Following Irenaeus, the father of theology, I have argued for many years that recapitulation is essential for understanding the Bible, man in particular. (1* See my I Believe in Recapitulation; Recapitulation in Outline) I contend that Jesus could not have served as our Saviour if he had not been a man himself. Otherwise expressed, the Word’s incarnation was a necessity if the teaching of Genesis 2:16f. was to be fulfilled. Having begun at the beginning in the dust, to gain eternal life man had to fulfil the law (Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.) and only Jesus, the man, succeeded in doing this in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.). And he serves as our covenant representative (cf. 1 John 2:2).
If it is true that the individual recapitulates the experience of the human race in miniature or, expressed alternatively, if the mature or perfected individual is the race in microcosm, the race must appear as follows:
Since we begin in the loins of our father (Heb. 7:10) who is the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7, cf. Eccl. 11:5) Adam must have been created by his Father God (Luke 3:38) in (mother) earth as seed (Gen. 2:7; Job 10:8f.; Ps. 139:15; Gen. 1:28, cf. 9:1,7; Jer. 2:21). Correspondingly, Jesus as the second Adam and God incarnate was sown by God his Father in the Virgin Mary’s womb which typified the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:20 and note also Gen. 1:2 and Luke 1:35; Mt. 1:18,20).
If the individual is transferred as seed to his/her mother’s womb to gestate (Ps. 139:13-16, cf. Luke 1:31), the same must be true of Adam who was transferred by God to be conceived in the Garden of Eden, the womb of the race (Gen. 2:8,15).
After conception, Adam (mankind) gestated unconsciously for an unknown length of time in the Garden of Eden, indeed until he was physically mature in contrast to the foetus of the modern individual which gestates microcosmically, so to speak, in its mother’s womb for a mere nine months. On the other hand, in his animal state Adam remained mentally undeveloped until eventually like a baby he learnt only one commandment (Gen. 2:16f.) which he broke and became a sinner (Eccl. 7:29; Ezek. 28:13-15; Rom. 7:9). In other words, mutatis mutandis the experience of the individual mirrors the history of the development of the race. In light of this it can be said that Jesus who did not sin but epitomized the race was eventually qualified to atone for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2, cf. John 3:16; Heb. 11).
While a modern baby is born both physically and mentally undeveloped (cf. Rom. 9:11), Adam was ‘born’, that is, ejected from the Garden of Eden, physically fully mature but a sinner like the Jewish nation at a later stage of its development or evolution before it was separated from the rest of the nations under the law of Moses (Isa. 48:8).
Infants such as we were enter this world ignorant of law (Rom. 4:15, etc.) and therefore innocent (Dt. 1:39, cf. 1 K. 3:7,9; Heb. 5:13, cf. Rom. 9:11, etc.) and completely dependent on our human parents, but Adam being first had none. This can only mean that he failed to exercise the dominion over the earth which was basic to his calling (Gen. 1:26-28). As a consequence of this the land was unproductive (Gen. 3:17-19, cf. 2:5; 4:12; 5:29) or cursed like that of the sluggard in Proverbs (24:30-34, cf. 6:9-11;10:4;19:15; 20:4,13; 23:21; Is. 1:19). From this we are forced to infer that the immediate posterity of Adam, the antediluvians, though physically mature were like all infants ruled by the flesh (cf. Gen. 6:12,17). Unsurprisingly, so long as man remained in a state of transition from animal to human, the earth was filled with animal-like violence (Gen. 4:8; 6:5-7,11-13) which concluded with the curse of the flood.
The prospect of the flood indicated that all that breathed would be destroyed (Gen. 6:7). If this had occurred, the plan of salvation would have been aborted. But, intent on fulfilling his purpose of grace to man, God showed favour to Noah and undertook his preservation and that of his family. Thus whereas no covenant was made with Adam and his descendants in their infant immaturity (Gen. 1:28-31), God made one with Noah (Gen. 6:18; 8:20-9:1-17) who, since he was able to recognize and appreciate the significance of rainbows and name the animals (Gen. 2:19), was clearly the first racial child. This guaranteed the fruitful future of the world to its end (Gen. 8:22; Dt. 11:21; Luke 17:26f.). Needless to say, we are all its beneficiaries in the twenty-first century. Even unbelievers reap its benefits (cf. Dt. 4:19; Acts 14:17; 17:25) and the sun shines and the rain falls on good and evil alike (Mt. 5:45, cf. Dt. 4:19).
