Romans 8:18-25 In Brief



1. There is an obvious contrast between the present age and the age to come in verse 18 (cf. espec. 2 Cor. 4:16-18).

2. Since ktisis in Greek can mean either creation or creature (cf. Rom. 1:25; 2 Cor. 5:17, etc.), it is important to let the sense determine the meaning of verse 19. Thus, since the latter derives from the former, contrary to the KJV it is clearly inclusive and so teaches that the entire material creation (which includes the fleshly creature) has of set purpose been subjected to corruption (decay) by God himself. It is an observable as well as a biblical fact that everything in this world ages (Mt. 6:19f.; Heb. 1:10f.). Obsolescence and death are universal (2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 8:13) and need to be escaped from or transcended (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). In contrast with its Creator who is both immortal and incorruptible (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), this world has both a beginning and an end (see e.g. Gen. 1:1; Isa.40:6-8; 51:6; 54:10; Mt. 28:20; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:10). As creation in miniature the creature, including especially the sinless Jesus who was flesh (Luke 2:42; 3:23, etc.), grows older as it follows creation’s pattern.

3. The ‘also’ (Gk ‘kai’, which is inexcusably ignored in some modern translations where exegesis is governed by hidden assumptions and prior commitment) in verse 21 indicates that there is a change of subject. This assertion is supported by the ‘also’ in verse 23 following the indisputable reference to the whole creation in verse 22. Here the ‘also’ points up a change from ‘the whole creation’ (v.22) to ‘we ourselves’ (v.23) or, in other words, from ‘creation’ to ‘creature’. The only reasonable inference we can draw from this is that verses 21 and 23 correspond or provide a parallel. Otherwise expressed, these verses (cf. e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:50), supply yet another example of synonymous parallelism where verse 23 explains verse 21.

My conclusion is then that just as verses 19,20 and 22 refer to the whole creation, so verses 21 and 23 refer to the creature.

4. The reference to birth pangs in verse 22 reminds us of Jesus’ words in Mark 13:8. It is noticeable that in Mark 13:1-31 both creation and creature play their part. While the material heaven and earth pass away, Jesus’ words promising salvation to spiritual man do not (13:27,31).

5. While we can appreciate Paul’s claim that the whole creation can long eagerly for or anticipate the revealing of the sons of God (v.19), it is more than difficult to see how it can itself ‘obtain’ the freedom of the glory of the children of God (v.21). In light of 8:14-17, it is the creature man who will do this (Rom. 8:30) and, having shed his corruptible flesh (1 Cor. 15:50), thereby gain his eternal inheritance (cf. Acts 13:34; Heb. 9:15).

6. The subjection in verse 20 is purposeful, for it is said to be ‘in hope’ thereby precluding any reference to sin as a cause. Since this hope, according to verses 24 and 25, is invisible, we are forced to conclude that it refers to the creature man (cf. Heb. 11:1; 1 Pet. 1:8f.) who is made in the image of God and not to creation in general. This inference is necessary since according to the NT (a) the visible, that is, the material, is incapable of being eternalized (1 Cor. 15:50b); (b) it is temporary by nature (2 Cor. 4:16-18, cf. Rom. 2:28f.); and (c) all created things will eventually be destroyed (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:5,7,10-12). The present age will give way to the age to come, earth to heaven, the material to the spiritual.


The widespread idea that Paul teaches here the restoration or redemption of creation from the corruption that stemmed from Adam’s sin is false. If it is objected that the apostle refers unquestionably to the redemption of the body in verse 23, it can readily be replied that (a) our fleshly body was forfeit on account of sin (Rom. 8:10, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1); (b) that even the sinless Jesus as flesh had to be changed to enter heaven (1 Cor. 15:50-53), and (c) that we shall be given a spiritual or glorified body (1 Cor. 15:44,46; Phil. 3:21, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1) in accordance with the plan of God (2 Cor. 5:5).

See further my Romans 8:18-25, Not Only But Also, The Transience of Creation, Creation Corruptible By Nature, Death and Corruption, Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Why the Biblical Stress on Invisibility?John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of JesusThe Correspondence Between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10Another Shot at Romans 8:18-25Further Reflection on Romans 8:18-25 – An Alternative Approach


What is translated in verse 20 as ‘not willingly’ (ESV), ‘not of its own will’ (NRSV) or ‘not by its own choice’ (NIV) in light of Philemon 14 and 1 Peter 5:2 almost certainly means something like ‘of set purpose’ or ‘by divine decree’.

The Human Story




According to the Bible man (Adam) began existence in the ground. There in the womb of the earth he was created as perishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23; Ps. 139:15) and then transferred to a second womb, the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8,15), to be nurtured to physical adulthood (cf. Job 10:11; 139:13). This process clearly establishes the pattern of procreation, which recapitulates creation, according to which Adam, the individual, who is the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7), fertilizes his wife by sowing his seed in her womb in order to reproduce.

The Bliss of Paradise

Adam and Eve and their Offspring

The Garden of Eden or the womb of mankind (1* See my What Was The Garden Of Eden?) is seen in the Bible as a place of unsullied bliss where all needs are supplied without conscious effort. Adam and Eve, the progenitors of the race enjoy an idyllic life there like animals who do not know (the) law and hence neither good nor evil. They live in the presence of God (cf. Gen. 3:8; Job 31:15) their Father (Luke 3:38) who in the course of their developing consciousness eventually tests them with his commandment (Gen. 2:16f., cf. Ex. 16:4; Dt. 8:2,16, etc.). When it finally registers on their minds, they disobey it (cf. Rom. 3:20) and come to know good and evil like God himself (Gen. 3:22). This clearly indicates that they have ceased to be mere flesh like the rest of the animals that do not know good and evil. Rather they have begun to take on the image and likeness of God and, having at last arrived at the rational and moral consciousness manifested by their sin which does not exist apart from (the) law (Rom. 4:15), they are ejected from the Garden which has served as their womb. Once in what is now essentially a new environment, they become conscious of pain, toil and hardship.

(Note the progression from nakedness, animal ignorance to reception of the commandment (law), to disobedience and sin, to knowledge of good and evil, pain and eventual maturity on which see below. Infants follow the same pattern, Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:15; Dt. 1:39; 1 K. 3:7,9; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 3:1f.)


According to traditional theology, pain is the consequence of sin and the connection causal. This is plainly more than disputable. The worldview of Augustine that has dominated the church since his day posited the original perfection of both creation and man. Since creation is not eternal, its initial perfection is impossible. The same must be said of mankind. But, even more to the point, since it is by reaction to commandment or law that man’s moral nature is established (John 8:34; Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7, etc.), Adam’s ignorance of the law, rules his original righteousness and holiness out of court. This being the case, the very idea that creation was marred by Adam’s original sin and that curse and pain were its consequence is rendered impossible. Furthermore, it can hardly escape notice that in Genesis 3:16 Eve’s pain is emphatically said to increase. This is a logical impossibility if she has had no pain at all prior to her sin since nothing multiplied to the nth degree is still nothing. I conclude from this that, like Adam who is both individual and community, Eve also, though an individual, epitomizes women in general. In other words, in her initial animal or merely fleshly nature (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46) she has had children before but has scarcely been aware of the fact. (2* See further my Creation and / or Evolution.) The truth is surely that like infants both Adam and Eve gradually acquire the self and moral consciousness proved by their reception of the commandment and at the same time become conscious of pain. Otherwise expressed, sin, which implies knowledge (of the commandment), and hence (moral) consciousness, is co-incidental not causal. Knowledge and pain are inherently linked but not causally related. This view of the matter would seem to be supported by our first parents’ becoming aware of the difficulty of the terrain outside the Garden of Eden over which they were to exercise dominion (Gen. 3:16-19). The Garden was clearly a special place conducive to the gestation of the race as Genesis 13:10, Isaiah 51:3 and Ezekiel 36:35 would seem to imply. So, having broken the commandment and lost their innocence, they are expelled from the Garden never to return (Gen. 3:22-24). Following the same pattern of behaviour, infants who also like Adam and Eve initially know neither (the) law nor good and evil (Dt. 1:39, cf. Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22) eventually disobey the commandments of their parents (Prov. 1:8; 4:1-3:12; 6:20) and begin to experience pain, difficulty and alienation as sinners.

In clarification of my contention, I argue that consciousness of pain comes when self-consciousness and moral awareness come. While animals and babies that know neither the law nor good and evil doubtless feel pain and react to it as sentient creatures, they do not know it. Our personal experience as infants would seem to prove this. How many Jewish boys, in contrast with adults in Genesis 34:25 and Joshua 5:2-10), are aware of their circumcision on the eighth day? In light of this, the assumption that nature being red in tooth and claw is cruel and that God is chargeable on that account is based on a fundamentally false premise.(*See my Nature Red in Tooth and Claw). So when some regard the torture of infants as plumbing the very depths of cruelty and inhumanity, they are in fact guilty of anthropomorphism. As Paul long ago implied in 1 Corinthians 15:46, man is first an animal (flesh) before he is spirit. The fact is that the crucifixion of a fully conscious mature human being at the age of 33 is a far crueller act, even if it may appear to be less depraved and offensive in the minds of some. It might conveniently be added at this point that though the pain of giving birth is frequently highlighted in Scripture (e.g. John 16:21), nothing suggests that babies undergo a similar experience in the process of birth (cf. Luke 21:23). The reason would seem to be obvious.

The Difference between Adam and Eve and their Offspring

Of course, there is a basic difference between our first parents and their offspring, for Adam and Eve achieve physical maturity and basic moral consciousness while still in the Garden, that is, the womb of the race, but their offspring, who are born babies and lack their physical maturity, do not attain to consciousness until they are outside their mothers’ wombs (cf. Rom. 9:11), but still in physical infancy not maturity. If this is true, just as Adam and Eve once outside the Garden of Eden could not return there (Gen. 3:22-24), so babies cannot return to their mothers’ wombs (John 3:4, cf. Job 3; Jer. 20:14-18). (3* See my No Going Back.) In other words, human development, perfection or maturation is fundamental since it is God-ordained. (4* See my Perfection.) It is nowhere more clearly evident than in the life of Jesus whose maturation attains to undisputed perfection both physical (Luke 2:40-52; 3:23; John 8:57) and spiritual (Heb. 7:28, etc.). Birth, that is, expulsion from the womb necessarily involves entry into a harsh and difficult world where dominion is achieved by cultivation of the land and the law kept. But whereas Adam and Eve consciously enter the world as sinners, babies do so in innocence (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.) only receiving the commandment and gaining moral enlightenment or knowledge of good and evil at a later stage as they leave infancy for childhood (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.). It is at this point that they break their parents’ commandment and recapitulate the experience of their original progenitors. (See further below.)


If Adam was a type (Rom. 5:14), Jesus the antitype has all the more to teach us. As a true son of the first Adam through his mother (Luke 3:38) he was physically created in the earth (Heb. 10:5; Eph. 4:9). Again like Adam he was nurtured (gestated) in paradise, that is, his mother’s womb which was the Garden of Eden in miniature. He was thus truly born of woman (Gen. 3:20; Gal. 4:4) and at birth the fruit of the womb (Dt. 28:11; 30:9). In the womb (cf. Isa. 7:15f. etc.) he clearly recapitulated Adam’s experience (could he as the second Adam do anything less?) but whereas Adam, the race or tribe, took what was doubtless ages to develop, Jesus, once he had been ‘sown’ in Mary’s womb like Job and Jeremiah before him underwent gestation in nine months. In other words, he illustrated the principle that on the level of the flesh ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. He was a true member of the human race, a son of Adam, in fact (Luke 3:38).

Jesus Infant and Child

Again like Adam Jesus as a baby knew neither the commandment apart from which there is no sin (Rom. 4:15), nor good and evil (Isa. 7:15f., cf. 8:4). When, however, in contrast with the first Adam, he became aware of his parents’ commandment, he did not transgress it. At what was presumably about the end of his weaning when like Noah he could recognize rainbows and be cleansed from his infantile filth (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21), Jesus began his childhood in heathen Egypt (Mt. 2:15) and thus recapitulated as a son of Abraham the history of his forebears who sojourned for over 400 years as a slave (Gal. 4:1f.) in that fiery furnace.

Again like his forebears he escaped to the Promised Land (cf. Mt. 2:19f.) to undergo his bar mitzvah and become a fully fledged son of the commandment. Thus, from the age of about 13 he lived in accordance with the will of God under the law of Moses (Luke 2:52) which he had to keep to perfection in order to gain the life it promised (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5). In other words, on the assumption that he kept the law, his life under it was clearly intended to be temporary and provisional (cf. 2 Cor. 3), a stage on his road to spiritual maturity and perfection. This of course had been true of his forebears but none of them had been able to meet the challenge of law-keeping (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Eccl. 7:20). As a consequence they had remained its prisoners (cf. Gal. 3:23-25). For them this entailed bondage to both the flesh and to sin. Jesus, however, kept the law (cf. Rom. 8:3) until the time set by his Father when he obtained release (cf. Gal. 4:1f.), confirmed his native sonship and received the Spirit (eternal life) at his baptism (Mt. 3:13-17, etc.). From that time on he pioneered the regenerate life of the sons of God and, apart from laying down his life on behalf of all believers (cf. Heb. 9:15) to gain their eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12), finally ascended transformed into heaven and took his seat at his Father’s side as man perfected in the image and likeness of God.

Before leaving Jesus it is vital to point out that despite his innocence, he had to contend with a futile creation just as sinners like Adam (Gen. 3:15-19), Job (5:7; 7:1; 14:1) and Solomon (Eccles.) had done. Both Job (3:1, cf. 10:18) and Jeremiah (20:14-20) suffered (unaccountably from their point of view) so much that they regarded the day of their birth as a curse. (No wonder that some under duress commit suicide!) As he himself said the sun shines and the rain falls on good and evil alike. His moral purity did nothing to alleviate the recalcitrance of the world he experienced on this side of the womb. He was subject to temptation and trial, pain and trouble, toil and sweat and like everyone else, but he did not rebel against it like Lamech (Gen. 5:29).

