What is man? Who is he? Why does he exist? Where did he come from and where is he going? The best explanation is to be found in the Bible.
So what is the biblical view? The Psalmist having looked at prominent features of creation which he assumes to be the work of God asks what man is that his Creator should be mindful of him (8:1-4). He concludes, presumably on the basis of the teaching in Genesis, that mankind has been made in the divine image with a view to exercising delegated sovereignty over the rest of creation and is by so doing promised earthly glory. In the NT this is re-interpreted as heavenly glory (Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:6-10).
In Genesis 1 man is certainly presented as being created in the image of God and called to rule over the rest of creation (1:26,28). However, it is implied that any glory associated with his rule is dependent on its being effective and successful. Thus in chapter 2:16f. it is made clear that conformity with the will of the Creator himself is of paramount importance. For man in his infancy only one rule or commandment is sufficient to test him, to see what lay in his heart (cf. Dt .8:2,16; 13:3, etc.)
The Bible, however, is a big book. Many people never read it and of those who do most read only bits and pieces of it. Then again, historically the Bible has been hi-jacked by Churches and their theologians who have seized on their limited understanding of it and cemented it in their tradition. Historically, the church in the West has been and still is dominated by the worldview of Augustine of Hippo whose influence has been pervasive. Of course, there are many aspects of his outlook which accord with the Bible, for example his belief that we are saved by grace and not by works. But it would appear that since the majority of church members accept the ready-made tradition of the Church, their perspective is governed by it even when they read the Bible. Thus even today in 2009 evangelicals, that is, those who contend for the full authority and inspiration of Scripture, accept without question such notions as original righteousness, original sin, the Fall of Adam and the universal curse on creation that purports to be the consequence of his sin. Consequently, the baptism of infants, which according to Augustine involves their salvation or regeneration, absolves them from their inherited sin. Furthermore, it is against this background, that it is widely held today that Christ redeemed not only human beings, who regain the perfection they lost “in Adam”, but even “fallen” creation itself. This, however, is hardly the biblical picture. So, let us see what is.
The early part of Scripture depicts mankind first in his infancy when like a baby he does not know the law (or commandment) and hence lacks all knowledge of good and evil (see Gen. 2:16f.; 3:5,22; Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.). The truth of this is made clear especially by the apostle Paul who teaches that where there is no law there is neither sin nor righteousness. In other words, as he indicates we become sinful (evil) by breaking the law and righteous (good) by keeping it (Rom. 2:13; 6:16, cf. Dt. 6:25). So, if, like Paul himself, we are born “alive” (Rom. 7:9) but totally ignorant of law, it is impossible for us to be either (morally) good or evil (Rom. 7:7). We are simply innocent. It is only when the commandment dawns on our developing consciousness and we respond to it (negatively in the event) that we, like Adam, earn death as wages (Rom. 6:23). So the idea that we somehow inherit the sin of Adam, are born sinful and are paid the death penalty accordingly is completely alien to biblical thinking and must be dismissed as the false interpretation of Augustine of Hippo foisted on an unsuspecting church. To put the issue differently, the idea that infant baptism is the antidote of original sin reflects massive misunderstanding. The truth is that as the creatures of God created in his potential image we are born innocent and make our first progress in faith like Noah in the ancient world (note 1 Pet. 3:21, cf. Heb. 11:7). As Irenaeus taught long ago, as individuals we recapitulate the history of the race. As babies, far from becoming Christians apart from faith as infant baptism implies, we like Jesus experience first heathen slavery in “Egypt” (cf. Gal. 4:1-3). If this is true, then like the Jews we escape from slavery and live under law even if we are not circumcised members of the chosen race. Thirdly, through faith in Christ we are redeemed from sin whether under the law (Jews) or apart from it (heathen, see espec. Rom. 2) and inherit the Spirit as Christians or the children of God (Gal. 4:1-7; Rom. 8:10-17). The final stage of life involves escape from the mortality and corruption, both moral and physical, that characterizes the present age (Rom. 8:18-25) and attain to life in the presence of God himself as his children (1 John 3:1-3).
