation was destined for destruction from the start, for if in contrast with its Creator it had a beginning, it will certainly have an end. It has never been a safe and permanent haven for man (2 Cor. 5:5). So, while evil does not spring from the ground (Job 5:6f.) and God is not angry with it (Hab. 3:8), he will doubtless use its final destruction to punish the world of wicked men (Isa. 2:9-11,19 cf. Rev. 6:15; 13:11ff., 24:1ff.; 26:21, etc.).

 

The Fulfilment of the Creation Mandate

It is at this point that we are forcibly reminded of Hebrews 6:7f. which clearly sees disbelieving men and women as thorns (cf. Num. 33:55; 2 Sam. 23:6f.; Isa. 9:18f.; 27:4; 33:12; Nah. 1:9f.; Mic. 7:4; Mal. 4:1 and note Isa. 5:1-7; Mt. 3:10,12; 13:42; Luke 13:6-9; John 15:6) and has the early history of man as its background (Gen. 3, and perhaps, as Lane, p.143, suggests, Gen. 13:10 and 19:24, cf. Joel 2:3) as well as a future ban or curse involving fire and total destruction. What should be noted here is that, despite Adam’s sin, nature as a whole was not and is not cursed and could not have been without sabotaging the entire plan of salvation (pace Hughes, p.223, and cf. Gen. 8:21f.; Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-26). Rather, both history and the Bible prove beyond dispute that the creation and cultural mandates expressed in Genesis 1:11 and 1:26-29 (cf. 8:21; 9:1,7,19) were largely if not wholly fulfilled (cf. Gen. 8:22; Lev. 26:3-5; Dt. 11:11f.; 28:1-14; Ps. 136:25; Mt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; 1 Cor. 10:26) as we in the West at least, as beneficiaries of nature’s bounty and our forebears’ industry ought to be thankfully aware (1 Cor. 10:30; 1 Tim. 4:3f.). The earth has yielded its increase (Gen. 8:22, cf. Ps. 67:6f.) and God has worked salvation in it (Ps. 74:12). But for this its eventual spiritual harvest would be impossible (cf. Gen. 12:2f.; 15:5; 17:2,4,6; Ex. 1:7,20; 1 Kings 3:8; 4:20; etc., cf. Rev.7:9). If the curse had been universal and all mankind born sinful, then the earth in general would have been given over to thorns and thistles and been fit only for burning (cf. Gen. 8:21f.). Yet in fact, it has proved remarkably fruitful (Pss. 65:9ff.; 67:6; 85:10ff.; 104:14ff.) when properly ‘tilled’ and not ravaged by its greedy destroyers (cf. Isa. 33:1; Rev. 11:18). An earth that can support six billion people and could, according to certain estimates, sustain twice that number is a long way from being cursed as has been traditionally maintained in the church (cf. Gen. 1:28; 8:17; Lev. 26:9).

 

The Real Cosmic Curse

So we come to the final tragic irony. Under the influence of Augustine in particular, our forebears, in teaching about an original universal curse, put the cart before the horse. They did the same when they talked of an original perfect creation (including Adam!) which they failed to see was the goal not the starting point of history. In reality, the nearest approach to a universal curse was the flood (cf. Gen. 6:11-13; Isa. 24; 2 Pet. 3:5f.); but even it was only a shadow, like the curses of Sodom, Jericho and Ai, of the one to come. Clearly it was not the “full end”, referred to repeatedly by Jeremiah (4:27; 5:10,18; 30:11; 46:28, etc.). This one, the real one, the truly cosmic curse or ban (herem, see Gen. 19; Dt. 13:16; 29:22ff.; Jos.6-8; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Mal. 4:6, etc), still lies ahead of us, and it will come with the end of the age (Mt. 28:20) on the day of God (2 Pet. 3:12) when, despite, or even because of, a surfeit of material blessings (cf. Dt. 31:20; 32:15-18; Mt.24:38; Luke 17:27-30; 1 Tim. 4:3f.; Jas. 5:1-5), faith will grow cold and disobedience become rampant (Mt. 24:12; 2 Tim. 4:3f, cf. Rev. 18:4ff.) prior to the return of Christ. Then, as Peter intimates, the heavens, the earth and its works will all be burnt up in a universal conflagration (2 Pet. 2:7,10-12; cf. Heb. 6:7f.; 10:27; 12:17-29; Mt. 13:37-42). And far from coming back to dwell on the earth our Saviour, who will return in the glory of the Father (Luke 9:26, cf. Ex. 24:17; Dt. 4:24; Heb. 12:29), will be instrumental in destroying it (2 Thes. 1:8; 2:8; Rev. 20:11; 21:1) and ushering in what is variously called the kingdom of God (or heaven), the regeneration, the new creation or the new heavens and new earth, that is, heaven itself, the eternal world of the age to come (cf. Mark 10:30) that already exists (Heb.6:5) and awaits our entry (cf. John 14:2f. See Carson (1), p.25, (2), pp. 488f., and especially de Silva, pp.28f.). And from it the ban (herem) will be banned forever, for God himself will be there (Rev. 22:3, cf. Ezek. 48:35).

To sum up, as Genesis 1 and 2 imply and Romans 8:19-25, along with 1 Corinthians 13:10, 2 Corinthians 4:18 and Hebrews 1:10-12, for example, clearly teach, the present creation, being temporal, is imperfect by nature. Far from being in the grip of an original and universal curse it is subjected in the divine purpose to futility and decay in hope quite apart from sin (which only exacerbates the situation). It is hence designed to point us to heaven, the new Jerusalem and the presence of our eternal God in accordance with the original, if somewhat cryptic, promise of Genesis 2:17. Like a pregnant woman it groans in anticipation of something better (Rom. 8:22f.; cf. John 16:21f.), that is, the liberty of the glory of the sons of God for which it was created. And as its product we should groan too (cf. 2 Cor. 5:2,4) in accordance with the plan of God himself (2 Cor. 5:5).

 

Additional Note

The repetitive or recapitulatory nature of blessing, sin and curse is very evident in the Bible (see especially Ezra 9; Neh. 9; Jer. 3:24f.; Dan.9; Joel. 2:3; Zech. 1:1-6; 5:3f.; 7:8ff.), not least in Genesis:
Adam/ blessing/ sin/ curse/ exile (cf. Ezek. 28:12-16; 31:1-11)
Cain/ blessing/ sin/ curse/ exile/
Noah’s generation/ blessing/ sin/ curse/ destruction in the flood
Whole earth (Gen. 11:1)/ blessing implied/ sin/ curse/ exile, i.e. scattering
(Babel or Babylon, the very symbol of human pride finally destroyed. See Isaiah 13; Jeremiah 50ff.; Revelation 18)
Sodom and Gomorrah/ blessing (Gen. 13:10)/ sin (13:13) curse/ total destruction by fire, i.e. ban (Gen. 19:15-23; cf. Dt. 29:22ff., Jos. 6-8. Note Lot’s exile involving separation and rescue. Cf. 1 Thes. 4:14ff.; 2 Thes. 1:7ff.; 2:8 (4* This underlines the difference between an ordinary and limited curse, from which there can be renewal, and the ‘ban’ to which Jesus implies the earth will finally be subject (Mt. 13:36-43; Luke 17:28-30; 21:25-35; 1 Thes. 1:7; Heb. 6:7f.; 12:25-29; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). In contrast, the threat of the ban in the eternal world has disappeared (Rev. 22:3).

This note could, of course, be vastly expanded and elaborated, but what is said in Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Isaiah 1:19f., and Jeremiah 21:8, for example, holds good in essence throughout the Bible. At the end of the day, as individuals, as nations and as a race we reap what we sow. Ultimately, there is no future in either the flesh or the creation from which it stems (Gal. 6:8; John 6:63). Both are destined for destruction (2 Cor. 4:16-5:5; Heb. 12: 15-29; 2 Pet 3:7,10-12, etc.). Our only hope is in God who has made ample provision for us in Christ (1 Pet. 1:3f., etc.). We do well therefore to ask with Martens (p.149): in view of the coming day of the Lord, what kind of people ought we to be (2 Pet. 3:11, cf. Jer. 5:31)?).
Canaanites/ blessing in the land which is later portrayed as flowing with milk and honey (cf. Dt. 6:10f./ sin/ curse/ exile/ slavery and destruction, cf. Lev.18:24f.; 20:23).
Land preserved under the Israelites and rendered fruitful.
Israel/ blessing/ sin/ curse/ city destroyed and people exiled into slavery (cf. Dan. 9).
Sabbath rest of seventy years.
Reversal in contrast with Gen. 3:17-19 and Joel 2:3: Israel/ sinning/ cleansing/ inhabiting/ tilling/ Eden (Ezek. 36:33-36). For the modern reversal see Lambert, pp. 46ff.

To sum up, it is safe to say that both Adam’s sin and his curse are paradigmatic.
This is clear from Genesis 4:11f.
The same is obviously true of the ban exemplified by Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:22-37).

 

 

Postscript

Since beginning this piece, the sporadic, temporary and ‘plague-like’ as opposed to permanent character of curse in this world has been driven home to me by a number of horrific accidents on land and in the air here in Australia. These have been put in the shade, however, by a massive earthquake involving 30,000 ‘innocent’ lives in northern India and a further 3,000+ in the Muslim attack on New York on 11 September 2001 (cf. Luke 13:1-5). They, like others including the tsunami and the New Orleans disaster, prompt further comment on the present theme.

By positing, on the one hand, the original perfection of both man and the creation over which he was intended to exercise dominion (cf. Gen. 2:5,15) and, on the other, universalising both sin and curse over all subsequent history, traditional theology has seriously vitiated our understanding of the gospel.

First, though Adam clearly left a moral legacy of evil in violent contrast with that of good by Christ (Rom. 5:12-21, cf. Gen. 22:18; 26:4f., etc.), it could not and did not involve the imputation of his sin (Dt. 24:16; Job 21:19-21; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18) or a curse on the whole creation.

However, the unwarrantable assumption that it did has blinded our eyes to the real problems of life: the essential temporality and natural futility of this present imperfect creation (cf. Mt. 24:35; Heb. 7:3,16; Isa. 54:10; Hab. 3:17-19) on the one hand, and the repetition of the sins of our forebears for which we are personally accountable (2 Chron. 30:7; Jer. 3:25; Dan. 9:16; Acts 7:51, etc.) on the other. If Adam had never sinned, he would have gained the perfection and fullness of eternal life only by being transformed and elevated to heaven. Since flesh and spirit, earth and heaven are fundamental antitheses, and the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable, this would have been indispensably necessary. And so it is for us; for God’s intention has always been to glorify us in his presence (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:4f.; 2 Cor. 5:5, etc.). In the event, One and only One has succeeded in overcoming this world (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5) where sin’s inevitable consequence is death (Gen. 3:19), and it is through Him that we who believe also overcome (1 John 4:5). Had universal imputed sin and curse operated from the time of Adam, the plan of salvation could never have been put into effect. For the seed of woman would himself have been implicated and his work rendered impossible (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4).

There can be little doubt that traditional theology has tended to reduce all to a flat uniformity and hide both the development of the race, so clearly telescoped and reflected in the individual, and the progressive nature of the plan of salvation in the forward march of history. In the event, however, the earth that was formed to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18; Gen. 13:16; Mt. 5:45; Acts 14:17, cf. Gen. 8:22) will achieve its purpose and both good and evil come to maturity. When this occurs, the Lord will return, first to deliver his people (Heb. 9:28), then to destroy both the wicked and their habitat as he did at Sodom (Gen. 19:24f.; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Luke 17:28f.), Jericho (Josh. 6) and Ai (Josh. 8), all of which were consigned to the ban or curse and set on fire (cf. Hess, p.169). Thus earth will give way to heaven, where there is no more curse (Zech.14:11; Rev. 22:3), the present age to the new, the impermanent to the permanent (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. 3:11 and Luke 18:30), the perishable to the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50, etc.), the imperfect to the perfect (1 Cor. 13:10, cf. Heb. 1:11; 8:13b; 10:9), the first to the second (Heb. 10:9, cf. Rev. 21:1) and the shakable to the unshakable (Heb. 12:26-29, pace Webb, p. 110).

See also Supplement to ‘Cosmic Curse?’

 

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References

F.I.Andersen, Job, Leicester, 1975.

H.Berkhof, Christian Faith, rev. ed., Grand Rapids, 1985.

L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

D.A.Carson (1), Jesus and his Friends, Leicester, 1980.

D.A.Carson (2), The Gospel According to John, Leicester, 1991.

R.A.Cole, Exodus, Leicester, 1973.

D.A. DeSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, Grand Rapids, 2000.

M.J.Erickson, Christian Theology, Grand Rapids, 1987.

S.J.Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Vancouver, 1994.

W.Grudem, Systematic Theology, Leicester, 1994.

S.J.Hafemann, ed., Biblical Theology, Downers Grove, 2002.

R.Hess, Joshua, Leicester, 1996.

P.E.Hughes, Hebrews, Grand Rapids, repr. 1987.

D.Kidner, Genesis, London, 1967. (1)

D.Kidner, Psalms 73-150, Leicester, 1987. (2)

L.Lambert, The Uniqueness of Israel, Eastbourne, repr. 1984

W.L.Lane, Hebrews, Dallas, 1991.

E.A.Martens, art. Day of the Lord, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. W.A.Elwell,
Grand Rapids, 1996.

W.D.Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Nashville, 2000.

J.M.Murray, Romans, London, 1967.

O.P.Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, Phillipsburg, 1980.

A.K.Ruler, art. Restoration of All, New 20th Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,
2nd ed. J.D.Douglas, Grand Rapids, 1991.

J.R.W.Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, London, 1999.

D.Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Waco, 1987.

J.A.Thompson, Deuteronomy, London, 1974. (1)

J.A.Thompson, Jeremiah, Grand Rapids, 1980. (2)

B.Webb, The Message of Isaiah, Leicester, 1996.

G.J.Wenham, Genesis 1-15. Waco, 1987.

C.J.H.Wright, (1) Deuteronomy, Peabody, 1996.

C.J.H.Wright, (2) The Mission of God, Nottingham, 2006.

Note

It was not until after I had written practically all of the above that I read Christopher Wright’s NIV commentary on Deuteronomy (Peabody, 1996). One of the most notable features of the book is the author’s stress on the blessings and joy of an obedient covenant people (see e.g. p.270). Certainly nothing he says gives me reason to change anything that I have written above. In fact, on p.283, cf. p.289, he explicitly denies that the curses are ‘fated’ as surely a supposed cosmic curse stemming from Adam would be so far as his posterity is concerned.


Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?

A quick glance at a few books establishes the fact that Reformed theology has long harboured the notion that there was a covenant with creation. For example, W.J. Dumbrell has a work entitled “Covenant and Creation” which argues the case strongly, and the subtitle of R.S. Ward’s work “God and Adam” is “Reformed Theology and The Creation Covenant”. Part 2 of O.P.Robertson’s book “The Christ of the Covenants” is headed “The Covenant of Creation”, and the second chapter of his smaller work “Covenants” which refers to covenantal beginnings is sub-titled “The covenant of Creation”. Again, the final page (194) of Golding’s “Covenant Theology” tells us that covenant and creation belong together. It would be easy to go on, but my point has been made.

The Problem

My problem with the notion of a covenant with creation arises from two sources. The first work I can remember reading on reformed covenant theology was “The Covenant of Grace” by John Murray. While the author observes (p.12) that the covenant of the day and night in Jeremiah 33:20,25 is used with reference to God’s creative and providential ordinances (see further below), he expounds in some detail what he calls “the post-diluvian Noahic covenant” of Genesis 9:9-17 as the first instance of God’s bestowal of grace on men. Secondly, as a conscientious reader of the Bible I can hardly be unaware that the first reference to a covenant in Scripture occurs in Genesis 6:18 where a covenant with Noah is promised. To put the issue otherwise, though, as Dumbrell in particular maintains, a pre-existing relationship of some kind is evident in Genesis 1 and 2, there is conspicuously no reference to a covenant with either creation or with Adam, the first and representative man (1 Cor. 15:45-49). I conclude therefore that the relationship between Creator and creation is non-covenantal.

It is these two points which initially caused me to question Reformed, Premillennial and Dispensational theology. For the latter first posits an Edenic covenant (Gen. 1:28) governing the dispensation of innocence and then a covenant with Adam based on Genesis 3:14 (sic, Allis, p.299). Needless to say, neither of these covenants receives any support from Scripture itself. But there is more to be said.

The Plan of Salvation

As I understand the Bible, God’s plan from the beginning was to make men and women, whom he had created in his image, his heavenly children (Eph. 1:4f.; Heb. 2:10, cf. Rom. 8:14-17,21; 1 John 3:1-3). This might well be inferred from Genesis 1:26,28 (cf. Ps. 8:5), but it is certainly implied as early as Genesis 2:17. It is not therefore surprising that Paul draws the conclusion that our calling as believers in Christ, who alone attained to the perfection of God (Mt. 21:19; Heb. 1:3), is to be conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29, cf. Mt. 5:48) and thus be glorified in and with him at God’s right hand in heaven (8:30, cf. Rev. 3:21, etc.). It is important to notice, however, that glorification involves the end of the present age and the created universe (Rev. 20:11; 21:1, etc.). The implication is, then, that creation was never the subject of a covenant. Let us explore further.

Covenant

This raises the question of the meaning of a covenant. Needless to say, it has been greatly debated in recent years. To cut a long story short, there seems to be a general consensus that while covenant in the Bible, where the word diatheke rather than suntheke is used, harbours the notion of agreement, at least of consent (cf. Murray, p.11), the emphasis falls heavily on the unilateral action of God in establishing his covenants with men. Thus, though God imposes the law, which brooks no refusal, on Israel, redeemed from Egypt, at Sinai (Ex. 19:5f.; Dt. 5:2f.), nonetheless Israel consents to the arrangement (Ex. 19:8; 24:3,7, cf. Jos. 1:16f.). In this case there was, of course, a pre-existing relationship established with Abraham (cf. Ex. 2:24). Does the same hold true with regard to the Noahic covenant? As already intimated, Dumbrell, for example, is convinced that it does, and he argues that the covenant with Noah is a confirmation of what was in fact an already existing covenant (p.43). The evidence, or rather the lack of it, tells against him. Bluntly, prior to Noah, there is no indication of a covenantal relationship whatever.

The Covenant with Noah

The background of the covenant with Noah is the flood. Setting aside the question of its extent, we can safely assert that, phenomenologically, that is, from the observer’s point of view, it threatened creation itself. In light of this threat, it is hardly surprising that in Genesis 8:21f. God promises Noah, first, that there will be no more curse on the ground, and, second, that creation will fulfil its function of production till the end of the world. In other words, Noah receives a guarantee of the preservation of creation that Adam never had. And because he has it, he can commit himself to it in faith (Heb. 11:7) and confidently undertake the repopulation and dominion of the earth (Gen. 8:17; 9:1-7, cf. 1:28. Note also the confidence- inspiring prophecy of Jeremiah, 27:11,17; 29:5,28, in face of the Babylonian catastrophe).

No Covenant with Creation

Why then is there no mention in Genesis of a covenant with either creation or creature, that is, Adam, man as God first created him? Let us take creation first. If it is true that a covenant involves an element of agreement no matter how unilaterally God acts in his sovereignty, it should hardly be cause for surprise that inanimate creation, in contrast with Israel at Sinai, is simply commanded (Gen. 1:3 passim, 1 K. 17:4; Job 26:12f.; 28:25-27; 36:32; 37:12,15; Ps. 33:6,9; 65:7; 78:23; 104:7-9; 105:31,34; 107:25,29; 135:5-7; 147:8f.,15-18; 148:5-10; Prov. 8:29; Isa. 5:6; 45:12; 48:13; Jon. 1:17; 4:6-8; Mt. 8:26; Lu. 8:25; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 11:3, etc.). It is significant that despite man’s call to exercise dominion over the earth, God remains sovereign (Ps. 22:28; 47:2,7; 103:19) and can punish his erring people through nature (see e.g. Jer. 11:22; 18:21). But earthquakes, famine and rain or the lack of it are not always specifically associated with either curse or blessing (Gen. 12:10; 26:1; 41:46-57; 2 K. 8:1; 1 K. 8:36; Jer. 14:22; Lam. 3:37f.; Mark 13:8, though note Acts 16:26). Genesis 1:11, for example, is rightly referred to as a creation mandate, not a covenant. The same is true with regard to verses 26 and 28 which are correctly designated a cultural mandate. Creation as such exists simply because God has sovereignly determined it (Gen. 1:1; Lam. 3:37; Acts 17:24-7, cf. Rev. 4:11). If this is so, it immediately calls in question Dumbrell’s claim that a biblical doctrine of covenant cannot be merely anthropologically related (p.41).

Adam

Secondly, Adam was part of creation and in fact derived directly from it (Gen. 2:7). Initially, like a baby (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.), he had no knowledge of good and evil and, like his posterity, he had to be taught it (cf. Dt. 4:9; Ps. 78:5ff., etc.). If this is so, then a covenant involving even minimal mutuality could not be made with him. In the event Adam, like creation itself, is simply commanded (Gen. 1:28; 2:16f. I do not recall giving consent to my own birth, cf. Isa. 45:9-11! It is here that Horton (p.112) goes wrong. He complains that God’s sovereignty in creation can be talked of “in almost fatalistic terms, as if creation is simply an inert puppet that moves only when God specifically decrees it”. While he concedes sovereign fiats (“Let there be…!”), he then says that God enters into relations with man which permit the genuinely free acts of the human partner. The problem here is that by this time the human partner is not merely created but has undergone some development! (1*). On the other hand, even though the covenant made with Noah is a unilateral act of God which embraces man and animal alike, all creation in fact, it has, as Murray properly observes (p.14, cf. Dumbrell, p.28), a revelatory function made transparent in the sign of the rainbow (Gen. 9:8-17). This latter was meaningful only to man who possessed the intelligence necessary to make it so. And it was he who alone was able to respond to the covenant with compliance and co-operation in carrying out its provisions.