Covenant Theology

Thus the earthly life of Jesus was fully covenantal and in fact illustrated biblical covenant theology. He began his pilgrimage from an earthly origin to heavenly destination (Eph. 4:9f.) initially uncovenanted, since at the beginning no covenant was made with either creation or the creature. (5* On this, see my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation? If a covenant implies an agreement no matter how minimal, it can only operate on a bilateral basis. Neither the non-rational creation nor the creature can agree with anything! They are simply commanded.) As the second Adam who did not sin when faced with the parental commandment as he emerged from infancy, he lived under the covenant with Noah as a child in heathen Egypt. (Jesus of course underwent circumcision on the eighth day but at that stage of his life it only marked him out as a member of the elect race.) At his bar mitzvah, which signified the end of his childhood, he became a son of the commandment and undertook responsibility to keep the law of Moses on his own account as his forebears had done before him. Since he was uniquely successful in this, he became the first man in history to do so, as repeated references to OT failure make clear (see above). Thus, having pleased his Father, he was baptized by the Spirit in preparation for laying the foundation of the new covenant (Mt. 3:13-17). Of course, until the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, he alone was a born-again ‘Christian’ and as such was able to pioneer the regenerate or heavenly life here on earth. Put otherwise, while in the earlier stages of his life he recapitulated the life of his ancestors, now he himself became the pioneer of those who recapitulate his unique regenerate life. As those who are justified by faith and redeemed by his blood, they also are born again. And led by the Spirit as he was, they follow in his steps imitating him both morally and generically (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thes. 1:6; Heb. 12:1f.). It is they who are redeemed from the earth and follow him wherever he goes (cf. Rev. 14:3f.).

The Covenantal Pattern

In 1 Corinthians 10:32 Paul implies that mankind is made up of three groups: Greeks (Gentiles) who lived before the giving of the law (ante legem), Jews who were under the law (sub lege) and Christians who were under the law of Christ (post legem). This being so, the covenantal pattern that characterizes the race as, first, heathen under Noah, second, servant under the law of Moses, and, third, as son under the Spirit of Christ (John 1:10-13; Rom. 1-3) is recapitulated on the individual level as slave, servant and son (Rom. 7-8; Gal. 4:1-7). (6* For greater detail see my Covenant Theology.) Thus it is that as the sons of God we are his people and not unnaturally reach our covenant goal in his presence, in his house (John 14:1-3; 17:24; Rev. 21:3).


If it is true that Jesus as the perfected man (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) is our pioneer, our own path to perfection is to follow in his steps (cf. Heb. 12:1f.). At this point Paul provides an excellent exemplar of this. Like Adam, Jesus himself and all the rest of us he begins at the beginning, for we are all creation in miniature. In Romans 7:9 he tells us that he was once (biologically) ‘alive’ in his innocence before the commandment made any impression on his then non-existent consciousness. However, unlike Jesus in the course of his development he failed to keep the law. First, he was deceived like Eve and the heathen in general who did not receive a specific commandment from God (Rom. 7:11, cf. 1:18-32, etc.). Next he was sold into the slavery of sin (Rom. 7:14) like Adam who did and who rebelled directly against the commandment that promised life (Rom. 7:9f.). In this way he proved himself a true Jew who like all his compatriots throughout their history persistently failed to keep the law uniquely granted to them (Num. 14:19; 1 Sam. 8:8; 2 K. 21:15; Jer. 7:24f., Neh. 1:6f.; Ps. 106:6, etc.) to be a light to the nations (Isa. 49:6; Rom. 2:19). Indeed, Paul was so fanatically committed to the law he was manifestly unable to keep (Rom. 7:13-25, cf. John 7:19; Acts 7:53, etc.) that he even persecuted the church which he was to adorn with equal commitment once he had seen the light (Acts 9,22,26) and the veil had been lifted from his eyes (2 Cor. 3:13-16). Thus, the great apostle, the one-time persecutor of Christ bent all his efforts to be like Christ even in his sufferings (Phil. 3:10). While he relied on the perfection of Christ, his personal aim was perfection in Christ (Phil. 3:12-14), and so to enter heaven transformed into the same image (2 Cor. 3:18) to receive a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8,18).

In effect, like Jesus, Paul in the course of his life has progressed through heathenism, Judaism and finally Christianity. He has been a slave, a servant and finally a son (Rom. 7:9-8:39, cf. Gal. 4:1-7). The same is true of all who reach maturity in Christ. (Of course, other instances (e.g. Peter) of progress to the celestial city can be found in Scripture but none is as clear as the journey of Paul.)


To sum up, the human story is not only covenantal it is intrinsically teleological and perfectible in Christ. (7* I am tempted to use the word ‘evolutionary’ but it could be misconstrued and as a consequence be seriously misleading. However, there is little doubt that the church’s commitment to the Augustinian worldview, involving original perfection, sin, curse and restoration, has blinded the eyes of Christians to the reality of human recapitulatory development as both race and individual.) Starting at the beginning we are all meant to grow up into Christ despite our sin (cf. Eph. 4:14-16) and to be spiritually, corporeally and corporately glorified in him (Rom. 8:30). We journey as he did from ground to glory (Eph. 4:7-10), from Eden to eternity (Rev. 22:1-5), from flesh to spirit (1 Pet. 4:6). At the last day, the tree of man, apart from the wicked who will be pruned and purged (cf. John 15:6; Rev. 21:8, etc.), will be complete (Rom. 11:16). All the (spiritual) Israel of God will be saved in accordance with the promise. Soli Deo Gloria.


Correcting Traditional Distortions Of Scripture

I have argued elsewhere that our understanding of Scripture has been seriously distorted by tradition, a situation that has obtained for over 1500 years (1* See e.g. my Augustine: Asset or Liability?, Worldview, The Biblical Worldview). While the Reformation put certain matters like the Lord’s Supper right, much, like baptism, remains to be done. So far as we in the 21st century are concerned, the main problem has been and remains the framework, worldview or big picture against, within and by which the Bible is interpreted. Clearly, if we try to match the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with a false picture of the finished product, we are bound to end up in difficulty and distortion. Texts that do not fit into a preconceived picture are forced into it. Eisegesis as opposed to exegesis thus becomes the order of the day. To overcome this problem it is of vital importance in the 21st century when the church is under attack by atheists, certain scientists and the devotees of false religions to begin at the beginning and to work our way through the Bible to the end to see exactly what it teaches.

Church Tradition

When we look at the history of dogma, it is not at all difficult once it is pointed out to recognize that our present tradition had a very dubious, even false beginning. Augustine by whom the church has been so profoundly influenced since the fifth century seemed to think that creation was originally perfect rather than merely ‘good’, that is, useful and like a tool serving a purpose (cf. Ps. 119:91), but was cursed when Adam sinned. This seems to be inherently contradictory. There are at least two points here: first, perfection seems to be the goal of mankind not his beginning (see Phil. 3:12-14; Hebrews 6:1, etc.); second, if perfection can be lost who is to guarantee that our perfect God and Saviour will not fall into sin like the first Adam. The truth that Genesis 1 teaches us is that the material creation that God brought into being first had a beginning (1:1) and was therefore headed inexorably for an eventual end (cf. Gen. 8:22; Mt. 24:35; 28:20). In other words, as even the very first verse of Scripture indicates, creation is temporal and transient by nature. If it is physically visible (Rom. 1:20), it is according to the apostle Paul also temporary (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Rom. 8:20,24f. on which see further below) and is subject to ultimate removal or destruction (Heb. 12:27). Otherwise expressed, it is inherently obsolescent (Heb. 1:11) and will eventually pass away (Mt. 24:35). Yet, again, creation is said to be “made by hand” (cheiropoietos) (Ps. 102:25f.) like the visible hand-written old covenant (cheirographos, Col. 2:14) that relates to it and will eventually disappear (Heb. 8:13). The term ‘made by hand’ is always depreciatory or pejorative in meaning and in strong contrast with what is “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos) which features in the new covenant. In light of this, though to my knowledge it is universally denied, it is not at all surprising that Paul teaches in Romans 8:18-25 that creation was purposely subjected by God to futility and corruption (decay) at the start precisely because he had something better in mind at the end. For the creatures that he first created flesh from the corruptible earth itself, corruption was therefore inevitable and quite unrelated to sin even if it could be exacerbated by it. But as the God of spirits (Num. 16:22), God also created human beings in his own image with the ultimate intention as the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9) of adopting them as his sons and daughters in Christ (John 1:12f.; Eph. 1:4f.). In order to become such, they had to be perfected like their pioneer before them and along with him be glorified in God’s presence (Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.) in his own (eternal) house (John 14:2f.; 17:24; Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 22:1-5).


In support of this, we read in Genesis that mankind along with all (other) flesh (Gen. 6:17) is created out of the earth and is hence portrayed in Scripture as earth(l)y (1 Cor. 15:40), Col. 3:5), dust (Ps. 103:14; 1 Cor. 15:47-49), clay (Job 4:19; 2 Cor. 4:7) and grass (Isa. 40:6-8; 1 Pet. 1:23f.). Initially, as flesh, Adam and Eve like the rest of the animal creation (cf. Gen. 6:17) know neither the law (commandment) nor good and evil (Gen. 2:16f.; 3:5,22). (2* On the equation of all flesh including man see, for example, Chris Wright, pp.26ff.)


After a period of development (evolution?), however, in accordance with the divine purpose reflected in his making his creatures including man seed-bearers, they gain an element of understanding and like young children receive just one commandment to test their commitment to God (cf. Gen.22:1; Ex. 15:25; 16:4; Dt. 8:2,16; Ps. 7:9; Jer. 11:20; 17:10; 20:12, etc.). As we all know they fail to keep this commandment and hence become sinners (cf. John 8:34). All their offspring follow suit, and thus in the words of the author of Genesis the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth but noticeably not from his infancy (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:24f.; 22:21; 32:30, cf. Ezra 9:7). Whereas all men remain innocent (cf. Dt. 1:39; 1 K. 3:7,9; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14) until they gain understanding of the law (Rom. 4:15; 7:8), once it dawns on their minds they all like Adam and Eve break it and become sinners by nature (John 8:34; Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3). In other words, since all are created in his image (Gen. 5:1-3) all, like Paul himself (Rom. 7:9f.), follow the pattern of behaviour established by their first parents. Though Augustinian tradition says that they sin ‘in Adam’ (Rom. 5:12), the Bible plainly indicates that they repeat the sin of first Eve then Adam. The situation is made all the more certain because all descendants sin under the influence of parents (cf. Ex. 20:5f.; 34:7, etc.) of whom Adam and Eve are only the first (Rom. 5:12-21). (3* Pace Art. 9 of the C of E. If we deny imitation, or rather repetition, serious questions need to be answered. For example, how did Jesus manage to avoid the imputation or transmission of Adam’s sin? How does God himself avoid the blame for imputing sin to the innocent contrary to his own code of conduct, 1 Sam. 22:15; 1 K. 21; Luke 23, etc.? Why is it that Isaiah implies that Jesus was born innocent like Adam and Eve, Isa. 7:15f.? Why does Peter say that in contrast with the rest of us he committed no sin, 1 Pet. 2:22? Why does the author of Hebrews say that as a son of Adam, Luke 3:38, he was like the rest of us apart from sin, Heb. 2:17? Why do the Jews and the Orthodox to this day deny original sin? How does Jesus differ from Paul who says that he was born ‘alive’, Rom. 7:9? Clearly Paul like the Jews in general did not believe in original sin as propounded by Augustine.) In other words, we are all including Jesus conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5) but like him since we know neither the law nor good and evil (Isa. 7:15f.) we are personally innocent (cf. Ezek. 18). Like the children of the sinful parents who died in the wilderness and failed to enter the Promised Land, we remain untarnished by sin (Dt. 1:39) until we personally react as they did to the law or commandment when it eventually dawns on our minds (Jer. 32:18f.).

Flesh Again

Returning to man’s natural constitution as flesh, however, it is imperative to underscore the fact that it is subject to decay even apart from sin. To demonstrate the truth of this we must first appeal to the fact that since it is the product of a corruptible earth, it also has a beginning and an end. This is true of all flesh (Gen. 6:17), of man and sinless animal alike, as the Bible makes plain (Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-21). Citing the OT the author of Hebrews states that creation in contrast with its Creator is subject to aging and will eventually disappear (Heb. 1:11f.; 8:13). Even the sinless Jesus as incarnate grew older (Luke 2:42; 3:23; John 8:57, etc.) and eventually disappeared (Acts 1:9). Furthermore, Adam is threatened with death before he sins, but by the same token he is promised (eternal) life if he keeps the commandment (Gen. 2:16f.). On the other hand, all that lacks spiritual understanding (cf. Rom. 7:14), that is, all animal (including man according to the flesh) and vegetable life necessarily requires reproduction to counter the effect of universal natural death (cf. Luke 20:34-36). (4* See further my Death and Corruption, Two ‘Natural’ Necessities. It is worth adding here that eunuchs, Isa.56, and barren/unmarried women, Isa. 54:1, who by faith transcend the law don’t have the same problem!)

Dispensing with Tradition

If all this is true then it is vital for us to subject to intense scrutiny traditional ideas apparently extraneous to Scripture like original perfection, holiness, righteousness, fall, cosmic curse and final restoration. Against a background of intentional, teleological and even beneficent (5* I use this latter word for the simple reason that corruption opens up the way for the realization of the invisible hope of our salvation, Rom. 8:20,24f., which is surely the eternal weight of glory that lies ahead, Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17.) subjection of creation to futility and corruption, we can begin to recognize the divinely planned pilgrimage or perfecting process from earth to heaven or from ground to final glory (Rom. 8:30), a pilgrimage which was pioneered by Jesus himself (John 3:13, etc.) For he was the perfected man par excellence as the letter to the Hebrews in particular makes abundantly clear (e.g. Heb. 7:26,28). But more on this below.

No Covenant With Creation

If we assume the truth of the perfecting as opposed to the traditional degenerating process, before we sketch in more detail the path to perfection (maturity, completion, James 1:4) and its end the crown of life (James 1:12), it is vital to see in further support of the picture of intentional cosmic physical corruption painted above that there is conspicuously no covenant with creation. If the word covenant implies agreement even of the most minimal kind, it is obvious that there can be no creation covenant, though many, especially the devotees of original sin, have posited one. Why? Because the creation, in contrast with its creature man who possesses the image of God, lacks rationality. As both animate and inanimate it lacks understanding and is in no position to agree about anything (cf. Ps. 32:9; James 3:3f., etc.). Thus since a unilateral covenant is a contradiction in terms, creation simply does as it is commanded to do. This is the pattern we find throughout Scripture. (On Adam, see below.) It is especially evident in Genesis 1 (cf. Ps. 33:9-11), in the life of Jesus (e.g. Mark 4:39) and in Revelation 4:11. (6* See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?)

