Not just either/or but both/and
The notion that things are not always monochromatic in character appears from time to time in the course of Scripture. 1 Kings 5:4 and Philippians 2:12f., for example, indicate that at least two factors are involved. However, since it is saturated with sin, Augustinian theology attributes everything that appears to come short of perfection solely to sin. For example, it depicts creation, including Adam and Eve, as originally perfect instead of ‘good’, that is, useful or fit for its intended purpose, and is forced to think in terms of what it calls “the Fall” and its consequent curse on the entire creation. (1* It is difficult to see how Adam who at the start like a baby, Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22, cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14, did not know the law (commandment) by which good and evil are established and judged could be originally righteous. Righteousness is gained by keeping the law, Dt. 6:25; 24:13; Rom. 2:13; 6:16; 1 John 3:7, just as unrighteousness or sinfulness is acquired by breaking it, Gen. 3:6; 1 Sam. 15:24f.; Rom. 6:16; James 2:9-11, etc.) And needless to say, the corollary of this is restoration which is a prime characteristic of the old covenant (cf. e.g. 2 K. 8:1; 2 Chr. 24:4; Jer. 29:14, etc.) and relates to this world. In this way we arrive at the creation, fall, restoration schema characteristic of Reformed theology (see e.g. the book under that title by A.S.Kulikovsky.)
Adam and Eve
This schema is manifestly false. One has only to consider the fact that morally speaking Adam and Eve far from being originally perfect, holy and righteous were in the event characterized on the moral level solely by their sin. Initially like infants they knew neither good not evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22; Dt. 1:39; Rom. 9:11), then like all children they broke the first commandment they received. (The Bible refers frequently to the fact that we sin in our youth, not while we are babies when we do not know the law, e.g. Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:25.) In this way they lost what was obviously their innocence (cf. Dt. 1:39; Eccl. 7:29; Isa. 53:6; 1 Pet. 2:25). In truth, they were challenged as those who were in the process of creation in the likeness of God to achieve righteousness by keeping the commandment that God had given them and thereby meet the condition of (eternal) life (Gen. 2:17). To pinpoint the issue, only the righteous can achieve the goal of eternal life in heaven as the frequent and pervasive repetition of Leviticus 18:5 and many similar verses (e.g. Ezek. 20:11,13,21) indicates. This is of the essence of biblical teleology. In plain words then I conclude that all who follow Augustine confuse the beginning with the end. (2* See further my articles on The Order of Salvation, Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology)
But if Adam and Eve were far from naturally perfect, the same is true of creation. While it may be freely acknowledged that creation as the finished product, including man, is described in Genesis 1:31 as “very good”, that is, like the completed tabernacle (Ex. 39:32-43; 1 K. 7:51), ideally suited to its purpose, it was far from being perfect as God who needs nothing (Ps. 50:10-12; Acts 17:25, cf. Job 41:11 ESV; Rom. 11:35) is perfect (cf. Lev. 11:44f.; 19:2; Mt. 5:48). In contrast with its Creator, creation which is “hand-made” (3* On this see my Manufactured Or Not So) needs to be constantly sustained by the sovereign providence of God (not to mention its dominion by man) apart from which it lapses into chaos and becomes subject to dissolution (Jer. 4:23ff.; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. Job 34:14f.; Ps. 104:29, etc.). If we deny this, we in effect deny the transcendence or holy otherness of God and put both him and his creation in the same category as the gods of the heathen who are continuous with, or immanent in, nature. (It is worth remembering at this point that when Egypt was ruined, Ex. 10:7, so were her gods, Ex. 12:12, cf. 18:11, and so in the end with all other false gods, cf. Dt. 33:27 NRSV, Isa. 45:20; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 4:8. By contrast, the one true God remains when creation ceases to exist, Ps. 102:25-27, etc.) The argument that creation was originally ‘perfect’ because it was made by God is in light of biblical teaching quite fallacious, as I shall endeavour to demonstrate below.