Jeremiah 31:35-37 and 33:19-26

It may be objected at this point that Jeremiah 33:19-26 clearly refer to a covenant with nature, and though the word is absent from Jeremiah 31:35-35, it is implied there too. What do we make of this? Surely in light of Genesis 8:22 where God’s covenant with Noah serves to guarantee the divine commitment to creation, the evident regularity and stability of creation now serve to undergird the permanence of God’s commitment to his people. Here creation, which Motyer, commenting on Isaiah 54:9f., claims is “the most permanent thing we know and lends itself to an apt comparison (cf. Je.31:35-37)” (cf. Ps. 89:36f.), is used to underscore the perpetuity of God’s covenant relationship with Israel (31:36f.), David and the Levitical priests (33:19ff.). Furthermore, Murray maintains that the covenant with the day and the night is synonymous with the ordinances of day and night which emphasize the immutability, stability and perpetuity of creation (p.12). On the assumption then that Jeremiah, like Isaiah, knew of the early chapters of Genesis and of the covenant with Noah, it is difficult not to conclude that he is deliberately using a transferred epithet (cf. the covenant with death in Isaiah 28:15,18) when (or if) he attributes covenant status to creation. Clearly, it effectively made his point. The regularity of nature, which contrasts sharply with the situation at the end of the age (Mark 13; 24-27, etc.), guaranteed for the moment God’s continuing commitment in covenant to his people. In other words, the covenant with the day and the night called attention to the fact that the forces of evil and chaos (cf. Jer. 4:23ff.; 25:29ff.; Isa. 24-27) and even apparent reversal (Gen. 6:13) were for the moment being kept sufficiently at bay to permit the advance of the divine purpose of human salvation.

Covenantal Intercession

Observant readers of the Bible may well be aware that intercession is usually based on covenant in both Testaments. For example, Jesus himself prays for believers who are in covenant with him (John 17; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25, etc.). But what is more immediately relevant to the case I am arguing is that in the OT Moses is conspicuously portrayed as an intercessor of superlative quality. In face of Israel’s sin in Exodus 32, when God suggests that he should make a new nation of Moses, Moses himself protests (v.10; Num. 14:12). He strenuously intercedes on behalf of his fellow Israelites and stands in the breach to prevent their destruction (Ps. 106:23, cf. Ezek. 22:30). What needs to be noted, however, is that he does this by reminding God of his covenant with Abraham (Ex. 32:13; Num. 14:13-19; Dt. 9:20,25-29). (The importance of remembering covenants is made evident in Gen. 8:1; 9:15; Ex. 2:24; 6:5; Lev. 26:42,45; Dt. 7:9, etc.). In strong contrast with Moses, and even Abraham himself who also intercedes (Gen. 18:22-33; 20:17, cf. Lot 19:17-23), Noah does no such thing. Rather, according to the author of Hebrews, as a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), he condemns his world (Heb. 11:7). The fact is that, though all flesh, even creation itself, is threatened by the flood, Noah initially has no covenant to appeal to and no platform on which to base his intercession. A new beginning is made with him and his family who alone (cf. Gen. 7:1) are cleansed from their infantile filth (1 Pet. 3:21). The covenantal guarantee given by God to Noah is clearly of basic importance and emboldens him to undertake the dominion of his “new world” (Gen. 8:17; 9:1-7).

The Inherent Transience of Creation

If then it is true that there was never a covenant with either creation or with Adam, what conclusions are we to draw? Let us look again first at creation which we have already noted was simply commanded or sovereignly brought into being. We need to note too that in sharp contrast with the Creator himself, just as it has a beginning in time so it will have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3, 16, etc.). This point is underlined throughout the Bible (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 40:6-8; 51:6; Rom. 1:23; 1 Cor. 7:31; Heb. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.). Isaiah 54:9f., like Genesis 8:22 (cf. Dt. 11:21), pointedly draw attention to the limited duration of the covenant with Noah (cf. Hab. 3:17-19; Rom. 9:28f.) and contrasts it with the permanence of God’s steadfast love and covenant of peace (cf. Isa. 55:1-3). This reminds us strongly of the observations of Jesus regarding the impermanence of both the law and creation on the one hand (Mt. 5:18) and the transience of creation in contrast with the abiding of the word of God on the other (Mt. 24:35). Far from being eternal and perfect (complete) like its Creator, creation is (and remains), merely “good” (1 Tim. 4:3f.) like Eve’s fruit (Gen. 2:9; 3:6), that is, useful or suited to its purpose (cf. Dumbrell, p.11). And once its purpose, like that of the law (Heb. 10:9), has been fulfilled, it will be dispensed with, mission accomplished (Rev. 20:11; 21:1-5, etc.). In other words, as the flood in Genesis implied, the material creation was uncovenanted, lacked a guarantee, and was certainly never intended to last forever. God of express purpose subjected it to futility from the beginning but nonetheless in hope for the children of God (Rom. 8:18-25).

The Worship of Creation

It is a basic feature of the teaching of the Bible that creation is inherently transient (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 21:1) and “hand-made” (Isa. 45:12; Heb. 1:10, etc.) like the idols of the heathen (Lev. 26:1,30). As such, worship of it is constantly forbidden as idolatry. It is not simply a question of what man makes with his own fingers (Isa. 2:8) but of what God has made with his (Ps. 8:3; Dt. 4:19) including man himself (Isa. 2:22; Jer. 17:5, etc.). To worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator is the ultimate blasphemy (Ps. 106:20; Rom. 1:25). In light of this, the suggestion of a covenant with the physical creation is deeply suspect. Little wonder that Noah failed to intercede for his contemporaries who had given themselves completely over to perishable flesh (2 Pet. 2:8-10, cf. Heb. 12:16).

The Redemption of Creation

It is here that the notion of a creation covenant betrays its radically unbiblical nature. It is not at all surprising that those who posit such a covenant embrace the idea that the physical creation will be redeemed (see e.g. Dumbrell, pp.41,43, passim; Robertson, pp.93,95,122,213ff.;226,299; Riddlebarger, pp.137f., cf. Ladd, a premillennialist, p.632; Collins, p.275). Though restoration figures prominently in the OT, the truth of the Bible is that creation, as Genesis 1:1 when compared with Hebrews 7:3 implies, is temporal and impermanent by nature. As that much misunderstood passage Romans 8:18-25 surely teaches, God expressly subjected it to the futility associated with its inherent corruptibility from the beginning (cf. Ps. 89:47f.). As the author of Hebrews would doubtless have put it, it points to a “better hope” (7:19; 11:16, cf. 2 Cor. 5:5) which Paul says is invisible (Rom. 8:24f.), that is, to heaven itself, which is “not made by hand” (cf. Isa. 45:12; Heb. 1:10, etc.) and not of this creation (Heb. 9:11). To put the issue another way, the physical creation, which has both a beginning and an end, cannot be part of the eternal kingdom of God. Impermanent by nature like the fleshly body which is creation in miniature, it is headed for eventual destruction once it has served its purpose (Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. Luke 17:28-30). This suggests that the notion of a cosmic curse consequent on the sin of Adam requiring the eventual redemption and renewal of creation is an Augustinian illusion (pace Robertson, pp.122,214).

Adam

Many link the redemption of creation with the “restoration” of man. For example, Dumbrell maintains that the NT asserts strongly that the redemption of the creature must involve the redemption of the creation (p.41, cf. Robertson, p.215, etc.). Though this idea might find some plausibility in the relative materialism of the OT, it reads into the NT what is not there. As a child of creation formed from dust and symbolizing fleshly man (1 Cor. 15:45-49), Adam’s perpetuity was uncovenanted and without guarantee (cf. Job 10:8f.). As John suggests, man is unprofitable flesh (6:63) and as such needs to be born of God (John 1:13) or of the Spirit (3:3,5) if he is to survive into eternity. Flesh and blood by their very nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). As created “by hand” (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73), like the earth from which it is taken (Isa. 45:12; 48:13), the flesh is inherently impermanent and perishable (Gen. 6:3; Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-20). Like Ishmael, who was the result of a fleshly union between Abraham and his slave woman Hagar and who personified the flesh, it lacks covenantal undergirding (cf. Gen. 17:18-21). While Paul, in order to make an important point can posit an anachronistic covenant allegory involving him, Ishmael, like Adam who epitomized the flesh (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:21f.,45-49), is ultimately cast out (Gal. 4:29f.), for only the spiritual son can continue in the house forever (John 8:35, cf. Heb. 3:6). And so it is with all who, like Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32, cf. Acts 7:39) and Esau (Heb. 12:16), commit themselves to mortal flesh and regard this ephemeral world as their portion (Ps. 17:14, cf. 1 John 2:15-17): they cannot inherit the eternal kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; 6:7f.; Eph. 5:5; 2 Pet. 2; Jude; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). In violent contrast, Jesus, while in the likeness of sinful flesh, conquered it (Rom. 8:3) and made it his slave even to the point of sacrificing it for his people (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9; 4:15, cf. 1 Cor. 9:27) (2*). And though he rose from the grave in the flesh, since he did not personally earn the wages of death, he was transformed on his return to his Father to be glorified with the glory that he had before the creation of the world (John 17:5,24). As for us who trust in him, though like Adam (Gen. 3:19) we come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and undergo fleshly destruction and corruption (2 Cor. 5:1), we too are transformed (1 Cor. 15:52-55) and receive a glorious spiritual body like his (Phil. 3:21). This was God’s plan from the beginning and he has prepared us for it (2 Cor. 5:5).

The Redemption of the Body

It may be objected here that Paul, in opposition to Greek thought, clearly refers to the redemption of the body in Romans 8:23. He does indeed, but there is a world of difference between the redemption of the body and the redemption of the flesh. When he dies as a sinner, man loses his fleshly body forever. It suffers permanent corruption. Dust returns to dust and man is naked! In this situation, as we have just seen, it is replaced by a spiritual (1 Cor. 15:44,46) or heavenly (2 Cor. 5:1) body fit for eternity. And there is not the slightest suggestion in the NT that either the flesh or the creation from which it derives will be redeemed. There was no covenant with either.

Implications

The Covenant with Adam

What all this points to is the radically erroneous nature of the traditional covenant with Adam. The Augustinian dogmas of original immortality, perfection, righteousness and holiness followed by a fall into sin leading to a cosmic curse (3*) and the imputation of Adam’s sin to all his posterity are about as contrary to biblical theology as anything can be. If the Bible is our guide, we must pronounce the worldview of the great Manichee manifestly false. Just as the OT tells us that creation, in violent contrast with its Creator, is corruptible (Ps. 102:25-27), so it tells us that the flesh, which derives from it, is too (Ps. 103:14-18, cf. Rom. 1:23,25). And just as the NT teaches the natural impermanence and futility of creation (Mt. 6:19f.; 24:35; Rom. 8:18-25, cf. 1 Pet. 1:4), so it teaches the natural perishability and unprofitability of the flesh (John 6:63; Rom. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5; 1 Pet. 1:23-25).

The idea that Adam was the covenant head and representative of all his posterity, logically including Jesus (Luke 3:38), is simply not taught in the Bible (4*). It is clear that the so-called covenant of works was inspired by Augustine’s mistranslation and hence misinterpretation of Romans 5:12, not to mention his grossly false assessment of the nature of creation in Genesis 1. The truth is that there was never a catastrophic “Fall” followed by a cosmic curse in the traditional Augustinian sense. Adam was simply the first man who, like all parents, set a pattern which all his descendants, bar One, have followed (pace Art. 9 of the C of E; Calvin, pp.200f.). We all sin of our own accord even apart from parental influence (Ps. 106:6; Jer. 9:13f.; Dan. 9:5, etc.) and hence come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In other words, first Eve’s and then Adam’s infantile but paradigmatic sins have been repeated throughout history and continue to be so today. Men and women can no more pass on their sins to their offspring than they can their faith and righteousness (Dt. 24:16; Ezek. 18, etc.), but the latter can and do repeat them (Ps. 106:6; Acts 7:51f.; 1 Pet. 1:18, etc.) as God intended (Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22) so that we might be justified by faith and not by the works of the law. After all, we are all created in Adam’s image (Gen. 5:1-3) and are all born of woman (Job 31:15) and are hence characterized by the same weakness of the flesh and the temptations of the devil (Mt. 26:41, cf. Rom. 7:7ff.). Even Christians have to be constantly warned not to indulge the flesh (Rom. 13:14, etc.). Since this is so, and all the more so under father Adam’s example and conditioning influence (Rom. 5:12), we have all failed to escape from our natural mortality and the corruption of creation by inheriting life according to the promise (Gen. 2:17). In this situation, all mankind has necessarily awaited a Saviour, a second Adam, who was able to fulfil the cultural mandate by putting everything under his feet (Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9, cf. Rom. 2:7). Since he was uniquely successful (Rev. 5:5), he was and is necessarily the only way into the presence of God (John 14:6). There is and can be no other (Acts 4:12), for he alone has abolished death and brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light in a world characterized by corruptibility and death (2 Tim. 1:10). He is the sole Saviour of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). In the words of hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander of “There is a Green Hill” fame, “He only could unlock the gate Of heaven, and let us in” (cf. Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Covenant Theology

It has to be said with regret that both traditional covenant/federal and premillennial/ dispensational theology are governed not by the biblical but by the Augustinian worldview. Though they rail against Augustine’s opposition to chiliasm, premillennialists are nonetheless ruled by many of his manifestly unbiblical ideas, especially original sin and a universal curse on creation which therefore requires redemption. The very suggestion of a millennium lived out in mortal flesh on this corruptible earth is a gargantuan gaffe involving radical theological error and prompting insuperable problems (see e.g. Allis, pp.238ff.; Riddlebarger, pp.85 passim). It clearly lacks an adequate exegetical basis in the NT. (I take it for granted that the book of Revelation is a recapitulation of the teaching of the rest of the foundation laid by Christ and the apostles, Eph. 2:20, cf. Rev. 19:10. If it is not, then we have no sure way of determining its meaning.) Even Jesus in the flesh was visibly aging (John 8:57) and subject to the ravages of time (2 Cor. 4:16). It is only the power of his indestructible life that enables him to serve forever as our high priest, not physically on earth (Heb. 7:16,23; 8:4) but spiritually in heaven at God’s right hand (Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

The Western church’s obsession with sin is Augustinian, and it has blinded theologians to the essential impermanence and corruptibility of creation regardless of an Adamic fall and consequent curse. F.F.Bruce’s comment on Hebrews 7:15-17 (cf. 7:8) admirably portrays the biblical reality: “The law which established the Aaronic priesthood is called a ‘carnal commandment’ because it is ‘a system of earth-bound rules’ (NEB); it is concerned with the externalities of religion – the physical descent of the priests, a material shrine, animal sacrifices and so forth. Like everything else in the Levitical regime, the Aaronic order of priesthood was marked by transience; it stands thus in contrast to the permanence and effectiveness of the priestly office of Christ” (p.148). In a note on page 151 Bruce highlights the fragility of the old covenant which had a mediator but no surety. But Jesus, as surety, “guarantees the perpetual fulfillment of the covenant He mediates, on the manward side as well as on the Godward side.”

Creation and the law are of a piece as means to an end (cf. Rom. 10:4; Col. 1:16)(5*). They are defective by nature, intrinsically provisional, obsolescent and transient, regardless of sinful man’s inability to exercise dominion over the one or to fulfil the other. Neither can give life. This is underscored by Paul in Romans 8:18-25, 2 Corinthians 3 and Galatians 3:21, for example, and the author of Hebrews in 1:10-12, 12:27, cf. 10:34, 11:10,16, 13:14 and 7:18f., 8:7,13. But Jesus, the second Adam, has triumphed over both and rendered them ultimately redundant (Heb. 2:9; Mt. 5:17f.). As for Israel who broke the covenant (Heb. 8:9), he participates by faith in the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15).

To put the issue in a nutshell: just as there is no cosmic covenant and curse, so there is no cosmic redemption and renewal. (It should perhaps be borne in mind that Paul does not suggest that the heathen sinned against a creation covenant but against God himself, Rom. 1:18-32, and the law evident in creation, 2:1-16. After all, even the degenerate Canaanites cultivated the Promised Land prior to the arrival of the Israelites, cf. Dt. 6:10f.) So far as the Mosaic covenant was concerned, its blessings were always conditional (Dt. 30:15-20) like the promise made to Adam (Gen. 2:17.) The new (for us) heavens and earth, like Abraham’s heavenly country (Heb. 11:16) and the new Jerusalem who is our mother (Isa. 65:17f.; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; 13:14), have always existed and “shall remain” (Isa. 66:22). In the words of the author of Hebrews, what is inherently shakable must be removed so that what cannot be shaken may remain (Heb. 12:27, cf. 10:9).

Conclusion

As intimated above, God’s basic plan is to make earthly, that is, naturally mortal men and women of dust (cf. Ps. 78:39; 103:14) who are also created in his image his heavenly children (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49). For this to occur, they must escape the corruption of creation by meeting his condition which is to keep his commandments (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7, etc., cf. Heb. 2:9). Since babies, like Adam before he received the commandment, do not know the law, they can neither keep it so as to attain to righteousness (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7, etc.) nor break it so as to become sinners (Rom. 4:15). If they die, they do so naturally, succumbing to the futility that characterizes the whole creation. (Alternatively expressed, since they are flesh, cf. John 1:13, etc., they are outside the bounds of any covenant God has made. The flesh of infant man and animal alike succumbs to the law of a corruptible creation, cf. Eccl. 3:18-20, and has no moral significance.) For the rest of us who survive babyhood and inevitably break the commandments as they dawn on our minds (cf. Rom. 7:9f.), faith in Christ is paramount (John 3:17; 6:29; 12:47; 1 John 3:23; 4:14), for he alone representatively kept the law, inherited life, overcame the world (John 16:33), conquered death and was crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,9). As Paul indicates elsewhere, if Christ is not raised even our faith is futile (1 Cor. 15:17), for there is no other way to attain to our divine destiny (cf. John 14:6) and gain access into the presence of God (Eph. 2:18; 3:11f.; Heb. 4:16; 7:19,25; 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:18).

1* Questioning the notion of a probationary command used in support of Adam’s freedom, Berkouwer (pp.345f.) strongly underscores the unilateral nature of the “command of life” (cf. Belgic Confession, Art. 14) given to Adam. He quotes Humbert to the effect that the command was absolute and unconditional. A wise parent does not give a young child a choice for the simple reason that it is “unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Heb. 5:13, ESV)! I owe Berkouwer’s reference to Blocher, who alludes freely to a creational covenant, e.g. p.258, in a provocative essay calling for separate treatment in Always Reforming, ed. A.T.B.McGowan, Leicester, 2006.

2* Crucifixion was the penalty paid by slaves. Paul tells us that our flesh has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24).

3* The curse on the ground is a subject in itself which I have dealt with elsewhere. However, it needs to be stressed that the earth becomes a desolation, first, wherever it lacks inhabitants and is not tilled (Gen. 2:5,15; 3:23; Isa. 6:11, etc., cf. Gen. 9:20) and, second, when it suffers abuse or neglect (Prov. 24:30ff.). On the other hand, it becomes a blessing when man, acting as God’s vice-regent, conducts himself as he should (Dt. 28:1-14; Ps. 65:10ff.; 67:6f.; 85:12; 128:1f.; Acts 14:17; 17:26f., etc.). Clearly, creation will by the grace of God fulfil its purpose regardless of sin (Gen. 8:21; Lu. 17:26-30).

4* H.Ridderbos correctly asserted that clear indications are lacking that Adam is termed the head of mankind in a representative sense (p.386).

5* Just as creation is guaranteed till the end (Gen. 8:22; Dt. 11:21; Luke 17:27), so is the law (Mt. 5:18). Jesus successfully exercised dominion over the one and fulfilled the other. By so doing he paved the way to glory for his people (Heb. 2:10, etc.). To posit an earthly millennium in order to demonstrate man’s dominion and triumph over the curse is failure to appreciate, and hence to undermine, the essence of Jesus’ victory. Jesus as second Adam and our appointed covenant representative has already overcome the world on our behalf (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9f., cf. 9:28).

References

O.T.Allis, Prophecy and the Church, Philadephia, 1964.

G.C.Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, Grand Rapids, 1962.

F.F.Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1964.

C.J.Collins, Genesis 1-4, Phillipsburg, 2006.

W.J.Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, Exeter, 1984.

M.Horton, God of Promise, Grand Rapids, 2006.

G.E.Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1974.

Calvin, Romans, Grand Rapids, repr. 1947.

J.A.Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993.

J.Murray, The Covenant of Grace, London, 1954.

H.Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology, Grand Rapids, 1975

K.Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, Grand Rapids, 2003.

O.P.Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, Phillipsburg, 1980.

O.P.Robertson, Covenants, Philadelphia, 1987.

R.S.Ward, God and Adam, Wantirna, 2003.


No Return To Corruption

Some time ago, in reaction to premillennialism I wrote an essay arguing that Jesus would never return to earth again. I followed this up with a summary of my arguments one of which was a reference to Acts 13:34 which reads: “And as for the fact that he (God) raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption (1* Harris (p.230) accepts Weymouth’s translation: “never again to be in the position of one soon to return to decay”. ), he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David’ ” (ESV). The point at issue here is whether this verse is relevant to my thesis?

First, BAG (p.855, cf. p.189) says that ‘return to corruption’ means ‘return to the grave’. This hardly makes sense, since Paul is at pains to indicate that even though he died (but will not do so again, cf. Rom. 6:9), Jesus, in contrast with David, did not experience corruption when he was entombed (cf. 13:37). Not having done so, he could hardly return to it.

Next, among the commentators Marshall suggests that Paul’s concern in verse 34 is with the fact that when God raised Jesus from the dead he entered on a new existence which would not lead back to death and the consequent corruption of his body (p.227). While at first blush this sounds convincing, it nonetheless raises questions. What does Marshall mean by ‘new existence’? Is he like many implicitly denying Jesus’ restoration (cf. John 2:19; 10:17f.) and hence his physical resurrection? Marshall comments more appropriately when he says that the Messiah’s permanent dominion depends on his living forever and never seeing corruption (pp.227f.). Again it must be said that Paul, like Peter before him in Acts 2:24-28, is stressing the point that since Jesus had God’s promise that he would never see corruption (Ps. 16:10; Acts 13:35), he was never in danger of experiencing corruption as a consequence of death and therefore could not return to it. This implies that Paul has something else in mind.

In comment on 2:24, Marshall further suggests that Peter believed that death could not retain its hold over Jesus because he was the Messiah. Again, the prospect of corruption after death is implicitly discountenanced. So what is the apostle getting at? 

A clue as to Paul’s meaning is perhaps to be found in the rest of the verse which refers to the sure blessings of David originally expounded by the prophet Isaiah (55:3, LXX, cf. 2 Sam. 7:10-16; 23:5; Ps. 89:20-37; 132:11-18). Here commentators have little hesitation in asserting that these are the eternal blessings (see e.g. Oswalt, pp.438f.) which David himself by virtue of his death and corruption could not inherit. In other words, just as James claims that David’s tent has been “restored” (fulfilled) in Jesus through his resurrection, ascension, transformation and exaltation (Acts 15:16), so Paul claims that David’s blessings are inherited by the now incorruptible Jesus and absorbed into his heavenly throne (cf. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). If this is true, then return to corruption, that is, to life on this corruptible earth in the flesh, which is the only corruption that Jesus ever experienced, is impossible! Again it must be stressed that Jesus never underwent corruption in the grave and so could not return to it.