The Covenant With Noah

By the time we come to Noah, however, in the providence of God man has clearly undergone some development and gained in understanding (cf. Heb. 5:14). Whereas Adam, though physically mature, was spiritually speaking but an infant who was at best only capable of responding either negatively or positively to a single simple commandment, Noah had sufficient understanding to participate if only minimally in a covenant which, since it forms the foundation of man’s ultimate salvation, embraces the whole creation. This inference is supported by the threat of a universal curse on the (phenomenal) earth under Adam and his immediate descendants but which is by the grace of God rescinded after the flood under Noah (Gen. 8:21). The flood, of course, is clearly a curse imposed as a response to the sin of Adam’s descendants. In Adam’s own case (cf. Cain, Gen 4:12) transgression brought only a limited curse as all infraction of the law does (Heb. 2:2). Wherever men fail to fulfil their moral obligations like tilling the earth, exercising dominion and keeping the covenant (law), they suffer the consequences as passages like Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28 and Proverbs 24:30-34 in particular make clear. By the same token, whenever they do their duty, they are blessed (Dt. 11:13-17; Isa. 1:19f., cf. Ps. 65:9-13; 85:10-12). The idea that the entire earth, even universe, was cursed when Adam sinned is clearly nonsense based on traditional Augustinian misunderstanding of Genesis 1-2 and Romans 8:18-25 and failure to appreciate the import of Hebrews 1:10-12, for example.


To clarify the picture it is helpful to miniaturize mankind (Adam), as Scripture itself often does with representative figures, that is, to the one man (Adam). If Adam (cf. Gen. 1:26 and 2:5), like Israel (Ex. 4:22; 13:8; Dt. 26:5; Jer. 12:7; Hos. 11:1) and even Jesus (John 15, cf. Isa. 5:1-7), is both one and many, he is mutatis mutandis first an embryo in the womb (Eden), then an infant who when he sins is thrust (born) into the harsh world outside the womb. Here as both spiritually immature and sinner, he proves reluctant (cf. Gen. 5:29) and in the event unable to cope with his environment. He fails to tend it as he had earlier failed to tend the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:17-19, cf. 5:29) in accordance with his calling (Gen. 2:8,15) and hence fails to produce the fruit, both moral and material, expected of him. He thus suffers the consequences of his inadequately tended environment, for his failure to exercise proper dominion over his naturally hostile, intractable and uncompromising surroundings (which according to Paul were divinely subjected to corruption and futility) leads to inevitable pain and even death (Job 3:1-26; 5:6f.; 7:1; 14:1; Ps. 90:9f.; Jer. 3:24f.; 20:14-18). (7* References like Job 5:6; Ps. 85:11 and Isa. 45:8 suggest that there is an intimate connection between morality and the earth.) Indeed the situation is so bad that all is threatened with destruction. It is only the grace of God, manifested to faithful Noah, that keeps creation and hence the plan of salvation in being. With Noah there is a real sense in which a new beginning is made reminiscent of the original beginning made with Adam (Gen. 9:1,7, cf. 1:28). It reminds us on the individual level of a child who is cleansed of his infantile filth (1 Pet. 3:21) and able to begin to do things for himself.

Assuming the truth of all this we are led to infer that every individual man is Adam (mankind) in miniature. As such he recapitulates the history of mankind, the race, or, to express the point in more scientific terms, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. We all as individuals begin where Adam began, that is as dust (Ps. 103:14, cf. Gen. 2:7; 3:19; 1 Cor. 15:46-49). Next, in our infantile innocence we know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39). Paul clearly implies that he personally began his life in this way as he explains in Romans 7:9f. But more importantly, Jesus as the second Adam certainly did (cf. Isa. 7:15f.). Had he not done so, he could hardly have been truly man on the one hand and made atonement for the sins of the whole world on the other (1 John 2:2). What he had not assumed he could not heal (Gregory Nazianzus, cf. Heb. 2). At the beginning of his mental/moral life man as made in the image of God is confronted with two basic problems: he is called, first, to rule over a hostile creation (Gen. 1:26-28) subjected by divine decree to futility and ever ready to become a desolation (Prov. 24:30-34; Isa. 6:11; Zech. 7:14, etc.) even descend into chaos (cf. Jer. 4:23-28); second, to keep the law (Gen. 2:16f.), that is, to master a natural personal tendency to sin (Gen. 4:7, cf. Heb. 5:7f.). Since the two problems are related and interconnected, defeat in the latter leads inevitably to defeat in the former. Failure to exercise necessary dominion over his environment which is man’s vocation has unpleasant repercussions as Adam and his descendants were to become aware (cf. Gen. 3:17-19; Dt. 28:15-68, etc.). In other words, man has to overcome both the world and the desires of his own flesh (James 1:14f.) which are part of the world. Yet a third problem is constituted by the devil whose aim is to tempt and deceive him largely through his natural desires (cf. James 1:14f.). Whereas all from Eve through to Jesus fail to conquer in these areas, Jesus, as the one sent by his Father in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin, alone succeeded (John 16:33; Rom. 2:7,10; 8:3; Heb. 2:9). In contrast with Paul, for example, who was fully aware of his own inability to overcome in the (natural) war (Gal. 5:17, cf. James 4:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:11) with his flesh (Rom. 7:14-23), he was uniquely made perfect (Heb. 7:28) despite his normal human weakness (2 Cor. 13:4).


However, as we have seen, God clearly did not mean to leave the matter there. Faced with the failure of Adam and his immediate descendants, out of sheer grace he made a covenant with Noah. Instead of destroying man along with the earth in accordance with his original threat, he guaranteed their continuation and fruitfulness until his plan of salvation was complete (Gen. 8:22). Needless to say, we are reminded that the same sort of divine covenantal undergirding obtains later in the history of God’s people as the plan of salvation unfolds (Jer. 31:5-37; 33:19-22 and note Luke 17:26-30).

The Covenants With Abraham

The inadequacy of the covenant with Noah soon becomes plain. Though it guarantees the continued fertility of the earth (Acts 14:17; 17:27), it does little to stem the tide of sins committed by man despite the witness of nature (Rom. 1:18-2:16, etc.). Clearly more needs to be done, and that God had more in mind becomes clear when he promises Abraham that he will become the father of nations and a blessing to all the families of the earth. Indeed, his promises to Abraham are not merely confirmed in covenant (Gen. 15,17) but they are doubly guaranteed by an oath (Gen. 22:15-18; Heb. 6:17).

The Mosaic Covenant

Against this background and the ensuing slavery of his people in Egypt, God eventually rescues them with a powerful arm. But his purpose is not merely their political freedom in their own land but their spiritual maturation. Whereas Adam had been called to keep but one commandment, now at the dawn of a new era, this race redeemed from the fiery furnace was put under a much more far-reaching law at the heart of which were the ten words or commandments. According to Paul, the law was added because of transgressions. While it pointed up sin, made it explicit and served as a disciplinarian, it also guarded all who were under it until Jesus came (Gal. 3:19-29).

Here two things become clear. First, if Israel needed a disciplinarian, he (they) was still immature, still in his minority and needing to grow up or to be perfected. Second, the promises which were still standing and required fulfillment (cf. Rom. 15:8-13). The former was achieved through the latter. In Christ, man was no longer imprisoned under the law and sin (Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; Gal. 3:22) but made free (Gal. 5:1; John 8:32; Acts 15:10f.). But we are running ahead of ourselves.

The Davidic Covenant

Throughout the duration of the dispensation of law, the promises made to Abraham remained in place (Gal. 3:17) but they were supplemented or enhanced by those made to David as the elect nation gained in maturity. The rest of the OT, punctuated by the exile, is characterized by the hope of a Messiah to rescue the people from their enemies. Indeed the people were the prisoners of hope (Zech. 9:12) and so long as they reject their Messiah, they remain so to this day. By the same token, however, they remain as Paul intimated the prisoners of and under the guardianship of the law which inevitably meant sin (Gal. 3:19-25). From this unenviable situation they could not escape since no one could keep the law, least of all David. All awaited the Messiah in the shape of great David’s greater Son who alone could keep the law and meet the condition of (eternal) life or regeneration (Lev. 18:5) and inaugurate the new covenant by his death. (If Jesus was not the regenerate Son, he was in no position to lay down his life to save his fellows, Mt. 17:25f., cf. Eph. 2:10.)

The Messiah

After many a long year and domination under foreign powers like the Greeks and Romans even in their own land (cf. Neh. 9:36f.), the Messiah eventually arrived but was not recognized as such. According to John his identity was hidden from the world at large and not least from his own people (John 1:10f.). This situation can be attributed to man’s natural obtuseness or blindness but it also arose from the fact that a false, preconceived picture of him was entertained by the people. This, as I suggested in my first paragraph, is a constant problem throughout history. Tradition which is usually learnt by rote exercises powerful sway over all who are aware of it and is difficult even for the most well-intentioned of us to overcome. The truth is, however, that Jesus was not a blood-stained warrior like his forebear David, but the would-be conqueror (Rev. 5:5) and the propitiation of the world’s sin (1 John 2:2). In the words of the author of Hebrews he came to do God’s will (Heb. 10:7), to keep the law and to please his Father by fulfilling all righteousness (Mt. 3:15; John 4:34; 8:29) and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Jesus gave his flesh (Col. 1:22), his earthly life (his psyche, John 10:17f., not his eternal pneuma) for his people. It was precisely our flesh or our natural life that was forfeit when we sinned. It was so in Adam’s case: it is so in ours. Jesus could give his fleshly life for us because, as the only one to keep the law, he already had eternal life. That is why we who are Christians who also have eternal life in contrast with all others have something to offer (Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10, cf. Mt. 17:24-26). We are (to be) prepared for good works (2 Tim. 2:21; 3:17; Tit. 3:1; Tit. 2:14) doing the will of God from the heart (Eph. 6:6) ever ready to put to death what is earthly in us so that we may share Christ’s glory (Col. 3:1-5). In this we follow Jesus himself who was led by the Spirit before us. If this is true, the presently popular idea that Jesus redeemed his and our flesh at his resurrection and hence the creation from which it stemmed is a profound error. In any case, as sinners we eventually lose our flesh (Rom. 8:10) but our bodies require redemption (Rom. 8:23) involving change whether we figure among the saints at the end of the age or not (1 Cor. 15:50-53). And since the flesh is naturally subject to corruption, so is the material creation from which it emanated.

The Glorified Messiah

Of course, because he gave his fleshly life for us freely, voluntarily and vicariously and not as the result of personal sin, Jesus temporarily and necessarily regained that life at his resurrection (Acts 2:23f.) as he said he would (John 2:19f.f.; 10:17f., cf. Luke 24:39). (8* Note also how he is presented as regaining the glory that he freely, Rom. 3:24; 2 Cor. 8:9, purposefully, John 10:17f., and vicariously, Mark 10:45, gave up at his incarnation, John 17:5,24.) Only at his ascension was he transformed and glorified (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:50-53). We who put our trust in him follow in his wake to glory but by a somewhat different route, that is, by the one that David as a sinner had to take. He succumbed to death and corruption (Acts 2:29; 13:36) and so do we (cf. Rom. 8:10f.). On the other hand, if we are among the saints at the end who neither die nor experience resurrection, we shall, like Jesus, who after his resurrection lived as though he had never died and been raised from the dead, enter heaven as he did after undergoing ascension transformation. So whether we live or die, we shall all be saved, since Jesus serves as our model or paradigm in both cases (1 Cor. 15:45-57).

The Truth As It Is in Jesus

So it is then that Christology is the key to understanding Scripture. If Jesus as the last Adam mutatis mutandis recapitulated the race the picture of man perfected is as follows:

From ground to Glory

Our physical origin is in the ground (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 139:15; Eph. 4:9). This being so, we must always remember that God created man as a seed bearer capable of replicating himself in reproduction. Thus the first Adam attained to maturity physically, but obviously not spiritually, intellectually, culturally. While it is true that only Adam as created goes right back to the very beginning, all his offspring including Jesus (Luke 3:38) stem from him and as such are dust (Ps. 103:14; 1 Cor. 15:45-49).

As descendants of Adam we are sown as perishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23) in the womb (cf. Eden) where gestation takes place (Ps. 139:13). After this, we are born into the harsh, futile and corruptible environment of this present world (age) where we are called to exercise dominion and keep the law as we develop.

Birth is followed by weaning with the minimal understanding during infancy but we are blessed along with all creation under the covenant with Noah. With the covenant made with Abraham comes the promise of worldwide blessing and this is not at all undermined by the instruction of the law given through Moses (Gal. 3:17f.). The career of David leads to the extension of the promise which eventually materializes in the arrival of the Messiah. It is he who uniquely keeps the law and inherits eternal life (Lev. 18:5) as man (the last Adam. And it is he who fulfils all righteousness and dies for his people. The wonder is, however, that he rises from the dead and thereby proves he has conquered. And it is as conqueror that he ascends transformed into heaven and takes his seat at his Father’s side. In him mankind is saved.

There are certain differences between the rest of us men and Jesus the man, however. First, Jesus does not sin (Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22). Thus he is able to meet the condition of life first made to Adam (Gen. 2:16f.; Lev. 18:5). As the sinless man who gains eternal life (Lev. 18:5) signified at his baptism, he is in a position (qualified) to expiate our sins and propitiate, or make satisfaction to, the Father on our behalf, for he, God, must not only be righteous but seen to be so (Rom. 3:26; 2 Cor. 5:21). Second, Jesus undergoes death and resurrection solely on our behalf. In other words, neither death nor resurrection are necessary features of his earthly life but rather from his personal point of view they constitute an aberration, deviation or digression from normality undertaken purely out of love for his fellows. Third, because he recovers by resurrection the fleshly life (Luke 24:39) he has laid down (John 10:17f.), it remains for him to be changed at his ascension (John 20:17). Most of us, recapitulate the experience of David. As sinners we like him experience corruption and are not raised and transformed until the general resurrection. Jesus, however, pioneers the way of those who are still alive at the end of the age. Since they do not die and undergo resurrection, they nonetheless need to be transformed and glorified as he was (1 Cor. 15:47-57; Phil. 3:21).

Covenant Life

All this is in essence spelt out by Paul in Galatians 4:1-7. The picture he paints is less descriptive but more pointedly theological and covenantal. He indicates that Jesus was born of woman and through her of Adam (Luke 3:38) and so was a true human being like the rest of us. By this he implies that he first progressed from the dust like Adam (cf. Eph. 4:9) then passed through the merely fleshly or animal stage of his life. Then, as he developed he became a child of nature as a Gentile (heathen) descendant of Noah. This of course involved his spending time as a slave in Egypt (Gal. 4:1-3; Mt. 2:15). Next, following in the steps of his Jewish forebears, on his return from Egyptian bondage he became a son of the commandment and so like them was in bondage under the law of Moses (cf. Gal. 3:23-25). However, since he was the one who alone kept the law and gained eternal life, he introduced the regenerate life into this world (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). But whereas under the law he recapitulated the experience of his ancestors, after his baptism by the Spirit he himself as a new creature became the pioneer of the Christian life (2 Cor. 5:17).

