Some years before 2016, I wrote a couple of pieces on recapitulation (1* See my I Believe in Recapitulation and Recapitulation in Outline.) which I considered a neglected feature of biblical teaching. Though the idea was prevalent in the early church (Irenaeus in particular is associated with it) once the teaching of Augustine and his contemporaries became dominant in the fifth century it largely disappeared from theological discourse and has remained largely hidden from view ever since. Most modern dictionaries fail even to refer to it and it is scarcely ever mentioned in more general writings. For all that, there is good reason to believe that it is of fundamental importance. Here my intention is to try to pinpoint its radical nature from the very beginning.
Creation and Reproduction
In bringing the world into being from nothing God intended it to be inhabited (Gen. 1; Isa. 45:18, cf. Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2). In order to achieve this aim, instead of using a system of continuous creation or repeatedly starting from scratch our Creator introduced a system of reproduction or procreation. Once he had finished creation, he sowed the earth with seed-bearing plants and animals which reproduced according to kind (Gen. 1) and thus established a pattern or blue print which he subsequently followed. In other words, the pattern he used followed the lines of his own action at creation. Just as he as Creator fertilized the ground which served as mother earth (cf. Ps. 139:15f.), so, having created man (Adam) in his own image as a seed-bearer, he called on Adam to mimic him (cf. Isa. 29:16; 45:9f.) by fertilizing (dusty) Eve who became the mother of all living (Gen. 1:28; 3:20, cf. 9:1,7). In this way the whole world has been populated and all peoples of the earth have common first parents and are made in their image (Gen. 5:1-3, cf. Heb. 2:14).
Evolution and Recapitulation
But this system of reproduction or procreation necessarily involved evolution and recapitulation, for the offspring of each successive generation, though beginning at the beginning as seed before becoming babies knowing neither good nor evil (Rom. 9:11) and then undergoing further development, inherited the conditions formed by its parents or predecessors. At this point we do well to pause a moment and note that without recapitulation the evolution, development or maturation of man as a race would be impossible. Seed bearers reproduce their own kind who together eventually form the race. Thus it is that man is both individual and community, and the individual (cf. Jesus, the true vine or the man of heaven) epitomizes the race or is the race in miniature. Not without good reason does the OT stress human solidarity, for together we form one man as Paul strongly emphasizes (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15; 4:13f.). In other words, each generation (as implied by Psalm 51:5, for instance), though initially innocent itself (Dt. 1:39, etc.), entered a world whose history, culture, material conditions and general outlook inevitably made a powerful impact on its successor both for good and evil. Thus parental, social, cultural, moral and historical conditioning can potentially have both beneficial and disastrous consequences as Numbers 14:31-34 in particular indicate at the exodus (cf. Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f.; Num. 14:18). It should be noticed that this is seriously different from inheriting either their faith or their sin (2* See my Thoughts On ‘Adam, The Fall And Original Sin’.) Though undeniably inheriting the physical nature of its parents as flesh and blood (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50; Heb. 2:14), the child does not inherit its parents’ moral nature. However, since it eventually becomes a law-breaker in its own right, it clearly repeats it (pace Art. 9 of the C of E). Bluntly, as it develops it acquires its own moral nature in reaction to its knowledge of law (cf. Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19). Otherwise expressed, since the commandment is transgenerational, reaction to it can in principle differ. This is implied by the prophets like Moses (Ex. 32:33), Jeremiah (31:29f.) and Ezekiel (ch. 18), for example. Indeed, Moses makes it plain in Deuteronomy 24:16 that children cannot be put to death for any but their own sins. But the point is important for another reason: it focuses attention on the sheer impossibility of what is traditionally known as original sin which teaches that all Adam’s posterity sinned ‘in him’. This being so, Jesus like all babies was born personally innocent (Dt. 1:39, cf. 1 K. 3:7,9; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14), and the idea that he only avoided the entail of Adam’s sin by not being born of ‘carnal concupiscence’ is totally without biblical support. At the end of the day the virgin birth is irrelevant to the issue of sin which after all is based on law (Rom. 4:15, etc.) as the Genesis account of Adam’s transgression, not to mention that of Paul (Rom. 7:9f.), indicates. And since Jesus, in contrast with Adam and indeed all others (Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23), kept the law in its totality (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), he alone as man achieved (eternal) life in accordance with the promise (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) and eventually brought both immortality and incorruption (Gk.) to light (2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:53f.).