At this point I am tempted to assert unequivocally and definitively that the idea of not returning to corruption must mean that the ascended, transformed and exalted Jesus (Acts 2:31-34), who has passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14, cf. Ps. 8:1; 113:4; 148:13) and is forever in a state of spatial separate(d)ness from sinners (Heb. 7:26), will never return to earth (least of all in the flesh!) which is by nature given over to corruption (Rom. 8:20, cf. Heb.1:10-12). Since this is so, the human body as deriving from it must necessarily be so too (Gal. 6:8). It might also be added here that, according to Hebrews 8:13, what is growing old is ready to vanish away. Since the earth from which physical bodies derive is growing old (Heb. 1:11), both are subject to obsolescence. Furthermore, since Jesus was incarnate (flesh), even he was not exempt as John 8:57 (cf. Mt. 5:36; Luke 2:41-52) makes clear (2*  Paul’s use of diaphtheiro in 2 Corinthians 4:16 is worthy of note. There it refers to man’s fleshly body before death. In view of John 8:57 we are forced to recognize that Jesus was included. After all, as a son of Adam, born of woman, he was a product of the naturally corruptible earth. As the author of Hebrews tells us, the latter in contrast with God (1:11, cf. 7:3), is subject to aging and what is growing old is ready to vanish away (8:13).  ). No wonder he urged on Nicodemus the need to be born again (from above), implicitly as he himself, who had uniquely kept the law and inherited life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5), had been at his baptism (NB  Mt. 3:17).

It is reasonable to ask, however, if there is more support to be found for the view that Paul’s denial implies that Jesus will never return to earth again.

The “return” of Christ in general is perhaps relevant to the point at issue. As Dunn (p.296 and n.10), for example, says, this theme is quite prominent in some of Jesus’ parables and among those he cites is Luke 19:12-27. On examination, this proves to be pertinent, since the word for ‘return’ (hypostrephein) in the NT is used almost exclusively by Luke (1:56, etc.), and significantly in Luke 19:12. (3* Bock says the word is significant, even unique (pp.1532f.). He claims it is used by Luke (21x), Acts (11x) and the rest of the NT (3x), though he denies that it is a technical term relating to Christ’s return.).  However, Dunn goes on to add that it is not entirely clear why the idea of Christ’s return, which was not actually necessary to complete the process of salvation, emerged. However, his assumption is apparently that Jesus will come back to earth! But can this be a reasonable proposition? Apart from references like John 14:2f., 1 Thessalonians 4:16f. and Hebrews 4:14, 7:26, 9:28, which would seem to preclude it, Paul, as recorded by Luke in Acts 13:34, appears to be implying the same thing. To come back to earth would be to return to corruption, specifically to the flesh (cf. the premillennialist view) which is by nature corruptible. But surely Paul is saying the exact opposite: since the naturally impermanent (corruptible) cannot inherit the permanent (incorruptible, 1 Cor. 15:50) or the visible the invisible (Rom. 8:24f.; 2 Cor. 4:18), or the imperfect the perfect (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10), Jesus was (re)transformed and glorified at his ascension thereby recovering the glory he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24). This clearly excludes another transformation involving re-incarnation and susceptibility to earthly corruption and intrinsic impermanence. It is definitively ruled out by Scripture’s teaching on Christ’s perfection (Heb. 2:10), heavenly session (Acts 2:33,36; Heb. 1:3,13;8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Rev. 3:21) and eternal high priesthood to go no further (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:3,16,24f.,28).

Furthermore, Dunn also notes (p.296 n.11) that the term ‘parousia’ was never used for Jesus’ first coming on earth and never has the sense of  “return”. In other words, we must infer that the idea that Christ will return to earth at his parousia is out of the question. Rather at his parousia Christ, at present invisible (Mt. 28:20), will make his long-awaited appearance (2 Tim. 4:8; Tit. 2:13) and revelation (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7) in glory. It is then that every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7) and be either destroyed along with all created things (Heb. 12:27; Rev. 20:11; 21:1) or saved (Tit. 2:13).

The author of Hebrews in particular strongly emphasizes Jesus’ present rule at God’s right hand (1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2, cf. Mt. 28:18) and especially its present exercise in what is for us the world to come (1:6; 2:5). It is from there that he puts all his enemies under his feet in this world (1:13, cf. 1 Cor. 15:25) completing what he representatively achieved while he was on earth. Having been glorified (2:9) with the glory he shared with the Father before the world began (John 17:5,24 cf. Rev. 4:11; 5:12f.), a return to earthly corruption is clearly beyond the pale. On the other hand, his return in the glory of the Father, who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29) and who cannot dwell on the earth (1 K. 8:27), in a rescue mission (cf. 9:28) involving plucking brands from the burning (Jude 23, cf. Amos 4:11; Zech. 3:2) brings physical annihilation to his enemies (2 Thes. 1:7-9; 2:8) but transformation for his friends (2 Thes. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 15:51ff.).

All things considered, then, it would seem that the best interpretation of Acts 13:34 is that Christ, who was once incarnate (flesh) and hence part and parcel of the earth’s temporality (Heb. 2:7,9) and natural corruption (cf. Rom. 8:20f.), will never return to it again in any form. For Paul, as for the author of Hebrews, the perfected Christ has undergone permanent transformation, glorification and enthronement (Eph. 1:20-22; Heb. 1:6; 2:5; Rev. 3:21; 5:12f.). Having dealt with sin while in corruptible flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 3:18) and overcome the world (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9), he will not return except in the glory of the Father (Mt. 16:27; 26:64, etc.), whose generic nature he has once more assumed, to complete his people’s salvation (Heb. 9:28, cf. 1 Cor. 15: 51ff.; Phil. 2:6,9-11). When he does so, the truth of Revelation 20:11 and 21:1-4 (not to mention Rev. 20:9f.; Mt. 22:7; Lu. 17:29; 2 Thes. 2:8; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12) will be a reality.

Just as the Israelites were never to return to bondage in Egypt (Ex. 14:13; Dt. 17:16; Jer. 42:15-20, etc.), so we may assume that Jesus will never return to the bondage of creation (Rom. 8:18-25). For him to do so would suggest that apart from going backwards (Jer. 7:24) he loved this world (1 John 2:15-17; 2 Tim. 4:10) as rebellious Israelites loved Egypt (Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:5). A literal thousand-year millennium during which Christ will reign on an earthly throne in Jerusalem is out of the question!

To sum up then it may be asserted that just as Jesus is never to die again (Rom. 6:9; Rev. 1:18), so he is never again to return to corruption (Acts 13:34). As Paul indicates, it is he precisely who has brought life and incorruption (Gk.) to light (2 Tim. 1:10). Alternatively expressed, he who as man was once mortal and corruptible now shares the immortality and incorruption of God (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16).

____________________________________________________________________________

References

A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT (BAG), Chicago, 1957.

D.L.Bock, Luke 2, Grand Rapids, 1996.

J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 1998.

M.J.Harris, Raised Immortal, Basingstoke, 1983.

J.N.Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 40-66, Grand Rapids, 1998.


The Corruptibility Of Creation

According to our Augustinian heritage God originally made a perfect creation. However, when Adam, the perfect, holy, righteous and immortal lord of all the earth broke the commandment (Gen. 2:17), his sin and its resultant curse affected not only himself and all his posterity but also the entire creation. The question is: Can this view of things be justified from Scripture? Can it be convincingly argued that Romans 8:18-25 where Paul talks of creation being in bondage to corruption is to be linked with Genesis 3:17-19 and a universal curse? Of course, assuming the truth of Augustine’s view of the early chapters of Genesis, the case seems persuasive. But then, on reflection, there seem to be good reasons why we should question the traditional assumption.

Creation Temporal

For a start, the book of Genesis opens with a reference to a beginning. This clearly highlights the temporal as opposed to the eternal nature of creation. According to Hebrews 7:3, the eternal has neither beginning nor end, has indestructible life (7:16) and continues forever (7:24f.). Apart from noting that creation has both a beginning and an end (see e.g. Gen. 1:1; 8:22; Mt. 24:35; 28:20), the inference that Adam who derived from a temporal earth was immortal, as Augustine taught, is patently false (cf. Rom. 1:23,25). While Paul teaches that our bodies are subject to death because of sin (Rom. 8:10), he nonetheless holds that as flesh we are mortal by nature (8:11, cf. Jesus). However, it is sin that gives death a sting (1 Cor. 15:55f.). In any case, as has already been implied, immortality is permanent by definition (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16)! On the evidence then we are forced to infer that creation, including Adam himself, is temporal by nature. As the book of Wisdom says, “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity” (2:23).

Exercising Dominion

On this reading of the situation, it is not surprising that man who is naturally mortal but made in God’s image is offered (eternal) life if he keeps the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.). The idea that he had it then lost it is manifestly false. This is clearly not the picture that Paul paints. For him, man, who is mortal in contrast to the immortal God (Rom. 1:23; 6:12; 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:11, etc.), is called to seek glory and honour, incorruption (Gk) and life by patience in well-doing (2:7,10). The implication of Psalm 8:5f. is the same, and in light of the failure of Adam and his posterity to achieve the well-doing necessary (cf. Ps. 143:2) it has, according to the author of Hebrews, been done for them by Jesus acting as both their representative and substitute (2:6-10; Acts 10:38). We might go even further and note that while James concedes that man has done much to tame the world in which he lives despite early failure on the part of Adam (Gen. 3) and his immediate descendants (Gen. 6:11-13), he has constantly fallen short of exercising dominion over his own earthly nature or flesh. To paraphrase his words, though man has tamed animals and ships, he has lamentably failed to control his own tongue and has as a consequence failed to achieve perfection (3:1-8) or, as Paul would say, the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In pointing up man’s shortcomings, James then proceeds to underscore the difference between the earthly and the heavenly (3:15-17).

If all this is the Bible’s teaching, Genesis 2:17 is pointing to natural man’s need to escape from natural corruption – his own and that of creation in general (cf. Gal. 1:4). This inference is supported by Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3. If we set aside the traditional Augustinian gloss on this passage, we learn there that what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:50, the most basic reason why man needs to undergo a spiritual regeneration is that flesh and blood are by nature, that is, apart from sin, corruptible and incapable of entering the spiritual kingdom of God who is himself spirit. The perishable cannot by definition inherit the imperishable (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25). To argue that it can is to involve oneself in a contradiction in terms.

The Teaching of Jesus

Apart from references like Matthew 6:19f. and Luke 12:33, Jesus clearly implies in Luke 13:1-5 that there are two forces at work in this world: natural (or physical) and moral corruption (or sin). While some Galileans were the victims of Pilate’s malevolence, others fell prey to “acts of God” occasioned by collapsing towers and the like. Our Lord suggests the same elsewhere. While there will be wars and rumours of wars implying sin till the end, there will also be earthquakes, famines (Mark 13:8), pestilences, terrors and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:11) which are far from being universally connected with sin in the Bible. After all, apart from noting references like 2 Kings 8:1 and Psalm 105:16 where sin is not implied, if we are inclined to draw attention to the seven bad years in Egypt under Joseph, by the same token we should be careful not to forget the seven good years. In fact Jesus sees natural disasters as the “birthpangs” of the age to come (Mt. 24:7f.). Unless we conclude that God is shortsighted, they have clearly been in the plan of God from the beginning (cf. Luke 21:34-36). No wonder Paul talks of rescue from this evil age (Gal. 1:4, cf. Mt. 24:8) which doubtless implies both its natural and moral corruption. (On poneros, see e.g. Vine, pp.211f., BAG, p.697)

Creator and Creation in Contrast

Can we find further support for this view? Indeed, we can. First, a contrast is maintained throughout the Bible between creation (and/or the creature) and the word of God (e.g. Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6; Rom. 1:23,25). It is a basic assumption that the present world/age is temporal and will ultimately give way to the age to come (Eph. 1:21, etc.). Genesis 8:22 (cf. Dt. 11:21), for example, suggests that the earth will not remain forever. Of course, given the context, this state of affairs could be the consequence of Adam’s sin and the universal curse that is said to arise from it, but it is interesting to note that rather than stressing curse the author is doing precisely the opposite, laying it down that God will never again curse the ground as he had done by means of the flood (8:21). Later in the Bible, however, the language is less equivocal. While Psalm 90:2 contrasts God’s eternal nature with the beginning of creation (cf. 93:2; 95:3-5), Psalm 102:25-27 draws attention to its end. The problem with creation seems to lie precisely in its susceptibility to corruption – it grows old and wears out like a garment (cf. Isa. 34:4; 51:6; Luke 12:33; Col. 2:22; Heb. 1:11). And what grows old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). Both creation itself and those who derive from it and dwell on it are alike subject to decay (Isa. 50:9; 51:6,8). Man is not to be feared because he is inherently transient (like) grass (Isa. 40:6-8; 51:12; James 1:10f.). Like Jesus in Matthew 6:19f., Peter in the first chapter of his first letter draws out the distinction between the imperishable heavenly inheritance and the perishable gold of the earth (1:4,7,18, cf. 1 Cor. 9:25). Indeed he goes further and distinguishes between the perishable and imperishable seed from which man derives – in essence the same distinction as Jesus made in John 3 (cf. 1:13; 1 John 3:9).

Elsewhere in the Bible stress is laid on man’s nature as clay or dust (cf. Job 4:19; 10:9). As I have already implied, Paul seems to regard it as axiomatic that man made of dust is perishable (cf. Gen. 3:19; Ps. 104:29, etc.). It is therefore imperative that mankind proceed from flesh (dust) to spirit, from earthly physicality to heavenly spirituality (1 Cor. 15:44-49), from perishability (corruptibility) to imperishability (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25), from clay jar to treasure (2 Cor. 4:7), from this age to the next (Eph. 1:21), from mortality to immortality (15:53f.).

Made By Hand and Not Made By Hand

There is another point impressing itself on the attentive reader, that is, that man, who is “made by hand” (cheiropoietos) like the heathen gods (Isa. 2:8; 17:8, etc.), is by nature perishable (cf. Lohse, TWNT, 9:424ff.). Job complains that though God’s own hands have fashioned him (cf. Gen. 2:7), he nonetheless like Adam (Gen. 3:19) will return to the dust (Job 10:8f., cf. 33:4,6). The Psalmists are also aware that both creation and they themselves are the work of God’s hands (Ps. 102:25; 119:73, cf. Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.) and they are all alike subject to the same process of decay. This highlights a point that seems to be generally missed: according to the Bible to be ‘hand-made’ or manufactured (cheiropoietos) whether by God or man is to be perishable, mortal, corruptible. On the other hand, to be ‘not hand-made’ (acheiropoietos) is to be permanent, finished, complete or fully mature like the incorruptible God himself (Rom. 1:23, cf. James 1:4). The author of Hebrews highlights the distinction in 9:11,24 (cf. 1:10-12). In verse 11 he is telling his readers that to be made by hand(s) is to be imperfect, defective in some way (cf. the tower of Siloam in Luke 13:4). In verse 24, not to be made by hand involves heaven itself and the presence of God. Jesus had apparently made the same point in Mark 14:58 (cf. John 2:19) with reference to the temple. Indeed, using almost the same words, Paul had referred to the impermanent nature of the human body of flesh (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. Gen. 6:3). As a matter of fact, he makes essentially the same point when he is dealing with circumcision. Normally, circumcision was a physical operation performed by the hand of man at God’s behest, but God’s own circumcision, which is ‘not hand-made’, is spiritual (Col. 2:11). This reminds us, of course, of the difference between the baptism of John (by water and presumably involving the use of the hands) and that of Jesus (by the Spirit).

Heaven and Earth Distinguished

To sum up, the difference between earth and heaven is fundamental. The one is subject to corruption, the other is eternal (cf. Acts 7:49f.) like God himself, and sin plays no part in the difference. If we have any doubts about this, all we have to do is to consider the case of Jesus. As we have already seen, as God he had the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 7:3,16,24f.). However, once he experienced incarnation, he became subject to both death and corruption with a view to overcoming them (Heb. 2:14f.). If it is then replied that this was on account of sin (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.), we need to remember that he was clearly subject to the ravages of time (cf. Eccl. 3:1-8). Like the creation from which he derived through his mother he was born (had a beginning), underwent normal human development to mature manhood (Luke 2:41) and then visibly grew older (John 8:57, cf. Heb. 1:11; 8:13). Thus he gave every indication that his outer nature would eventually degenerate or waste away (2 Cor. 4:16) like the physical beauty of a woman (1 Pet. 3:4, cf. Prov. 31:30). Clearly, had he remained long enough on the earth, he would have died. But as the author of Hebrews insists, he was made lower than the angels only “for a little while” (2:7,9). If we deny this, we are forced to ask what would have happened to him at the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). For man who is flesh or of the earth, spiritual ascension to heaven sooner or later is essential (cf. John 20:17). Escape from corruption, even apart from judgement (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-54), is paramount. Let us probe further.

Relevant Texts

Paul

With the natural corruption of the world as our presupposition, Paul seems to provide strong support for the view I am advocating especially in Galatians 6:7f. where he tells us that we reap what we sow. If we sow to the flesh then corruption, even apart from moral considerations, is inevitable. The point is neatly expressed by Dunn who says that “the flesh is a soil which produces corruption” (p.52) and who quotes Bultmann as follows: “He who derives life out of the transitory must, himself, perish with the perishing of the transitory”, p.125 n.117). If we insist that this is the result of sin and recall the case of Adam, we must be prepared to ask why the animals, which do not sin, all die (cf. Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-21). They clearly sow to the flesh because they cannot do otherwise (cf. Ps. 106:20; Isa. 31:3), even though they live on the food that God himself provides (Ps. 104:14,21, etc., cf. manna from heaven, John 6:49). But man who is also made in the image of God can and must do otherwise. As well as eating perishable bread, which by its very nature cannot sustain him eternally, he must feed on the word of God (Mt. 4:4) or bread from heaven (John 6:27-35). It is the latter, not the corruptible material creation, that will never pass away (Mt. 24:35).

Paul paints much the same picture Romans 8:13 where he says that if we live according to the flesh we shall (inevitably) die. Here, admittedly, he has sin in view (cf. Eph. 5:5, etc.) but it is not the only consideration. On the other hand, if we live by the Spirit, we shall live. This clearly harmonises with what he says in 1 Corinthians 15, which points up the difference between the man of dust and the man of heaven. Here, however, it should be noted that sin is not mentioned. So we are forced to infer that there is no permanent future for dust, only for spirit (15:50). (I can only express my astonishment at Kistemaker’s claim that the dust of the earth is now on the throne of the majesty on high! Has he never read Job 15:15 and 25:5f.? Other writers like Bruce, p.98, and Grudem, pp.834f.,859, also tell us that Christ is incarnate in heaven.) The unprofitable flesh (cf. John 6:63; Rom. 7:18; Gal. 6:8), which is meant to be our slave, must be cast out since there is no permanent room for it in the Father’s house (cf. Gal. 4:29f.), only for the spiritual son (cf. John 8:35). And this is the reason why Jesus tells us we must undergo a second or spiritual birth from above. It enables us to escape from the consequences of physical death (cf. Ps. 68:20) and inherit the eternal kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 11:25).

Other texts of prime importance imply that escape from the corruption of creation is basic to the gospel. Before we look at some of them it might be interjected that what the Bible teaches is that it is moral corruption that leads to our bondage to physical corruption (cf. Gen. 6:11-13). Is this not the clear implication of Romans 6:16 (cf. John 8:34)? Certainly; but this was true in Adam’s case, as we saw above. Moral corruption begets inevitable natural corruption which succeeds death. This is why sin is such a problem. It blocks off the way of escape for flesh (cf. Rom. 7:14) in all cases except that of Jesus who, as the second Adam, lived a sinless life and triumphed precisely in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). He and he alone met the condition of life (Gen. 2:17) and overcame the world (John 16:33, cf. Heb. 2:9). Far from succumbing to corruption he uniquely brought life and “incorruption” to light (2 Tim. 1:10). But even he was necessarily transformed at his ascension like the saints at the end of the world (1 Cor. 15:51f.).

Peter

At this point it is perhaps helpful to turn to 2 Peter. First, it is important to note the distinction between the ‘world’ (kosmos) and the ‘earth’ (ge), which according to Lucas and Green (pp. 53,133), the NIV consistently maintains. This is important, first, because it suggests that the world that was destroyed at the time of Noah was human society not the whole created world as such (2 Pet. 3:6). Next, on this assumption, 1:4 refers to the moral corruption of men and women as in 2:20 (cf. Rom. 1:18ff., etc.). On the other hand, Peter’s reference to our goal of sharing God’s nature by escaping from moral corruption clearly implies the natural corruption of our earthly human nature. This point would appear to receive support from what he says in 2:19 where he refers, as Paul did in Romans 6:16, to those who are the slaves of corruption. They are mastered by what, according to Genesis 1,26,28 (cf. 4:7), they were meant to master. Otherwise expressed, they are not merely morally corrupt but they are like animals (2:12; Jude 10) enslaved by the corruption of creation and incapable of ransoming themselves (Ps. 49). In plain words, moral corruption inevitably prevents escape from material corruption. Thus, in noticeable contrast with Paul (Col. 3:1-5), Lucas and Green draw the wrong conclusion when they deny (p.53) that the way to God is to escape the physical realm along with the defilements of the body. They seem to forget that Peter strongly stresses the destruction of the physical world in chapter 3:7,10-12 (cf. Rev. 20:11; 21:1. In Luke 17 Jesus refers to both the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. In the latter, both man and his habitat are destroyed!). They also fail to appreciate that Peter (2:12) like Jude (10) implies the natural mortality of fleshly animals, as we saw above. Like Paul (2 Cor. 5:1), Peter is fully aware of the removal (apothesis, 1:14, cf. metathesis, Heb. 12:27) of his own physical body which precedes his departure (RSV). And again like Paul, he will certainly see corruption (cf. 2 Tim. 4:18) in fundamental contrast with Jesus who did not (Acts 2:27, etc.). But the new spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44,46) he will receive will be like Christ’s transformed body (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2) and not the old one restored (cf. 1 Cor. 15:37). (It might usefully be added here that while Jesus body of flesh was restored at his resurrection, it was transformed at his ascension. Pace Harris and others.) So, Peter appears to be convinced that the present corruptible creation of which his fleshly body is a part is headed by nature for destruction. In this he is supported by the author of Hebrews who, while noting that the goal for man is glory (2:10, cf. Rom. 5:2; 1 Cor. 2:7; Phil 3:14; Col. 1:27, etc.), distinguishes between the earthly (or shadowy) and the true tabernacle in 8:1-5 and 9:11,24, the earthly and the heavenly in 12:18-24, and the shakable and the unshakable creation in 12:26f.