While we may freely concede that creation was good in the above-mentioned sense of the term, it was not merely good but as the product of time it was by divine design temporal (Gen. 1:1), even temporary (2 Cor. 4:18), and hence in strong contrast with its eternal and transcendent Creator. Creation has both a beginning and an end but God has neither (see, e.g., Ps. 102:27; 113:4-6; Isa. 43:10b; 57:15; 66:1f.; Heb. 7:3,6; Rev. 5:13.) Furthermore, as “manufactured” or “made by hand” (Ps. 102:25; Isa. 48:13, etc.), it was naturally subject to ageing and obsolescence (Ps. 90; Heb. 1:11) and hence inherently corruptible and destructible (Mt. 6:19-21; Luke 12:33; Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.).(4* On this see again my Manufactured Or Not So) Accordingly, the things that are made and seen (Rom. 1:20) are precisely the things that are ultimately destroyed so that the permanently unshakable may remain (Heb. 12:27, cf. 2 Cor. 4:18). At the end, when the plan of salvation is complete and all things have been subjected under his feet, God will be all in all as he was before creation began (1 Cor. 15:28). In this sense we may gladly acknowledge the idea of restoration (Acts 3:21).
The Law/Old Covenant
In view of the fact that the old covenant relates to the present world (cf. Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1), it is scarcely surprising to find that it too is considered “good” (2 Cor. 3:7, cf. Rom. 7:12). For all that, like creation itself (Heb. 1:10-12), it is nonetheless temporary, and provisional (2 Cor. 3), and since it is inherently obsolescent it eventually becomes totally obsolete (Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1; Heb. 8:13). This point is underlined by the fact that it was “written by hand” (cheirographon, Col. 2:14), visible and hence temporary (2 Cor. 4:18). (5* I am indebted to James Dunn for stress on the visibility of the law. See further my Faith and Invisibility – Seeing the Invisible)
As the product of creation the flesh is also “good”, and certainly not evil as in Greek dualism. It too was created by God and was the earthly tent not only of Adam but of Jesus himself (cf. John 1:14) “for a little while” (Heb. 2:7,9). It was also “made by hand” (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73; Isa. 45:11f.; 64:8, etc.) and hence naturally corruptible (Gal. 6:8, etc.) and destructible (Rom. 8:13, cf.vv. 18-25). As animated dust (Ps. 78:39; 103:14), apart from the spirit the flesh dies (Job 34:14f.; Ps. 104:29; Eccl. 3:20; 12:7; James 2:26). In contrast with the living God, it is intrinsically mortal (cf. Rom. 1:23).
According to Augustine the flesh was sinful (cf. the tendentious NIV which translates sarx as ‘sinful nature’ even where sin is obviously not involved as in Galatians 6:8 and Romans 8:13). He maintained that Jesus, though flesh, was not sinful because he was Virgin born and not the product of carnal concupiscence. Though the flesh is intimately associated with sin since it provides its primary bridgehead in temptation (cf. Rom. 8:3), it is not, as we have seen, evil as such (cf. Greek dualism). However, as part of creation it was meant to be under the dominion of man and hence his slave. As the case of Ishmael makes plain, a fleshly slave irrespective of sin cannot inherit along with the child of promise who is the child of the free woman (Gal. 4:30). Jesus had made his flesh his slave and gave it for his people in death (Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 3:18), but when risen from the dead never to die again (Rom. 6:9), even he, the Son of God, could not take it to heaven without change (John 8:35; 1 Cor. 15:50f.). After all, it was naturally corruptible. (6* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities)
It is a sad fact that most Christians seem to be totally unaware that in exercising dominion over the earth, they are thereby meant to be controlling their own earth-derived flesh which stems from it and is inherently temporary and subject to ageing even apart from sin (cf. Luke 3:23; John 8:57). As temporary, our visible flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18) is intended to be the slave of our invisible and generically incorruptible spirits (cf. James 3:3, etc.). (Our spirits are of course subject to moral corruption and vulnerable to the judgement of God, cf. Heb. 9:14.)