Jesus as the second Adam began as God in perfection but when he became incarnate he humbled himself and took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6f.). In other words, as incarnate he began where Adam began, that is, in the ground (cf. Eph. 4:9). Far from being perfect (complete or fully mature) his challenge was to be perfected and thereby to become perfect (cf. Mt. 5:48; Eph. 4:10). In other words, since he was to all intents and purposes created in the image of God like every other human being he had to take on the likeness of God in order to take on his complete image (Heb. 1:3) and regain his original glory (John 17:5,24).

If this is true, the idea pervading church tradition that Adam was originally perfect in holiness and righteousness is absurd. If Jesus, the second Adam, was not righteous at his conception and birth, then neither was the first. If Jesus had to gain righteousness by keeping the law in order to meet the condition of life, then so had Adam. But whereas Adam failed Jesus succeeded.


I conclude then that original perfection, righteousness and holiness followed by sin and universal curse requiring the restoration/redemption of creation is superstitious nonsense. The Bible makes it clear beyond reasonable question that the material creation was subjected to corruption by divine decree from the start (Rom. 8:20). As the footstool of God, it was never intended to last forever but to be replaced by heaven, the home of righteousness where God has his throne. Since it had a beginning which implies an end, it was by nature transient. Thank God for from our point of view, this present ‘evil’ age (Gal. 1:4) was always intended to be followed by the age to come, the infinitely better eternal world which we enter through Christ (cf. Luke 20:34-36; John 14:2f.,19; Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18*; Eph. 1:20f.; Heb. 9:11f.,24; 12:22-24, etc.).

* 2 Corinthians 5:1, which apparently refers to the body of flesh rather than to the earth, should perhaps be added here. It is, however, arguably ambiguous like various other biblical words such as Adam, world (John 1:10), house (2 Sam. 7), creation (Rom. 8:19-21), etc. Whatever the case, the destruction of the one, that is, the flesh, implies the destruction of the earth from which it stems.



C.J.H.Wright, Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament, Oxford, 2006.



Readers of the early part of the Bible soon become acquainted with the idea of bondage or slavery. Who can readily forget that Israel, the children of Abraham, was enslaved in Egypt, rescued from that house of bondage by Moses and finally led to freedom in the Promised Land by Joshua? Regrettably from their point of view this freedom like their slavery was limited. It did not involve either freedom from sin, from the impermanence of the Promised Land itself (cf. Heb. 3,4) or from their enemies, as we shall see. Fortunately, the Bible has a good deal more to say about bondage and it is worth examining it.


Bondage in Egypt

First, bondage in Egypt arose out of necessity. (1* Cf. Ruth 1:1, though some have argued that Elimelech and Naomi sinned by going to Moab.) The land of Canaan was devastated by a famine. Fortunately for Jacob (Israel) and his children, the way to mitigate the effect of famine in the land of Egypt had been prepared for them providentially by God in his dealings with Joseph (Gen. 45:5-7; 50:20). However, it becomes crystal clear that later bondage in Assyria and Babylon was the consequence of sin and rebellion on the part of the elect nation. According to Isaiah Assyria is the rod of God’s anger (Isa.10:5). Nebuchadnezzar, heathen though he is, is described as the servant of God who rules the nations (Jer. 27:6) and enslaves Israel in a seventy-year exile. As God had warned David when he promised one of his sons an eternal kingdom, he would nonetheless punish his children’s sins (Ps. 89:30-37). In light of this it is less than surprising that sin figures prominently in the later sufferings of God’s elect nation. The warnings of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 are amply realized and extend to the evil impact of Greece and especially Rome on the chosen race. So even when the Messiah appeared, Israel was still in bondage, and the words of Nehemiah were as relevant as ever: “Here we are, slaves to this day – slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts” (Neh. 9:36, NRSV). In these circumstances, it is not at all surprising that even John the Baptist had a somewhat uncertain understanding of the Messiah whose herald he was (Luke 7:20, cf. John 6:15).


Bondage to Sin and the Devil

Man, that is Adam and Eve, was created knowing neither the law nor good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). Since the apostle says that where there is no law there is neither good nor evil (Rom. 2:13; 4:15; 6:16; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:7), we are compelled to conclude that our first parents though physically mature (adult) were (spiritually and morally) innocent like babies (cf. Dt. 1:39; 1 K. 3:7,9; Heb. 5:12-14, etc.). However, since like babies they must have undergone development till intelligent consciousness dawned, they unlike the rest of the animals became amenable to law or specifically (like babies again) to a commandment. The point of this commandment was to test their hearts (cf. Ex. 15:24; 20:20; Dt. 8:2,16) on the one hand and to promise them eternal life if they were obedient on the other (cf. Rom. 7:9f.). In the event, led astray by the devil and the lusts of the flesh (Gen. 3:1-7, cf. Rom. 1:24-32), they proved false as we their posterity all do in our turn. As a consequence, we are all ensnared by the devil, the god of this world (2 Tim. 2:26, cf. Rom. 16:18) and enslaved by sin (John 8:34; Eph. 2:1-3). The truth expressed by Isaiah that iniquities had made a separation between God and his people was all too evident (Isa. 59:2). Of course, there is plenty of evidence of the enslaving power of sin as such. Jesus himself pointed out that the one who sins is thereby enslaved by it (John 8:34, cf. Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19). So eventually as a consequence of their sin including their rejection of Jesus their Messiah they were overwhelmed by the Romans, and the temple and the city by which they set so much store were left desolate (cf. e.g. Mt. 23).


Bondage to Law and hence to Sin

Of course, there is in the epistles much material relating to sin but it is important to recognize that there are other causes of bondage apart from sin as such. For both Paul and Peter (e.g. John 7:19; Acts 15:10, etc.) imply that the law to which the Jews were so committed was itself an instrument of bondage and not of grace and freedom. In Galatians 3:23 Paul says that those who were under law (i.e. both Jews and Gentiles) were held captive and imprisoned (ESV) by law which he says elsewhere is the power of sin (1 Cor.15:56). They were kept by it in a state of permanent minority like students at school (Gal. 4:1-4, KJV). So far from freeing its devotees from sin as many seemed to imagine, the law as such actually held them in bondage and virtually guaranteed that they were enslaved by sin as well (cf. 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8). As the apostle shows, whereas like Adam and Eve they were sinless (alive) so long as they were without (the) law (Rom. 4:15), once it came it killed them (cf. Rom. 7:9f.). The problem was that though it promised life, they could not keep it. Justification by keeping the law was beyond their powers and the only way they could gain the righteousness which was the precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) was by faith in the very Christ they rejected (cf. Gal. 2:16).


Bondage to the Devil

The Bible tells us that the god of this world is the devil (2 Cor. 4:4, cf. 1 John 5:19). Later in this very chapter he goes on to indicate to the Jews that though they are the physical offspring of Abraham, their real father is the devil whose will they are all too ready to do (8:44). This inevitably led to their dying in their sins (John 8:24). But as Jesus insisted the devil as well as being an inveterate liar was also a murderer. According to the author of Hebrews taking his cue from the Genesis story, it was the devil who had the power of death (Heb. 2:14). This led inevitably to the universal fear of death which held mankind in permanent bondage. The Greeks were always afraid, said Gilbert Murray, and it was the fear of death that held all people in bondage.


Bondage to the Flesh

Early in the piece the Bible makes it clear that since all mankind are created from dust, they are in fact bound by their flesh (cf. Ps. 78:39; 103:14). As early as Genesis 6:3 it is made plain that the days of man’s flesh are limited to 120 years, though later this is scaled down to three score years and ten or perhaps four score. Not only does death come to all that breathes in the flood where the backcloth is sin but Elihu indicates that the life of all flesh by its very nature depends on God. If he withdraws his Spirit, then death inevitably ensues (Job 34:14f.; James 2:26). In light of this we rightly conclude that to live eternally man whose flesh is weak (cf. Rom. 7:14) must either keep the law which promises life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) or live by faith (John 3:16, etc.).


The Bondage of Death and Corruption

Since man as a creature derives from a creation that is inherently temporal (2 Cor. 4:18), destructible and corruptible (Ps. 102:25-27, etc.), he is trapped by nature (cf. Luke 21:34). Escape is therefore paramount. However, since like Adam he proves incapable of keeping the law so as to gain (eternal) life, he is shut up to faith in Christ precisely as God always intended (cf. Eph. 1:4f.; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2). Apart from Christ who is his life-line, he is foredoomed to failure (Rom. 3:19f.). It should be noted here that even Jesus, the Man, himself escaped, first, by gaining life at his baptism indicating the universal need for regeneration by keeping the law (Lev. 18:5, cf. John 3:3-7) and, second, by being transformed at his ascension (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-53). In this way he became our pioneer into heaven itself (Heb. 12:2) where he is seated at God’s right hand (Rev. 3:21).


The Bondage of Youth

But there was another matter of supreme importance which the churches under the influence of Augustinian tradition even in the twenty-first century seem to miss. Sin is not the only problem. (2* See further my Not Only But Also.) Paul points out in Galatians 4:1-3 that before being held captive by the law of Moses, which did not really come into effect until a Jewish boy reached the age of 13 or his bar mitzvah when he became a son of the commandment, a child was no different from a slave. Even though he was potentially the owner of the estate, as a minor he was enslaved under guardians, managers and the elementary principles of the world (Gal. 4:3) until the date set by his father. Even the Lord Jesus, recapitulating the experience of his forefathers, endured bondage in Egypt irrespective of sin (Mt. 2:15). In other words, like his fathers especially Abraham he was heathen before he was truly Jewish. Needless to say, as Luke 2:51 indicates, he remained submissive to his parents so long as he remained under the law (cf. Ex. 20:12). (It is worth noting that despite recognizing that his first allegiance was to his heavenly Father, as truly man in accordance with the law he submitted to the dictates of the law as his Father required, Luke 2:49).

So what Paul is in fact teaching the Gentile Galatians in 4:1-7 is that we all begin our conscious life as heathen under the covenant with Noah (cf. Acts 14:16f.), then, if we are Jews, we continue it under the law of Moses. Finally, when through faith in Christ we receive the Spirit of Christ we are called to live as adopted sons, and as such we are heirs of the estate (4:7, cf. Rom. 8:17). To express the issue yet more appositely, as sons and heirs we are free (Gal. 4:31, cf. Rom. 8:21) belonging to the Jerusalem that is above on the one hand (Gal. 4:26, cf. Phil. 3:20) and destined to share the glory of God on the other (Rom. 8:21, cf. v.30).


Bondage to Sin, Death and the Devil

In 1 Corinthians 15:56 Paul tells us that the law is the power of sin that leads to death (1 Cor. 15:56). In light of this assertion and others such as Romans 6:23 and Hebrews 2:14f., it is easy to assume that all death is the wages of sin and the work of the devil. But can this view be upheld? Can it be shown that sin is always in evidence? To answer this question we need to go back to Genesis 1-3 to Adam and Eve and the plan of salvation which has been so profoundly misunderstood by the churches which are still governed by the thinking of Augustine of Hippo. He saw things differently and, obsessed with sin, assumed that all bondage including death stemmed from sin. There is good reason, however, for believing that the Bible presents us with another scenario.


The Augustinian Worldview

According to Augustine and those who have accepted his views since, God brought into being a perfect creation which was intended to be subject to the dominion of a perfect, holy, righteous and even immortal Adam and Eve. However, despite their high moral standing first Eve, then Adam ‘fell’ into sin and dragged the whole creation down with them (Gen. 3). Thus because of human sin the earth lies permanently under the sentence of God’s curse. This, it is claimed, is the explanation of the death and corruption which we see and experience even today. Furthermore, this state of affairs is made worse by continuing murder, violence, rape and plunder perpetrated by man who as the offspring of Adam and Eve is born a sinner. It is yet further claimed that even animals are killed for food against the express intention of the God who created them. But can this scenario be justified? Since there is so much evidence suggesting something different, we must look at the issue a little more closely. But let us begin at the beginning.


Our First Parents

First, in the second chapter of the Bible, since Adam and Eve, while initially ignorant of the commandment and good and evil, are threatened with death if they eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, the inference we are forced to draw is that they are naturally mortal but promised (eternal) life if they keep the commandment (Gen. 2:16f.). This is borne out by what Paul says in Romans 7:9-10 where he maintains that the commandment he as a son of Adam first received as a child presumably through his parents, when the (parental) commandment (cf. Prov. 1:8; 4:1-9; 6:20, etc.) first dawned on his developing mind and promised him life. What does he mean? Clearly, if he was already ‘alive’ as Adam originally had been, the life promised was eternal life which he obviously did not have. So the conclusion we are compelled to draw from this is that our first parents and all their children who were born in their image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) were created naturally mortal and corruptible. If this is so, they were in dire need of a way of escape and this was only possible by keeping the commandment(s) as the frequently repeated teaching of Leviticus 18:5 constantly affirms.


The Bondage of Creation

If this is true and humankind is prone to death by nature, then sheer logic leads us inexorably to acknowledge the fact that the source of their nature, that is the earth from which they are taken (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 78:39; 103:14, etc.), is also naturally corruptible and destructible. This we might have been inferred from the fact that in contrast with the eternal Creator creation had a beginning and an end. This view is supported, first, by Genesis 1:1, and, second, by the threat of cataclysmic destruction by the flood and recognition that the covenant with Noah only endures to the end of the world (Gen. 8:22, cf. Isa. 54:9f.).

Now if these inferences are true we must expect them to be supported by other teaching expressly dealing with them in the rest of the Bible. Hebrews 1:10-12 which involves quotations from the OT certainly suggests that creation is naturally corruptible or subject to decay by divine decree. The expression “the work of your hands” (usually cheiropoietos) is always used pejoratively in Scripture in contrast with “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos) as Hebrews 9:11,24, for example, indicate. Now if man stems from a corruptible earth, it surely follows as night follows day that he also is naturally subject to decay or ageing. He too is manufactured or “made by hand’ (cf. Isa. 45:11f.). In other words, sin does not figure: in principle it is entirely irrelevant to the issue.


Romans 8:18-25

The same conclusion must be drawn from Romans 8:18-25 where Paul differentiates between the present age and that which is to come (v.18, cf. Luke 20:34-36; 2 Cor. 4:17f.). Contrary to much traditional teaching in which Genesis 3:15-19 is gratuitously and arbitrarily inferred, the bondage to decay of both creation and its creature has nothing whatsoever to do with sin. And the idea that the creation (as opposed to the creature) is going to be set free from its bondage to decay and enjoy the freedom of the children of God is as false as it is absurd. (3* For more detail, see my Romans 8:18-25.)


Romans 6:23, etc.