Greek Dualism

Most Christian scholars appear to have a morbid fear of Greek dualism (on which see e.g. Harris, pp. 283ff.) and frequently opt for what has been called anthropological monism. They stress the value of the body and refuse to regard it and physical things in general as “base and bad” (Lucas and Green, p.53). It may not be intrinsically bad (cf. Gen. 1; 1 Tim. 4:4) but that it is ‘base’ would appear to be fundamental to the biblical view. (According to the author of Hebrews in becoming man, that is, flesh, Jesus abased himself, 2:7,9, cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:7f., and throughout the Bible, but especially in the NT, flesh is contrasted unfavourably, with spirit (Spirit) even apart from sin, e.g. John 6:63, cf. 1:13; 3:3-7, etc. Our present fleshly or earthy body is a ‘lowly’ body, Phil. 3:21, ESV.) Contrary to the views of many, the Bible stands in contrast with paganism not with respect to the physical in general, which we are frequently told will pass away (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; Mt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 7:31; Heb. 12:27; 1 John 2:17, etc.), but with regard to the body. Christian believers will all retain their individuality even in heaven. They will all have bodies and not be reduced to a platonic idea, mere intellect, be absorbed by God or attain Nirvana. That this body will be spiritual, supernatural or heavenly (2 Cor. 5:1) and not physical or natural would seem to be made crystal clear by Paul when he says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:6). Since God is spirit and we are his children, we shall live in the spirit like him (1 Pet. 4:6, cf. 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). The fact that the “Old Testament nowhere holds forth the hope of a bodiless, nonmaterial, purely ‘spiritual’ redemption as did Greek thought”, as Ladd avers (p.55), somewhat misses the point as does his comment that the “world is not evil per se and therefore a realm from which man must escape to find his true life” (p.59). Escape from the temporal material world would appear to be of the essence of the promise from the beginning (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10; 8:18-25), that is, before the entry of sin into the world. And in light of this, the new covenant, not surprisingly, spiritualises the old covenant and this includes both the (fleshly) body (1 Cor. 15:45-49, cf. Col. 2:22; 2 Cor. 4:16) and the creation from which it derives (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). Just as the physical temple is destroyed (Mark 14:58) and spiritualised (cf. Heb. 9:11; Rev. 21:27, etc.), so is the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:1). In the regeneration there is a new Jerusalem which already exists (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22) and will forever remain (cf. 12:27). Uncritical appeal to the OT is dangerous not least since it implies a false covenant theology (1*).

What Christians, influenced by limited and somewhat materialistic OT revelation and the false views of Augustine, have failed to recognize over the centuries is that creation is good (Gk. kalos) only in the sense that it serves a purpose (see further below). The flesh or the physical or earthly side of us is ultimately unprofitable (John 6:63, cf. Col. 3:5) and is, like the law (cf. Luke 17:10), incapable of producing either good (Rom. 7:18, contrast 8:4; Gal. 5:22f.; Eph. 2:10) or life (Gal. 3:21). A change or escape from the naturally impermanent physical is a dire necessity for entry into the presence of the eternal God and permanent service in heaven. If the transformation and glorification of Jesus is fundamental (cf. John 17:5,24), so is that of those who will live with him (John 14:19, cf. Rom. 8:30).

Other Relevant Texts

Ephesians 4:22 indicates that our life in the flesh is corrupt through deceitful lusts or passions. This immediately reminds us of Eve in Genesis 3. In Romans 6:16,19 (cf. 7:14; 2 Pet.1:4; 2:19f.) Paul stresses the hold that the corruptible flesh has over us in defiance of our original calling in Genesis 1:26,28 (cf. Ps. 8:5). In 7:5 he again emphasizes the role of the flesh which, lacking subjection to the law, leads inexorably to sin and death. In 7:9-11 he complains that though he was once alive (cf. Adam and Eve in the Garden), like Eve he was deceived by sin and so died. (The comment on 7:11 by Bruce, p.142, is appropriate. Regrettably Bruce, governed by his false exegesis of Romans 5:12ff., proceeds to miss the point.) The apostle ends his chapter lamenting the fact that despite his mental recognition that the law is good, he cannot keep it. Try as he will, he cannot harness his flesh which is a law to itself (7:23,25). And since his flesh rules, death is the unavoidable result (Rom. 6:16). It is only through faith in Christ that he receives the Spirit and lives (Rom. 8).

John

John 12:25 appears to extend the usual command to ‘hate’ our present transient lives in the flesh (Mark 8:34, etc.) to include the world, or creation, itself, which is also transient not to mention evil (cf. Gal. 1:4). This thought receives elaboration in 1 John 2:15 where the apostle appears to be using the word ‘world’ in a comprehensive sense to include creation as well as the people who inhabit it. Verse 17 in particular corresponds with the frequent OT insistence that the eternal God and his ephemeral creation are to be differentiated, as we saw above. Loving this world (cf. Ps. 17:14; 2 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 12:16; James 4:4) is the equivalent of the Israelites loving Egypt and wishing to return to it. Bluntly, those who are made in the image of God are called to exercise dominion over, to conquer and so to transcend this transient corruptible world and enter the incorruptible city of God (cf. Gen. 1:26,28; Ps. 8:5ff.; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:8-16; 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; Rev. 21:1f.). In the event, this was achieved by Jesus on our behalf (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9).

Romans 8:18-25

1 John 2:15-17 is frequently correlated by commentators with 1 Corinthians 7:31. On the assumption that the latter also teaches the inherently provisional nature of creation, like the law that was intended to regulate it (cf. 2 Cor. 3), we are compelled to take another look at Romans 8:18-25 which has been and is still used by most, if not all, to teach the view that it reflects Genesis 3:17-19 and a universal curse stemming from the sin of Adam. If it does, then it is not only unique but flies in the face of the teaching of the rest of the Bible. While it cannot be denied that sin involving failure to exercise dominion affects creation (cf. e.g. Gen. 6:11-13; Prov. 24:30-34, or Isaiah 6:11 which like many other texts refers to uninhabited land that becomes desolate when it is not tilled, or again, smoking and its ill effect on the human body), Paul does not mention sin in this passage. What he appears to do is contrast the present sufferings or birth pangs (cf. Mark 13:8; Gal. 1:4) of the physical creation with the glory to come. (He does precisely the same in 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5 where he focuses on the human body.) Exegesis of the passage is difficult (2*), but when Paul says (arguably) that creation was subjected to corruption by the express purpose of God, in light of the evidence presented above, our inference must be that sin was not involved. And the idea propounded by many, including translators, that creation will not be destroyed but enjoy (or share or obtain, though there is no word in the Greek indicating this) the freedom of the children of God forces one to wonder how it is that Paul teaches that the body of flesh will be destroyed (2 Cor. 5:1), like the OT temple (Mark 14:58), when its source is the earth. There is clear inconsistency here. The truth is that the flesh is naturally corruptible precisely because the earth from which it is taken is corruptible (cf. Job 10:8f., etc.). Again I draw the conclusion that what the Bible promises is escape from earthly corruption by keeping the law (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10). Since we are all incapable of that, we need Jesus to act as our representative, substitute and champion to achieve victory (Rom. 8:3, 31-39; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:6-9). And it is in him that we enjoy the freedom of the children of God (John 8:35f.) who are born from above (John 3:1-7) not of perishable but of imperishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23), not of blood or the will of the flesh but of God (John 1:13, cf. 1 John 3:9).

False Antitheses

If what has been argued above is correct, then false antitheses in tradition abound. Some of these are highlighted, for example in Michael Green’s exegesis of 2 Peter 1:4 (cf. Bauckham, p. 183). First, Green tries (pp.73f.) to make a distinction between the material world and sin failing to see that moral corruption blocks the way of escape from natural physical corruption (Gen. 2:17, cf. Gal. 1:4). Christians are called to participate both in God’s moral (i.e. his holiness and righteousness) as well as his spiritual or generic nature (cf. Rom. 1:23; 2:7,10; 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Pet. 1:4, etc.). Indeed, the latter is dependent on the former, and was achieved for us by Christ (Heb. 2:9, cf. Rom. 8:3), the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). In this world we are bound by the corruption of creation, but in the next we shall, as God’s children, be free since we shall share God’s glory (Rom. 5:2; 8:18,24f.) and “incorruption” (Rom. 1:23; 2 Tim. 1:10). In this world we cannot by nature see God (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16, cf. 2 Cor. 5:6,8) but in the next we shall see him in Christ (Mt. 5:8; Rev. 22:4, cf. John 17:5,24; Isa. 33:17,21f.).

Next, Green tells us: “In contrast to Hellenistic ideas, Peter maintains that corruption and mortality are not due to matter, but to sin” (p. 74). But, as we have seen, they are due to both. Unless we can escape from flesh and blood, from intrinsically impermanent matter, we cannot enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50; John 3:1-7, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.,23-25. The flesh, personified by the slave Ishmael, even though born in the house is finally cast out, Gal. 4:30, cf. John 8:35). Again, we need to bear in mind that it was Jesus who overcame the world in the flesh (Rom. 8:3), he alone conquered when the rest of us failed, and it is in him that we can conquer too (Heb. 2:5-18; Rom. 8:31ff.; 2 Tim. 1:10).

Finally, Green (pp.74f.) denies Bauckham’s (3*) assertion that the Christian’s eschatological goal is to escape mortality and attain to immortality, that is, to share God’s nature (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 2:7), and insists that it is rather the new birth. But it is precisely the spiritual new birth that overcomes, or replaces (cf. Heb. 10:9b), the physical (John 3:3-7), not to mention the moral, problem of the flesh (Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3-7). Again, it is clear that both are involved. The latter implies the former. According to John, if we are born again (from above of God, John 1:13) we have eternal life – but clearly not in the flesh (cf. 6:63) which we are told to put to death (Col. 3:1-5) not least because it has already in principle been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24)! Even re-entering our mother’s wombs would fail to produce eternal life. Flesh and spirit (Spirit) are as categorically different as earth and heaven, as this age and the age to come (Eph. 1:21), as what is made by hand and what is not made by hand (Heb. 9:11,24, etc.), as creation and Creator (Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12). Anthropological dualism is basic to the teaching of the Bible (cf. Guthrie, pp.176f.). On the other hand, as body and soul man must be regarded as monistic. In the words of Bultmann, man is a body.

Aging

I have drawn attention above to the fact that according to both OT and NT the physical creation is subject to wear and tear and aging and as a consequence is set, along with the law (Heb. 8:13), to vanish away (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 51:6,8; 54:10; Mt. 6:19f.; Lu. 12:33; 16:9; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). Proof that this has nothing to do with sin is to be found in Jesus himself. So far as his fleshly human nature was concerned he was clearly growing older (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57). Thus, in light of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1, we are forced to conclude that as one born of woman, who herself derived from earthly corruption and whose physical beauty faded (1 Pet. 3:4), he also was naturally subject to corruption. Had he continued to live on the earth in the flesh, his death, even apart from sin, would have been inevitable. We are therefore forced to conclude that once he had inherited life by uniquely keeping the law, his eventual ascension to and glorification in heaven were both part of the plan of God and an intrinsic necessity. This he himself implied when he told Mary not to hang on to him (John 20:17). It was simply impossible for him to live untransformed on the temporal and hence corruptible earth (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). And the same is true of us who trust in him (Rom. 8:29f.).

Covenant

The careful reader of Genesis ought to be aware that there is no reference to a covenant either with creation or with Adam. Why? it may be asked. The answer surely lies in the fact that both creation and Adam, as representative fleshly man (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:45-49), are ultimately impermanent and dispensable (1 Cor. 15:50). Just as Adam, Cain, Ishmael and Esau are all cast out as those whose associations are essentially earthly (cf. Ps. 17:14; Rev. 6:10, etc.), so creation, once its purpose is fulfilled and its harvest reaped (Rev. 14:14-16, cf. Rom. 8:21) is, like Sodom and Gomorrah, finally destroyed (Gen. 19:24f.; Luke 17:28-30; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).

It may be objected that Jeremiah refers to a covenant with creation in chapters 31:35-37 and 33:19ff. It should be noted, however, that a covenant with inanimate matter cannot involve the mutuality evident in a covenant with men. In light of Genesis 8:22 we are thus forced to infer that the essence of Jeremiah’s references is stress on God’s commitment to Israel and to David. This inference receives further support from Isaiah 54:9f. where the covenant with Noah, though guaranteeing the prolongation of creation until the divine purpose is fulfilled, does not underwrite its permanence. Rather it assumes its eventual “departure”(v.10; Heb. 12:27; Rev. 20:11; 21:1). It should be noticed that Jesus uses a similar argument in Matthew 5:18 (cf. Luke 16:17) where he links the full accomplishment of the law with the continuation of creation. When the purpose of the law is finally fulfilled, both creation and law alike (NB Heb. 1:11; 8:13) become redundant (cf. Rom. 7:1). On the other hand, Jesus’ words of salvation are eternally valid (Mt. 24:35; Rev. 21:4f., cf. Isa. 51:6,8, etc.).

Summary

So, to sum up, the present creation (or age) is corruptible by nature (whether or not this is exacerbated by sin); hence we who derive from it according to the flesh are mortal by nature. Our problem arises from the fact that though the commandment promises life (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5, etc.), we, as those who give way to our fleshly passions (Gen. 3:6), cannot keep it, which is precisely as God intended (Rom. 3:20; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). The consequence of this is that our bodies, like that of Adam (Gen. 3:19), are subject to death and destruction because of sin (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Cor. 15:56) and hence need redemption (8:23). On the other hand, even the fleshly body of Jesus, who did not sin and who did not see corruption, had to be transformed to give it (eternal) life (Rom. 8:11, cf. 6:9). For even he could not enter the eternal kingdom of heaven as temporal, that is, mortal flesh and blood (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-54). Thus he made his flesh his slave (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9; 5:8, cf. 1 Cor. 9:27) and at the end cast it out (cf. Gal. 4:29f.), for only the spiritual son can remain in the house forever (John 8:35, cf. Heb. 3:6)!

Conclusion

I conclude that salvation is not simply from moral but also from natural corruption, and it is to our gracious God that we owe escape from death (Ps. 68:20; 49:15; 56:13; Heb. 2:10-18).
1* Ladd appears to be at odds with himself. He writes: “The world is God’s creation, and as such it is by nature finite and transient, standing in a relationship of subordination to God” (p.46). He fails, however, to appreciate how the author of Hebrews, for example, refers to the shaking of the earth. For the latter, it spells removal so that the permanently unshakable may ‘remain’ (Heb. 12:27, cf. 1:10-12). In other words, its transience must give way to permanence, and since the naturally impermanent (corruptible) cannot inherit the permanent, earth must give way to heaven. It is important to note that the reference of Isaiah 65:17 to new heavens and a new earth (cf. 65:18f. and the new Jerusalem which already exists, Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22f.; Isaiah 65:17) implies the oblivion and dissolution of the old, while 66:22f. point up the ‘remaining’ (cf. Heb. 1:11; 7:3) of the new despite reference to new moon and Sabbath (cf. Rev. 21:23). As elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Jer. 31:35f.; 33:19ff.), the relatively permanent is used to illustrate the truly permanent (cf. Motyer, Isaiah, p.449).

2* I have attempted this elsewhere. Given that the idea that the inanimate physical creation will “obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21, RSV, etc.) appears to be in direct conflict with the teaching of Scripture in general, including that of Paul, it would seem to me that we have two options. If we, like the RSV (contrast the KJV), translate ktisis as creation in all cases, we are bound to assume that the word “obtain”, which is not in the Greek text, is an illegitimate addition or paraphrase, and that the ‘eis’ (to or into) is telic (with a view to, for the purpose of). On this assumption Paul must mean, as elsewhere where death is the gateway to freedom (e.g. Gal. 2:19; Rom. 7:1-6, law; Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, the elements of the world; Rom. 6:2,13; 1 Pet. 2:24, sin; Col. 3:5; Gal. 5:24; Rom. 6:6; 2 Cor. 5:1, flesh, Heb. 2:14f., death itself, and note also the death of Egypt’s first-born sons leading to liberty for God’s son, Israel, etc.), that creation’s bondage to corruption will end with destruction (cf. Mt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.) and pave the way for the children of God, in contrast with those who are enslaved by the flesh (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 4:29f.; 5:21; Eph. 5:5), to gain the freedom of glory which is its antithesis (cf. Rom. 8:18,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:17f.).

On the other hand, if we accept that Paul is using ktisis, as the KJV suggests, in two senses (cf. his use of seed in Gal. 3, Israel in Rom. 2, 11 and Gal. 6:16, circumcision in Rom. 2:28f., Col. 2:11 and Phil. 3:3, and Adam as both the individual and the race in Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:45-49), then we can argue that verses 19 and 20 refer to creation in general, that verse 21 with its reference to the “creature itself” is a more precise allusion, that verse 22 is clearly “the whole creation” as is verse 23a, and finally 23b “we ourselves” is again the creature. Certainly, what is true of the one is true of the other (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10). On this see especially Michaels (pp. 92ff.).

3* Bauckham is strangely inconsistent. While he can entertain the notion of escape from physical corruption (p.182) and acknowledge that sharing the divine nature involves becoming immortal and incorruptible (p.181), he has no hesitation in asserting that Romans 8:21 teaches that creation will “obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God” (RSV, p.276)! How he reconciles this with Romans 1:23; 2:7, 1 Corinthians 15:50, Hebrews 1:10-12, etc., I am left to wonder.

References

R.J.Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Milton Keynes, 1986.

F.F.Bruce, Hebrews, London, 1964.

M. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, rev. ed., Leicester 1987.

W.Grudem, Systematic Theology, Leicester, 1994.

M.J.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.

S.J.Kistemaker, The Miracles, Grand Rapids, 2006.

G.E.Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom, London, 1964.

D.Lucas & C.Green, The Message of 2 Peter & Jude, Leicester, 1995.

J.R.Michaels in Romans and the People of God, ed. S.K.Soderlund and N.T.Wright, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 1999.

J.A.Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993.

TDNT, 1X.


Manufactured Or Not So

In these days of mass production it is felt that there is something slightly inferior, even derogatory, about things that are “manufactured”. People often long and pay handsomely for things that are hand-made by an artist, though, strictly speaking, that is what manufactured means (Latin: manus = hand, facere = to make).

In the Bible the word “hand-made” (Gk: cheiropoietos) is certainly depreciatory in intent. It applies especially to the false gods or idols of the heathen as references like Leviticus 26:1,30 and Isaiah 2:18 make plain (cf. espec. Ps. 115; Isa. 44; Jer. 10; Hab. 2:18f.). But the word is also used with regard to the temple in Mark 14:58 and implicitly even to the physical human body in 2 Corinthians 5:1. In light of this we are prompted to ask if the notion of being made by hand has something inherently pejorative about it in Scripture. The question becomes all the more pointed when we recognize that according to Isaiah 45:12 and 48:13, for example, creation, including man himself (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73), was the work of the hand of God. And it caused even him, who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4; Isa. 40:28), to rest when he had finished his labour (Gen. 2:2f.; Heb. 4:10).

According to Genesis 1, however, creation was “good”, “very good”, even perfect according to Augustine (1*). This immediately prompts questions like: Does the Bible contradict itself? Has there been misunderstanding somewhere? or, Is creation defective in some sense after all? It is worth pursuing the issue further, all the more so when we realize that that the word for “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos) never occurs in the OT (Septuagint) but is exclusively a NT term.

Ephesians 2:11 and Colossians 2:11

We might usefully start with Ephesians 2:11 where circumcision performed by man as a surgical operation is explicitly said to be (made) by hand (2*). In contrast, in Colossians 2:11 Paul, focusing on the circumcision of Christ, refers to it as acheiropoietos (not made by hand). The implication is that it is a spiritual not a physical circumcision like that foreshadowed in the OT (e.g. Lev. 26:41; Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4). In view of this, it is not surprising that Paul differentiates between one who is only a Jew outwardly, that is, a physical descendant of Abraham, and one who is a Jew inwardly and implicitly a man of faith (Rom. 2:27-29). Jesus made the same distinction in his confrontation with the Jews in John 8 where he accuses them of failing to act as Abraham did but of imitating their true father, the devil (8:39ff., cf. 7:22-24). Again, writing to the Philippians, Paul claims that Christians as believers in Christ, and hence the spiritual children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), are the true circumcision (3:3).

(It is worth noting here that the contrast between the two circumcisions is reminiscent of the contrast between the water baptism of John and the Spirit baptism of Jesus.)

Acts

The notion of being “made by hand” figures quite prominently in Acts 7. In his review of the history of Israel, Stephen refers disparagingly in verse 41 to the calf to which his ancestors offered a sacrifice in the wilderness rejoicing in the work of their hands. In verse 48 he pointedly observes that God does not live in hand-made (cheiropoietos) houses but in heaven which by implication is not hand-made (v.49). After all, the difference between a heavenly throne and an earthly footstool is fundamental. (See further below on Heb. 9:11,24). If this is so, his reference in verse 50 to things created by the hand of God is in contrast with this. (See further below and also on Heb. 12:27.).

In Acts 17:24 Paul, addressing the Athenians, affirms, like Stephen, that the Creator God does not live in hand-made (cheiropoietos) shrines. Here he does not use the phrase “made by man” which we might expect. There is reason to believe that this was deliberate (see further below). On the other hand, in 19:26 the reference to man-made gods (NIV), where the word cheiropoietos as such is avoided, would appear to be less fraught with significance.

Mark and 2 Corinthians

I have already referred to Mark 14:58 and 2 Corinthians 5:1. Hughes notes in his commentary of 2 Corinthians (p.164 n.22) the similarity, especially in Greek, between these two verses and concludes that Paul must have had in mind our Lord’s words regarding his body being a temple (John 2:19ff.). The point I wish to stress here is that both Herod’s temple and the fleshly body are “hand-made”(cheiropoietos), but while the first is made by man (John 2:20), the second is the work of God (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73). In view of this, it is important to recognize that both are destructible regardless of their maker, be he God or man. (On the other hand, destruction in Dan. 2:34,45 occurs aneu cheiron, “without hands”, cf. Dan. 8:25; 2 Thes. 2:8.) Furthermore, both are subject to spiritualization and transformation (replacement). In the event, both appear in heaven but in different form. And there they are clearly not hand-made (Rev. 21:22; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2, etc.). (It should also be noted that while Jesus’ body of flesh was handmade, Heb. 10:5, cf. 2:14; 5:7, the body of his glory was not so.)