So what is the biblical picture? In Genesis God creates Adam and sets the pattern for all his procreated posterity who are made in his image (Gen. 5:1-3). As the latter develop understanding and receive the parental commandment (cf. Prov. 1:8; 6:20) which promises life if it is kept, they all fail, sin and die (Rom. 5:12, cf. 7:9f.). The reason for this is that God intends to be his people’s Saviour himself (cf. Isa. 45:22ff.) and that no flesh will boast in his presence (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:9, etc.). His intention always was and ever remains to save man by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). Thus it becomes a fact of both history and experience that all men and women as the fleshly children of Adam and Eve come short of the glory of God as a result of their own sin (Rom. 3:23).
If this is the case, then we are bound to conclude without denying a la Pelagius the impact of Adam on their lives (cf. Ex. 20:5; Jer. 32:18f.), that the ministry of the law which though it promises life always leads to death because it is not fully kept. In the event one man and one man alone kept the law, that is, Jesus and it is through him and him alone that salvation comes (John 14:6; Acts 4:12, etc.).
So if we follow the teaching of Genesis regarding creation and its creaturely products, the early part of the Bible pictures mankind epitomized by Israel initially in Egyptian slavery but headed for rest in the Promised Land. However, it is soon made clear that this rest is by no means permanent (cf. Heb. 3 & 4). As the author of Hebrews says, if Joshua had given rest to the people he led into the Promised Land he would not speak later of another day (4:8, cf. 8:7). The inference is thus drawn that a sabbath rest still remains for the chosen people who enter God’s rest and cease from their labours as God himself did (4:9, cf. 4:4). In fact our author has already alluded to his fellows as partners in a heavenly calling (3:1) reminding us of the picture he paints later of Abraham, the typical believer, making his pilgrimage from an earthly city, Ur of the Chaldees, of his physical birth to the heavenly city of God (11:10,16, cf. 13:14).
While there is a sense in which Abraham obtained the promise (6:15) there is also a sense in which he did not (11:39). The reason for this is that perfection will only be achieved by all the people of God together (11:40). This is apparently the way Paul also saw matters, for he maintains that we are not an aggregation but a congregation of people (cf. John 11:52) who though certainly individuals together make up one Man (Eph. 2:15; 4:13, cf. Gal. 3:28) or alternatively the new or true Israel, the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:30).
This brings us to another way of viewing the biblical presentation of the issue. In Galatians 4:1-7 Paul depicts the correspondence or parallel between the individual and the community pointing out that in our childhood we all begin life as slaves even though we are promised better things in the end. Thus having outgrown the bondage of childhood like Israel in Egypt we then especially if we are Jews become servants under the law (cf. the idea of the schoolmaster in the KJV). And then since the earthly Promised Land is only a temporary resting place in this present world we aspire to perfection or maturity in the presence of God as sons through faith in Christ. It is only then that we inherit the estate we were promised at the start.