It is not surprising that we individuals are as children the recipients of our fathers’ promises which take on various guises not least in education (see next paragraph). When God made promises to his child Abraham who as heathen noticeably served false gods in Ur (Josh. 24:2), he was obviously treating him as the future father of many nations to whom he was to be a blessing (Gen. 12:1-3,7). Later on of course the promises made to David undergird the Messianic hope that is finally fulfilled in Jesus himself who was the son of both Abraham and David (Mt. 1:1; Luke 1:32, etc.).
Just as a modern father is concerned about the education of his child, so it was with the human race God brought into being. First, Abraham’s kindergarten experience eventually led to his own children’s spending long years in heathen, specifically Egyptian, slavery. (2* The later exile was of course punishment, Hos. 8:13; 9:3; 11:5, though even it was not without its educational benefits.) This in effect served as a primary school not only for Moses (Acts 7:22) but even for Jesus himself who as a child followed in his ancestors’ footsteps (Mt. 2:15). Once this primary education was completed, the next step was the instruction of boys at age 13 under the law of Moses. Again it should be noted that Jesus in his turn recapitulated his ancestors’ experience (cf. Ex. 13:8; Luke 2:39f.,52). Thus he was prepared under the law for laying the foundation of the kingdom of God and the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
As we have already noted above, Scripture tells us that the precondition of eternal life (regeneration) which is the goal of man is keeping the law (Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.), and since the aim of the race and individual alike is perfection (Lev. 19:2; Mt. 5:48; 19: 21; Heb. 6:1; James 1:2-4, etc.), that precondition had to be met by man. However, the OT makes it clear beyond dispute that no one from the time of Adam himself had succeeded in meeting it (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20, cf. Rom. 3:9-18, etc.). Just as all sinned, so all died (Rom. 5:12, cf. 3:23). As a consequence new birth remained an unfulfilled promise throughout old covenant times (Dt. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26f.). Jesus, however, kept the law thereby earning the approbation of his Father and his permanent gift of the Spirit (Mt. 3:13-17; John 1:32f.; 3:34; 6:27). In other words, having completed his stint under the law at his baptism, he now proceeded to forge the regenerate life under the leading of the Spirit before inaugurating a new covenant by his death (Heb. 9:15; 13:20, etc.). Now if this was true of Jesus, the individual, it is also intended to be true of us, his disciples, who constitute the race, for we follow in his footsteps or recapitulate his experience (cf. Rom. 6:3-11). As Paul implies in Galatians 4:1-7, we are born of woman, nurtured under the covenant with Noah, educated according to law, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and regenerated by the Spirit. Thus we are first (human) animals, slaves as children under Noah, (if we are Jews) servants under the law and finally sons of God who have the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9).
At this point, however, the reader may well have recognized a significant difference, for whereas earlier I have suggested that the individual descendant of Adam recapitulated the experience not only of Adam himself but of his descendants, modern Christians as a third race (cf. 1 Cor. 10:32; Gal. 3:28) recapitulate the career of the individual, that is, Jesus himself, our pioneer (Heb. 2:10; 12:2 NRSV). This is true not only morally (1 Cor. 11:1, etc.) but also generically (1 Cor. 15:45-49; 2 Cor. 3:18), for we are gradually conformed to his complete image (Rom. 8:29f.). Thus we finally reign with Christ, who is our brother (Heb. 2:11-13), in eternity (2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 3:21).
So, like the incarnate Jesus himself we are successively (animal) flesh (note Jesus was born in a stable), heathen slaves as children (Mt. 2:15), servants (adolescents under law, cf. Luke 2:40-52) and finally sons as we are led by the Spirit (Mt. 3:17; Rom. 8:9-17).
If what has been sketched above is true, man the mature individual epitomizes the race in its eventual maturity (cf. Eph. 4:13-16; Col. 2:19). Jesus himself is of course the supreme example. The experience of both is covenantal, for all who reach maturity pass through slavery, servanthood and sonship before attaining to perfection and receiving the inheritance (cf. Gal. 4:1-7) or reward (Heb. 11:26) along with Christ himself (Rom. 8:14-17). In view of this we should be less than surprised that Scripture sees the race as constituting one man (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15; 4:13) or alternatively as the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2,9, cf. Eph. 5:22-33). Of course, as Hebrews 11 in particular implies, diminished responsibility is part of the essence of the church, for it is made up of ‘saints’ gathered from all history (cf. Heb. 11:39f.) and from the four corners of the earth (Mt. 24:31; Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 7:9). The fact is that though the vine was originally planted as pure seed (Jer. 2:21, cf. Ps. 80:8) but went wild, it will nonetheless in essence be saved though many branches may be pruned and cast into the fire (John 15:1-6).
See further my
Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?
Christianity Simply and Briefly Explained