So it is important at this point to re-examine Romans 6:23 on the basis of which many have taught that sin is the universal cause of death and that it did not exist until Adam sinned. (4* On this see my Death Before Genesis 3, A Double Helping.) It should be noticed first that sin is defined as transgression of the law (commandment) as James 2:9-11 and 1 John 3:4, for example, indicate. Furthermore, it is a work which earns the wages of death. The problem is that animals do not know the law apart from which there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15), yet they nonetheless die like the Israelites who fed on manna (John 6:49). Like the creation itself (Heb. 1:11) they are naturally, that is, by creation prone to ageing and hence to death (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 8:13). So far as man is concerned sin becomes a problem because it prevents the realization of the promise of eternal life which is suspended on obedience or keeping the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). Since in the event all who receive the law cannot keep it, all die (cf. Rom. 5:12). Does this mean then that death cannot be overcome? Not at all! Jesus alone of all human beings that ever lived kept the law while he was in the flesh (Rom. 8:3, cf. Heb. 2:14f.) and gained (eternal) life. This is made evident by his baptism when, having pleased his Father while under the law, he received the Spirit (Mt. 3:13-17, cf. Gal. 3:2,5) which remained on him (John 1:32f.). (5* What ‘remains’ is of fundamental importance in Scripture. See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 1:11; 12:27. While the earth and the flesh which derives from it, 2 Cor. 5:1, are destroyed, the spiritual remains forever.) This means that Jesus alone was perfectly qualified to atone for man’s sin and to serve as man’s Saviour as God always intended (Acts 4:12). Before God no ordinary man (flesh) will boast (1 Cor. 1:29) except in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).



I conclude then that all visible material things (Rom. 1:20) are by nature, that is, apart from sin, in bondage to decay (Heb. 1:11) and destruction (Heb. 1:12;12:27). They are naturally impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18) and ultimately futile. That is the way they were created, but ‘in hope’ (Rom. 8:20,24f., cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.). Even the sinless Jesus who overcame death but remained flesh (Luke 24:39, cf. John 20:17) still had to be changed in order to ascend into heaven (1 Cor. 15:51-55). His incarnation had to be reversed if he was to inherit the eternal blessings of David (Acts 13:34) and to regain the glory he had with the Father before the world began (John 17:5,24). For just as he alone as flesh gained life (was necessarily born again) by keeping the law (Lev. 18:5), so as flesh he had to be changed because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 8:35 and Gal. 4:30). Not surprisingly, both immortality and incorruption, which were natural necessities that man at his creation did not possess, were uniquely accomplished and brought to light in him who did not personally sin (2 Tim. 1:10). And this ensured that the rest of his brethren could share these divine attributes (1 Cor. 15:53, cf. Heb. 2:11-13). In plain language, our acquisition of the generic nature (the incorruption and immortality) and moral holiness of God is accomplished in Christ. This was the intention from the start for those made potentially in the divine image.



To sum up, our bondage to creation, to creaturely (fleshly) corruption, to law, to sin and hence to death necessitates that we embrace Christ as a new husband. Once we have him we can begin new and permanent life in the Spirit (Rom. 7:6). In this way we become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15)* and when finally transformed fitted for heaven and the presence of God.

* To translate these verses (and Romans 8:21) as ‘creation’ may be formally correct but it is nonetheless highly misleading. It is people that are saved, regenerated, adopted, etc., not creation which being naturally transient was destined for destruction from the start (Gen.1:1; Isa. 51:6; 54:10; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Mt. 24:29, 35; 28:20; Luke 17:29f.; Rom. 8:20; Heb. 1:10-12; 6:7f.; 8:13; 12:26-29; 2 Pet. 2:6; 3:5-12, etc.).

Note the contrast between John 3:16 (world=people) and 1 John 2:15-17 (world=creation) and see my The Transience of Creation; The Destruction of the Material Creation.  Note also the natural necessities of John 3:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:53 underlined in my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.



Concerning Original Righteousness

Of all the dogmas that have come down to us from our spiritual forebears none has involved more misunderstanding and wreaked more havoc, at least in its ramifications and implications, than the notion that Adam and Eve were created perfect, holy and righteous to exercise lordship in a perfect creation. Today in the twenty-first century, though we still hear much of original sin, comparatively little is heard of the concomitant idea of original righteousness. Many who upheld it even in my younger days seem to have quietly ceased to refer to it, though it appears regularly in reprints of older theological works.

The Historical Background

It was Augustine of Hippo who foisted it on the church of his day, and it has stayed with us for nearly 1600 years. It must be remembered, however, that Augustine was converted against a background of paganism, of Manicheism in particular, though his mother, Monica, was a Christian. His understanding of the Bible was extremely limited at the start of his ecclesiastical career but he studied hard.

Augustine believed that God had created man (Adam) upright, good and free (Seeberg 1,341). This being so, it was man’s delight as well as his duty to serve God and to subject his body to his soul (Rist, 101f.,110,112). He had the capacity to persevere in good and the exercise of his free will. Further, he was able not to sin (posse non peccare) though not unable to sin (non posse peccare). Ultimately, however, his pride proved his undoing (Seeberg,1,342, Rist, 102). This is associated with the ‘triple concupiscence’ referred to in 1 John 2:16 where concupiscence comes to mean for Augustine not merely lust but weakness.

So it was from the ‘high estate’ (Milton) of original righteousness that man in Adam fell. Whereas before he was able to decide between good and evil, he now had to contend with ignorance, difficulty and weakness. He lost his free will and could no longer perform any good act. He had a divided self or ‘shattered identity’, feared death yet was liable to temptation and unable to control his disobedient, especially his sexual, members (Rist, pp.130ff.). The result of all this was that man’s nature was now ‘significantly irrational and hence unintelligible’ (Rist, p. 138). In a word human nature, not simply the nature of Adam which was passed on to all his children, had undergone a serious change for the worse. Man was ‘socially’ and ‘genetically’ damaged (Rist, p. 326) and mortally wounded.

Based firmly on this platform and harbouring great admiration for Augustine, it is not surprising that the Reformers, though taking great strides away from medieval Catholicism in certain areas, fell well short of escaping his tentacles. They believed in the words of Mastricht that “original righteousness was conferred on Adam not as a private but a public person” and would therefore have been transmitted to posterity. In the event, however, since like begets like (cf. John 3:6), it was original sin that was passed on resulting in the disturbing loss of free will (see Heppe, pp.240f., cf. Seeberg, p.342). (1* Cf. the later federal theology and the idea that Adam was the covenant head and representative of all humanity.) Though they distinguished between righteousness as substance (God) and accident (man), the Reformers, conditioned as they were by Augustine’s views, clearly drew false conclusions from the biblical data which must now be briefly examined.

The Biblical Data

First, righteousness inheres in God alone: he is not only righteous in himself (Dt. 32:4; Ps. 119:137; Jer. 12:1; Dan. 9:7; Isa. 45:21) but is righteous in all that he does (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 92:15; Isa. 5:16; Dan. 7:14,16). Since he himself is characterized by his holiness and righteousness, he requires man who is created in his image to be like him (Gen. 17:1; Lev. 19:2; Dt. 16:20; 18:13; 2 Chron. 19:7, etc.). But since at the start man knows neither the law nor good and evil, God’s image is purely potential. In other words, it has to be acquired by obedience (cf. Rom. 6:16), which is the implication of Genesis 2 and 3.

This is where Augustine, followed by the medieval church and later still by the Reformers, went so profoundly wrong. He assumed that righteousness was part of Adam’s nature by creation, but this is impossible. The mere fact that it is intimated in Genesis 2:17, 3:5 and 3:22 that Adam and Eve, originally knowing neither good nor evil, had no, least of all ethical, understanding whatsoever should have suggested that they were morally neutral like babies (cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14). And it was only when they transgressed the commandment that the situation changed. To say this is to highlight the role of law in Scripture, and it must now be briefly examined.

The Law

First, on the basis of his understanding of the OT Paul lays it down that where there is no law there is no sin (4:15; 5:13; 7:7-12). John implies the same but expresses himself somewhat differently when he defines sin as lawlessness or as transgression of the law (1 John 3:4; 5:17, cf. James 2:9-11). Secondly, and equally importantly, righteousness is only acquired when the law is obeyed (Dt. 6:25; Ps. 24:3-5; Ezek. 18:5-9; Rom. 6:16). This point is brought out in a much misunderstood contention of James (see 2:21,24,25) but stated explicitly by John (1 John 3:7, cf. v.10 and 2:29).

The whole issue is perhaps most easily clarified by reference to the life of Jesus, the man, who was also born like all babies knowing neither good nor evil (cf. Isa. 7:15f.). Even he had to acquire righteousness by his obedience. Whereas the first Adam, and all his posterity likewise (1 K. 8:46, etc.), broke the commandment, Jesus, the second or last Adam, kept the whole written law of Moses and received the approval of his Father by so doing (Mt. 3:17). His reception of the Spirit at his baptism makes it crystal clear that he had kept the law to his Father’s satisfaction and was granted eternal life in accordance with the original promise to Adam (Gen. 2:17). That obedience was the precondition of life is expressed most succinctly in Leviticus 18:5, and not surprisingly the essence of this verse re-appears repeatedly throughout Scripture (e.g. Neh. 9:29; Ezek. 20:11,13,21; Rom. 10:5, etc.). For all that he was considered righteous in OT terms (cf. Paul in Philippians 3:6 though note in his case Romans 7:7), he recognized that he was required as the true Son of his Father to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) in order to achieve the perfection or completeness of his Father (Mt. 5:48; Acts 10:38; Heb. 2:10, etc.). Thus he became obedient to death (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8f.) thereby totally fulfilling his Father’s will (Heb. 10:7; John 17:4; 19:30) by laying down his life for his sheep (John 10:17f.). It is then and not a moment before his resurrection and ascension (note Acts 2:22-24) that he is acclaimed as the Holy and Righteous One in a definitive sense (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 John 2:1), implying his equality with the Father. This had of course been obliquely referred to by the devil in Genesis 3:5 (cf. Isa. 45:21,23; Phil. 2:9-11). In John 17:5,24, having to all intents and purposes finished his work, Jesus himself reclaims the glory that he had relinquished during his incarnation. And for Paul he was declared to be Son of God in power, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:4).

In light of all this, it is plain that the role of law alone in Scripture precludes the possibility that ‘flesh’ could be righteous by creation (cf. Rom. 7:18; 8:8). If this was true of the incarnate Jesus who was ‘born of woman’ (cf. Job 15:14), how much more of ordinary men like dusty Adam whose origin resembled that of maggots and worms (Job 25:4-6). On reflection, it is quite ironical, astonishing in fact, that many Christians have believed that the flesh is evil (cf. NIV and its constant rendering of sarx (flesh) as ‘sinful nature’ though corrected in the 2011 edition) yet have nonetheless attributed righteousness to him who was the very epitome of the flesh (cf. Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:45-49). It is all the more amazing when on consideration we see that the only moral quality that Adam is given in Scripture is his sinfulness, not because he was made that way but because the only record we have of him is as one who broke the law (commandment). Certainly he fell far short of the kind of good that Augustine attributed to him.

Scripture is unequivocally clear on this matter. Jesus, the second Adam, was the only man in all history who successfully kept the law, and on the basis of his obedience was pronounced righteous.

Some may protest at this point and insist that Jesus as the Son of God must have been ontologically righteous. That, however, would be to confuse his humanity with his divinity and to stray into docetism. Once the word became man (flesh) he had to play the role of the second Adam, justify himself by the works of the law or fail in the attempt as his predecessor had done. This is why it can be said that he had to keep the law on his own account. Failure would only have disqualified him from ever acting as Adam’s necessary replacement and our substitute. This point becomes clear when we consider what is said in Ezekiel 14:14,20 where we read that Noah, Daniel and Job could only have delivered themselves by their righteousness by faith (cf. Moses in Exodus 32:32f. and note Paul in Romans 9:3). In contrast with them, however, Jesus kept the law but in so doing, as was indicated above, was regenerated in accordance with the divine promise recorded most notably in Leviticus 18:5 and thus enabled to die on his brothers’ behalf (Eph. 2:10; Heb. 2:10-13).

Human Development

The Reformers (and regrettably the sons of the only half-completed Reformation) as they somewhat uncritically followed Augustine and the medieval church, made another inference which is not merely radically unbiblical but also flies in the face of human experience, that is they saw man essentially as a flat uniformity and not as a creature inherently subject to development or evolution (cf. Berkhof on Schleiermacher, ST, p.203). Otherwise expressed, they failed to reckon with the fact that Adam was representative man according to the flesh and an individual in his own right (though certainly not its covenant head). As the former, he was only in his infancy, initially a fetus gestating in the womb (Eden) in fact. As the latter, while he may have been physically mature he was spiritually very primitive indeed. Thus the Reformers and many of their successors tried to argue back from texts like Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 and draw the clearly erroneous conclusion that since regenerate man’s image is that of God, then Adam’s was originally like it. (2* See e.g. Hodge on Ephesians 4:24, p.267.) But this is to fly in the face of the evidence and to reflect complete theological or anthropological disorientation. It confuses the beginning with the end. It is in fact an attempt to fetch back the age of gold which in fact never existed.

The truth is, judging by Genesis 3:5, that the devil, fully aware that Adam was created in God’s image, also recognized that that image was only embryonic or potential and as such had the capacity to develop under the law and fully achieve God’s likeness. This he was intent on preventing, of nipping in the bud. (3* Had that image been already perfect as Augustine taught, it is difficult to see what the devil could have done.) So in accordance with his God-given nature, man had to mature and achieve righteousness first by keeping the commandment and eventually the whole law of Moses. Then having met its precondition he would, like Jesus at his baptism, have received the Spirit and been granted eternal life (Lev. 18:5, etc.). However, even after gaining righteousness under the law of Moses, Jesus was subjected to temptation in what was clearly the devil’s bid to prevent him from attaining to perfection (cf. Mt. 16:22f.). This reminds us that Jesus’ perfection involved the redemption of mankind (cf. John 19:30). (4* Note also the devil’s emphasis on Jesus’ status as the Son of God in the temptations recorded in Matthew 4:1-11. From this we learn that it was essential for the function of Jesus (what he did) to match his ontology (who he was). The process was completed of course when Jesus finally completed his exodus, Luke 9:31,51, and ascended to regain his former glory, John 17:5,24.)