As has been already suggested above, in Romans 7 and 8 Paul uses himself as an illustration of the progress from the innocence of childhood (cf. Dt. 1:39) through adolescence to perfection or adulthood in Christ. First, he claims that (like Adam and Eve) as a baby before he was aware of the commandment he was “alive” (Rom. 7:9). But when with his ensuing mental and physical development the commandment eventually came, he broke it. In this way sin sprang to life and he “died” (cf. Rom. 5:12; 6:23a) and to all intents and purposes forfeited his heavenly destiny. In verse 11 he indicates that the commandment deceived him just as it had Eve in Genesis 3:6 and so killed him. (1* Some commentators, e.g. F.F.Bruce, p.142, question the parallelism of this verse and its implied recapitulation arguing on the basis of 1 Timothy 2:14 and Romans 5:12 that mankind sinned “in Adam” and not in Eve. In reply, I would argue first that the words “in Adam” fail to appear in Romans 5:12. On the other hand, in 1 Corinthians 15:22 where they do appear Paul is contrasting the mortality of the first Adam with the immortality of the second. Here the essence of the contrast is not sin and sinlessness but flesh (dust) and spirit, vv. 45-49, cf. John 3:1-8). Second, in 1 Timothy 2:14 Paul is underlining the characteristic sins of men and women respectively not their mutual exclusiveness. While it may readily be conceded that Adam who typified the Jews is presented as sinning with his eyes open, this does not eliminate an element of deception prior to his connivance at and complicity in Eve’s transgression. After all, it is a fact of life that we are all, boys and girls alike, deceived by the desires of the flesh as children (cf. Eph. 4:14,22) and to that extent resemble the heathen (Rom. 1:24-32; Eph. 4:19). It is made unmistakably clear in Scripture that the Israelites, who did not receive the law until it was given to them through Moses only to break it as Adam had done (Ex. 32), began their career in heathendom and were still in effect enslaved by the fleshpots of Egypt even in the wilderness after their escape (Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:5, etc., cf. Rom. 13:14, etc. regarding Christians). In any case, sin is by its very nature deceitful to fleshly human beings (Heb. 3:13) and Adam would not have been immune to its attraction. Indeed it may be claimed that his willful rebellion arose out of it (cf. further my The Pattern of Sin). In Romans 7:14ff. Paul proceeds to comment on the law, as opposed to the specific commandment, virtually asserting that his lapse from original innocence into sin and consequent bondage (cf. John 8:34) arose from his ‘flesh’ and try as he might despite his best intentions he was unable to avoid the evil and do the good that he inwardly craved. Just as fleshly cravings had held his ancestors in thrall (Gen. 3:6; Num. 11:4; Ps. 78:29f.; 106:14, cf. Rom. 1:24-32; Eph. 4;17-19), so he himself experienced bondage to sin and desperately needed to be liberated from his (fleshly) body of death And this could only be achieved through faith in Christ. So, if Romans 7 teaches anything it is that the law is beyond the power of ordinary human beings to keep and as a result where there is law there is always transgression (7:1-14; 4:15; 1 Cor. 15:56).
If Romans 7 deals with ‘Paul’ universalized in sin under the law, Romans 8 deals with ‘Paul’ universalized and redeemed by Christ and under the leading of the Spirit. Here the apostle clearly represents the connection between the flesh, law and sin on the one hand and Christ, life and the Spirit on the other. Whereas all men and women under the law are sinners condemned to death, all believers are equally guaranteed life under the Spirit. It is under the leading of the Spirit that the law is fulfilled (8:4) and life and peace achieved (8:6,10,11). This of course prompts the question of the nature of this life. Paul claims it involves adoption by God himself. Thus we become the heirs of God with Christ along with whom we are finally glorified (8:17,18,23-25, cf. 1 John 3:1-3).
Our heavenly call is made explicit in a variety of texts by different authors apart from the author of Hebrews in 3:1 (e.g. Phil. 3:14; 1 Pet. 5:4,10; 1 Thes. 2:12; Heb. 6:1; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Pet. 1:11; Eph. 1:4f.).
In light of biblical teaching sketched above, the implication is that the period of our earthly testing and spiritual maturation is crowned with heavenly glory through faith (1 John 5:4, cf. 2 Pet. 1:4,11, etc.). Like Jesus we are only flesh for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9). God’s intention from the start was not only our spiritual rebirth through faith in Christ our righteousness (cf. Lev. 18:5, etc.) but eternal life and glory in heaven – the polar opposite of death and corruption under the law (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). The path of life leads to his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16:11). Ultimately as his redeemed we share with Christ eternal life in the Father’s house (John 14:1-3) and live forever to his praise and glory. Succinctly expressed, our heavenly call is consummated in the divine presence.
F.F.Bruce, Romans, rev. ed. Leicester, 1985.