To return to the question of recapitulation, however, David with remarkable insight recognizes that as a physical descendant of Adam, through or rather ‘in him’ as flesh (cf. 1 Cor. 15:21f.) he recapitulated his experience: he was in effect formed in the ground as seed and as such was transferred to his mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13-16). Like all his fellows he was ‘born of woman’ (cf. Gen. 3:20). This was and remains mankind’s universal experience since the pattern established by God is unvarying. This is the picture painted in Genesis all over again, for having created Adam (man) in ‘mother’ earth God transferred him obviously as seed to the garden of Eden to gestate and mature (Gen. 2:8,15). The inference is then that the garden is the prototype or antitype of the female womb which is said to bear fruit (Dt. 28:4,11, etc.).
But the recapitulation of the pattern initially established by the Creator perhaps becomes clearer when we consider that Paul in the process of discussing the issue of authority and gender roles tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that while a man (Adam) is the image and glory of God, a woman is the glory of man. From this we infer that just as God initially fertilized mother earth, so now man like God himself fertilizes woman who in her turn becomes the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20). Briefly, in order to procreate a husband transfers the seed (sperm) formed in his loins to the garden or womb of his wife which eventually bears fruit.
Superficially there is a problem, however, for Adam does not leave the garden (womb) until he is physically adult. After gestating like an embryo in complete ignorance (cf. Rom. 9:11) in the garden of Eden, he is naturally like a baby still lacking conscious or rational intelligence (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22, cf. 1 Cor. 13:11; Heb. 5:13). But eventually as he develops he becomes capable of understanding only one negative commandment like an infant on the cusp of childhood. In fact, of course, mutatis mutandis or making the appropriate changes, on the racial level when he is ejected from Eden he resembles spiritually a new born baby about to begin its infancy. Thus having broken the commandment, he begins his infancy as a sinner like Israel whom he typified. (3* Adam, who received the commandment directly from God in contrast with Eve, clearly typifies Israel who received the law at Sinai. It is not a little interesting therefore to note with Isaiah that Israel like Adam also began its infancy sinful, Isa. 48:8. After all, it had already sinned during its heathen period in Egypt, Jos. 24:2; Ezek. 20:7f. So far as we are concerned, as those who are born of woman and ignorant of law and of good and evil, we do not, because we cannot, sin until our childhood, Gen. 8:21.) It is in this state of sinful spiritual infancy that he begins his somewhat forlorn attempt to exercise the dominion over the earth to which he was originally called (Gen. 1:26). In view of what we are taught in Genesis 3:17-19, he is like the sluggard depicted in Proverbs 24:30-34. (4* Kidner’s comment on Gen. 3:18 appropriately draws attention to Proverbs 24:31 and Isaiah 34:13. On the latter Motyer comments that the chaos and desolation reflect the situation that obtained before God’s imposed order on creation, Gen. 1:2; Is. 24:10; Jer. 4:23.) But since the earth by nature requires cultivation or the exercise of dominion in order to become productive, it is hardly surprising to learn that this proves to be a period of curse. There are two reasons for this: first, man is morally disoriented and, second, the untilled earth is in a state of corruption or ruin (Gen. 6:11-13). In fact the land, though inhabited by sinful Adam, Cain, Lamech and their ilk is not adequately tilled and so remains largely desolate. (5* Admittedly, Abel and Enoch are mentioned and, though they were sinners too like Noah who followed them, they were justified by faith, cf. Heb. 11:4-7.) It fails to produce as was intended and does not in fact flourish until God makes a covenant with the faithful and notably obedient Noah who having undergone some development is prototypically man in his heathen childhood (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:27). In contrast with the racial ‘infant’ Adam who is simply commanded, God makes a covenant with the ‘child’ but obedient Noah promising that he will never again curse the earth and its creatures but guarantee its general fruitfulness to the end of the age (Gen. 8:22). And Jesus himself confirms that this will indeed be the case (Luke 17:27f.). (6* See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?.) It is worth noting at this point that in Genesis 8:21 (cf. 6:5; Jer. 3:25) we are told specifically that man is evil from his youth not from his infancy, and certainly not from his conception, as tradition and the advocates of original sin would have us believe. The inference we must draw from this is that at the start mankind did not gain even infantile understanding until he was physically adult.