Hebrews

This prompts the question as to why both are characterized by destructibility or corruptibility. The answer could, of course, be sin as is traditionally held. After all, it can be argued that Adam sinned, brought death to himself, his posterity and indeed to the whole of creation which, as a consequence of his sin, underwent a universal curse (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-23). But there is a problem, as the letter to the Hebrews makes plain. There it turns out that creation (which has a beginning as well as an end, contrast Heb. 7:3), was formed by God’s own hand (1:10), and stands in antithesis to the eternal Creator himself. Like the old covenant which relates to it (8:13), it is by nature subject to aging (1:11, cf. the fleshly body of Jesus, John 8:57, referred to above) and will eventually perish or be destroyed (1:12) in accordance with the purpose of God. In this scenario, sin is necessarily excluded, as I would strongly contend it is in Romans 8:18-25 where Paul is contrasting the present age with the invisible hope of a glorious future in the age to come (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10).

Having already contrasted the true or heavenly with the inherently defective earthly tabernacle and its ministry in chapter 8:1-6, our author proceeds in chapter 9:11 to characterize the greater and more perfect tent not merely as “not hand-made” but as “not of this creation”. The only reasonable deduction we can make from this is that, as we have just seen with regard to 1:10-12, the “hand-made” physical creation as such is also inherently defective. And if this is so, the word “good” (kalos, LXX) in Genesis 1 clearly means “useful” like a tool (cf. food in Gen. 2:9; 3:6 which is inherently perishable, John 6:27, and note 1 Cor. 10:26,31; Col. 2:22; 1 Tim. 4:4, etc.) and not perfect like God as has been traditionally held.

This line of reasoning is confirmed by 9:24 where again the “hand-made” sanctuary is contrasted with heaven itself. Here, it might usefully be added that “heaven itself” is in sharp contrast with the physical heavens in Hebrews. We may note 4:14 and 7:26 in particular where the ascended, glorified Jesus is spatially separate(d) from creation (where even the heavens, let alone man, are not clean in his sight, Job 25:5f.) as well as from sinners. An apparent flaw in this observation appears in Hebrews 8:1 where we read that Christ sat on the throne of the Majesty (literally) in the heavens. However, Bruce, for example, points out (p.7 n.33) that this is a reverential periphrasis for the name of God, like “the Majesty on high” in 1:3 (cf. the Power or Mighty One in Mark 14:62). The inference is, then, that the phrase is not an exception to the rule just mentioned.

Apart from pointed contrasts between the earthly and the heavenly in Hebrews 10:34, 11:16, 12:18-24 and 13:14, for example, in Hebrews 12:26-28 the author distinguishes between the shakable and unshakable (or remaining, ESV, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50). His reference to the eventual removal of created things (literally things that have been made) in verse 27 (cf.. 1:12 and Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4, for example) again highlights the inherently destructible and corruptible nature of all that is “hand-made”. Again we might infer the essential temporality or non-remaining nature (Heb. 1:11, cf. Isa. 66:22) of a “manufactured” creation from a comparison of Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 21:1 with Hebrews 7:3.

Conclusions

In light of the above, it would seem safe to conclude that the reference to “hand-made” (cheiropoietos) shrines in Acts 7:48 (cf. v.50) and in 17:24 (cf. v.25) is, as I have already suggested, intentional. In line with Hebrews 8:2,5 and 9:11, both Stephen and Paul are implying not simply that God does not inhabit temples that are made by men (cf. 1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:47) but that he dwells in heaven which is not material at all but spiritual (cf. Heb. 8:2,5; 9:11,24). In other words, the contrast is between the earthly and the heavenly, between this age and the age to come (Eph. 1:21, etc.), between old covenant and new, and between “hand-made” (cheiropoietos) and “not hand-made” (acheiropoietos).

If this conclusion is correct, we are then led inevitably to its corollary, that is, that the traditional view of a universally fallen or cursed creation derived largely from Augustine is false to the Bible. The truth is that everything made by hand, including fleshly man, who derived from the temporal earth, (Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10; Ps. 119:73, etc.), is impermanent (corruptible) or mortal by nature (cf. Rom. 6:12; 2 Cor. 4:11, etc.). Adam’s sin did not rob him of his putative immortality: rather it prevented his escape from the mortality with which he was created (cf. Gen. 2:17; 2 Pet. 1:4, etc.). In contrast with Jesus who did not experience corruption but ascended and was glorified, he lapsed back into the dust from which, like the rest of the animal creation, he was taken (Gen. 3:19; Job 34:14f.; Ps. 104:29). Again, it is not merely a question of idols being made by the hands and/or fingers of man (Isa. 2:8) but of the entire creation which is similarly made by God (Ps. 8:3). Little wonder then that God’s people in the OT were not only forbidden to worship the idols of wood and stone that they themselves had shaped but also the heavenly host, which God himself had made by hand (Dt. 4:19, cf. Acts 7:41f.,50). Worshipping the “manufactured” creature/creation in no matter what form instead of the eternal Creator was the essence of depravity (Rom. 1:25, cf. Ps. 106:20; Heb. 3:3). (Arguably this is why we have no physical description of Jesus in the entire NT.) It remains so today, not least because God himself has subjected it to futility and bondage to decay (Rom. 8:20f.). Just as the old covenant is obsolescent, so is the world it regulates (Mt. 5:18; 24:35; Heb. 1:11; 8:13).

It is a regrettable fact that commentators and various translators (3*) seem to have missed the point that the difference between the words cheiropoietos and acheiropoietos is not that between “man-made” and “God-made” but between the material and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly (cf. Lincoln, 2*, Lohse, TDNT, 9:436). In light of this, we are forced to conclude that whatever is “hand-made” is by nature faulty or inadequate in some sense (cf. John 6:63; Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7). A comment by Bishop Lightfoot in his commentary on Colossians first alerted me to the essentially depreciatory nature of the word cheiropoietos, though it is doubtful whether he himself drew appropriate conclusions from it. But Bruce comes close to the essence of the matter when he says that acheiropoietos “was almost a technical term of primitive Christianity to denote the realities of the new order” (p.103 n.62). In other words, the antithesis is not as Lohse suggests “of what is made with men’s hands to the work of God” (TDNT, 9:436). Rather it is of cosmic proportions involving the difference between the present world or age and the world to come where Jesus now reigns at God’s right hand (Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:6; 2:5; Rev. 3:21, etc.).

What perhaps needs to be considered most seriously by Christians at the present time, however, is the danger inherent in succumbing to materialism and all “manufactured” goods. While it may be true that we are in principle already saved through faith in Christ, we are not yet fully so. Salvation is a process (4*), and so long as that process continues we need to be warned against giving way to the flesh and to the world (see e.g. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:9; 1 John 2:15-17). The plain fact is that there is no ultimate future in either (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17). As flesh, like sinless animals, we necessarily die (Ps. 49:12,20; Isa. 40:6-8; Rom. 8:13,20; Gal. 6:8), but, in any case, as inhabitants of this physical creation, we have to recognize that once it has served its purpose, it will come to an end (Mt. 24:35; Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4).

To sum up, the pejorative nature of “hand-made” (cheiropoietos) is confirmed by Paul when tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 that all human work will be tested by fire. He implies that if it is found to be spiritually wanting and is in effect like the temple (Mark 14:58), the fleshly body (Job 10:8) or surgical circumcision (Col. 2:11), it will not endure (Gk. remain, contrast 1 Cor. 15:58). But the same is true even with regard to the impermanent handiwork of our ever-remaining God in creation as a whole (Heb. 1:10-12), for it too will be tested by fire and in the event be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Heb. 12:27). On the other hand, what will remain is clearly “not hand-made” (Heb. 10:34; 11:16; 13:8,14, etc.). So far as believers themselves are concerned, they will share the unshakable character of God (Heb. 12:27, cf. Lane, p.481) and be endowed with spiritual bodies that are also “not hand-made” (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff.) (5*).

1* If we insist that the word “good” here implies perfection, we must recognize that the law, which is also described as “good” (Rom. 7:12), is nonetheless regarded as defective in Scripture (Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7,13), even by Paul himself (Rom. 7:1; 2 Cor. 3:11; Gal. 3:21, etc.). At this point, we do well to remember that Jesus also distinguished between the temporal law (Mt. 5:18, cf. Rom. 7:1), which was written by hand (Ex. 31:18, cf. Col. 2:14), and the permanence of his own words (24:35).

2* Thus A.T.Lincoln writes, p.136: “This term (cheiropoietos) and its opposite are frequently used in the NT for the contrast between external material aspects of the old order of Judaism and the spiritual efficacy of the new order (cf. Col.2:11; also, for example, Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; Heb. 9:11,24). To talk of circumcision in the flesh made by hands is therefore to reflect the Pauline view that this is no longer the real circumcision (cf. Rom. 2:28,29; Phil. 3:2,3; Col. 2:11).”

3* Just as the NIV usually translates “flesh” as “sinful nature” (e.g. Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8), so it translates “hand-made” as man-made and “not hand-made” as “not made by man” (Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1, etc.). It misses the point in both cases.

4* Dunn in particular rightly lays strong stress on this (ch.6, pp.461-532).

5* The implication is that all that proves to be ultimately profitless (1 Sam. 12:21; Jer. 2:13; 16:19; 1 Cor. 1:19; 8:4-6, etc.) will be subject to the ban (cf. 1 Sam. 15:9) but God’s people will nonetheless be saved (1 Sam. 12:22). In heaven even the ban has been banned (Rev. 22:3)!

References

F.F.Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians,
Grand Rapids, 1984.

F.F.Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1965.

J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/New York, 2003 ed.

P.E.Hughes, 2 Corinthians, London/Edinburgh, 1962.

W.L.Lane, Hebrews 9-13, Dallas, 1991.

A.T.Lincoln, Ephesians, Dallas, 1990.

E.Lohse, TDNT 9, Grand Rapids, 1974.

Additional Note

Since writing the above I have had the pleasure of reading G.K.Beale’s “The Temple and the Church’s Mission” subtitled A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, Leicester, 2004. In many ways this is a profound, stimulating and highly commendable work. However, in some respects it leaves me greatly mystified not least because its author appears to draw conclusions at variance with the evidence he adduces.

First, it is the only work, apart from TWNT, that I have come across dealing at length with ‘handmade’ and ‘not handmade’ (see pp.222ff.,309ff.,375ff.). While Beale seems to recognize that ‘handmade’ temples are defective because they are human architectural constructions, geographically located, he apparently fails to appreciate that even what God himself has made ‘by hand’ is also inherently defective (see e.g. p.375). As a consequence, even though he produces a great deal of evidence militating against it, he accepts without question that Romans 8:18-25 points to the redemption of the physical creation (pp.153,227,311,376).

In view of this, Beale is inexorably led to posit the recreation of the world or cosmos. But if the Bible teaches the destruction of the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:1), the physical temple (John 2:19, cf. Mark 14:58), physical Israel (Mt. 21:41; 23:38), the material creation (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. Heb. 1:10-12) and the end of the present age and their replacement (Mt. 28:20; Gal. 1:4, etc.), recreation, redemption, renewal and the like are all out of the question.

This leads to another point. Beale seems to be unaware that the notion of an eternal new creation or cosmos (e.g. p.359) is inherently contradictory. By definition, the eternal, which has neither beginning nor end (cf. Heb. 7:3), cannot be new. What is ‘manufactured’ like creation (Ps. 102:25-27; 119:73, etc.) and heathen idols is intrinsically transient (cf. Hos. 13:1-3), what is ‘not manufactured’ is eternal. Surely what the Bible is teaching is that at the end of the present age all created, visible, material things, which, being ‘handmade’, temporal and corruptible, are replaced by the eternal incorruptible which already exists and has always existed. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. As Beale himself would probably agree, believers go at last to heaven into the very holy of holies. But certainly not in the material flesh! Thus, while the New Jerusalem will appear new to us, earthbound creatures that we presently are, it is in fact, as Paul makes clear, our mother (Gal. 4:26). As Jesus said, we are spiritually born from above, and as God’s children (or seed, 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9) we share in his own eternality or glory (Rom. 5:2; 8:18, etc.).

Fourth, despite all the evidence he marshals against it, Beale appears to posit a future physical resurrection based on the resurrection body of Jesus which serves as the foundation of the ‘new’ temple. On page 382 he tells us that the beginning form of the temple is not merely spiritual but physical and that the physically resurrected Christ is its cornerstone! This seems to me to be a serious misunderstanding. If Jesus was physically resurrected (cf. Luke 24:39, etc.), then it is clear that since flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50), he had to be transformed at his ascension, as he himself implied in John 20:17. Surely the form of the temple was his body of glory (cf. Phil. 3:21), the glory that he regained on his return to the Father (John 17:5,24). Again, by definition, his body of glory was, or rather is, not physical, material, fleshly but spiritual. As Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 15:45-50 and Philippians 3:21, the body of glory of the second Adam replaces the lowly body of the first. As flesh, Jesus grew older and was hence mortal and corruptible like all the children of Adam; it is only as spirit that he had an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). It is therefore in light of this that we should read Revelation 21:22.


Adam – Part 3 – The Two Adams

Adam does not figure much in Scripture at all. Considering the enormous impact he has had through the idea of original sin and traditional federal theology, this is surprising to say the least. Adam appears implicitly in Genesis 1, 2 and 3, and explicitly by name in 4:1,25 and 5:1-5 (see also 1 Chr. 1:1). Luke refers to him as the son of God who was the original (human) father of Jesus through his mother (Luke 3:38). Paul, however, goes into some detail regarding his theological significance in Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:21f.,45-49 and 1 Timothy 2:13f.(*1). Apart from this he does not figure.

Who was Adam? He is portrayed in Scripture as the first and hence the prototypical or representative (*2) man par excellence who is at once mankind individual and community. In contrast with the animals he was made in the image of God as his son (Dt. 32:6, cf. Gen. 6:2; Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28). Like the vegetable and animal kingdoms in general, Adam propagated himself according to kind (Gen. 1:11,21; 4:1,25). Thus all men and women, we ourselves included, are created in his natural or generic image (5:1-5).

In 1 Timothy 2:13f. Paul makes an important distinction between the respective sins of Adam and Eve. According to the book of Genesis, it was Adam who received God’s commandment (2:16f.) and was hence the type of him who was to come (Rom. 5:14). So Paul implies that at best Eve received it second-hand from Adam himself. In light of this, we draw the conclusion that her sin of the flesh, which in contrast with Adam’s included deception, typified that of the heathen who did not have the law (cf. Rom. 1 and 2) and that Adam’s own sin, which involved connivance of and participation in Eve’s (Gen. 3:6), typified the conscious rebellion of the Jews against a clearly defined legal standard (cf. Rom. 3:9-20). Thus when Jesus came into the world, he had to do so as the second Adam and the true Israel. As the covenant theology implied in Romans 1-3 indicates, he was as man to become capable of atoning for the sins of the whole world (Rom. 3:21-31; 1 John 2:2) and so to redeem men and women of faith from every tribe and tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9, cf. Heb. 11).

In light of this, it is not at all surprising that in the course of bringing his plan of world salvation to fruition, God chose his people Israel who are collectively seen as being, like Adam, God’s son (Ex. 4:22). As a royal priesthood (Ex. 19:6), they were intended to be a blessing to the world and a light to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:3; Ex. 19:5f.; Isa. 42:6; 49:6,8, etc.). The problem with them, as with Adam himself, was that they were all sinners and came short of the glory of God. Just as Adam sinned in and his posterity outside Eden, so Israel sinned at Sinai and repeatedly in the wilderness. Even when the innocent children of those who died on the way entered the Promised Land (cf. Num. 14:3,29-33), they sinned in their turn and continued to do so (1 Sam. 8:8; Ps. 106:6; Jer. 3:25, etc.). Eventually, their descendants lapsed so badly that they also were cast out, or exiled, like Adam and the Canaanites before them. Though the exile was limited in duration, it eventually became even more apparent that Israel itself needed a Saviour on a far grander scale than any that had appeared during the time of the Judges, for example. A new beginning, which somehow avoided the obliteration of the old (cf. Ex. 32:11-14; Heb. 9:15), was required, and eventually a second Adam who was God’s own Son born of a Virgin made his appearance in accordance with Messianic promises (Isa. 7:14-16; 53, etc.).

As Paul makes clear in Romans 5:12-21, whereas the first Adam disobeyed the commandment and brought sin and its consequence death into the world of man, Jesus the true Son, whose ultimate origin was not the earth but heaven, obeyed the law and brought righteousness and life into the world. Judging by what he has to say in Romans 7 regarding the clash between flesh and law, Paul regarded the natural man’s failure as inevitable. As he expresses it in 3:20 it was God’s purpose from the beginning to ensure that no flesh (Gk.) would be justified in his sight by the works of the law (cf. 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 3:11, etc.). Since Adam was merely a natural or fleshly man, his failure, though his own fault, was a foregone conclusion. Why? Because being flesh he was inherently weak and, apart from faith in God, he was bound to capitulate to fleshly temptation. In this situation, God’s plan was that he himself should be the Saviour of his people (Isa. 45:23). Consequently, he consigned all men and women to disobedience so that he might have mercy on all in Christ (Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22). So it was that, according to the author of Hebrews, the only difference between the two Adams as men was that the second never sinned (2:17; 4:15). This being the case, Jesus, and Jesus alone, could save his people from their sins (cf. Mt. 1:21; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul deals with the resurrection body unrelated to sin. His point is that there is a fundamental difference between the natural or ‘soulish’ man and the spiritual or ‘pneumatic’ man. He makes this apparent, first, in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 where he points up the natural limitations of Adamic or unspiritual man who lacks the capacity to understand the gifts of the Spirit. In 3:1-3 he illustrates his contention by referring to babies whose natural limitations are obvious. On the other hand, some Christians who are not literally babies act as if they are by refusing to grow up and make proper progress in the faith (cf. Heb. 5:11-6:1; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). Thus having remarked in 15:21f. that man dies “in Adam”, that is, in the flesh, in verses 45-49 Paul distinguishes between the ‘natural’ (or physical, RSV, man, whose origin is the earth and who as dust returns to the dust, Gen. 3:19, etc.), and the spiritual man, who derives from heaven who, after a little while, returns to heaven (John 3:13; 6:62; 17:5, etc.) crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:7,9) with his people in train (Heb. 2:10). The apostle goes on to say that we who believe in Christ bear the image of both: we are, first, like Adam natural, physical, fleshly and earthly (vv.44,46,47,49), then we are, secondly, like Christ spiritual or heavenly. It is here that Paul reaches the conclusion of his contention in verse 37 that the heavenly body is not to be identified with the earthly or Adamic body that is sown at physical death. His punch line is the synonymous parallelism of verse 50. Adamic or earthly flesh and blood lacks by nature the capacity to enter heaven and is no more capable of inheriting the kingdom of God than the naturally perishable or corruptible is capable of inheriting the imperishable or incorruptible.

Jesus, of course, had made the same implication in his discussion with Nicodemus where sin is notably not mentioned. The need to be born again or from above arises from the nature of man as the natural creature of God. It is indeed a need, not an imperative, since man cannot undergo regeneration by command. Even Jesus as a servant under the law (a son of the commandment) had to wait for the time set by his Father (cf. Gal. 4:2) to receive the Spirit (that is, the life promised to him who kept the commandments, Gen. 2:16f.; Lev. 18:5, etc.) and inaugurate the spiritual kingdom of God on earth. And since the law was incapable of serving as a means of attaining the perfection of God (Heb. 7:18f.; Mt. 5:48), he had to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15; 19:21) as the acknowledged Son of God.

Once the work he had been given to do (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 14:31; 17:4) had been finally accomplished (John 19:30), he rose physically from the grave (Luke 24:39, etc.) and was transformed at his ascension as the pioneer and perfecter of his people. In sum, the conditional promise of eternal life originally given to mortal man (cf. Rom. 1:23), the first Adam (Gen. 2:17), but forfeited on account of his disobedience, was at last fulfilled. By contrast, having attained to glory himself, Jesus the Man, the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8) became the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) for all his fellows who trusted in him (Heb. 2:10-13). Furthermore, it was his own desire that they should be with him and see his glory (John 17:24). So, in the graphic words of Paul, God’s eternal purpose of grace was manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10).

Such was Paul’s gospel, such is mine.

*1 He is also mentioned Jude 14.
*2 But definitely not our covenant head and representative as tradition has it.

Adam – Part 2 – Individual and Community

Was Adam, the individual, the only man or, as his generic name perhaps implies, representative man? Did he stem from less than human, merely fleshly stock (pre-Adamites) which later acquired like a baby under the Spirit of God (cf. Gen. 1:2; Luke 1:35) the recognisable image of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-50)? Is his “(hi)story” recapitulated or re-enacted by every baby that comes into the world? The mere fact that the second Adam was born of woman, who herself ultimately stemmed from the earth through Adam, and underwent a normal human development on his path to perfection, suggests that this is so.

Fundamentalists, who are more influenced by Augustine than the Bible, are apparently fully convinced, as were our forebears in general, that he was the only man and that Eve, the only woman, was literally fashioned from a bone in his side. There are big problems attaching to these views.

(1) It is widely perhaps universally acknowledged that Adam is depicted in Genesis as an adult and arguably, though questionably, created in a literal 24-hour day. The basic problem with this view is that a one-day old man is a contradiction in terms. Every man known to us in history Adam apart (though note Gen. 5:1-3) and in experience achieved manhood by a process of development. How then could any creature created almost instantaneously be a man, and one capable of talking to boot?

(2) The mere fact that Adam could speak suggests a process of learning as in our own case. What is more, it suggests parents, companions, society no matter how primitive or child-like, that is, if our own experience is anything to go by. Again, the generic name Adam, mankind, points unerringly to the fact that Adam was not alone but was representative man (though not our representative).

(3) Adam’s moral development is clearly implied in Genesis 1-3. He began without the commandment (law) and initially knew neither good nor evil like a baby (cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14, etc.). So, if he developed morally, the implication is that he also developed physically.

(4) In his commentary on Genesis 1-15, when dealing with 4:25, Gordon J. Wenham informs us that here for the first time “Adam” appears alone preceded by the definite article or a preposition, and should therefore be taken as a proper name. This is interesting not least because Paul, who understood the Hebrew language very well (cf. Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14*), must have been all too well aware of the fact, yet when dealing with the parallel between the first and the second Adams in Romans 5:12ff., and clearly with Genesis 3 in mind where the generic term is used, he refers to ‘one man’. In other words, unless we are prepared to suggest that Paul failed to note what Wenham and doubtless many other scholars have noted, we are forced to the conclusion that Paul regarded the one man as representative of his contemporaries and the one who was the common ancestor of all modern mankind (Acts 17:26). So just as God separated Noah, Abraham, Moses and even Israel itself from others, so we can reasonably infer he did the same with Adam, and like him the second Adam. Not for nothing is Adam referred to as the type of him who was to come (Rom. 5:14).
(Was it not on the basis of the last text that “Rabbi” Duncan used to tell his students that Hebrew was the language that God spoke. This being the case, the language of Genesis was peculiarly God-inspired and needs to be taken with special care!)