Protestant Doctrine

Since the Reformation Protestant apologetics has made a good deal of Adam’s original righteousness. When Charles Hodge claimed: “It is plain from these passages (Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10) that knowledge, righteousness and holiness are elements of the image of God in which man was originally created” (ST,2, p.101, Ephesians, p.267, cf. Berkhof, ST, pp.202f.), and “What is asserted of Adam is that, as he came from the hands of his Maker, his mind was imbued with this spiritual or divine knowledge”, and again “… it is plain that the Protestant doctrine concerning the image of God and the original righteousness in which and with which Adam was created includes not only his rational nature, but also knowledge, righteousness, and holiness” (ibid. p.102), it is obvious that his Augustinian view of the Bible and of man himself was seriously astray. After all, Genesis itself makes it clear beyond reasonable dispute that Adam as created, like a baby lacking all knowledge and understanding, knew neither good nor evil. (5* Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15:46 that flesh comes before spirit. The implication of this is that Adam as created out of the ground like the animals was himself first a human animal, that is merely flesh, who eventually developed understanding under the Spirit of God. Like a baby the first command he understood was no!)

Tragically, however, the Reformers, like their medieval forebears, drew from this false notion of Adam’s original righteousness the inference that when Adam sinned he fell from some ‘high estate’ (Milton) that he had previously occupied. But this is manifestly not the case. If Adam fell at all he fell not from the perfect righteousness that characterizes the full-grown or mature man (cf. Jesus, and note e.g. Eph. 4:13-15) but from the state of virtual innocence that a baby enjoys (cf. Isa. 7:15f.; 8:4; Rom. 9:11), which is questionably a fall at all. Having once transgressed, however, Adam became as Jesus intimated in John 8:34, the slave of sin (cf. Rom. 6:16-19). The trend he began was imitated or better repeated (pace Art. 9 of the C of E) and continued, not inherited, by his descendants when ‘all flesh’ corrupted its way on the earth (6:11f.) and was only arrested by the intervention of God in the time of Noah, though even he was a sinner.

Another point must be made. The Bible insists that Adam’s nature was essentially ‘flesh’ (1 Cor. 15:42-50, cf. Heb. 2:14). This being the case, when Jesus says that the flesh is unprofitable (John 6:63, cf. Rom. 7:18; 8:8), he thereby implicitly denies that there is any moral good in Adam. He was no more capable of producing acceptable fruit for God (cf. Heb. 11:6) than a worm or a maggot whose basic nature he shared (Job 25:5f.).

But the Bible has another way of emphasizing the unprofitability of the earthly side of man who lacks inherent value in relation to God, his Creator (cf. Job 22:2f.; 35:7). There is the question of status to consider. Man (Adam) begins life as an earthly creature knowing neither good nor evil and is entirely dependent on God for his support (cf. Num. 11:12). Later, he is carried about by God as a parent carries a child (Ex. 19:4; Ezek. 16; Isa. 63:9; Hos. 11:3f.). In this condition he is but a slave (Gal. 4:1) as Israel in his minority was in Egypt. Once, however, he comes within the jurisdiction and under the instruction of the law, he is no longer a slave (child) but a servant (cf. Lev. 25:42,46,55; 26:13). But even servants lack intrinsic value and produce no good that is worthy of note. By definition, slaves and servants are quite incapable of doing meritorious good. After all, their role is simply to do as they are told (Luke 7:8). Jesus underlines the point when he says in Luke 17:7-10 that a servant, far from putting his master in his debt (cf. Rom. 11:35), is under an obligation to do all that he is commanded to do, and at best falls short even of that (cf. Rom. 3:23; Heb. 9:15). So it becomes perfectly plain that Jesus himself was the peerless servant who alone did his Father’s will and was thus confirmed and acknowledged as his true Son at his baptism (Mt. 3:17, cf. 17:25f.). And it is only as adopted sons that we who believe in him who is our elder brother (Heb. 2:10-13, cf. Luke 15:25-32*) can serve God acceptably (Eph. 2:10; 4:24; Tit. 2:14).

Mention of the word ‘son’ highlights yet another point, for even sons serve their fathers and seek to imitate them, not merely their written instructions but their very characters and nature (cf. Heb. 1:3). Thus Jesus at his baptism undertakes to fulfil all righteousness and achieve perfection as the true Son of his Father, the OT Servant par excellence (Mt. 3:15; John 4:34; 8:29, cf. Mt. 19:21) and in this he is pre-eminently successful despite all the opposition the devil can muster (John 5:19; 14:31; 15:10b). So he finished his course (Luke 13:32) in complete submission to his Father’s will (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 3:6a; 5:8; 10:9f.), and on his exaltation he is pronounced the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14, etc.).

As far as we are concerned, the essence of Jesus’ work as the regenerate Son is that he died to save us as the most famous text in the Bible indicates – John 3:16 (cf. 1 John 4:9; Rom. 5:2,8-10). But the point to be noted is that this work constituted Jesus’ fruit bearing as a Son (John 12:24; 6:37-40, 44-51). It was the kind of work that was inherently impossible for a servant under the law who was in the nature of the case pre-occupied with the task of justifying himself (Lev. 18:5). Rather it involved the voluntary self-offering (John10:17f.) of one who already had eternal life and had already gained entry into the Father’s house (John 8:35f.; cf. Eph. 2:6; Heb. 3:6). No one else was capable of or qualified to accomplish the task. For, if Jesus had not been born again and had died under the law as a Son of the Commandment, he would have been classified as a sinner.

All this prompts the question of our own status before God. Have we Gentiles not only been slaves rather than (Jewish) servants (note how the servant category is missing from the pagan Galatians in 4:1-7) and eminently unprofitable ones at that (Eph. 2:1-3)? Was not the story of our pre-conversion days one of short coming, sin and rebellion? Can we claim righteousness on the basis of works? Manifestly not. But as believers in Christ for us the situation has changed. For just as he was accepted as a son, the Son in fact, at his baptism (Mark 1:11), so were we at ours assuming we were responsible believers (Acts 2:38; 10:44-48; Rom. 8:12-16; Gal. 3:26f.). And Jesus teaches in a manner scarcely able to be misunderstood that, having already been justified through faith in him, provided that we abide in him as he did in his Father, then we can bear fruit too as true sons and daughters (John 15). If we are under any illusions in this respect, it is worth noting that Paul teaches the same thing (Rom. 7:4, cf. 6:13b; Gal. 2:19; Tit. 2:11-14).

Now sons, as we all well know, are not always as obedient as they should be (cf. Luke 15:11-32) and some of their works, if not actually evil, are done with the wrong motive. Yet while as Paul suggests these works will be found wanting on Judgement Day (1 Cor. 3:12-15), their demerit does not affect their standing as true sons. This, of course, brings us back to Jesus’ stress on our keeping his commandments and abiding in him (John 14:15), for perfection is still our aim (Mt. 5:48; 19:21). Of this Paul was well aware as he strove for mastery over his body and the completion of his course in a life full of incident and suffering (Phil. 3:12-16; Acts 20:24). And as he approached the finish, he was confident that, having kept the faith, there was laid up for him the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, would award him at the end. Furthermore, as a good pastor of souls, he was able to assure his readers that they too, as they continued their pilgrimage, could look for a similar reward (2 Tim. 4:6-8).


On the assumption that what has been said above is in essence correct, there are certain fundamental lessons to be learnt from it:

(1) Man as created (or procreated) does not know the law and hence neither good nor evil. He is therefore innocent or morally neutral.

(2) To become either sinful or righteous he, including even Jesus, the last Adam, must either break (James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17) or keep the law (Dt. 6:25; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 3:7; James 2:8, 21-26). So when Paul says that where there is no law there is no transgression, he implies by the same token that there is no righteousness either (Rom. 6:16). Since there was no law or commandment in evidence at Adam’s creation (cf. Rom. 9:11), the notion of his original righteousness must be rejected.

(3) Since, according to Scripture, righteousness, holiness and perfection is always something to be attained by man, to posit it in Adam’s case is to suggest that he had arrived before he set out!

(4) Since Adam was clearly not originally righteous, it follows that he never ‘fell’ in the traditional sense of that term (cf. Rev. 2:5). Original sin then is as much a myth as original righteousness and could not possibly be transmitted to his descendants (Ex. 32:33; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 14:14-20; 18).

(5) All men and women, with the single exception of Jesus, are incapable of achieving righteousness by performing the works of the law (Gal. 2:16, etc.). A righteousness imputed by faith is therefore indispensable for life (cf. Lev. 18:5 and Rom. 3:21-28).

(6) According to the Bible man is inherently subject to development, maturation, growth, evolution, completion. Perfection or maturity in sin and/or righteousness cannot be stamped or superimposed on us as a supernatural gift, infused in us or conveyed to us by means of a mechanically operating sacrament as Catholics maintain.

(7) It is fatal to follow uncritically the teaching of great men no matter how exalted their reputation. Augustine’s errors have kept the church in relative adolescence for 1600 years, and it is now time for it to come of age.

* The parable of the Prodigal Son or at least the Elder Brother has surely been widely misunderstood. If it was designed to show the love of the Father, then it succeeds admirably. The apparent reluctance of the older noticeably obedient son points up the awesomeness of the victory Jesus achieved in the flesh. See further my essay Re-Instating The Elder Son.



L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

C.Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols, London, 1960.

J.Rist, Augustine, Cambridge, 1994.

R.Seeberg, The History of Doctrine, Grand Rapids, 1977.

H.Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, 1950.

Re-Instating The Elder Son

(Some years ago I wrote a piece on the parable of the prodigal son. I was not entirely happy with it and deleted it. Later I regretted this since I was convinced that my thesis, prompted in part by S.B. Ferguson’s frequent reference to Jesus as our Elder Brother, pp.13,33,45, etc., was basically correct though incomplete. Below I expound the parable as I think it was, at least in part, meant to be understood.)

Few passages of Scripture are better known and popular than the parable of the prodigal son. After all, the picture of bad boy making good is widespread and is based on a fairly common experience in every day life. Most, if not all, of us repent of and outgrow the sins of our youth (Ps. 25:7; Jer. 31:19). For all that, the prodigal was a bit special or his story would not have been told.

Some commentators tell us that the idea of a Jewish son asking for his inheritance was most unusual, if not unheard of. This, however, is not important. What is important in the parable is that he did. Furthermore, he did so in order to have what is nowadays often called ‘a good time’ out of reach of parental supervision.

Next, it needs to be noted that he did it in a far country. This immediately suggests he went to a heathen country where morals were generally looser than on home territory. This reminds us of times past when it was the habit of the sons of the rich Englishmen to undertake the Grand Tour and go off to France, Italy and other such places under the pretext of extending their education but often in fact to sow their wild oats. If we pay attention to Scripture in general we can hardly fail to become aware that the conduct of such sons is somewhat reminiscent of that of the heathen described by Paul in Romans 1. Here the prodigal son squanders his entire inheritance on loose living and fleshly indulgence. However, his good time is short-lived and in due course the harsh realities of life make their impact on him. When famine comes, he is alone, destitute, impecunious, deserted and forced into breaking the religious taboos of his upbringing. For a Jew, to have to deal with pigs and eat their swill was anathema, but that was what happened.

Leaving much to the imagination Jesus simply says he came to himself (v.17, cf. Mt. 21:28f.). When he realized, as many rebellious or misguided young people do, that home and parents are not so bad after all, the prodigal saw that it was now time to face reality and eat humble pie. (Wasn’t it Mark Twain who at eighteen thought that his father was a silly old fool but at forty a wise old man?) He would return (repent), express his regrets to his father and indeed to heaven itself and ask to be taken in not as a son but as a servant.

It would seem to be a fact that most people, not least commentators, adopt a rather indulgent attitude towards the younger son, though one wonders whether they would do so if as parents they found themselves in the same situation. It has always seemed somewhat inconsistent and faintly hypocritical to me for straight-laced, moralistic preachers to heap praise on the loose-living son and pour opprobrium on the law-abiding elder one. While they readily “welcome” the prodigal back into the fold, their reaction to the elder son or brother is much less accommodating, even hostile and vituperative. Why?

First, it is held that parables in general concentrate on making one main point. If this is so, that point here would seem to be, as B.B.Warfield expressed it, that “God in heaven rejoices over the repentance of every sinner that repents” (p.538). It is possible, however, that this rule is not as rigid as some suppose, and we must be prepared to ask if it is always the case especially since this particular parable seems to have two closely related but nonetheless separate parts. Second, it has to be conceded that Luke 15 begins with a reference to both tax collectors and sinners on the one hand and to the Pharisees and the scribes on the other. Consequently, most consider it to be obvious that Jesus is exploiting the elder son to attack the latter for their hypocrisy. This analysis is superficially convincing but in my view it fails to deal adequately with all the evidence.

Warfield appears to make an important point when he says that the elder brother is also a son and that the father loves him too (p.540). On its assumption, however, it seems a little odd that the father should have thrown a party on the return of his younger son and totally neglected to show any palpable appreciation of the son who had served him faithfully through the years. It needs to be noted at this point not only that this son is the elder brother but also that he claims to have worked for his father without ever disobeying his command – hardly the sort of thing that Jesus would have said of the Pharisees (Mt. 23; Mark 7:13; John 7:19). What is more, the father makes no attempt to deny the truth of his son’s claim. In fact, instead of suggesting that he sees him as self-righteous, unloving, lacking in compassion and understanding like the Pharisee in the temple (Luke 18:9-14), he gives the impression that he regards him as his dearly beloved son with whom he has a deep and abiding relationship. (Ladd, p.205, suggests that the elder brother did not know true fellowship with his father, but this is hardly supported by the evidence.) Even more to the point, he freely and apparently gladly acknowledges him as his heir. If this does not remind us of Jesus himself, then it ought to. So what if Jesus was in part portraying himself in the person of the elder brother. After all, we need to remember that Jesus as a true human being was capable of suffering hurt and wounded feelings. Arguably, apart from the possibility that he was trying to appeal to the sensibilities of his audience, as one who was tempted like the rest of us (Heb. 4:15) he was making a point for the benefit of those like missionaries and others who serve God faithfully and sacrificially in this world yet go without so many of this world’s rewards and consolations (cf. Mark 10:28-31)?

Of course, it may immediately be replied that the elder son, like the Pharisees, is at first hotly opposed to what seemed to be the over-the-top reception given to his good-for-nothing brother. True, yet what if Jesus is intent not simply on criticizing the Pharisees for their hard-heartedness but is trying to impress on all his audience the fact that he himself despite his unblemished obedience had received nothing from his Father in this world to soften the harshness of his unremitting toil on behalf of his unappreciative fellows. For him personally there were no favours, concessions, celebrations and the like, only the end as envisaged by the author of Hebrews (12:2). While the prodigal had devoured his patrimony with prostitutes, he in stark contrast had made himself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom (Mt. 19:12). All he received were two public acknowledgements (Luke 3:21f. and 9:35). And even the priceless gift of the Spirit exacerbated the conflict between his own flesh and spirit, as the severity and intensity of his trials and temptations show (Mt. 4:1-11, cf. Heb. 4:15).