All this may seem speculative and theoretical so the question we must now pose is: Does it receive further support from Scripture? First, the idea that when a man (who is the image and glory of God) fertilizes a woman (who is the glory of man) recapitulates the action of his Maker who initially fertilized mother earth is borne out by Isaiah 62:4. For there we read of land that is ‘married’. This surely corresponds with the notion that when land is uninhabited (e.g. Isa. 6:11, etc.), ‘unmarried’ or neglected as at the exile or by the sluggard (Prov. 24:30-34, Mt. 25:14-30, cf. Gen. 4:12; 5:29), it becomes a desolation (cf. Isa. 5:5f.; 7:23-25, etc.). As such it is cursed or ruined. (7* This does not contradict what is said above about the land flourishing under the covenant with Noah. Minor or limited curses as opposed to a universal ‘cosmic’ curse are prevalent throughout Scripture after Genesis 9, see e.g. Lev. 26; Dt. 28; Heb. 2:2. Renewal on repentance is also a possibility throughout the old covenant dispensation as Ezek. 36:22-38, for example, indicate.)
Desolate Land, Desolate Women
But we can go further. The fact is that uninhabited land that is not tilled and is hence a desolation appears as the symbolic prototype of an unmarried woman who is childless and hence fruitless. Apart from Sarah and Hannah who though married happen to be barren, we can cite the case of Jephthah’s daughter who we are told bewailed her virginity (Jud. 11:37) – a far cry from the cult of virginity that has characterized Roman Catholicism. Again we might refer to Tamar who after her rape lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house (2 Sam. 13:20). The truth is that childlessness was as serious an issue in early Bible times as was desolate or fruitless land that was uninhabited, untilled and neglected. On the other hand fertile land under cultivation resembles a married woman who is regarded as a delight (Prov. 31:27f.; Isa. 62:4f.; Ezek. 24:16; Mal. 3:12. See also 1 K. 9:3; 2 Chr. 7:16).
The point is also made in the NT. For instance, we might focus attention on Paul’s reference to the Jerusalem above as our mother (Gal. 4:26) who fertilized by God himself uniquely brings about the new birth (John 1:12f.). But he goes on to infer from this that though a human mother may be desolate and fail to bear physical children, she may nonetheless be spiritually fruitful (Gal. 4:27 quoting Isa. 54:1). In this passage clearly Paul has in mind the contrast between the original physical fertility of Hagar (cf. Gen. 16:10) and the physical barrenness of Sarah who eventually gave miraculous birth to ‘spiritual’ Isaac, the child of promise. He, of course, foreshadowed new covenant new birth and the direct activity of God. As I have argued elsewhere (8* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.), Jesus makes it clear in John 3:7 that spiritual rebirth is as much a natural necessity (i.e. integral to God’s plan of salvation) apart from sin as Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:53 that corporeal transformation is also. (9* Note the Greek word ‘dei’ underlining necessity.)