All Christians acknowledge Jesus Christ as both God and man. According to Hebrews 7:16 (cf. vv.3,24f.,28) he had an indestructible life, but not according to the flesh. As temporal flesh he suffered from the same natural defectiveness as all his fellows (cf. Phil. 2:6f.). (According to the OED the word ‘defect’ means lack of something essential or required. So the body (flesh) without the spirit is dead, James 2:26, cf. Job 34:14f.; Ps. 104:29; Eccl. 12:7). He also was born of woman (Gal. 4:4) or ‘manufactured’ in the womb of the Virgin Mary (cf. Heb. 10:5) and through her he was hence physically clay or dust like Adam whose son he was through his mother (Luke 3:38). Since he could not rise above his source, as flesh he was as mortal as his mother or he could not have died. Again, since he was raised from the dead fully restored (John 10:17f.), he must have remained flesh as he himself intimated (Luke 24:39, cf. John 20:17,26-29, etc.). As such, though he was no longer susceptible to death since he had kept the law which promised life (Rom. 6:9; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rev. 1:18), he was still corruptible and hence still lacking his Father’s incorruptible (Gk) heavenly perfection (Rom. 1:23). So, to avoid permanent bondage to corruption and gain the freedom of the glory of his sonship (Rom. 8:21), he had to be (re)transformed on his ascent to heaven (John 6:62; 1 Cor. 15:50f., cf. John 17:5,24). (7* On Romans 8:18-25 see my Romans 8:18-25) When we see this, we can appreciate that while Romans 6:9 points to his eventual immortality, Acts 13:34 underlines his incorruptibility. In other words, he had reassumed his Father’s generic nature (cf. John 17:5,24) but this time as man (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). (8* See further below on God, and note my No Return To Corruption)
This prompts the ancient question raised by Arius (cf. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Islam): was Christ God or was he a creature? With passages like John 1 in mind the church has held that he was the eternal Word and hence not a creature. For all that, there is a sense in which Arius was right. As flesh born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus was clearly created (Gal. 4:4; Heb. 10:5) like Adam before him (Luke 3:38). This raises yet another question: was Mary the mother of God (theotokos)? The question is apt to mislead, but taken at face value we are bound to say no. Created herself, she could only be the mother of her fleshly baby, of Jesus, the human being, not the Word. The perishable cannot produce the imperishable (John 3:6; 1 Cor. 15:50b)!
There is yet another vital point that should not be missed. The author of Hebrews refers to Jesus’ prayers in “the days of his flesh” (5:7). If we resist the impulse engendered by some commentators and reference Bibles to confine these days to the Garden of Gethsemane, we can then appreciate the fact that like Adam before him Jesus too was prone to death (Gen. 2:17) and constantly threatened by sin (Gen. 4:7, cf. 1 Pet. 5:8) whose wages were death. Consequently, if Jesus had failed to master the evil that lurked at his door (cf. Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15) he too would have died for his own sin and been disqualified from dying for ours. In the event, he succeeded in controlling his flesh with all its potential for evil (cf. Rom. 8:3) when confronted by the law (cf. Rom. 7:14), along with the world and the devil. In a word, he triumphed overcoming all temptation and trial (Heb. 4:15). By doing so he proved his pedigree as the true Son of God, the one and only Saviour of man (Acts 4:12, etc.). As such he was able to serve as our pioneer into heaven itself (Heb. 6:19f.; 9:24; 12:1f.).
Nature in its entirety is prone to corruption as is evident from Genesis 1 (cf. Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12). Grass is perhaps the primary symbol of death and corruption throughout the Bible (Isa. 40:6-8; James 1:10, etc.). All things animal (Ps. 49:12,20), vegetable (Gen. 2:9) and mineral (1 Pet. 1:7,18) eventually yield to corruption. Little wonder that Paul, not to mention Jesus (e.g. Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 16:9), Peter (1 Pet. 1:3f.) and John (1:2:15-17), teaches us to focus on things that are above and to put to death what is earthly (Col. 3:1-5).
Since they stem from a corruptible and futile creation (Rom. 8:18f.; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 1:10-12) all man-made objects show evidence of being naturally perishable and ultimately futile. Like everything else ‘hand-made’ (cheiropoietos) they are only temporary servants used for a temporary purpose (cf. Ps. 119:91; Col. 2:22). Thus in Luke 13 Jesus indicates that men die not only as a result of the sinful acts of others (v.1) but also because as sinners themselves they are prone to fall foul of what insurance companies call “acts of God” (v. 4, cf. 1 K.5:4; Eccl. 9:11f.). One of the greatest contrasts in the Bible is that between the man-made (or better “hand-made”) temple and the body of Christ (Mark 14:58; John 2:19-21). Even Samson was crushed by a man-made temple!
