The word ‘Adam’ means both mankind the race (generic name) and an individual man (proper name). At the very beginning of the Bible mankind the race is in view (e.g. Gen. 1:26-28). A little later Adam the individual epitomizes the race in general. (1* This presumably explains the great age of the antediluvians including Adam himself who is said to have died at 930 years old, Gen. 5:5. The truth is that the individual and the race or tribe largely correspond. In other words, the Bible teaches that ontogeny, the individual, recapitulates phylogeny, the tribe. Thus individuals like Adam and Noah are prominent members, if not the eponymous heroes, of their tribe.)
Man is not created perfect, that is, complete or fully mature as our Augustinian tradition usually implies. Rather he begins as seed (cf. sperm, Jer. 2:21; Heb. 7:10; John 1:13) in the ground (Gen. 2:7; 3:19,23; Ps. 139:15) which God the Creator ‘marries’ (cf. Isa. 62:4). Though man is regarded as dust (cf. Ps. 78:39; 103:14; Isa. 31:3, etc.), he is actually dualistic since he is also made in the image of God (I Cor. 15:47-49). But it is as seed that Adam was transferred to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8,15), the womb of the race, to gestate (cf. Ps. 139:13) to physical maturity like an animal. As Paul says much later, the flesh (dust) precedes the spirit (1 Cor. 15:46), for the pattern was established at the beginning. In light of this, the conclusion we are compelled to draw is that Adam (mankind) lived in ignorance like an animal for an unknown length of time after his creation. It was only at the end of his gestation (evolution) in the Garden that he acquired knowledge and intelligent self-consciousness and was able to receive the commandment. The inference we should surely draw from this is not so much that his sin prompted his ‘birth’, that is, his expulsion from the Garden womb, but his acquisition of God-like knowledge (Gen. 3:22). As we are all well aware, this is what happens at our own birth. Or does it? Not quite. We must enter a caveat at this point and allow for certain differences or a mutatis mutandis.
It is of vital importance for us to recognize that Adam (the individual) did not exactly recapitulate the experience of Adam (mankind/the race) as belief that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny might lead us believe. (2* It is interesting that Paul presents Jesus, despite the stress on his being born of woman (Virgin Birth) elsewhere, Gal. 4:4, as descending into the lower parts of the earth like Adam in Ephesians 4:9.) For Adam (mankind/the race) is depicted in Genesis 3 as physically mature but spiritually infantile while we his descendants begin our course as infantile both physically and spiritually. In other words, Adam (the race) was initially an animal among animals (cf. Gen. 2:19; 3:19,23). And just as animals in general differ (cf. Gen. 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:39), so Adam as made in the image of God differed from the rest. Thus what happened at creation differed somewhat from what occurred at procreation. Whereas at creation God was universal Father (Acts 17:28) and the earth universal mother, at procreation, man as the primary image of God was father and woman, his glory, mother (Gen. 3:20; 1 Cor. 11:7-12, cf. Isa. 45:9f.). (3* To guard against false inferences the reader is warned to appreciate the fact that God is a Father in two senses: first, he is our physical Creator and, second, he is our spiritual Re-creator. At the beginning he provides for our physical birth, only later does he bring about our second or spiritual birth, John 1:12f.)
At the beginning then Adam as both race and individual was like a baby. He knew nothing and so was morally innocent. While the church has always recognized that man was not created sinful, it has nonetheless taught that he was originally righteous. But according to Paul without (the) law (commandment) he could be neither sinful nor righteous (Rom. 6:16, cf. 2 Pet. 2:19f.). Tragically the church has failed to appreciate that this is also true of babies today. Their ignorance guarantees their moral innocence and they are not the unwitting victims of original sin. As Paul, for example, asserts unequivocally, where there is no law (or understanding) there is neither sin nor righteousness (Rom. 4:15, cf. 6:16). And the apostle clearly implies that he himself followed the pattern established by Adam, for like Adam before him he was ‘alive’ until he received the commandment and then broke it (Rom. 7:9f.). (4* See my Law and Sin; No Law No Sin.)
Again, like an animal or an innocent baby that is blissfully ignorant, Adam in paradise fed on fruit (Gen. 2:16, cf. 3:6). He did not even know he was naked, but once he realised that he was, he and Eve sought to cover themselves with fig leaves (Gen. 3:7). Clearly Adam and Eve, like the babies they were on the spiritual if not the physical level, were in the process of developing increasing intelligence or self-consciousness. This fact becomes even plainer as the story progresses. Adam’s sin proved that he now had knowledge, for as Paul says where there is no law (i.e. knowledge and understanding) there is no sin (Rom. 4:15; 7:7f.). However, since sin attracts punishment, our first parents were expelled from the idyllic Garden and introduced to the naturally harsh, inhospitable world outside which is unaffected by sin.