There is yet another point to be made. The idea that God originally ‘married’ the land is supported by the incarnation. For, in fertilizing the Virgin Mary who was dust (cf. Ps. 103:14) to produce the fleshly or incarnate Jesus, God was again conforming to the pattern he had established at creation (cf. Gen. 1:2; Luke 1:35). So just as the first Adam stemmed from the ground or mother earth, so the second Adam stemmed from Mary who was flesh (dust, Gen. 3:19; Ps. 103:14) and a true daughter of Adam and Eve (cf. Luke 3:38). It might be usefully added at this point that even Jesus himself was classified with fleshly animals when he was born in a stable.
All this again points up the fact that in effect we all begin at the beginning, that is, in the earth, where our first parents began knowing neither good nor evil (Gen. 2:7) like the animal world in general (Gen. 1:24; 2:19). The traditional idea, which begins with perfection and ignores evolutionary development is based on a false inference drawn especially from Genesis 5:1-3 that we inherit Adam’s moral nature along with his physical nature, is clearly a massive error. If this had been the case, Jesus himself would have been born sinful. So it is not for nothing that are we told that we are dust (Ps. 78:39; 103:14, etc.) like Adam himself (1 Cor. 15:47-49). And it is only as those who are (biologically) ‘alive’ like Paul that we break the commandment, become sinners and are doomed to death (Rom. 7:9f.).
Evolution and Recapitulation
But desolation is not confined to unmarried women any more than it is to the temple (Mt. 23:38) and to the dead body (James 2:26). As the curse of the early chapters of Genesis indicates, men contribute to general fruitlessness through failure to exercise dominion by working acceptably. Thus we have the cases of sinful Cain and Lamech which illustrate early on the sluggard’s aversion to tilling the ground (Prov. 24:30-34). Jesus even produces a parable condemning a man with only one talent which he fails to use appropriately. He describes him as ‘wicked and slothful’ and ‘worthless’ (Mt. 25:26,30, ESV). (10* See my Supplement to ‘Cosmic Curse?’. On the purely physical level it is worth directing attention to Onan who wickedly spills his seed on the ground, Gen. 38:9f. Again with regret we can hardly fail to recognize the fact that the celibacy of the priesthood which has played such a nefarious role in the course of church history and continues to do so to this day in February, 2016, contravenes the teaching of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:3f. regarding the illegitimate taboo on marriage and failure to recognize the ‘goodness’ as opposed to the traditional ‘perfection’ of creation.) Then again we can call to mind men who are sterile like barren Sarah because they are eunuchs and as dry trees incapable of bearing fruit (Isa. 56:3-5). This of course brings to mind the Lord Jesus himself who never married and produced physical offspring, not because it was evilly carnal (something he clearly disavows, Mt. 19:5) but because he had a prior commitment to the kingdom of God (Mt. 19:12) which inevitably involved his early death. Of course, it is primarily failure to bear spiritual fruit that is the point at issue under the new covenant as John 15:1-6, Romans 7:4 and Hebrews 6:7f., for example, demonstrate. For all that, we can scarcely fail to note that in omitting to bear physical fruit Jesus was arguably contravening man’s basic call to be fruitful in Genesis 1:28 and again in 9:1,7. There is doubtless a solution to this problem. Jesus was the Word made flesh. As such he imitated his Father in the flesh (cf. John 5:19). However, his Father was the Creator not a procreator of fleshly offspring as the virginal conception implies (cf. Gen. 1:2; Luke 1:35; Heb. 10:5). God is solely or monergistically Father of those who are spiritually born again (John 1:12f.; Heb. 12:9). In light of this it must be assumed that Jesus’ function in this world was not the procreation and production of physical offspring (which role he had in principle performed as the Word of God who played his part in creation) but of spiritual ones as John 5:26, 17:2 and Hebrews 2:13 intimate.