Since animals are not made in the image of God and cannot understand the law, they cannot break it and thereby become wage-earning sinners (cf. Rom. 4:15, etc.). Though they are fed by God himself (Ps. 104:27-29), since their food is perishable and not living bread (John 6:51), it can only sustain their physical life temporarily, as Psalms 104:21 and 106:20, for example, imply. It follows from this that when fleshly man refuses to eat bread from heaven (cf. Mt. 4:4; John 6:32f.), he ranks himself with the animals which are confined by nature to perishable food (Ps. 106:20; Eccl. 3:19-21; Ps. 49; 2 Pet. 2; Jude 10). Since they sow only to the flesh, they reap inevitable corruption (Gal. 6:8).
The Wages of Sin
The Bible teaches in unmistakable language that for man the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23, cf. 5:12). Tragically, however, Augustinians exalt this element of our creed to a universal principle and make sin the cause of all death. They fail to realize that (a) if death is wages it cannot be the result of imputation which excludes wages (Rom. 4:1-8, cf. 5:12); (b) since sin is defined as transgression of the law (cf. 1 Sam. 15:24; Rom. 4:15; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4, etc.) only those who break the law can earn wages (Rom. 4:15; 5:12, etc.), and (c) procreation, which countered the effects of death, was scheduled or on the cards before sin entered the world (Gen. 1:11, etc.). When we consider the animal world (including babies) that by nature does not know the law yet is still susceptible to death and corruption, we have no alternative but to conclude that death and corruption are also the result of an amoral natural condition purposely and deliberately ordained by God. He always had an invisible hope in mind for those who put their trust in him (cf. Romans 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12; 11:1, etc.).
Flesh and Spirit
In contrast with his Creator who is spirit (John 4:24) man as created in the image of God is, first, flesh and, second, spirit (1 Cor. 15:46). This contrast is emphasized by the difference between a man and an animal which is flesh but not spirit (Isa. 31:3). While as flesh man like the animals, as we have noted above, is fed by God (Gen. 2:9; Ps. 104:21,27f.), he nonetheless dies (John 6:49) and suffers corruption. On the level of the spirit, however, the situation is different. Man can feed on the word of God (Mt. 4:4), even on the Word himself (John 6:56), the living bread whose very words are spirit and life (John 6:63). How important it is then to recognize the need of those who are first born of the flesh to be born again of God (John 1:13) by his word (James 1:18, cf. John 1:12). Only in this way can they live forever (John 3:1-8).
It is here that Abraham’s dual role as father of both his physical and his spiritual children assumes importance (Rom. 4:11f.). John the Baptist’s somewhat scathingly derogatory remark in Matthew 3:9 (cf. John 6:63) brings out the pejorative nature of the flesh in comparison with the spirit. In John 8 Jesus himself distinguishes between those who rightly claim to have a physical relationship with Abraham but fail to exercise faith as he did (cf. Rom. 2:28f.).
While Joshua 23:14 and 1 Kings 2:2 tell us that death is the way of all the earth, Genesis 19:31 informs us that procreation, which counteracts death (cf. Gen. 1:11; Heb. 7:23), is also the way of all the earth. This stands in sharp contrast with the world or the age to come where according to Jesus himself there is neither death nor procreation (Luke 20:34-36). On this basis we are forced to infer that death and corruption are natural and not necessarily associated with sin. (Confusion arises when we fail to recognize that while Adam was created mortal, pace Augustine, he was promised life if he kept the law. He didn’t, therefore having sinned, he earned wages in death. If he had kept the law and achieved the righteousness which was its consequence, he would, like Jesus, have gained life, Lev. 18:5, etc., and escaped from the natural mortality characteristic of this evil age, Gal. 1:4.)