(5) There is something else in the Genesis record that has caused commentators problems, that is, the great age of the antediluvians. Methuselah, like Adam, lived over 900 years (cf. Gen. 6:3). It is surely questionable, if not unreasonable, however, to regard these references to men in proto-history simply as individuals. In view of what has already been said about Adam as both community and individual, is it not highly likely that Methuselah, Seth and the rest are family or tribal names from among whom outstanding or noteworthy individuals arose? These latter were in other words eponymous heroes, though not necessarily the founders of their families. Furthermore, even in modern times in our own societies children, far from being noticeably separate, are initially almost totally merged in their families. And normally, it is only as they develop distinctive characteristics that they stand out from them. Even child prodigies carry their family names with them. It is only in more recent times that ordinary people not of aristocratic blood, etc., have stood out from the rest. But by both ancient and, in different parts of the world especially the Third World, modern standards also we in the West are noteworthy for an individualism which contrasts noticeably with family solidarity in the OT. Nowadays, the identities of babies and children only are for the most part almost totally lost to view in families. But in the early chapters of Genesis we are dealing precisely with the babyhood of the race.

(6) Then there is the question of Eve. Many years ago I noted that in Genesis 3:16 the distinct impression is given that the woman Eve, as representative of all women and the mother of us all (Gen. 3:20), has had children before. For how else can it be said that her pain in childbirth will be greatly increased. Increased from what? Surely from the limited or moderate pain of the days when she (they?) was slowly emerging from a purely fleshly or animal life like that of a baby (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). As is often said, no brain no pain. Or, to be more accurate no, or limited, knowledge or self-consciousness, no or, at least, less pain.

(7) Then, what about Cain in Genesis 4:12-15? In answer to the problem that these verses create, it is often suggested that the individual, Adam, had other children. But if we regard the individual as representative of his contemporaries as above, the problem disappears.

Conclusion: If there is any substance in what I have written, the idea of the “Fall”, apart from its evident falsity, has been thoroughly misleading. Some, usually liberals, have in the past ventured to suggest that the so-called fall was a fall upwards! (The truth is that in his moral development man both breaks and keeps the law. He does both good, Luke 11:13; Rom. 2:14, and evil, John 8:34; 3 John 11.) What the Bible intimates is that there has been a forward movement in the development of mankind corresponding with that in the individual. Neither sin nor righteousness came to maturity in one fell swoop. Even Jesus had to keep the law to his Father’s satisfaction (Mt. 3:17), to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) and complete his work before he was pronounced the Righteous One (Acts 3:14, etc.). And even evil develops or matures until God patience is exhausted (Gen. 15:16). After Adam’s sin there is development in sin as his immediate posterity, the race, itself develops, and it is only arrested by God’s action in separating Noah from his fellows and by the establishment of the covenant. Though the image of God remains (Gen. 9:6), man’s likeness to his Creator is seriously compromised (cf. Rom. 3:23) and can only in the event be repaired in Christ. However, despite sin the covenant guarantees the continuation of the divine purpose and its eventual completion (Gen. 8:21f.).

* On the assumption that Paul was fully aware that Adam in Genesis 3 referred to generic mankind, his use of the ‘one man’ in Romans 5:12 must be regarded as deliberate, though not for the reason usually given by those committed to federal theology. (In federal theology God is deemed to have made a covenant with Adam who represented all mankind so that his ‘fall’ was also the fall of all his descendants – in Bengel’s words omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante. This is, however, not only to go beyond the evidence but it leads to all kinds of difficulties especially those associated with the idea of original sin in general.) Intent on making an analogy between the two Adams in order to point up the difference between the actions of the fleshly and the heavenly man (cf. 1 Cor. 15:47ff.), Paul is surely implying that what was true of an individual representative (i.e. one man, Adam) of the race was true of all apart from Christ himself, that is, that all sinned (Rom. 3:23) and hence earned their wages in death (Rom. 6:23). This is a far cry, however, from saying that all sinned “in Adam”. These words are significantly not in the text and if they were, then Christ as a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38) would inevitably be implicated. So when Paul says all sinned (v.12), he doubtless means that they all sinned as “flesh” (cf. 7:14), Christ apart (8:3). And in 1 Corinthians 15:21f., where the apostle is not dealing with sin, dying in Adam doubtless means “in the flesh”. It is therefore quite wrong to allow our understanding of Genesis 3 to be controlled by what in the event has historically been a false assessment of Paul’s analogy in Romans 5.


Adam – Part 1 – Adam’s Pedigree And Goal

(In November 1956 I attended some lectures on Genesis by Professor Alan Richardson of Nottingham University. At the time he was regarded as the dean of British biblical theologians. The only thing I remember is his claim that the word Adam means both mankind the race or community and man the individual. It is a point that I occasionally come across in the writings of others, but its relevance to our understanding of the Bible seems to be largely lost. It is, however, germane to what follows.)

Prior to implementing his eternal plan of salvation (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8) God created the world to be inhabited by man (8:22; 9:1; Isa. 45:12,18) who, though earth-derived flesh (Gen. 6:17) was, in contrast with the animals, also made in the divine image (Gen. 1:26-31).

As Creator, God was thus the Father of man (Dt. 32:6; Acts 17:28, cf. Luke 3:38) while the earth, the womb in which Adam, the seed of mankind, was formed, was his mother (Ps. 139:15, cf. Gen. 2:7). Since the divine intention was to create the race and adopt a numberless multitude as his children (Eph. 1:5), his plan involved both time (history) and procreation (cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1), which recapitulated creation.

God did not exactly repeat the original creation of man, i.e. go back to the very beginning, every time he brought a new human into being; instead he used a system of reproduction, procreation or recapitulation (cf. Gen. 5:1-3). How otherwise could Jesus, who was born of woman in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), take on flesh and become the second Adam?

Regarding the second Adam we need to note that in contrast to the first, the eternal Word had neither father nor mother (cf. Heb. 7:3). As incarnate, however, he had the same Father as the first (Luke 3:38). For all that, as the man of heaven he was not fashioned as Adam was literally in the earth and then placed in a garden (Gen. 2:8.15), rather he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and sown in the womb of Mary, who, since she derived from the first Adam, was like him fleshly and hence earthly (cf. Ps. 139:13,15).

When we consider that Adam was sown like seed in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8,15) and Jesus, the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:47-49), was implanted in Mary’s womb, we are led to conclude that Adam represented the earthly and perishable seed of mankind after the flesh (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23). His implantation in Eden points to the fact that it was the original womb in which mankind was nurtured, and the womb that we know as those that are born of woman and in which we are ‘created’ is Eden in miniature or Eden recapitulated (cf. Job 3:1-19; 10:18f.; 31:15; Jer. 20:14-20; Rom. 9:11). Thus we conclude that a woman who has no husband is desolate (cf. Jud. 11:38; 2 Sam. 13:20) because she is unsown (Isa. 51:1, cf. 62:4f.; Ezek. 36:9).

In the birth of Jesus, the creative process was repeated, for just as the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters in Genesis 1:2, so he overshadowed Mary at the incarnation (Luke 1:35).

Whereas Adam is presented to us as physically adult but rationally and morally infantile since he knew neither good nor evil and had not received the commandment (a rudimentary form of the law), his posterity, including Jesus (Luke 3:38; Heb. 2:17), are presented to us as babies who are also ignorant of good and evil and initially lacking the law (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Rom. 9:11, etc.). This being so, they have to be taught (Dt. 4:9; 6:7, etc.).

And whereas a self-conscious Adam, having broken the commandment which promised life, was prematurely ejected from the womb of Eden to die without obvious further development, his posterity who survive the womb (and some don’t or die stillborn, cf. Eccles. 6:3) undergo further physical and moral development. This is true with respect to both the individual and the race.

This points up an element of difference between Adam and his posterity. In the latter’s case, there is a sense in which Eden or the experience of the womb is extended into infancy (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:3,29-33, etc., cf. Job 3:11ff.; 10:18f.; Jer. 20:14ff.). And whereas Adam received the commandment in Eden (Gen. 2:17), his children receive it from their parents at a later stage of their existence (cf. Rom. 7:9f.), that is, at the onset of rationality, which occurs outside the womb (cf. Isa. 28:9; Heb. 5:12f.). Perhaps this is symbolised in Israel by circumcision on the eighth day, but if this is so it needs emphasising that in their case this occurs prior to mental awareness and accountability. However, it also points to the fact that man as a creature of God is throughout his conscious life under the law of God in some sense (Rom. 3:20; 7:1,9f.).

It is strongly stressed in Genesis 3:22-24 that once Adam had left Eden, the womb of the race, he could not return. His link (cf. the umbilical cord) with the tree of life had been permanently severed. Jesus implicitly confirms that when he tells Nicodemus, astonished at the idea of a man re-entering his mother’s womb, that that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, as Scripture in general emphasises, the idea of not returning points to forward movement, to progression not regression. This is why going back, for example, from Judaism to heathenism (e.g. Egypt) or from Christianity to Judaism (see espec. Galatians) is so strongly reprobated in Scripture. In general terms, we, like Paul, are to put away childish things as we mature (1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20). Having begun as slaves, we then become servants (if we are Jews) and end up as sons or children of God (Gal. 4:1-7). (This does not deny permanent slavery to Christ. See on this M.Harris, Slave of Christ.) Since we were created in the image of God, we are intended to take on his likeness (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). Again, to use yet another biblical image reminiscent of the exodus, as pilgrims we press forward to the goal of the heavenly city (Phil. 3:12-15,20; Heb. 11:8-16; 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11). Following in the steps of Jesus himself we eventually undergo our exodus from this world like Jesus (Luke 9:31,51) and enter the presence of God (Heb. 10:19f.; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Perfection or maturity is the goal of individual and community alike. Man must come of age. His great exemplar or paradigm was of course Jesus who alone achieved the perfection God required (cf. Mt. 5:48; 19:21; 3:15). Thus it is to his image that we must be conformed (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). Eventually redeemed mankind will attain to the fullness of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13) and thus prove a fitting bride.

Outside Eden, which like the womb was a source of total supply, Adam has to fend for himself and earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Once babies are weaned they have to begin to work their own passage depending on their mothers less and less and from whom they are increasingly alienated not least by self-will. The world outside Eden has to be tilled, tamed and coaxed into fertility in accordance with the cultural mandate of Genesis 1. Apart from this, it is (or becomes) a desolate wilderness. Cf. an uninhabited land (e.g. Isa. 6:11, etc.). Sinful inactivity leads to famine and poverty (Prov. 24:30ff.; 28:19: Isa. 1:19, cf. 2 Thes. 3:10). In contrast, as the Psalmist indicates, man’s proper function is to exercise dominion over all created things in order to be crowned with glory and honour (8:5f.). Only Jesus accomplished this (John 16:33; 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12f.).

The Bible has little to say about Adam. As we have seen, though he is presented to us as made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28), he is nonetheless earthly and hence mortal since creation, having had a beginning is bound to have an end (Gen. 8:22, cf. Heb. 7:3). While he is promised life if he keeps the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7, etc.), his fleshly proclivity to sin (Gen. 3:1-7, cf. Rom. 7:14,18, etc.) reveals his inherent weakness even apart from sin (cf. 2 Cor. 13:4). Despite references like Psalm 8:5, Ezekiel 28:11-17 and Daniel 12:3 for example, which have been deemed to support the notion of Adam’s native glory, in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 Paul portrays him in pejorative fashion as the man of dust who stands in vivid contrast with the man of heaven. This corresponds with the flesh/spirit (or Spirit) dichotomy which is a pervasive theme in the NT (see e.g. John 6:63, etc.).

On the moral level all we know is that first Eve then Adam, led astray by the devil, cave into their fleshly desire and break the commandment. In other words, the only moral quality we know that Adam possessed was his sin and unrighteousness. If it is replied that he was created ‘good’ (kalos, Gen. 1:31) it is sufficient to reply that this can only mean that like Eve’s ‘apple’ and creation as such (Gen. 3:6, cf. 2:9; 1 Tim. 4:3f., etc.) he was ideally suited to his intended purpose (cf. Eccles. 3:11 NRSV). God never intended that flesh should boast in his presence (1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16; 3:22, etc.). Needless to say, as his offspring who are also created in the womb (Job 31:15), we too are created ‘good’ and blessed (Gen. 1:28,31, cf. Mark 10:16) but like Adam and under his (parental) influence we all go astray (Ps. 53:3; Isa. 53:6; 1 Pet. 2:25), come short of the glory of God and earn the wages of death (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, cf. 7:9f.).

Adam in History

Historically, however, Adam has been seen in a much more favourable, even idyllic, light.

First, a good deal of Jewish literature depicts him as glorious prior to his “fall” (1 Enoch 32:3-6; Apoc. Mos. 20:1). Indeed, it presents him as possessing the glory of the righteous in the age to come (Sir. 49, 4 Ezra 8:51; 1 Enoch 39:9; 50:1; 58:2; 69:11,13; 85:3; 2 Bar. 15:8; 54:15,21; 2 Enoch 30:10f.; Lev.R. 30:2) (1*). In light of this, it is perhaps not so surprising that some of the Church Fathers, Augustine in particular, idealised him, as the following passage from The City of God, xiv.26 indicates:

“In Paradise, then, man … lived in the enjoyment of God, and was good by God’s goodness; he lived without any want, and had it within his power so to live eternally. He had food that he might not hunger, drink that he might not thirst, the tree of life that old age might not waste him. There was in his body no corruption, nor seed of corruption, which could produce in him any unpleasant sensation. He feared no inward disease, no outward accident. Soundest health blessed his body, absolute tranquillity his soul. As in Paradise there was no excessive heat or cold, so its inhabitants were exempt from the vicissitudes of fear and desire. No sadness of any kind was there, nor any foolish joy; true gladness ceaselessly flowed from the presence of God, who was loved ‘out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned’. The honest love of husband and wife made a sure harmony between them. Body and spirit worked harmoniously together, and the commandment was kept without labour. No languor made their leisure wearisome; no sleepiness interrupted their desire to labour.”

Hick (p.71 n.5) quotes F.R.Tennant (2*) to the effect that in the rabbinical literature there are passages expressing the belief that “the first man was endowed with extraordinary stature (he is frequently said to have filled the world), with physical beauty, with surpassing wisdom, with a brilliancy that eclipsed that of the sun, with a heavenly light which enabled him to see the whole world, with immortality, and with a ministration of angels”.

It goes without saying that this picture runs directly counter to the biblical presentation. For all that, we can sympathise somewhat with Augustine even if we note with regret that he paid too little attention to what the Bible actually teaches on the subject of Adam. In the event, however, the Bishop of Hippo led Western theology badly astray. As Hick tells us (pp. 70f.), he taught that prior to their fall Adam and Eve were immortal (CG, xiv.1,10; xii. 21), did not grow old (xiv.26), had complete control over their bodily passions (xiv.26), were endowed with infallible moral insight (FW. 111,xviii.52), lived in the enjoyment of God and were ‘good by His goodness’ (‘ex quo bono erat bonus’ – CG, xiv.26). Furthermore, their love for Him was unclouded and tranquil (‘imperturbatus’ – CG, xiv.10); and they had no desire for the forbidden fruit.

If all this is true, we might well conclude that the primal pair were ‘angelic’ rather than human (3*).

While much more needs to be said, I will content myself here by saying that all this reflects massive misunderstanding. As I have averred elsewhere, Augustine put the cart before the horse, implicitly denied biblical, especially anthropological, teleology and turned theology on its head. In the Bible, Adam emanates from the ground, but as one who is made in the image of God he is intended to aspire to heaven (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10). Instead of recognising with Irenaeus that Adam was morally and spiritually but a child whose duty it was to attain to righteousness by keeping the law and then to pursue perfection or maturity (Dt. 6:25; Mt. 19:21, cf. Rom. 2:7; Phil. 3:12-14; Heb. 6:1; 7:11), Augustine conceived of him as possessing holiness and righteousness by creation (or, as according to RC theology, a kind of donum superadditum). And it was from this condition that he mysteriously fell! Needless to say, this is a far cry from the biblical picture, which presents even the second Adam as a baby knowing neither good nor evil (Isa. 7:15f.) and under an obligation to keep the whole law with a view to attaining to righteousness (Dt. 6:25; Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7) and gaining life in accordance with the promise of God (Lev. 18:5, etc.). And in contrast with the first, the second Adam this did it in magnificent ashion (Rom. 8:3).

1* I owe these references to Hafemann, p.210 n.8.
2* The Sources of the Doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin, Cambridge, 1903, pp.149f.
3* See P.Brown, pp.500f.

REFERENCES

P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo, London, 2000.

S.J.Hafemann, 2 Corinthians, NIV Application C., Grand Rapids, 2000.

John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, Fontana Library, London, 1968.

Additional Note

We are made in the image of God, that is, in his generic (spiritual) image but not in his moral image. That has to be attained and be confirmed by law keeping or obedience (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). As human beings created in the divine image, we have the capacity to become like him morally by keeping the law (cf. Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7, etc.).

We are also made in the image of Adam (cf. Gen. 5:1-3), and have the capacity to become like him in his sin. Just as we are not made in the moral image of God, so we cannot be made in the moral image of Adam. We become like him (repetition or imitation, pace Art. 9 of the C of E) as we react to law by being disobedient. Needless to say, we who are flesh have all sinned (Rom. 3:9-12,23; 5:12, etc.) with the sole exception of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:22, etc.).

If we are obedient (John 5:30; 6:38; 8:29, etc.), we become righteous, but only Jesus succeeded in this (Mt. 3:17, etc.). Even he, like Adam before him, began his incarnate life knowing neither good nor evil (Isa. 7:15f., cf. Dt. 1:39; Luke 2:52). And it was not until he had finished his work and achieved perfection that he, as man, was declared the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14, cf. 1 John 2:1).

(Until we receive the law or commandment we can be neither righteous nor unrighteous (Rom. 2:13; 4:15; 7:8, etc.). Until then we are like Adam and Eve knowing neither good nor evil, Dt. 1:39; 1 K. 3:7,9; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14.)

Sin is transgression of the law (Jas. 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17, etc.) and until the commandment dawns on our developing minds, we cannot break it. And since breaking it involves work, we cannot earn wages in death (Rom. 6:23). To sin we must do something (see e.g. Luke 23, and Romans 2 where the words prasso, ergazomai and poieo occur). Again, since Paul refers frequently to the works of the law, he clearly repudiates the notion of the imputation of the Adam’s sin. Imputation functions only when faith is operative as in the case of Christ who voluntarily undertook to bear the sins of his people on the one hand and of believers who receive his righteousness by faith on the other. Where there is no law, as in the case of babies, there is no transgression (or violation). In light of this we must conclude that the imputation of Adam’s sin is a fundamental fallacy. Indeed, if it is true, then God is evil like those who impute sin to those who have not committed it (cf. e.g. 1 Sam. 22:15; 1 K. 21; Luke 23).


Covenant Theology

After over forty-five years of reading the Bible and commenting on it, I remain firmly convinced that the most prolific source of doctrinal error and misapprehension in the church is failure to understand biblical covenant theology. While it is true, especially since the Reformation, that various views on the covenants have exercised a profound influence on received theologies (see e.g. Golding, Ward), I am fully persuaded that they have not been a true reflection of what the Bible teaches. The inevitable result of this has been and still is doctrinal chaos. Before going further, it is worth taking a brief look at some of the different portrayals of covenant in Christian history (1*. The meaning of the word ‘covenant’ has been much debated in quite recent times. Without going into detail I take it for granted that the covenants with man discussed here are sovereign dispositions of God that nonetheless harbour the notion of agreement, reciprocation or mutuality, see e.g. Dumbrell, pp. 11ff. who makes a valiant but forlorn effort to read the covenant with Noah back into a covenant with Adam and creation. This notion founders on the stubborn and inescapable fact that Scripture fails to refer to one, and for good reason. See further below. It comes as no shock that having sought to make creation itself the subject of a covenant, Dumbrell talks of its redemption, p.33, an idea quite alien to the entire drift of the Bible, see e.g. Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; Mt. 24:35; Heb. 12:27; Rev. 21:1-4, etc. Like the flesh which derives from it, creation was never intended to last forever. It is intrinsically temporal as Genesis 1 implies. In other words, there is intelligent response to the covenants on the part of Noah, Abraham, etc. While it is true that according to Jeremiah, for example, God appears to have made a covenant with inanimate creation, Jer. 33:20ff., cf. 31:35-37, this seems to be in order to illustrate the permanent nature of God’s commitment to it until his salvific purposes for man are fulfilled. In light of Genesis 8:22, it ought to be obvious that unless creation continues, the divine plan regarding Israel, David, and the Levites cannot come to fruition, cf. Dt. 11:21; Rom. 8:18-25, let alone be ultimately fulfilled in the royal high priesthood of Christ. It needs to be pointed out that the covenant first referred to in Genesis 6:18, cf. v.8; 9:9-12,15, is said to be with Noah himself. This can only mean that for Noah the stability of creation is guaranteed in a way that it was not for Adam. For Noah not only was there no more curse, Gen. 8:21, but the sign of the rainbow was there to inspire his confidence, 9:12-17. He was therefore able to undertake the propagation of the race with an assurance that Adam lacked, Gen. 9:1,8, cf. Jer. 33:19ff. Just as the Mosaic covenant did not nullify the covenant with Abraham, Gal. 3:17, so the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and even Christian covenants did not nullify the covenant with Noah, cf. Mt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:25ff. Unless Jeremiah, like Isaiah, 54:9f., has Noah in mind, the idea of mutuality is clearly absent. In any case, Jeremiah appears to be using the word ‘covenant’ like the term “everlasting hills”, Gen. 49:26, or “everlasting covenant”, Gen. 9:15f., even though the Bible makes it clear that both the hills and the covenant are part and parcel of a transitory creation, which by all appearances was threatened by the flood, not to mention man’s sin, cf. Heb. 1:10-12, etc. Motyer comments appropriately on Isaiah 54:9f., which alludes explicitly to Noah when he says that “the fabric of the world is the most permanent thing we know and lends itself to an apt comparison (cf. Jer. 31:35-37).” Among other relevant references are Psalm 72:17; 89:37; 119:89-91; Isaiah 51:6 and Habakkuk 3:6. It is worthy of note that all five divine covenants made with man are at least implicitly present in Jeremiah 31:35-37 and 33:20ff.