Tradition, however, has misconceived the nature of the situation by assuming that an originally perfect world underwent a dramatic constitutional change as a consequence of Adam’s transgression. Even today in the 21st century creeds and confessions teach that our first parents lost their original righteousness, ‘fell’ from their initial perfection and, since they were the designated lords of creation, instigated a ‘fallen’ creation. The truth is, of course, that the world that confronted Adam and Eve was the same as the one created by God at the beginning: it was according to Paul subjected to futility by divine design (Rom. 8:20) irrespective of sin. As Genesis 1:28 indicates, the plan was that it should be subdued by man made in the image of God. Thus Adam’s task was to till the ground out of which he came (Gen. 2:15, etc.), to eat its fruit in general (Gen. 1:29) while avoiding things that were prohibited (cf. Gen. 2:9,16f.). In exercising his dominion he had to master the sin that crouched at his door (Gen. 4:7). In other words as later teaching makes plain, he had to tame or subdue his environment on the one hand (cf. James 3:7-12) and to be obedient by keeping the commandment on the other (cf. Rom. 2:6-10). In light of this it is by no means surprising that at a much later date Paul has to deal with both affliction stemming from nature and persecution arising from opposition to his faith in Christ (see e.g. Acts 27; 2 Cor. 4:8f.; 6:4-10; 11:21-28; 12:7-10, compare Mt. 13:21).
With regard to Adam and Eve, however, Genesis 3:15-19 indicates, first, that rational man is engaged willy-nilly in a battle between good and evil but that despite the reality of the struggle ultimate victory lies with good. (5* In Christian terms, this means that despite being seriously wounded, Christ will ultimately defeat the devil.)
Genesis 3:16 is important because it teaches first that like Adam who as noted above epitomized mankind, Eve also is a corporate figure encapsulating women in general. We know this because her pain in childbirth is said to increase. Regarded as an individual there is no indication that she has ever given birth and so has never known the pain involved. So if her pain increased, she must have gained some element or premonition of it in her earlier animal existence during which she knew neither good nor evil. But the point is that her increase in pain was not the result of sin but of the knowledge that inevitably accompanies sin. (6* As babies, even though we feel pain and cry as a consequence, we do not know it. Consciousness of it increases as we gain knowledge.)
So far as Adam himself is concerned, Genesis 3:17 indicates that his ability to sin has brought him knowledge also, and, instead of enjoying the blissful ignorance of life in paradise, he now has to grapple in full consciousness with a futile creation. The world he has now consciously entered, is intractable and difficult to cultivate. It has to be worked or tilled as it has even today. Today, however, after years of labour-intensive living by our more immediate ancestors, we have tractors and the like to ease the burden and lighten the toil. For the third world, as we call it, life is still largely slave- or at best serf-like (cf. Gal. 4:1f.).
Far from implying that Adam’s sin caused the growth of thorns and thistles as part of the curse, Genesis 3:18 simply tells us that as a natural part of our futile environment, they had to be dealt with like all weeds. (7* Cf. 2 Samuel 23:6f., the degenerate Canaanites who had to be uprooted from the Promised Land and the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13.) During Adam’s early life in the Garden, weeds were doubtless thriving in the uninhabited, untilled world but he like animals and babies even today was ignorant of them. Once he had gained rational self-consciousness, however, they became a problem which had to be overcome and that with difficulty (cf. Gen. 1:28). Unless he tilled the ground, it proved weed-ridden and barren like the field of the sluggard (Prov. 24:30-34, cf. Luke 13:6-9). (8* Alternatively expressed, it became a desolation. This word is familiar especially in the OT and is used not only of uninhabited hence unproductive land but of women who fail for one reason or another to bear children, e.g. Tamar, 2 Sam. 13:20, cf. Jephthah’s daughter who bewailed her virginity, Jud. 11:37-40.) Life for early man, even most modern men prior to the industrial revolution was labour intensive and constituted a challenge of no small proportion. Only aristocrats who kept slaves were to some extent shielded from the toil and trouble, trial and tribulation experienced by the majority (cf. Job 5:6f.; 7:1; 14:1; Acts 14:22).
Finally, Genesis 3:19 is a warning even to us in the 21st century that after a life of labour enforced by our need of food (cf. Prov. 16:26; Eccl. 6:7; 2 Thes. 3:10), we all have an appointment with death (cf. Job 14:1f.; Heb. 9:27). Thus though there was death in paradise, Adam and Eve as ignorant animals (cf. babies) knew nothing of it. After all, as Paul says, it had no sting (1 Cor. 15:56); it was entirely natural as with all the beasts and plants of the earth (cf. Num. 16:29; Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-21).
At this point questions regarding the curse are prompted. If creation’s futility is natural, where does the curse, which is undeniably taught in Genesis (e.g. 3:17), fit in? First, we must understand it was not ‘cosmic’ as tradition teaches. While it is true that so far as man himself is concerned all sin results in a curse (cf. Gal. 3:10-13; Heb. 2:2), if we accept the futility and corruptibility of the earth as being natural (see e.g. Ps. 102:25f.), it becomes easier to recognize the fact that the curse on the ground rose from man’s failure to exercise his dominion. Adam was required from the start to till the ground he inhabited but like the sluggard in Proverbs 24:30-34 he failed. The result was a virtual return to chaos (cf. Isa. 24:4-6; Jer. 4:22-27). The picture remains the same to this day. (9* I have nowhere seen the situation better described than by John Stott who wrote: “‘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. Since his outlook was strongly Augustinian, Stott failed to apply his obviously true statement to Genesis 3. Believing that Adam’s sin against the commandment/law brought about a permanent cosmic curse and a ‘fallen’ creation, he assumed its eventual redemption. But if the human body of flesh reflects creation in miniature and is destroyed, 1 Cor. 15:50, so is the ground from which it stems. See further my John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus.)