The Bible makes it clear beyond dispute that God is not only immortal but also incorruptible. Though these characteristics are closely related, it is vital for us to recognize that they not synonymous. So when we read in 1 Timothy 1:17, NIV, for example, that God is ‘immortal’ (cf. Rom. 1:23; 2:7) we need to be aware of the fact that the word is aphtharsia which means ‘incorruptible’. On the other hand, in 1 Timothy 6:16 we read correctly that God is immortal (athanasia). Regrettably this distinction is eroded by most translations with the result that Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 1:10 in the NIV, for example, is reduced to a tautology. (9* Sad to say Harris entitles one of his books “Raised Immortal”, yet the text on which he bases this is 1 Corinthians 15:52 which refers to incorruption – aphthartoi.) Since life and immortality are virtually synonymous it repeats itself. But in fact the word translated ‘immortality’ is aphtharsia not athanasia. The importance of this is fundamental for understanding Jesus’ incarnation, resurrection and ascension. For when he became incarnate Jesus also became subject to the death and corruption which characterize the flesh by nature. But when he rose physically from the dead, even though he was still flesh (Luke 24:39) he had conquered death and was no longer subject to it (cf. Rom. 6:9; Rev. 1:18). On the other hand, it is of paramount importance to recognize that, since he had been restored as flesh (cf. John 10:17f.) but had not experienced corruption (Acts 2:27,31; 13:35,37), he was obviously still corruptible. In this condition he was daily growing older and hence about to disappear (Heb. 8:13). So, in order to overcome his fleshly bondage and liability to corruption he had of necessity to be set free and escape (cf. Rom. 8:21). This was achieved by his ascension transformation (cf. John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:50f.). In this way, he gained complete generic as well as moral and spiritual conformity with his Father at whose right hand he sat. Alternatively expressed, he regained as man the glory he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24). As Paul intimates, having brought life and incorruption to light (2 Tim. 1:10) and inherited the sure or eternal blessings of David, he would no more return to corruption (Acts 13:34, cf. Heb. 7:26; 9:28), which would have been, metaphorically speaking, tantamount to returning to Egypt. This of course is the essence of Paul’s gospel.
So, to emphasize my point, when Jesus was glorified, he had as man gained both his Father’s immortality and his incorruptibility and was fitted to sit at his right hand (cf. Phil. 3:21; Heb. 1:3). If we accept Christ as Saviour, we can do the same (Rev. 3:21, cf. Heb. 2:10ff.).
Justification By Faith and Judgement By Works
There is no question that justification by faith is the heart of the gospel (Rom. 1:16f., etc.). Fortunately, since the Reformation this has received a great deal of emphasis in Protestantism, but, regrettably, it has not always been fully applied. The mere fact that many churches still implicitly deny it by baptizing babies which cannot by nature exercise faith provides ample evidence of this. This point having been made, however, it needs to be remembered that Luther himself not only loudly proclaimed that he had been baptized (baptizatus sum) as a baby also cast aspersions on the letter of James as an epistle of straw. Bluntly, he failed to give due emphasis to the importance of works not only in the Christian life but in the lives of non-Christians. The latter point is seldom if ever made, but it appears clearly enough in Scripture. Paul himself points out that the heathen man’s uncircumcision becomes circumcision when he keeps the law by nature (Rom. 2:26-29). The implication is that though the heathen may lack the written law and the informed faith based on the promises peculiar to the Jew, yet since faith is relative it is nonetheless on occasion demonstrated by works, and flowers when Christ is received (Eph. 2:12f.,17). After all, ultimately the promise embraces believers, their children and all those who are far off (Acts 2:39). And we must never forget that the ‘gospel’ was preached to Abraham the great exemplar of faith (Gal. 3:8f.) who was certainly among the “far off” (cf. John 8:56; Heb. 11:13). If this is so, the idea that all the heathen are indiscriminately damned is not supported by Scripture (contrast e.g. Qu. 60 of the Larger Catechism and sometimes the idea that extra ecclesiam non salus, that is, outside the church there is no salvation. Little wonder, for if it were true, it would imply the universal damnation also of children! Again, we must infer diminished responsibility even if the term is not actually used in the Bible (cf. e.g. Mt. 12:38-42; Luke 11:29-32). Recognition that Scripture teaches recapitulation (or what might be variously called trans-generationalism or genealogical continuity) would rid us of many problems regarding this subject. (10* See my Recapitulation in Outline, I Believe in Recapitulation. Christopher Wright refers to “trans-generational inclusiveness”, p.287, and J.A.Thompson to “genealogical continuity”, p.281.)