In addition to the above, it must be observed that there is a fundamental reason why creation and Adam are not covenanted in the Bible: both are temporal expedients or means to an end. We are taught that the physical creation, which has been given over to futility, will ultimately be destroyed, e.g. Mt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Heb. 12:27; Rev. 20:11, etc. And the same is true with regard to Adam to the extent that he typifies the flesh, cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-50, as Paul is at pains to point out in 2 Corinthians 5:1, cf. Rom. 8:10. Even Jesus whose fleshly body did not experience corruption in the grave had to undergo transformation, and the idea that at his ascension he took his fleshly body into heaven, cf. Acts 1:9, must be scouted absolutely, 1 Cor 15:50; Gal. 4:29f.; John 8:35. There can be little doubt that those who criticise paedobaptists for baptising the flesh, cf. John 1:13, hit the nail on the head. Except in the general sense, God has not made a covenant with babies many of whom die apart from sin and righteousness since they know neither good nor evil. See further below. 2*.)

Historical Covenant Theology

Federal Theology

Probably the most influential view has been covenant or federal theology (see e.g. Packer’s chapter On Covenant Theology and the articles on Federal Theology by Collins and Covenant Theology by Osterhaven in EDT). Basically it holds that God originally made a covenant of works with Adam, the covenant head and representative of all his posterity. Thus, once Adam failed to obey the covenant commandment, he forfeited the life it promised (Gen. 2:17, cf. WCF, 7:2) and suffered the penalty of death. As a result of this, all Adam’s children being “in him” were born sinful and were hence also subject to death (WCF, 6). However, God in his mercy and in pursuit of his own glory (cf. Isa. 45:22f.; 59:16; 63:5) made a second covenant of grace with his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, which offered salvation or life to all who put their trust in him (cf. WCF, 7:3).

Attractive though this view is, it does not appear to be supported by Scripture. One of the most obvious criticisms to be levelled at it is that there is no mention of a covenant with Adam in the entire Bible (2*. I am fully aware that the arrangement God made with Adam has all the hallmarks of a covenant. See e.g. Robertson, pp.93ff. However, historically the significance of its failure to be considered as a covenant in Scripture seems to have been missed (see below). What is surely true is that the commandment, Gen. 2:16f., was a precursor in rudimentary form of the law of Moses, cf. Rom. 7:9f., though this is hotly denied by some, e.g. Murray, CW 2, p.50. It should be noted that a Jewish boy, cf. uncircumcised girls and the heathen, was not responsible for keeping the law until his bar mitzvah, cf. Luke 2:41ff., when he became a son of the commandment. Regrettably, covenant theologians on occasion treated it as if it was a promise of grace like that made to Abraham, cf. Murray on the Mosaic covenant, ibid., Berkhof, pp.297f. and Ward, pp.71,171. The flaw in this line of thinking was that the commandment/law was imposed like circumcision on the eighth day, Lev. 12:3, and the faith by which it should have been activated was conspicuously absent, cf. Gal. 5:3f. However, once they had made this clearly erroneous move, the covenant theologians were in a position to refer to the words ‘in Adam’, 1 Cor. 15:22, in covenantal fashion. 1 Corinthians 15:22 is manifestly in synonymous parallelism with v. 21. Given its context where Paul is dealing with the nature of the body, it is difficult indeed not to infer that ‘in Adam’ means ‘in the flesh’, cf. vv.45-49. In stark contrast with the words ‘in Christ’ which, according to Roberts occur 164 times in the NT, this sole appearance of ‘in Adam’ cannot have a covenantal reference. The truth is that the OT, not to mention the NT, makes it abundantly clear that human beings, though heavily influenced both for good and evil, e.g. Lu. 11:13, by their parents, Adam included, Rom. 5:12, cf. Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f., nonetheless sin for themselves, Dt. 24:16; Num. 26:11; 27:3; Neh. 1:6; Ps. 106:6, Jer. 3:25; 4:22; 9:13f.; 11:10; 14:20; 31:29f.; 32:18f.; Ezek. 3,18,33; Rom. 3:23, etc. and are consequently judged personally by their works, Jer. 32:18f.; Rom. 2:6, cf. 9:31f., etc. While works and wages are indissolubly linked, imputation and wages are categorically differentiated. Being in antithesis to one another, they are in fact mutually exclusive, Rom. 4:1-8; 6:21,23. In other words, the imputation of sin apart from action, cf. Rom. 4:8, or faith as in the case of Christ, Mt. 26:39,42; John 6:38f.; 12:27; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8, is a contradiction in terms. So, a covenant theology to which the biblically impossible dogma of original sin is fundamental must of necessity be false.

There is another point to be made. On the assumption that it is not by accident that there is no mention of a covenant with Adam at creation, covenant theology begins, as Murray maintained, with Noah, that is, when the race had gained a degree of maturity (knowledge) and had been cleansed of its infantile filth by the flood, 1 Pet. 3:21. It follows from this still on the assumption of a parallel between the race and the individual, that the latter cannot be regarded as a covenant child until it has gained sufficient understanding to recognise rainbows, name animals, respond, albeit negatively, to simple commands, cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 7:9f., and above all to exercise faith, cf. Gen. 3:15. This point is further confirmed by the fact that the child can neither be punished for the sins of its parents nor inherit their faith, Num. 14:29-35; Dt. 24:16; Ezek. 18, etc. Thus the Bible as a whole divides covenantally or dispensationally into three, and we are all, or at least if we are Jews, initially ‘baptised’ into Noah, 1 Pet. 3:21, and noticeably not into Adam, then into Moses, 1 Cor. 10:2, and finally into Christ, Mt. 28:19; Acts 2:38. In this way we come to fullness of knowledge of God in Trinity, Mt. 28:19, which has ever been the divine intention, John 17:3; 1 Cor. 13:11f., cf. 2 Cor. 3:18.)

While he is obviously in Paul’s view representative, even archetypal, man according to the flesh (1 Cor. 15:21f., 45-49) in whose image we are all made (Gen. 5:1-3), nowhere is it suggested that Adam is our covenant head and representative (3*. Ridderbos writes: “Clear indications are lacking … that Adam is termed the head of mankind in this representative sense”, p.386. Hosea 6:7 is dismissed or reinterpreted by most commentators, and is clearly too insecure a basis on which to argue a convincing case.) Yet it is frequently claimed on the basis of extremely dubious exegesis of Romans 5:12-21 that we all fell or sinned in him. Unfortunately for this view, the words “in him” do not appear and are in fact either illegitimately imported from 1 Corinthians 15:21f. or assumed on the basis of what is nowadays universally acknowledged as the mistaken translation and interpretation of Augustine. Furthermore, the Bible teaches in words too clear to be misunderstood that a son cannot be punished for the sin of his father (Dt. 24:16; Num. 26:11; 27:3; Ezek. 18, etc.), and if he could, then Jesus himself as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) would necessarily be implicated.

The other side of the two-covenant theory is also suspect. For while it is true, profoundly true, that God made a covenant of grace with Christ, it is historically false to imply that it operated immediately following the sin of Adam. The plain fact is that, though it is promised in the covenants of Abraham and David and even spelt out in Jeremiah 31:31-34, it is not actualised until it is inaugurated by Jesus himself in person (cf. Mt. 26:28). In this sense, it is really an imposition on Scripture, an inference from what has been called the covenant of redemption. This term is misleading and would be better termed the counsel (council?) of redemption which indicates that God had a plan of salvation in mind from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, etc.). So even without going into more detail we can safely state that traditional federal theology is flawed (4*. It is sometimes argued that the law was never intended as a means of justification but was given to an already redeemed people at the exodus. While it is true that in light of our redemption in Christ this idea gives us a degree of perspective, it hardly detracts from the clear teaching throughout Scripture that the law depends for its fulfilment on works, Mt. 19:17. Had Jesus not kept the law he would have been a sinner like the rest of us and, having failed to attain to righteousness and the life it promised, he would have been rendered incapable of serving as our Saviour, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Heb. 12:2.)

Original Sin

Since this essay is intended primarily to be positive, I do not intend to launch into a full-scale attack on the imputation of Adam’s sin. However, it is perhaps wise at this point to add a little more by way of criticism in case the reader thinks my dismissal of federal theology is too cavalier. So I would argue that not only is there no evidence especially in Genesis and Romans to support it, but that it is also tarnished by internal inconsistency and involves in fact an inherent contradiction. Let me explain. If a covenant is posited between God and Adam and Adam is regarded as the covenant head and representative of all his posterity to whom his sin is imputed, then Jesus, who is integral to his posterity (Luke 3:38, etc.), is definitively disqualified from acting as the second Adam. In OT terms, he is a lame duck permanently incapacitated like a blemished animal that cannot be used as a sacrifice (cf. e.g. Mal. 1:14). If it is replied as a kind of after-thought that Jesus must be excluded from the Adamic covenant, then all sorts of problems arise. First, it takes us back to the ancient heresy of docetism: Jesus was not truly man but only seemed to be. Yet, according to the NT and the author of Hebrews in particular, especially in chapter 2, the condition of life and salvation must be met by man (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). If Jesus was not a son of Adam, made in his image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3), a truly representative son of man, then he could not serve as the Saviour of man. Of course, it may then be urged that as One born of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18; Luke 1:35, etc.), he was not affected by Adam’s sin. To say this, however, differentiates him from all his brethren in spite of Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15. On the other hand, leaving aside the Virgin Birth which I would argue is irrelevant to the issue, the assumption that his birth by the Spirit enabled Jesus to avoid sin in Adam ignores what is fundamental to the theology of the NT, that is, that atonement and justification of necessity (Lev. 18:5) precede the cleansing of the Spirit (Tit. 3:3-7). It is blood that atones for sin (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Rev. 1:5), not Spirit. So, since Jesus at birth had not atoned for sin, he remained inescapably involved in Adam’s sin. And since as a sinner he was incapable of effecting atonement, salvation for man is a chimera. The truth is that the logic of Reformed theology when followed through leads to absolutely devastating conclusions. It is palpably plain that its Augustinian doctrine of sin, being an imposition on the Bible, is false. At the end of the day the federal two-covenant view devolves remorselessly into incoherence. It is not merely flawed: it is fatally so! Thus many who claim to be brandishing the banner of truth at this point are in fact flying the flag of fabrication.

The Covenant of Grace

In more recent times the Reformed theologian, John Murray, perhaps not insensitive to criticism by dispensationalists who claim to emphasise progressive revelation, has, in his “The Covenant of Grace” (p.3), taken his cue from Calvin, Vos and others who suggested that, apart from its administration, the covenant with OT believers was the same as that with those in the NT (Inst. 2.10.2). Thus, disallowing what he refers to as the Adamic administration covenantal status (cf. CW, pp.47ff.), Murray articulates “the organic unity” of the covenant of grace (sometimes referred to as the unity of the covenant or one covenant in two dispensations), which takes different forms as “covenant revelation” (p.4) progresses. The most obvious problem with this view is that though all scriptural covenants are gifts of grace in some sense, the law, for example, cannot be regarded as part of the covenant of grace (cf. Luke 16:16; John 1:17) since it depends on works (Rom. 2:13, etc.). To contend that it can is to fall prey to Pelagianism and like the Jews to fall away from grace (Gal. 5:4). What is more, failure to appreciate the difference between the Abrahamic covenant of promise, which is activated by faith, and the Mosaic covenant of law, which operates on the basis of works, is to commit theological folly of the worst kind. (L.Berkhof, pp.297f. maintains that the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants are essentially the same. O.P.Robertson, p.41, appears to arrive at the same conclusion. Though he later differentiates between the various covenants, e.g. p.59, he never succeeds in resolving the problem of continuity and discontinuity, unity and diversity in biblical covenant theology. Inevitably he ends up in confusion.) Even the OT itself recognises the difference between the two (see e.g. Dt. 11:26f., 2 Kings 13:23, etc.). And Paul’s careful discrimination in Galatians, especially 3:10-18, puts the issue beyond reasonable doubt.

Dispensationalism

A substantially different covenant theology is promoted by the dispensationalists who claim that their view of eight different covenants in seven dispensations alone does justice to the progress of evelation (see e.g. C.Ryrie, p.19, 57-64). They too, however, find in Scripture an Adamic covenant which is not mentioned. But, worse, despite Ephesians 2:11ff. and 3, for example, they go on to make such a radical distinction between Israel and the church that they form parts of different plans of salvation. (Cf. the more recent two-covenant notion of K.Stendahl who, in the interests of inclusivism, posited salvation for Jews apart from Christ.) While regarding the church as a parenthetical institution which delays the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel, they find the goal of history in the earthly millennium referred to in Revelation 20 (Ryrie, p.17). Certainly we may concede that the dispensationalist scheme provides for progressive revelation and the proper differentiation between the eras in what is nowadays known as salvation or redemptive history, but as a theological construct it seems to lack Scriptural support. To put the issue another way, while it may provide pedagogical assistance to teachers wishing to give students a knowledge of Scripture as a whole, it seems to be lacking in schematic theological value and, to my knowledge, it is never recognisably used or alluded to in Scripture. This point is perhaps best illustrated by what I believe to be the true Scriptural view as outlined below, for, in contrast with the dispensational scheme, this appears frequently and finds ample support.

 

Biblical Data

The Covenant with Noah

As Murray in particular maintains, the first divine covenant in the Bible is the one made with Noah (cf. Gen. 6:18). It appears to be a ratification or endorsement of the divine commitment to a hitherto uncovenanted creation which had been threatened by the flood. It guarantees that seedtime and harvest will not cease until the end of the world (Gen. 8:22, cf. Dt. 11:21), thus making provision for both man (Mt. 5:45; Acts 14:17) and beast (e.g. Ps. 104) throughout history (cf. Luke 17:27,30). But while it has obvious relevance to all created things, it is capable of being understood by and inspiring faith only in man made in the image of God. (This implies man in his childhood, not in his infancy when he knows neither good nor evil and when he is incapable of exercising faith! See further note *2).

The Covenant with Abraham

This covenant of nature is supplemented in due course by the covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 12,15,17). The latter takes the form of a gracious divine promise of blessing which has relevance throughout the rest of Scripture.

The Covenant with Moses

At the exodus, however, the law of Moses comes to occupy centre stage and in the course of time it dominates the mind of the children of Israel.

The Covenant with David

Next to appear is the promise made to David which is clearly an endorsement and extension of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Luke 1:32f.,51-55,68-75; Rom. 4:1-8).

The Christian Covenant

Finally, in the NT the new covenant predicted by Jeremiah (31:31-34, cf. Ezek. 11:19f.; 36:25-27; 37:26) is established by Christ. In the memorable words we frequently repeat at the celebration of the sacrament, Jesus said as he took the cup at the last supper, “… this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28).

Biblical Covenant Theology

How then do we derive a covenant theology from all this? First, instead of arguing from silence and blurring distinctions as Reformed theology does, we must differentiate between the covenants and refuse to reduce them with facile sleight of hand to a single covenant of grace or an undifferentiated monolithic unity. So we need to note that the most basic or foundational covenant is the first one, that is, the one made with Noah, a man of faith (Gen. 7:1; Heb. 11:7). It relates to creation or nature as a whole, and in this-worldly terms it is an everlasting covenant (Gen. 9:16, cf. Gen. 8:22; Jer. 31:35f.; 33:19f.). Then, since it looms so large in the rest of Scripture and can be denominated the old covenant, it is important to see that the arrangement with Moses was one of law which depended on works (Rom. 2:13; 3:20,27f.; 9:31f.; Gal. 3:10-12). As has already been hinted, it stands in stark contrast with the new covenant of grace in Christ (see e.g. 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 3 and Heb. 8). The one depended on the ability of man to work his own way to life (Lev. 18:5, etc.) and led inevitably to failure (e.g. Ps. 143:2; John 7:19; Rom. 9:31), the other depended on the success of its mediator to pave the path of his people to perfection (John 15:10; Heb. 2:10). We have then covenants of nature, law and grace. What about the covenants with Abraham and David? They were clearly promissory pointing to the coming of the Saviour (John 8:56) who was great David’s greater Son, the Messianic King (Mt. 16:16).

At this point, in view of what has been said in criticism of the covenant theologies referred to above, it might well be asked what the theological relevance of the present outline is? What and where is its Scriptural support? First, I would argue, especially in reply to dispensationalists, that the promises made to Abraham and David, not to mention Adam, do not constitute dispensational covenants. Abraham himself was a heathen and until the time of his separation worshipped heathen gods (Jos. 24:2,14). Though the promise he personally received was real enough, it was not fulfilled during his lifetime (Acts 7:5; Heb. 11:39f., cf. John 8:56). The same is true with regard to the promise made to David: like Adam before him he was essentially a type of the One who was to come (cf. Rom. 5:14). Like all the kings of Israel, David was very much under the law of Moses (cf. Dt. 17:14ff.). He not only sinned against it but was also punished under it (2 Sam. 12:7-15; Ps. 89:30-37).

Covenant and Community

Once we see this we are in a position to recognise, in contrast with the dispensational scheme, for example, that these covenants all appear in theologically relevant relationship, even succession, in at least one place in the Bible, that is, in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapters 1 and 2 the apostle draws attention to the heathen Gentiles under the covenant with Noah with their characteristic fleshly sins (cf. Gen. 9:21ff. and Rom. 1:18ff.); in chapters 2 and 3 he describes the Jews under Moses and their offences against the law which, in contrast with their children (Num. 14:3,29-35; Dt. 32:52; 34:4), prevented their entry into the Promised Land; and in 3:21-26 he alludes specifically to believers in Christ under the new covenant who through faith in him are accounted righteous and are guaranteed life. It is important to note, however, that the non-dispensational character of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants is brought out by their separation from the rest in 4:1-8. Here the emphasis falls, as it does in the new covenant, on personal faith and invites comparison with the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 where faith is at a premium. It is incidentally the continuity of faith, which, as Paul makes clear especially in Galatians 3 (cf. Heb. 11), is transdispensational, rather than of covenant that Reformed theology should be emphasising! (5*. Faith, rather than covenant, is the one common characteristic of the one people of God throughout Scripture, cf. Heb. 11. Of course, it is by faith that the OT saints participated proleptically in the Christian covenant of grace and were similarly redeemed by the one substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, cf. John 8:56; Heb. 9:15; 11:39f. See further 7* below.) While it is true that the Christian covenant, or covenant of grace, has relevance to all mankind (cf. Heb. 9:15; 1 John 2:2) and produces one humanity (Eph. 2:15), the true vine (John 15:1) or the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), it is historically false to pretend that the saints of Hebrews 11 lived under it (though note 11:39f.; John 8:56). Furthermore, it leads to serious theological misunderstanding and distortion of the gospel. For example, the idea that the OT saints were born again and hence that regeneration precedes faith in the order of salvation (or ordo salutis, see e.g. Murray, Romans, p.27 n.21; Redemption, p.106) runs counter to the basic and pervasive teaching of the Bible that righteousness, and hence faith, is the absolutely indispensable precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 32:47; Rom. 5:18,21, etc.) (6*. Robertson seems very unsure of himself at this point. He apparently wants to have his cake and eat it! See pp.292,297.). It was precisely because Adam sinned and was thus accounted unrighteous that he was separated from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24).

Covenant and Individual or Individual and Community

On reflection, it is hardly surprising that the Bible, which progressively reveals our triune God to us (cf. Murray’s stress on revelation referred to above), also underlines the triadic nature of true covenant theology. In his letter to the Galatians, having dealt with the spiritual progress of both Jews and Gentiles from heathenism to Christianity (3:15ff.), Paul draws attention specifically to the covenantal character of the experience of the individual. Seeing that the word ‘Adam’ in Genesis refers to both the race and the individual, who is mankind (Adam) in miniature (cf. Christ as the second Adam), it ought not to surprise us unduly that Paul sees the historical covenants made with Gentiles and Jews at large epitomised, encapsulated, re-enacted or recapitulated in the individual. (It ought not to pass without notice that the end of Galatians 3:28 can be translated “for you are all one man in Christ Jesus”. The idea, according to Guthrie, is not that “of a unified organisation, but of a unified personality.” Cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11; Eph. 2:15, 4:24, and 4:13 where the corporate Christ corresponds with the personal Christ.) Indeed, he makes his point by alluding to Jesus himself, the pioneer of our faith, whom he portrays in 4:4 as having, first, been born of woman, that is, as a child of nature who initially like Adam knows neither good nor evil, Isa. 7:15f., yet becomes a conscious beneficiary of the covenant with Noah, second, put under law as a Jewish son of the commandment and then, third, acknowledged as the Son of the Father on his reception of the Spirit at his baptism. (This does not mean that Christ was the subject of adoption as we are, but that his incarnation required him to ratify his ontological status by action, that is, keeping the law.) Otherwise expressed, as a child Jesus recapitulated Israel’s heathen experience in Egypt (Mt. 2:15, cf. Gal. 4:1f.), was, like all Jewish boys, made a son of the commandment (Luke 2:40-51), and, in accordance with the divine plan, was finally manifested as the Son of God at his baptism and sealing by the Spirit (Mark 1:10f.; John 1:31f.; 6:27). Clearly, individuals who believe in Christ follow in his footsteps (Gal. 4:5f., e.g. Cornelius in Acts 10, though there is no evidence that as a “God-fearer” he was ever circumcised). Paul, who described himself as a citizen of Tarsus and a debtor to the Greeks, was an educated Jew and a confessing Christian. So, theologically speaking, believing Jews, though circumcised on the eighth day, advance from heathen slavery (cf. Ex. 13:8, etc.), through Jewish servanthood (cf. Lev. 25) to Christian sonship (Gal. 3:23ff.). In comparison, Gentiles never live under the law like Jews; rather they resemble women who remain uncircumcised and progress directly from their childlike heathenism under the Noahic covenant to maturity in Christ (Gal. 3:28; 4:3,6f.; Eph. 4:13-16; 1 Pet. 4:1-3). (8)

Paul’s Autobiography

If we revert to Romans for a moment, we can see the relevance of the comments just made when we note that Paul’s “autobiography” in chapters 7 and 8 also reveals the triadic covenantal nature of his experience. As a child (but definitely not as an infant who like the primal pair before they received the commandment knew neither good nor evil, Gen. 2:17; Dt. 1:39) when understanding dawns, he succumbs to deception like Eve and the Gentiles before him (7:7-12, cf. 1 Tim. 2:14 and note also Gal. 4:3; Eph.2:3; Tit. 3:3). Then, like the Jews, whose sin against the law resembled Adam’s, he is completely unable to keep the law of Moses by which he seeks to be justified (7:14-25). And it is only as one who trusts in Christ that he enjoys something like success (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:12-15). For then he submits in faith to the leading of the Spirit and becomes an adopted son of God (8:1-39). In this way, he puts away childish things (Gal. 4:3; Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3) associated with slavery (Gal. 4:8-10; Col. 2:16-23) and becomes a man in Christ (1 Cor. 13:11, cf. 14:20 and Eph. 4:13).