Commentators on the parable note that its end is left open. So we are left with the question: Did the elder son enter the house and join in the celebration? How we answer it surely depends on how we view him. We need to recognize first that it seems unjust that the righteous like Job should suffer in this world and in some cases fail to gain sympathy, reward or recognition. It is little wonder that they sometimes feel bitter, neglected and unappreciated. Second, it also seems to be unjust that the riotous and undisciplined should reap so gratuitously favour that they do not deserve. But this is a familiar theme of Scripture as well as of our own experience. Of course, the context changes but Jesus himself told the story of the labourers who did little but were paid the same wages as those who had toiled all day (Mt. 20:1-16). He also gently corrected rather than criticized Martha when Mary chose the better part (Luke 10:38-42). In such circumstances, it is natural for human beings to be tempted to react less than positively, as the elder brother seemed to do. (Ferguson, p.13, makes no concession to human nature and adopts a harsher stance. He suggests that a Pharisee lurks in the hearts of most men, ignoring the fact that even Jesus was human.) On the other hand, if we are at all sympathetic to him and realize that Jesus has put something of himself into his portrayal of the elder brother, we might well draw the conclusion that his natural feelings were overcome and that he entered the house to join in the general rejoicing. After all, he himself points out earlier in the chapter that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7,10).

One thing is indisputably clear. This is what the real Elder Brother did (cf. John 14:2f.). In fact he blazed a trail and went in first (Heb. 2:10-13; 9:24; 12:2), and it behoves us as prodigals one and all to follow in his steps (cf. Rom. 8:29).

If there is any validity or plausibility in what I have written above, it prompts the question as to why it has not been recognized before. Apart from the reference to the Pharisees at the start of Luke 15, there is another important consideration. The traditional Jesus has been largely docetic, less human than he really was. (On Docetism, see further my The Ecclesiastical Christ, Still Docetic.) Lacking verisimilitude he has been a figment of the imagination. As such, he has been put illegitimately on a pedestal and to that extent he has been an idol. What am I getting at? The Jesus church history has presented to us was born of a virgin to ensure that he avoided the entail of original sin. Not being born of “carnal concupiscence” he has wrongly been separated from the rest of humanity (cf. Heb. 2:17f.) and has ended up as a sexless saint or, in the words of Julian the Apostate, a pale Galilean. In the Bible, however, he is genuine flesh and blood and tempted at all points just as we are. Furthermore, all his Father offered him was what cynical disbelievers call “pie in the sky when you die”. The author of Hebrews paints the picture rather differently. He implies that he suffered genuine pain in resisting sin and its consequence death (5:7), but when the latter had to be experienced on behalf of others, he endured the cross despising the shame for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). The truth is that the real Jesus was truly human and knew first-hand all the weaknesses common to humanity even though he himself overcame them (cf. Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 13:4). In view of this we can be confident that his sympathy for others was heart-felt (Heb. 2:17f.). As the elder Son he was indeed obedient, but that does not mean that he had no natural reactions. The point is that he triumphed over them and led not just one prodigal but also many others into the celebration (cf. Mt. 22:1-14).

There is a final point to make. Kistemaker suggests (p.216) that it would perhaps be better to speak of the two sons and their father and adds that by means of these three characters Jesus reflected the character of his audience. The prodigal portrayed the moral and social outcast, his brother the self-righteous Jew and the father obviously our heavenly Father. He goes on to say that Jesus addressed the members of his audience directly calling the sinners to repentance and the righteous to accept sinners and rejoice in their salvation.

Apart from noting with Paul that in reality there are none that are righteous (Rom. 3:10), this picture again is impressive. For all that, I would put the matter somewhat differently. Does not the parable of the Prodigal Son reflect biblical covenant theology? I pointed out above that the prodigal himself behaved like the heathen under the covenant with Noah (cf. Rom.1:18-32) but eventually repented and turned to his father (cf. Rom. 2:14,26). Next, if we accept Jesus’ comment that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22), it is important to recognize that it is supremely so from their only representative never to disobey his Father’s command as expressed in the law of Moses (cf. Luke 15:29). Finally, all those who believe in him need to be aware that he alone is the true heir of the Father’s kingdom for he alone by his total obedience as a slave in Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:13-15) and as a Jew under the law (Luke 2:40-52) met the condition of life and incorruption (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. Gal. 4:4f.). Christians by faith may indeed inherit all things but only through him and only as adopted sons (Rom. 8:14-17,32; Gal. 4:1,6f.).

As Sinclair Ferguson made so clear in his book “Children of the Living God”, Jesus is indeed our Elder Brother to whose image we are predestined to be conformed (Rom. 8:29).

(See further my Covenant Theology).



S.B.Ferguson, Children of the Living God, Edinburgh/Carlisle, 1989.

S.Kistemaker, The Parables of Jesus, Grand Rapids, 1980.

G.E.Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom, London, 1966.

B.B.Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia, 1952.

The Resurrection Of The Body

In accordance with the Apostles’ Creed I believe in the resurrection of the body. Having said that, however, I am aware that there is much confusion over the issue, and my “confession”, unadorned, requires elaboration and explanation.

A Modern View

For instance, I have just read (July 2010) Driscoll and Breshears’ (D/B) chapter on resurrection in “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe” and am left with a feeling of great unease. On page 280, seeking correctly to distinguish between revivification and resurrection, they write: “Unlike revivification, resurrection teaches that someone dies and returns to physical life forever, or what the Bible calls eternal life, patterned after Jesus’ death and resurrection.” As it stands that statement prompts at least three basic questions: (1) where does the Bible teach that we return to physical life?; (2) where are we left with the impression in Scripture that physical life lasts forever and is eternal?; (3) where does the Bible suggest that our resurrection is patterned after Jesus’ death and resurrection? On page 281 while our authors correctly teach the separation of body and soul immediately after death, they then refer to the eventual re-uniting of our body and soul. Though we might agree with this at first blush, a little reflection makes us realize that even this idea prompts questions and requires clarification.

The Redemption of Creation

The questions I have just raised in the previous paragraph are important for the simple reason that if the statement is allowed to stand as D/B have expressed it, it leads immediately to the presently popular idea that the whole creation will also be ‘resurrected’, regenerated and redeemed. For instance, D/B tell us on page 72 that the book of Genesis describes how God began his rescue mission to save his sin-marred world (cf. pp.82,140,178, etc.) making it possible for Jesus “to establish his throne on the earth and rule over his kingdom, which extends to all creation” (p.302). Here they are to some extent following writers like Harris (RI, pp.165ff., GG, pp. 245-252), N.T.Wright (Challenge, where he refers to cosmic liberation, p.172, Colossians, pp.76f., while on p.76 Wright talks OT-style of restoration, on p.77 he posits a brand new creation), and C.J.H.Wright (The Mission of God), who link the resurrection of Jesus with creation. Now, since I have sought in a number of articles posted on this website to show that this is false to the Bible, it is imperative to re-address the issue.

Two Sorts of Resurrection

Before going further, it is vital for us to be aware of the fact that there are basically two sorts of resurrection. First, there is the restoration of a dead body to resumption and continuation of life in the flesh. The resurrection recorded in John 11 is a case in point, though there are others (e.g. 1 K. 17:17-24; 2 K. 4:32-36; Luke 8:49-55). Jesus raised his friend Lazarus after he had been dead four days and was on the verge of decomposition. After Jesus himself had suffered death by crucifixion he too was restored and resumed his life in the flesh (Luke 24:39) in accordance with his prediction (John 10:17f.). However, even within this category there was a fundamental difference between the resurrections of Lazarus and Jesus: whereas the former died again, Paul tells us explicitly that Jesus rose never to die again (which is different from saying that he was immortal). The reason he gives for this is that death no longer had dominion over him (Rom. 6:9; Rev. 1:18.). Why was this so? Acts 2:24 is relevant but hardly provides the answer we are looking for. However, the solution to this apparent enigma is not far to seek: it must lie in the fact that Jesus should not have died at all. In contrast with the first Adam who had been promised (eternal) life if he kept the commandment but failed (Gen. 2:17), Jesus had pleased his Father by keeping the entire law (cf. Lev. 18:5; John 8:46; Mt. 3:15; 19:16-21). Having done so, he had inherited life when he received the promised Spirit at his baptism (Mt. 3:13-17). But in accordance with the plan of salvation by which God intended that he alone should be the Saviour of man (e.g. Isa. 45:22-25), he had freely laid down his life (given his flesh, Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 3:18; Phil. 2:5-11) for his friends (John 10; 15:13). In this scenario, since he had not sinned, death for him was not wages (Rom. 5:12; 6:23) and therefore, if the requirements of justice were to be met, demanded reversal (cf. Rom. 3:26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:12-14). This was achieved by resurrection. Having spilt his blood once to effect redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), there was no longer any need for him to die again (cf. Heb. 9:24-28).

Second, the word “resurrection” in the NT is not always confined solely to rising again from the dead. It often involves, as Harris, for example, maintains, not only resurrection but also in its full-orbed NT sense exaltation, ascension (RI, p.93, GG, p.103) and one might even add transformation and heavenly session (Rev. 3:21). So it is important to understand what each reference to resurrection means, and only the context can determine that.

Normal Resurrection

Regarding the first category of resurrection involving physical restoration, it must surely be obvious that the vast majority of us who die and are buried to rot in the grave fail to follow the pattern of Jesus. His resurrection was clearly exceptional and to that extent resembled the circumcision of Abraham (Rom. 4). Indeed, both Peter in Acts 2:25-35 and Paul in Acts 13:34-37 draw particular attention to this and point out that the majority of us, in fact all who fail to live till the end of the world, follow the pattern of resurrection to be experienced by David. The difference is that whereas David died and decayed, Jesus rose from the grave and, though still flesh, avoided corruption (decay, decomposition). In other words, whereas the body of David will not be raised until the general resurrection, Jesus, having already been raised directly from the dead had of necessity to ascend into heaven to avoid the natural corruption that affects all created things (Rom. 1:20; 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27, etc.). Thus as Paul, echoing John 3:1-8, points out in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, flesh and blood cannot by nature inherit the kingdom of God. This being the case, all without exception, whether undergoing death and resurrection like Jesus and the end-time saints or not, have to be changed. (See further my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.)

The Nature of the Resurrected Body

This, however, raises the question about the nature of the resurrected body. Again to state the obvious, David who died and whose body decomposed has clearly lost his corrupted flesh forever (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1, that is, unless he can somehow undergo another physical birth or re-incarnation, cf. John 3:4). In view of this, it is scarcely surprising that Paul stresses the fact that the body with which he and his like will eventually be endowed at the resurrection will not be flesh (animated dust) like that of the first Adam at all. It will be what he calls a “spiritual” or supernatural body. It will be like that of Jesus, who as incarnate was also of necessity changed like all his fellows. It will thus be a body of glory like his (Phil. 3:21, cf. Rom. 8:30; 9:23; Heb. 2:10-18; 1 John 3:2). So while all believers throughout history will be resurrected (saved) on the basis of the work of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:14), they do not and cannot follow exactly the pattern he established. (After all, as the early Christians were well aware, 1 Thes. 4:13, many of their fellow believers had already died and decomposed long before Jesus rose again let alone returned.) That is reserved to the saints still alive at the end of the age (1 Cor. 15:50-52a).

To clarify the issue still further, it is evident that while for David resurrection involves as it were only one action that is transformation resurrection, the “full-orbed” (Harris) resurrection of Jesus was a two-stage affair. First, he was physically restored to life in the flesh as Lazarus was (Luke 24:39), but then, since he was not to die again, he ascended (cf. John 20:17; Luke 24:50f.; Acts 1:9-11) and was transformed and glorified (Acts 2:36).

Resurrection Transformation

There is, however, a problem. Many moderns especially evangelicals of all persuasions including the Reformed, Premillennialists, Dispensationalists and the like think along different lines which admittedly have a long history. They believe on the basis of very questionable evidence that when Jesus rose from the dead, his body was transformed into a body of glory whose appearances confirmed the disciples’ faith that he was still alive. This surely implies a denial of physical resurrection on the one hand and renders the ascension redundant on the other. Indeed, the ascension is reduced to mere drama simply indicating the termination of Jesus’ appearances on earth. Apart from noting texts like Luke 24:39 and John 20:26-29 which suggest a different story, we are bound to ask what the basis of this view is. The answer, as was hinted at above, is that they accept the false worldview inherited from Augustine of Hippo (d.430) even if they have not accepted every aspect of his theology. So what does this worldview involve?
The Augustinian Worldview

It is traditionally believed that when God first brought creation into being, he made it perfect. (1* See e.g. E.Andrews, Who Made God? pp.242ff., to whom I refer in my Creation and/or Evolution; A.T.B.McGowan, p.46, in The Forgotten Christ, ed. Clark. I have subjected part of this book to criticism in an additional note to my essay Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?.). One of the arguments used to support this is that since God is perfect, his work also had to be perfect. Unfortunately, this is a false inference which is variously contradicted throughout the Bible. For example, Scripture constantly distinguishes between the Creator and the creation, the eternal and the temporal, to the detriment of the latter (e.g. Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6). Next, whatever is “made by hand” (e.g. Ps. 102:25; Isa. 45:12; 48:13) is inferior to what is “not made by hand” (e.g. Heb. 9:11,24. See further my Manufactured Or Not So.). This is true especially of the hand-made body of dust (Job 10:8f.; Ps. 119:73) as compared with the spiritual body referred to by Paul (1 Cor. 15:45-49; 2 Cor. 5:1). Then Hebrews tells us that the builder has more honour than the building (3:3) and that the shakable creation will finally give way to the unshakable (12:26-29). I could go on but my point has been made. What I am implying is that creation is naturally destructible and corruptible as Paul seems to be saying in Romans 8:18-25. God brought creation into being in hope of something better, that is, an invisible hope that endures for eternity like God himself. In the final analysis the temporary material creation served and continues to serve an eternal goal and purpose which we see eventually fulfilled at the end of the book of Revelation.