In describing his trials and tribulations in passages like 2 Corinthians 6:4f. and 11:23-29 Paul makes it plain that though sin is often involved, so too are outward circumstances associated with nature and this age. From time to time he uses general words like thlipsis and ananke which frequently relate to the end-times. Thus while the Bible makes it clear that at the end of history comes the judgement (cf. Heb. 9:27) more than one factor is involved. Jesus likens the end to Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28-30) where it is noticeable that along with the judgement of man (cf. Heb. 9:27) there is also the destruction of the land (Rom. 9:28, cf. Luke 13:1-5 referred to above and also the temple, Mt. 23:38). Two factors are also in evidence in Luke 21:9-36 and parallel passages: on the one hand, there is evidence of judgement on human wickedness and, on the other, signs of creation’s natural corruptibility and destructibility even if it is exacerbated by sin. It may be claimed, of course, that the two are interconnected and that the one leads to the other as is maintained by Augustinians who believe in a universal curse following the Fall. But there is some powerful evidence militating against this. For example, despite being inhabited by the wicked Canaanites, the Promised Land remained nonetheless an “exceedingly good” land (Num. 14:7), a type of heaven in fact, and one (compulsorily) to be desired by the Israelites as the promised gift of God. (Would God have deliberately given his chosen people a bad inheritance? Cf. Rom. 8:32.) Again, after the flood it is made clear that seedtime and harvest will continue while the earth remains (Gen. 8:22. See further my Cosmic Curse?) So though, at the end, creation like the material temple will be desolate or uninhabited on account of man’s malevolent rejection of Christ, it needs to be recognized that it (creation) was slated for destruction from the start in that it was “made by hand” (Ps. 102:25, cf. Mark 14:58) and was hence shakable and destructible irrespective of sin. (Pace modern translators of Romans 8:18-25 who make this passage mean the redemption of creation which is surely the polar opposite of what the apostle intended. See further my Romans 8:18-25. Note also Galatians 4:21-31 where the present Jerusalem, the home of bondage, is implicitly dispensed with. France’s comments on Matthew 23:38 are appropriate at this point.) The same is true of the human body of flesh which derives from the corruptible earth. It will be either destroyed on account of sin (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. Rom. 8:10; 1 Cor. 6:13) or changed, that is, replaced as in the case of Jesus and the end-time saints (1 Cor. 15:50f., cf. Heb. 1:12).
It is all too easy to assume that when Paul refers to this evil age in Galatians 1:4 he has only sin in mind. But has he? We have no sure way of knowing though we may note references like 1 Kings 5:4 where evil may be both natural (cf. Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6) and moral. (11* It is arguable, however, that Galatians in its entirety is an explanation of how we can escape from this present age. See further my Escape). In light of what he says in Romans 8:18-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, for example (12* Cf. my The Correspondence Between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10), where sin is not mentioned, Paul suggests that, like creation itself and the lowly (cf. Phil. 2:7f.; 2 Cor. 8:9) body or tent subject to destruction or change (i.e. replacement), which we presently inhabit, this age is inherently defective. (13* It is doubtless failure to appreciate the natural corruption of creation which led to Job’s perplexity, see e.g. 10:8f. He rightly maintained his integrity and could not accept that his sin provided an adequate explanation of all his troubles.) If this were not so, there would be no need for a second (cf. Heb. 8:7; 10:9b). In John’s gospel, not to mention the Pauline epistles where we must concede that sin is often in evidence, the flesh as such is constantly regarded in depreciatory fashion (cf. 3:6; 6:63). Thus this (present) age is set in strong contrast with the glorious age to come (Mt. 12:32; Luke 20:34-36; Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Eph. 1:20f.; 1 Tim. 6:17, etc.). Without going into more detail, I conclude that not only is sin characteristic of this age but so also is its inherent defectiveness or corruptibility (cf. 1 K. 5:4, KJV; Eccl. 9:11f.). And this is surely by divine design as Paul teaches in Romans 8:18-25 (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). If this is so, then escape is paramount and it can be achieved only through faith in Christ, our pioneer into heaven itself (cf. Heb. 2:10). (14* Commentators often refer to the frustration of creation as if it is the result of sin. But this is to miss the point that creation, including the flesh which stems from it is inherently corruptible, futile and unprofitable, cf. Ecclesiastes, John 1:13; 3:1-8; 6:63. It simply serves a temporary purpose and will eventually disappear having outlived its usefulness, cf. Heb. 1:11; 8:13. The whole of nature, not to mention modern scientific theory, testifies to this. See again my Romans 8:18-25)