Before leaving Romans it is worth drawing attention to 1:16 and 4:9-12 (cf. 2:25-29; 3:29f.; 10:11f.; 11:25-32 and 15:8f.), which also point to the threefold nature of covenant theology. For Abraham, the heathen, is the physical father of the Jews and the spiritual father of both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ (Gal. 3:7-9,14,29).

The Acts of the Apostles

There are numerous other representations in Scripture supporting the conclusion that there are only three dispensational covenants in Scripture. First, in Acts 20:21 (cf. 11:17f.; 13:26,46f.; 15:14; 18:6; 19:10; 23:11; 24:24; 26:17-20; 28:28) where Paul refers to the need of both Greeks and Jews to experience Christian conversion, he clearly has the race in mind all of whom enjoy the benefits of the Noahic covenant (14:16f.; cf. 17:24ff.). Then going back to Galatians again, we discover the apostle referring in both 5:6 and 6:15 to uncircumcision (Gentiles), circumcision (Jews) and love, or a new creation (or creature, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17, that is, one man in Christ, cf. Gal. 3:28, etc.) which is the Israel of God (6:16, cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). (It is perhaps worth comment in passing that the race is representatively present in Acts 2.)

Ephesians

In Ephesians the same pattern appears. For a start we may note the unholy trinity of the world, the flesh and the devil (2:1-3) by which we are all tempted and tested like Jesus (Mt. 4:1-11). But whereas he was triumphant, the rest of us are shown to be failures and, unless we repent, we arrive at malignant maturity and ultimately achieve the same goal as the devil (cf. Gen. 15:16; Rom. 2:8f.; Rev. 20:10). Ephesians, however, especially chapter 2, is saturated with covenant significance. Noteworthy first are Paul’s references, to Gentiles (v.11), Israel (v.12) and saints (v.19). This reminds us of Romans 1-3. But whereas in Romans 4:1-8 Paul specifies the covenants with Abraham and David, here in Ephesians he contents himself with a general reference to the covenants of promise (2:12). Next, Paul mentions the “uncircumcision” (v.11) who are far off, second, to “the circumcision” (v.11) who are near and, third, believers from both who enjoy joint access to the Father in one Spirit (v.18, cf. 3:11f.) as one humanity (2:15). So the heathen cease to be strangers and aliens and become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (vv.19f., ESV). Again, in the same letter Paul sketches the movement from childhood to mature manhood (4:13-16, cf. 1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20; Col. 1:28; 2:2), and though it is not specifically spelt out, there can be little doubt that it is to be understood in covenantal terms (cf. 2:15).

The triadic pattern is again implicit throughout chapter 3 but especially in 3:6. In 5:31, in a variation on his theme, Paul refers to marriage and its mystery. If we assume that the wife (Eve) represents the heathen Gentiles, the husband (Adam) Israel who had the law, then we can understand how together in Christ they bear fruit for God (cf. Rom. 7:4).

First Corinthians

Turning next to the first letter to the Corinthians we find a number of examples of the triadic pattern that I originally noted in Romans 1-3. In the first chapter Paul distinguishes between Gentiles (or Greeks), Jews and Christians (1:22-24). Then in 7:19 he virtually repeats Galatians 5:6 and 6:15. In 9:19-23 the apostle covers the same ground with slightly different terminology by referring to those outside the law, those under it and those under the law of Christ (cf. Rom. 1-3). In 10:32 he again makes evident his concern for the race by means of a pointed allusion to Greeks, Jews and the church of God (cf. Gal. 6:16). Dealing with spiritual gifts in chapter 12 Paul portrays the unity of all men and women in Christ as baptised by the Spirit into one body regardless of racial background and social status (12:13). And in chapter 13:13, after referring to the process of perfection or maturation (vv.10-12), he highlights one of the best-known triads in Scripture, that is, faith, hope and love (cf. Gal. 5:6). Judging by Hebrews 11:1-22 even the heathen were capable of faith though, compared with the Jews who were, and remain, its prisoners (Zech. 9:12), they lacked hope (Eph. 2:12). Love, however, is at the heart of the Christian covenant as is frequently emphasised (e.g. John 3:16; 1 John 4:7ff., etc.).

Second Corinthians

Like Hebrews, which quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 in full (8:8-12), 2 Corinthians is primarily concerned with the difference between the transitory or provisional old covenant and the permanent new. Covenantal progression is highlighted by Paul’s reference to the fact that though the Mosaic covenant is in principle “set aside”, it is “still there” (cf. 3:14, NRSV) in those who have not yet embraced Christ. They remain under the law. Thus he highlights the contrast between condemnation and justification (3:9) and the old man and the new man (Eph. 4:22-24 and Col. 3:9f.). 2 Corinthians is nonetheless relevant to the matter under discussion in that it assumes the covenant with Noah. For example, Paul deals with man as such especially in chapters 4 and 5 where he refers specifically to the Creator (4:6) and then to the creature (4:7). He intimates that while the latter’s body of flesh is destined for destruction, he will, after judgement, be nonetheless clothed with immortality (4:16-5:10) in a redeemed spiritual body (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:44,46) like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21, etc.).

The Rest of Scripture

There are other indications of the triadic nature of covenantal thinking in Scripture. Israel, as we have seen, was born in heathendom (Jos. 24:2,14, cf. Dt. 32:10ff.; Ezek. 16:1ff.) and worshipped idols as a slave in his youth in Egypt (Ezek. 23:2,8,14, etc.). Even servanthood under the law in the Promised Land (cf. Lev. 25) was frequently like slavery, as Ezra’s prayer painfully reminds us (Neh. 9:36). And since the old covenant, like the flesh it was intended to regulate (Num. 15:39; Gal. 5:17), proved a lamentable failure (cf. Rom. 8:3; Gal. 3:21; Heb. 8:7), Jeremiah saw the need for a new one which would at last prove effective (31:31-34, cf. Ezek. 11:19; 16:59-63; 36:26f.). Later John would arrive at the same conclusion, for he too saw the failure of Gentile under Noah and Jew under Moses but the triumph of Christian under Christ (John 1:10-13). Again, in his first letter John alludes to the covenantal pattern evident even in Christians as such, for he distinguishes between children, young men and fathers (2:12-14). This suggests that the history of Christianity is “covenantal”, for it first experienced Hellenisation, next Judaisation especially in the Middle Ages, and finally we may hope in these post-Reformation times for full Christianisation (cf. Eph. 4:13-16). (The church urgently requires a capable historian of the Middle Ages with a thorough knowledge of the OT to demonstrate their remarkable similarity and correspondence.)

The Three Measures of Meal

It is worth drawing attention here to Jesus’ brief parable of the woman and her three measures of meal in Matthew 13:33 (cf. Gen. 18:6). He seems to imply that just as Abraham was intended to be a blessing to the world so the kingdom of heaven, as Green suggests (p.159), will have beneficial effects throughout the world. It is interesting to note that in Matthew 15 when Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who is outside the covenant people, he commends her for the faith which prompts her to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table (cf. Luke 7:9). If the measures of meal represent the three covenants, then the parable takes on profound relevance.

The Human Constitution

The question of whether man is dichotomous or trichotomous has been much debated in the history of the church and cannot be adequately addressed here. However, while Reformed theology in general seems to have opted for the former view, the fact that man is made in the image (“Let us make man in our image…”, Gen. 1:28) of the triune God suggests that the triad referred to in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 should be given its full weight. If man is seen as body, mind and spirit (cf. Rom. 7:23; 1 Cor.14:14; Heb. 4:12) and we accept that his general development is first physical, second mental and, third spiritual, it accords remarkably well with the covenant theology I am advocating (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46, cf. v.23. It is also worth considering that there are three kinds of life referred to in the Bible: bios, psyche and zoe. Edwards, p.110, claims that the latter is unique to God and that he wills to impart it to his people). When at the new birth the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit, which is the lamp of the Lord (Prov. 20:27), we then achieve our God-ordained status as the children of God (Rom. 8:16,21), the culmination of our Trinitarian blessing (2 Cor. 13:14, etc. (7*. The miniaturisation or recapitulation of the covenants with the race in the individual, Jesus specifically, Gal. 4:4, is vastly important in another area, that is, in the atonement. John writes that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world”, 1 John 2:2, ESV, cf. Heb. 9:15. Not without reason did Irenaeus write: “He came to save all by himself, all, I say, who through him are born again unto God – infants, and children and boys and youths and old men. He therefore passed through every age … thus sanctifying them for the Lord …”, quoted by B.B.Warfield, pp.160,226. This is a subject in itself and needs separate treatment elsewhere. I would, however, make two points: diminished responsibility is integral to the biblical covenant theology as outlined in this essay; and the idea that Christians and Christians alone are ultimately saved cannot be true not least since faith is transdispensational. Cf. Michaels who in comment on 1 Peter 4:6 stresses the perennial gospel, p.237.)

Hebrews

While the letter to the Hebrews has a good deal to say about covenant, it is mainly concerned, like 2 Corinthians 3, with the contrast between the temporary Mosaic (8:13) and the eternal Christian covenant (13:20). Chapter 12:18-24 highlights the two mountains, Sinai and Zion, and their differences. This reminds us of Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul makes the same contrast but sets it proleptically under the Noahic covenant before even the law was given. The difference between Hagar and Ishmael who personify the flesh (cf. 4:29) on the one hand and Sarah and Isaac who personify the spirit on the other highlights the difference between the flesh and the Spirit of Paul’s theology in Romans, for example. Again it is worth noting that faith was a significant feature of the Noahic covenant and a prime characteristic of Noah himself (Gen. 6:8f., cf. Heb. 11:7; 2 Pet. 2:5). As Hebrews 11 makes clear, the faith by which we are alone justified is exercised throughout the different covenant dispensations and links them together (cf. 11:39f.). On the other hand, no covenant is made with babies who like Adam before them are ignorant of (the) law and, knowing neither good nor evil, are incapable of either sinning or of exercising faith.

First John

I have already alluded to 1 John 2:12-14. Verses 15-17 are in a way somewhat oddly expressed but despite some commentators’ resistance to the idea, it is difficult not to infer that the flesh, including the lust of the eyes (cf. Gen. 3:6; Num. 15:39; Job 31:7), the world and the pride of life are reflections of the original temptation of Adam and Eve and so of Jesus himself. To adopt the alliterative terms of J.I.Packer, what is involved is pleasure, profit and position (God’s Words, p. 175). Ultimately, only position matters (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 6:15).

The Temptations of Jesus

The covenantal nature of the temptations of Jesus, which involved the flesh, the world and the devil (Mt. 4:1-11), seems to me to be beyond reasonable dispute. Since Jesus was mankind’s representative, the second Adam, to be relevant they had to be. They are a perennial feature of life in this present age reflecting our own struggles, as Paul was well aware (e.g. Eph. 2:1-3, cf. Tit. 3:3-7). It is comforting for us, who, like the first Adam have failed to master our temptations (cf. Gen. 4:7), to note that Jesus did so and was able to say that the devil found nothing in him (John 14:30). Thus, since with Christ the ruler of this world suffered total defeat (John 12:30f.), we who maintain our faith in him to the end are sure to triumph (Rom. 8:31ff.; Rev. 3:21).

Good Works

It is thus pertinent to ask at this point if the teaching of Jesus specifically indicates the threefold nature of covenant theology? There is reason to think that the parable of the sower as expounded in Mark 4 is relevant to the subject. With the first group the devil has his way (v.15). With the second (slaves, children?) and third (servants?) there is no fruit. The good soil would then appear to be representative of believers in Christ himself, that is, those who are born of the Spirit, who proceed to produce varying degrees of (spiritual) fruit. The latter, like the slave Onesimus, were once useless or unprofitable but became useful once they became Christians (Philemon 1.11). Jesus himself maintained that even the best of servants (under the law that was what he himself was) simply do what they are commanded (Luke 17:7-10, cf. the books of Moses and that of Joshua). And Paul leads us to believe only those who are adopted sons/daughters through faith in Jesus do good (i.e. useful, profitable) works (Eph. 2:10, cf. John 15:1-11).

The Temple

It would be remiss of me not to point out the covenantal character of the tabernacle/temple with its court of the women and children, court of Israel and court of priests where, to all intents and purposes, Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, came of age. If Jesus is our temple (John 2:19,21), then in him we enter the very presence of God himself (1 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 21:22), the supreme holy of holies.

The Trinity

It is a feature of Matthew’s gospel that it specifically teaches that our baptism is into the name of the Father (Creator) and of the Son (Word) and of the Holy Spirit (Executor, 28:19). This surely points to the fullness of the knowledge of God which in contrast with Gentiles and Jews only Christians can have (cf. John 17:3; 1 Cor. 13:11f.). While the heathen were baptised into Noah (1 Pet. 3:21) and the Jews into Moses (1 Cor. 10:2), Christians are baptised into Christ in whom all the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col. 2:9). The implication of Acts 8:14-17 and 19:1-6 is that the Samaritans and the Ephesians respectively experienced an element of theological deficiency. Mature Christianity in its fully triadic covenantal form is uniquely Trinitarian.

The Provisional Nature of the Old Covenant

In view of the teaching of dispensational theology in particular, it is of prime importance to stress that the Mosaic covenant of law, like the covenant with Noah (cf. Gen. 8:22; Ps. 102:25f.; Heb. 1:10-12), was intrinsically temporary, provisional (cf. Mt. 5:18, contrast 24:35), inadequate (Heb. 7:18f.) and obsolescent (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3). It is only the new and spiritual covenant that remains forever (Heb. 8:7; 10:9) like its author (7:3,16,24f.; 13:8) and his word (Isa. 40:8; Mt. 24:35; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). It is in fact an eternal covenant (13:20), which secures an eternal redemption (9:15, cf. 5:9) and promises an eternal inheritance (9:15; 10:34; 11:10,16; 13:14; Rom. 8:18,32; 2 Cor. 4:17f.). So, while it is true that Israel will remain an elect nation to the end of the world (Rom. 11:28f., cf. Mt. 5:18), to suggest that God has different and/or separate plans of salvation for Jew and Christian implies radical theological and particularly covenantal error. The purpose of the law, like the rest of Scripture (Luke 24:44), was to point to Christ (Gal. 3:19; Rom. 10:4), and once it has performed that function for the Jew who was intended to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6; 49:6,8, cf. Rom. 15:8f.), it is superseded by what is permanent (2 Cor. 3:11). In this way “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26; Gal. 6:15f.), who are by faith the true children of Abraham (Rom. 4:11ff.; Gal. 3:7,9), the true circumcision (Phil. 3:3, cf. Rom. 2:28f.), the true Israel (1 Pet. 2:9), will be saved, and God’s purpose to bring many sons to glory in Christ will be accomplished (Heb. 2:10-13; 11; John 6:37-57; Mt. 8:11f.).

Before concluding this essay it is worth mentioning that while various writers over the years have tried to divide history into three eras or dispensations (Joachim of Flora, Cocceius, Comte, Hegel, etc.), I am unaware of any division that is identical with the one I have proposed. For all that, mine has certainly been hinted at, not least in Reformed theology (cf. Heppe, p.394). In his Institutes, 2.11.13, Calvin wrote, “… if a householder instructs, rules and guides his children one way in infancy, another way in youth, and still another way in young manhood, we shall not on this account call him fickle and say he abandons his purpose. Why then do we brand God with the mark of inconstancy because he has with apt and fitting marks distinguished a diversity of times” (quoted by Ryrie, p.41). Perhaps even more appositely Francis Turretin commented, “The heavenly Father, who instructs his people as the head of a family (Deut. 8:5), taught the church, when it was still young and childish, by the spoken word, the most simple form of revelation. Then, as it began to mature and was established under the law in its early youth, he taught both by the spoken word, because of continuing childishness, and by writing, because of the beginnings of maturity, until the apostles’ time. But when the church had reached adulthood under the gospel, he wanted it to be satisfied with the most perfect form of revelation, that is, the written light” (quoted from “The Doctrine of Scripture”, edited and translated by J.W.Beardslee 111, p.28, by R.S.Ward, WCF, p.10).

The ramifications of the different covenant theologies are extremely important but cannot be worked out here. I am fully convinced, however, that the one I have offered above makes sense of and unifies biblical teaching, especially as it concerns man, in a way that others certainly do not. This being so leads necessarily to the comment that since faith operates in all three covenant dispensations which provide for diminished responsibility, the possibility of ultimate salvation not simply for children and adolescents but for men and women of every tribe, tongue, people and nation, sinners though they all are, is assured (Rev. 7:9, cf. Heb. 11). Though more needs to be said, the Augustinian idea that all the unbaptised and the heathen en masse are damned can safely be rejected (cf. WCF, 10.4; WLC, qu.60). See further additional note below.

Summary

On the assumption that there is a parallel or correspondence between Adam the race and Adam the individual, Jesus the second or last Adam summed up all mankind in himself (cf. Eph. 1:10). As B.B.Warfield long ago pointed out, his was the only truly normal human development the world has ever seen (pp. 158ff.). Though he was truly the virgin-born Son of God, his covenantal relationship with his Father was progressive. As a baby (flesh) who knew neither good nor evil (cf. Isa. 7:15f.) his life lacked a covenantal guarantee. However, in accordance with the divine purpose for mankind, when understanding dawned, he became first a slave (cf. Mt. 2:15), second, a servant who had to prove his (divine) pedigree under the law (cf. Luke 2:41ff.), and, third, having done so, he was openly acknowledged as the Son of God (Mt. 3:17) and empowered to save his people (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 15:45; Gal. 4:6f.).

All human beings who attain to knowledge in contrast with the animal creation (cf. Ps. 32:9) are the conscious beneficiaries of the covenant with Noah (Acts 14:17; 17:22-28; Rom. 1:20). All the circumcised receive both the Abrahamic and Davidic promises with the law of Moses to boot. And wherever the gospel of Christ is preached, believers who are the spiritual seed of Abraham also experience the benefits of all five divine covenants with man.

Jesus was the only complete or perfect(ed) man (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28), the one whose development or progress from creation (cf. Heb. 10:5) in the image of God (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) to his perfect likeness (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4,6; Heb. 1:3) was complete and unalloyed (cf. Mt. 3:15; 5:48; 19:21). So far as the rest of us are concerned, whether Jew or Gentile we achieve perfection in him (cf. Phil. 3:12-15; Heb. 3:1; 2:10; 5:9; 10:14; 11:39f.; 12:2, etc.). Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5,16). He is at once pre-eminent (Col. 1:18) and indispensable (1 Cor. 15:17). On him alone depends the salvation of the world.

This leads to a final comment: the triadic nature of biblical covenant theology, involving creation, word and Spirit, points unerringly to the revelation of the Trinity. It is often pointed out that the latter is a new covenant doctrine. It is therefore hardly surprising that through faith in Jesus we achieve the goal of our creation which is knowledge of God in Christ (John 17:3). In other words, far from reaching maturity in atheism as Freud contended, we achieve it through acceptance of the fullness of divine covenant revelation (Mt. 28:19).

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References

L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Edinburgh, 1959.

W.J.Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, Exeter, 1984.

J.R.Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2005.

P.Golding, Covenant Theology, Geanies House, 2004.

M.Green, The Message of Matthew, Leicester, 2000.

Donald Guthrie, Galatians, London, 1969.

H.Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, Grand Rapids, 1978.

J.R.Michaels, 1 Peter, Word, 1988.

J.A.Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993.

J.Murray, Collected Writings 2, Edinburgh, 1977, pp.49ff.

J.Murray, The Covenant of Grace, London, 1954.

J.Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, repr. London, 1961.

J.Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, London, 1967.

J.Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, Phillipsburg, 1979.

J.I.Packer, Collected Shorter Writings 1, Carlisle, 1998.

J.I.Packer, God’s Words, Leicester, 1981.

H.Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology, Grand Rapids. 1975.

V.Roberts, Life’s Big Questions, Leicester, 2004.

O.P.Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, Phillipsburg, 1980.

C.C.Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, Chicago, 1965.

G.Vos, Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids, 1948.

R.S.Ward, The Westminster Confession for the Church Today, Melbourne, 1992.

R.S.Ward, God and Adam, Melbourne, 2003.

B.B.Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings 1, ed. Meeter, Nutley, 1970.

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. W.A.Elwell, Grand Rapids, 1984.

Westmister Confession of Faith/ Westminster Larger Catechism.

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Additional Notes

1. Since writing the above I have read with great interest, profit and chagrin “Christian Zionism” by S. Sizer (Leicester, 2004), “The God of Covenant” ed. Grant and Wilson (Leicester, 2005), “Who Can Be Saved?” by T.L.Tiessen (Leicester, 2004) and “Always Reforming” ed. A.T.B.McGowan (Leicester,2006). See further note 4 below. While much could be said in comment on all four books, I find it somewhat ironic that Colin Chapman refers to dispensationalism as “fatally flawed” (The God of Covenant, p. 238) when I use the same expression (see above) with regard to Reformed theology. If ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black this is one. What is worse, I implied the same more than thirty years ago when I offered my “A Challenge to the Church” to various American and British publishers only to receive excuses and to be shunted uselessly from one to another. Considering the resurgence of world religions, of Islam in particular, and the parlous state of world politics one wonders what harm could have been avoided if publishers and other influential people had been prepared to give my work a hearing. When will evangelicals wake up the fact that Augustine, on account of his immense influence, has proved one of the greatest of all distorters of the Christian faith? Do modern traditionalists think they are immune from the judgement of God in our day? Who knows when the day of our visitation will be past?

2. According to Ian Hamilton writing in The Banner of Truth magazine for November 2005 with reference to “John Owen on the Christian Life” by S.B. Ferguson, Edinburgh 1987, John Owen argued for a covenant of redemption involving three conditions. First, Christ as the second Adam was to assume human nature and be made flesh. Second, he was to obey the law to perfection. And third, he was to atone for his people’s sins. In other words, Owen saw in the covenant of redemption what he and others failed to see in biblical covenant theology proper, that is, that nature, law and grace constitute its essence.

3. It seems to me that T.L.Tiessen’s attempt to adopt accessibilism on the basis of an ecclesiocentric Reformed theology is less than convincing. See his “Who Can Be Saved? Leicester, 2004.

4. Henri Blocher’s essay in “Always Reforming” (pp. 240-270) usefully stresses the proleptic nature of the covenant of grace so far as OT believers were concerned. Though heading in the right direction, Blocher fails in my view to attain to an adequate covenant theology of the Bible.