The Basic Point
So what is my basic point? It is that man (Adam) is both individual and community and since he is made in the image of God and called to take on his total likeness, he is meant to follow or recapitulate the pattern that God himself established at creation. He is intended to be (pro)creative, productive and fruitful as God himself has been and, according to John 5:17, continues to be. Left to itself the earth (and the flesh its product) is largely inert, barren, sterile, intractable and futile like an unmarried or deserted woman, so it is essential that it should be inhabited, tilled and made productive in accordance with man’s original calling (Gen. 1:26-28, cf. Ps. 8:4-8). This is true on both the physical and spiritual levels. According to Paul creation and creature alike resemble a woman in travail (Rom. 8:22, cf. Mark 13:8) who will eventually give birth and thereby reveal the adopted sons of God (Rom. 8:19,23). (11* See further my Romans 8:18-25.) But once its harvest has ripened and been reaped and garnered, it ceases to be of value and, having been subjected to ultimate futility from the start (Ps. 102:26f.; Rom. 8:20; Heb. 1:11), it will be destroyed (cf. Mt. 3:12; 13:30; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12) like the flesh its product which typifies it (1 Cor. 15:50).
Jesus the Epitome of Recapitulation
Yet another point must be made and that is that Jesus himself is the essence of recapitulation. (12* See my Epitome – Jesus The Epitome Of Recapitulation.) His whole intention while in the flesh was to imitate (John 5:19; 10:30; John 14:9) and please his heavenly Father (John 8:29), to do his will (John 4:34; Heb. 10:7), bear fruit (John 15:1), fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) and to be perfected in his likeness (Mt. 19:21; Heb. 1:3; 7:28). In other words, Jesus as man lives the life that God himself would live. Otherwise and more relevantly expressed in this context, in his incarnate state he recapitulates on earth the life of God (cf. John 14:9) and, created in his image, he gradually attains to his complete likeness as the image of God (cf. John 13:31f.; Heb. 1:3; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). As a genuine man having personally evolved from ground to glory or from creation (Heb. 2:14; 10:5) to coronation (Heb. 2:9) he has paved the way for his brothers (John 3:13; Eph. 4:9f.; Heb. 2:9-13), who by following in his tread recapitulate his odyssey (Rev. 14:4). So at the end of his earthly career as man in the flesh, having been fully perfected (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) he is given all the authority of God himself (Mt. 28:18) and rightly takes his seat at the side of the divine majesty (Heb. 1:3; 8:1). And it is as regnant sovereign Lord that he is able to send the Spirit to empower his disciples to go and bear fruit and to bring the plan of salvation to final fruition.
The original plan of salvation (Eph. 1:4) involving the inherent evolutionary development and recapitulation of man both individual and community is ultimately fulfilled when Christ returns in his glory and that of his Father at the end of the age (Mt. 16:27, etc.). It is then that he will reap his harvest of the sons of God (Isa. 53:10f.; Mt. 3:12; 13:30; 24:31, cf. Rom. 8:19,23) and present his kingdom, or alternatively his bride (Eph. 5:27), to his Father (Col. 1:22,28, cf. Dan. 7:13f.), mission accomplished (cf. John 17:4f.). In this way is the marriage between God and his people first foreshadowed in the OT (e.g. Isa. 54:5; Jer. 31:32; Hosea) made manifest. And, having proved fruitful, it will finally be celebrated (Mt. 22:10; Rev. 7:9-17; 19:6-8). (13* It will be obvious from these references that I believe that the various metaphors ultimately point to the same thing: our covenant God will eventually dwell permanently with his people in his eternal rest, Ex. 25:8; 29:45; Lev. 26:11f.; Ezek. 37:27f.; John 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3; 22:3f.)
If what has been sketched above is anything like the truth the traditional Augustinian worldview which dominates the churches even today in 2016 involving original perfection, holiness, righteousness, immortality, sin, fall and cosmic curse is not only false but ludicrous. The plain truth is that modern science shorn of its naturalism is closer to what the Bible teaches than traditional ecclesiastical dogma.
See further my:
D.Kidner, Genesis, London, 1967.
J.A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993.
G.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Waco, 1987.