Creation and Evolution
In the dispute between (atheistic) scientific theory and Christian insistence on creation by God there is a good deal of misunderstanding on both sides. While the former emphasizes evolution as if it in itself (inexplicably) possesses inherent creative power, Christians stress the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:1) out of nothing (cf. Rom. 4:17) but usually ignore its intrinsic developmental or evolutionary nature under the Spirit of God. (15* I reject the literal 24-hour days of Genesis 1 out of hand. It runs contrary to everything we know by science, by history, by experience and above all by theology. See further my Twenty-Four Hours? – Reasons why I believe the Genesis days are undefined periods of time, The Two Ages) On the one hand, time, chance and spontaneous generation are difficult to swallow regarded as sources of this world; on the other hand, “Christian”, especially fundamentalist, denial that man has an animal beginning (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46, etc.) is also surely beyond the pale. (16* See further my Creation and / or Evolution) The God who created the world also sustains it until it has served its purpose (cf. Gen. 8:22) and then brings it to its appointed end in destruction (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:10). Since man is a product, even a miniaturization of creation (dust) on the natural level, he inevitably follows the pattern of creation (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13; 15:50; 2 Cor. 5:1). However, since he is also created in the image of God, he is able to transcend his flesh on the spiritual level through faith in Christ who serves as his pioneer into the age to come (cf. Heb. 2:10; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:3f., etc.). Naturalistic physical evolution is, as is freely admitted by many, aimless, purposeless, meaningless and ultimately futile. But this is precisely as God intended it to be (Rom. 8:20, cf. Eccles.; 1 Cor. 15:12-19). Not for nothing did Paul talk of crucifying to himself the world (Gal. 6:14) and the flesh (Gal. 5:24, cf. Rom. 6:6) and Jesus of being in the world but not of it (John 17:14f., cf. 6:63). My assumption on the basis of the evidence is that man is the subject of both creation and evolution (perfection) on both the physical and spiritual levels. While the former is merely temporal (cf. animal life in general) and is subject to age (Heb. 1:11; Luke 3:23; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 8:13, etc.) and ultimate demise, the latter is permanent. When faith in Christ is exercised, a new (spiritual) creation is involved (John 3:3-7; 2 Cor. 5:17) by which man is fitted for heaven and the presence of God. (17* The distinction between creation and physical development in the old covenant and spiritual recreation and sanctification in the new covenant should be noted. Whereas in the former the end is universal death and destruction, cf. 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13, in the latter the end is eternal life, cf. Rom. 6:22. See further my Creation and / or Evolution).
I began this article by denying that sin is the sole cause of ‘evil’ in this present age (Gal. 1:4). The truth is that the contrast between this world and world to come stems primarily from the divine decree, plan and purpose. Even the Pharisees, if not the Sadducees, believed that this present ephemeral age was to be followed by the permanent (eternal) age to come (Luke 20:27-40, cf. Eph. 1:20f.; Heb. 1:6, 2:5; 6:5, etc.). While it is true beyond equivocation that sin exacerbates the situation in this present age, it also ensures that God alone will be our Saviour or Rescuer (Isa. 45:20-25; Phil. 2:9-11) as he always intended to be (Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; Gal. 2:16; 3:22, etc.). Unless we take both factors, that is, not only sin but also natural corruption, into consideration, understanding the Bible and the world in which we live becomes impossible. The Augustinian worldview which is dominated by sin is frankly absurd and represents a massive distortion of what the Bible actually teaches. (18* See further my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview)
J.D.G.Dunn in Covenant Theology Contemporary Approaches, ed. Cartledge and Mills, Carlisle, 2001.
R.T.France, The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, 2007.
A.S.Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration, Geanies House, Fearn, 2009.
J.A.Thompson, Deuteronomy, Leicester, 1974.
Christopher Wright, Deuteronomy, Massachusetts, 1996.