But if the earth is permanently cursed, why didn’t we experience it early in our own lives? The answer may be that in our infancy we were ignorant of it as well as of everything else. In our conscious childhood, however, we may opine that we had hard-working parents to exercise dominion for us. The truth is, of course, that there was never any cosmic curse resulting from Adam’s sin against the commandment. As we have seen, creation was made corruptible and futile from the beginning. Nonetheless, what is undeniable is that we are blessed or cursed by the legacy left to us by our parents as Exodus 20:5f., and 34:6f., for example, tell us. But this falls well short of the transmission or imputation to us of Adam’s sin and curse as even Romans 5:12-21 properly interpreted indicates (cf. Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18:2f.).
So it is necessary to conclude on the basis of biblical, historical and experiential evidence that while animals can cope with and be satisfied with a futile creation which is their natural habitat, rational man cannot except as he exercises his dominion over it and seeks heavenly glory (Ps. 8; Heb. 2:8f.; Rom. 2:7-10). Man made in the image of God has eternity put into his mind (Eccl. 3:11) and he cannot be fulfilled without it. That is his goal and raison d’etre. For him eternal life is his Creator’s promise (Gen. 2:16f.; Lev. 18:5; 1 John 2:25).
We have already noted that Adam and Eve used fig leaves when they realized that they were naked. When God ousted them from the Garden womb, however, he himself like the good parent he was provided them with clothing of skins with the obvious intention of protecting them against the rigours of the world outside. This of course is paralleled by the second Adam’s being wrapped in swaddling clothes and our own clothing when we were babies.
Perhaps the next thing to note is that even when he had gained intelligence of sorts, no covenant was made with Adam in contrast with Noah at a later date. We may well ask why. The answer would appear to be that he was mentally too immature. After all, a divine covenant, though established unilaterally nonetheless operates bilaterally, even if minimally as in Noah’s case. Mutuality is involved and Adam as just ejected from the Garden womb was incapable of playing a significant role. He responded only to commands somewhat like a dog and that in the event negatively. He may have been physically adult but as we have seen he was not so spiritually. Even doting mothers do not make covenants with or reason with their infants! They simply impose their will on them. (10* See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?).
The lack of a covenant surely scuttles the traditional idea that Adam was our covenant representative. Otherwise expressed, the Protestant notion of Adam’s imputed sin is theologically untenable. Adam was representative or archetypal man according to the flesh, as Paul was so well aware (1 Cor. 15:47-49), but never our covenant head. And the idea that the inanimate and inarticulate creation itself was originally covenanted, cursed and headed for redemption is the unfortunate product of erroneous traditional thinking. As Genesis 1:1 indicates, creation had a beginning and so was innately temporal like the flesh its product. It was divinely doomed to futility, corruption and eventual destruction from the start.
This brings us to the covenant with Noah which certainly did involve creation. If it had not, then our salvation, not to mention our history and life experience, would have been forfeit. This is made clear at a later date when creation is preserved and prolonged to accommodate and guarantee the fulfilment of the promises made to David (see Jer. 31:35-37 and 33:19-26). According to the Bible, creation exists not for its own sake but to complete the divine plan of salvation for man. Once that purpose has been achieved and harvest reaped, it will be destroyed (Mt. 3:8-10; 13:30; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3, etc.). The curse of the flood was not a full end (cf. Jer. 4:23-28) because in his grace God made a covenant with Noah which is still in operation (e.g. Acts 14:17; 17:25). By contrast, that of fire at the end of the age will be final (Zeph. 1:18; Luke 17:26-37, cf. Heb. 6:7f.).
Though Genesis 3:15 is often debated, it seems right to regard it as the protevangelium, the first presentation of the gospel which points to the final outcome, to the triumph of the second or spiritual Adam (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-57). This is true too of Romans 5:12-21. Though the first Adam’s impact on his posterity proved negative, even destructive, it did not involve either the imputation or the transmission of his sin. As Moses taught, we all die for our own sin (Ex. 32:33, cf. Ezek. 18:2f.; Jer. 31:29f.; Rom. 6:23). If this is not the case, even Jesus as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) would have been guilty. In fact, he remained innocent, kept the law (John 8:46; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), obtained righteousness and hence new life. This qualified and fitted him to give his flesh (i.e. his first Adamic life) like a spotless lamb in atonement for the sins of those who put their trust in him (1 Pet. 1:18f., cf. Col. 1:22). The tree of man will be saved; only fruitless branches will be lopped off (John 15:6, cf. Mt. 13:40-42).
On the curse, see my articles:
J.R.W.Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, London, 1999.