According to Genesis 1, creation, far from being perfect, was merely “good”, that is useful like Eve’s “apple” which was good for eating (kalos, Gen. 2:9; 3:6). Like the Promised Land (Ex. 3:8; Num. 14:7), it was impermanent (Heb. 3 & 4) and served a temporary purpose. Since it had a beginning, it had an intended end (terminus), quite unlike the Creator himself who had neither (cf. Ps. 102:25-27; Heb. 7:3). However, in positing a once perfect world at the beginning, Augustinians have clearly confused the end with the beginning and in effect destroyed creation’s initial teleological nature. By turning the Bible on its head they have left it with nowhere to go. If Adam was originally righteous he must have been born again (2:17; Lev.18:5)! Hence his probation was pointless. In this situation, Augustinians have devised what is in effect a different plan of salvation. They tell us that after being created perfect, creation was ruined or cursed by the sin and “Fall” of Adam despite the fact that Adam who failed to keep the commandment by which righteousness is gained (Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7) was never righteous, holy and perfect in the first place. They thus posit not merely the redemption of man made in the image of God but of his physical body along with the entire material creation itself. Alternatively expressed, since sin was the cause of creation’s ruin, Jesus’ physical resurrection transformation means that creation likewise can be redeemed. (See e.g. Harris, RI, pp.165-171; GG, pp.245-252.) The problem is that there is no evident connection between Jesus’ resurrection and creation in the Bible. As we have seen, (a) Jesus’ resurrection met the demands of justice; (b) creation was doomed from the start; its beginning implied its end (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:10, etc.); (c) Jesus died and rose again to bring man made in the divine image to glory (Heb. 2:10ff., etc.). There is not the slightest suggestion that he died to redeem dust (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-55). Initially, creation, including Adam who symbolized the flesh, had no covenant guarantee, and even when it had one, it was only until the plan of human salvation was complete (Gen. 8:22, cf. Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-22). Both Isaiah 51:6 and 54:10, to go no further, clearly signal the eventual end of creation if not by a flood (cf. Luke 17:28-30). The reason why man as flesh is transient (James 1:10f.; 4:14) is that creation as a whole is transient (cf. Isa. 51:6; Heb. 1:11; etc.). (2* See my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?The Transience of Creation.)

The True View

The truth, however, is that perfection (maturity, completeness, cf. James 1:4) which characterizes God alone (Mt. 5:48) was the original goal and it was premised on an imperfect or immature start. Simply stated the baby is the father of the man! On the one hand the material creation (including man according to the flesh) was subjected by divine design to corruption and futility and intended only to serve as a temporary tool before being finally dispensed with. On the other hand, it was geared to the production of a harvest of the children of God (cf. Rom. 8:19-21) who yearn for adoption, the redemption of their bodies (not their flesh) and the attainment of an invisible hope (Rom. 8:24f.). Since Adam signifies both man as race and as individual, and is creation in miniature, we can see immediately that just we are (pro)created, develop and reach maturity only to decline through age and wear until we die (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33), so does creation itself (Heb. 1:11, cf. Col. 2:22). If it is replied by Augustinians that all this stems from sin, one has only to point out while freely acknowledging sin to be an exacerbating factor that the evidence of Scripture against this view is massive.

First, it needs to be recognized that in critical passages like John 3:1-8; Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 sin is not in evidence at all but is in true Augustinian fashion read into them. For instance, we are frequently told that behind Romans 8:18-25 lies Genesis 3:17-19. While this is traditionally and constantly asserted, it has to my knowledge never been substantiated. Second, other evidence apart, the entire letter to the Hebrews militates against the Augustinian view. It is hard indeed to circumvent teaching like 1:10-12, 6:7f. and 12:26-29. While 2 Peter 3:7,10-12 point up the eventual combustion of the created universe, modern science tells the same story. But there is another issue of crucial importance in the modern era. What I have called the true view above clearly points to evolution if not Darwinism, the development of man from (animal) flesh to spirit. By contrast traditional church dogma which begins with perfection either denies it or insidiously, that is contrary to their denial of the natural corruptibility of creation, accommodates it.

The Resurrection Body

Since all created visible, that is, physical things (Rom. 1:20) are according to the Bible destined for removal (Heb. 12:27), it is clear that the spiritual body of which Paul speaks is not physical (dust). So when D/B maintain as indicated above that when someone dies resurrection involves the return to physical life forever, they must be profoundly mistaken. Physical life as opposed to corporeal life is by definition temporal and intrinsically incapable of becoming eternal. As Paul says, the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50b). This has nothing to do with sin. It stems from the nature of things. The difference between the spiritual Creator and his temporal material creation points unerringly to the fact that man though flesh is nonetheless created in the image of God. In sum, he is in contrast with the rest of the animal creation fundamentally dualistic. (3* See my Biblical Dualism.) In view of the fact that many Christians like N.T.Wright rail against dualism (e.g. Challenge, p.179, cf. 144) it must be stressed that biblical dualism is not to be equated with Greek dualism. For the Greeks material things were evil and the body was the prison house of the soul; for Christians dualism simply asserts the temporal nature of the visible material (2 Cor. 4:18). When we see this, it immediately becomes apparent that the reason why the resurrected Jesus had of necessity to ascend to heaven was to escape physical corruption. (4* See further my Escape.) So long as he remained on earth he continued to get older (cf. Luke 3:23, cf. Ps. 102:27). His flesh (Luke 24:39), like ours, belonged to this age not the age to come. Since he was visible (1 John 1:1), he was hence inherently corruptible. Thus, like all his fellows, he had to be changed. In other words, the idea that he was glorified at his resurrection is based on fallacious Augustinian reasoning about the nature of creation. (For Augustine who was obsessed by sin, everything, not least sex, was saturated with sin. See my Augustine: Asset or Liability?) In the flesh it was impossible for the incarnate Jesus to inherit the eternal blessings of David. Furthermore, once the days of his flesh (cf. Heb. 5:7) were over it was impossible for him to return to earth to reign in the manner D/B suggest. Apart from telling Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), he had clearly undergone permanent transformation at his ascension, passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14) and experienced permanent separation from sinners (Heb. 7:26). Having already dealt with sin (Heb. 9:28), he had regained the glory he had with the Father before the world began (John 17:5). So far from having a body of glory immediately after his resurrection, he prayed that his people should see his glory in heaven (John 17:24).

The Second Advent

But there is yet another basic point to make. Once he had separated himself from this world, from sinners in particular and re-entered what is for us the world to come, it was impossible for him to return least of all in the flesh. Whereas he had been flesh “for a little while” (Heb. 2:7,9), he had now been permanently transformed and glorified.

To say this of course prompts questions about his second coming. The Bible makes it clear that Christ will return in his glory and that of the Father (Luke 9:26, etc.) as Moses returned to Egypt to rescue the people still in bondage there (cf. Rom. 8:21; Heb. 9:28). Paul makes it absolutely clear that he will not return in the flesh as D/B and some Premillennialists teach. Indeed, the apostle states categorically in Acts 13:34 that he will no more return to corruption. This can only mean that he will never again come into contact with this created world (see further my No Return to Corruption). In any case, according to the book of Revelation when he comes creation will flee away from his presence (Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1, cf. Heb. 12:26-29; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). After all, he will return “in flaming fire” (2 Thes. 1:7) for God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29)

The Redemption of Creation

If all this is true, then the idea that creation will be redeemed, renewed, transformed or regenerated to make it fit for the King must be rejected with rigour and dispatch. While the somewhat materialistic OT, which spoke of earthly things (John 3:31, cf. 8:23 and note John 3:10), might lend credence to such an idea, the NT on the basis of the revelation and re-interpretation brought by Jesus spiritualized creation and spoke of new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (cf. Mt. 6:10), a heavenly country / city / temple / kingdom (see espec. Heb. 11:8-16; 12:22f.; 13:14; Rev. 21:22, cf. Gal. 4:26). In light of all this we are bound to conclude that contemporary versions of the Bible in contrast with the KJV are wrong when they translate the word ktisis as ‘creation’ rather than ‘creature’ especially in Romans 8:21. (See my Romans 8:18-25.) Creation will never be redeemed for the simple reason that it is superfluous. It was always meant to give way to the invisible hope of glory or heaven itself. The latter already exists and has done so eternally.


All in all, I am forced to conclude that D/B like many others are seriously astray in much of what they suggest all Christians should believe. At the end of the day, the simple statement believed by many of our forebears that we go to heaven when we die stands firm despite D/B’s denial (p.422. See also my A Brief Critique of ‘Surprised by Hope’ by Tom Wright.) When we do, we shall say goodbye forever to bondage to the flesh and finally escape from this evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4; Ps. 90:15). And for this we thank our heavenly Father who in his grace and mercy will accept us on account of Christ into his own house (John 14:1-3, etc.).

Finally, to answer directly the three questions prompted by D/B’s assertion in my second paragraph, I have to say (a) we shall never return to physical as opposed to corporeal life (cf. Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:45-49; (b) the Bible denies the very possibility of physical life lasting forever; and (c) our resurrection is patterned after that of David not that of Jesus unless we are still alive at the second coming (1 Cor. 15:51f.).


The Flesh

Like all created things the flesh is visible (Rom. 1:20), therefore material/physical (Rom. 1:20), therefore temporary (2 Cor. 4:18), therefore unprofitable (John 6:63), therefore mortal/destructible (Rom. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:11); therefore corruptible/perishable (Rom. 8:18-25; Gal. 6:8; Heb. 1:10-12), therefore combustible (Heb. 12:27; James 5:3; 2 Thes. 2:8) therefore susceptible to disappearance (Acts 1:9) like the old covenant to which it belongs (Heb. 8:13). We shall never see Jesus in the flesh (cf. John 20:29) but we shall see him in his glory (John 17:24). And that his glory is not fleshly would seem to be evident from the fact that it is the same as he had before the creation of the world when there was no flesh.

Spiritual birth/Spiritual resurrection

If, having undergone a temporal physical birth (from the earth), we must according to Jesus undergo an eternal spiritual birth (from above), it follows inexorably that our resurrection will be spiritual. In other words, our body in heaven will be a spiritual not a physical body, as Paul says. In a nutshell, a spiritual birth requires a spiritual resurrection.

The Resurrection Transformation of Jesus and the Redemption of Creation
Various writers argue that since Jesus was glorified at the resurrection of his flesh (and therefore had glorified flesh even though there is no such animal!), creation itself can be redeemed and glorified. This is contrary to the plain teaching of the NT which pervasively teaches the corruptibility of all created things. Nowhere is there a link made between the resurrection of Christ and the redemption of creation. The combustion of the cosmos is indelibly etched in the pages of Scripture. Romans 8:18-25 which is nowadays subject to highly questionable translation and interpretation is unique in the teaching of Paul who everywhere assumes that he will go to heaven.



E.Andrews, Who Made God? Darlington, 2009.

S.Clark, ed., The Forgotten Christ, Nottingham, 2007.

Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Wheaton, 2010.

M.Harris, Raised Immortal, Basingstoke, 1983.

From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.

C.J.H.Wright, The Mission of God, Nottingham, 2006.

N.T.Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, Downers Grove, 1999.

Colossians and Philemon, Leicester/Grand Rapids, 1986.



Baptism And Identification

Paedobaptists following Augustine of Hippo traditionally believe that the primary reason for embracing infant baptism is original sin. Briefly put, since a baby is born sinful, it must be born again or it cannot be saved. To be born again it must be baptized. Augustine claimed that all unbaptized babies go to hell. Why? Because they inherited Adam’s sin by procreation and ‘carnal concupiscence’, and as sinners ‘in Adam’ they merit (!) the wages of death (Rom. 5:12). By contrast, Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary avoided the entail of transmitted sin. The basic position is somewhat oddly expressed by a professing Protestant dealing with the Virgin Birth as follows: “You are the child of an earthly father, so you were ‘born in sin’. But Jesus was the child of a heavenly Father, so He broke the genetic cycle of sin before He was born … .Since Jesus had neither inherited sin nor practised sin, He qualifies as ‘…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29 NAS)” (UCB Bible Study Notes, The Word for Today, 25 Dec. 2011).

Many Protestants are not happy with this scenario and point out that the Bible fails to relate Jesus’ sinlessness to his Virgin birth. With good reason they are less than sure that sin is transmitted sexually like a disease and argue for the imputation of Adam’s sin. (1* See e.g. John Murray’s ‘The Imputation of Adam’s Sin’.) Like Catholics they nonetheless insist that babies are born sinners and appeal, wrongly in my view, to verses like Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12. (2* On this see espec. Alec Motyer’s ‘Look To The Rock’, pp.130-135. For a contrary view see my various articles on original sin.)

The Baptism of Jesus

Given these presuppositions, paedobaptists are confronted with a big problem. They recognize correctly that Jesus was not a sinner but that he was baptized and what is more by John whose baptism clearly related to sinners (Mark 1:4). (3* Astonishingly, it has been held by some that Jesus inherited ‘fallen’ human nature, e.g. Irving, Barth, Barrett, etc. See e.g. D.Macleod, Jesus is Lord, p.107ff. This demonstrates how radically the false Augustinian worldview has been embraced by the church. See my The Biblical Worldview, Worldview.) This does not appear to make sense, so they are forced to try and find a reason. The answer they usually give is that by being baptized Jesus identified with sinners. (4* Even baptists make the same assertion. See, for example, Carson, p.108, H.D.McDonald, p.62. The latter pointedly adds that the voice from heaven confirms Jesus’ identification with very God.) But is this a reasonable answer? Passages like Matthew 3:13-17 appear to point in a different direction. They suggest that far from identifying with sinners in John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus is actually bent on separating or differentiating himself from them. Even John repudiates the suggestion that Jesus should identify himself with him. After all, he had earlier referred to Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world and would baptize with the Spirit (John 1:29-34). Not unreasonably then he suggests that he should be baptized by Jesus rather than vice versa. Jesus does not deny this. But the question we have to answer is: Why does Jesus overrule his objection and ask him to go ahead and baptize him? The answer that Jesus gives is that it is fitting or right to fulfil all righteousness. (5* Cf. Heb. 2:10. The expression ‘it is fitting’ though superficially anaemic seems to imply necessity like the Greek ‘dei’ in John 3:7 and 1 Cor. 15:53. In fact, in Heb. 7:26f., cf. NIV, there is a virtual antithesis between our need and Jesus’ lack of need. In light of this I believe, contrary to France, p.120, that the need to fulfil all righteousness like the need to be born again as such refers to the general purpose of God and is not confined to Jesus and John. Cf. my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.) What does he mean? The answer surely lies in the recognition that a legal righteousness gained under the law in the flesh, though meeting the condition of eternal life, is inadequate (Heb. 7:11,18f.; 8:7f., cf. 2 Cor. 3:6; John 6:63). It falls short of the perfection for which Jesus is aiming (Mt. 5:48; 19:21; Luke 13:32, cf. Heb. 6:1; 7:11, etc.). If he is to become the righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30) of his disciples, he needs to be sanctified in truth for their sake (John 17:17,19). In other words, Jesus is not asking John to baptize him in relation to repentance and forgiveness (Mark 1:4) but to play an instrumental role in an action about to be performed by God himself.

The Work of God

Given that John’s baptism of repentance did not apply to Jesus who had no sins to repent of, it is vital for us to be aware of and appreciate the significance of this divine action. First, God does something then, second, he says something. He begins by pouring out his Spirit on Jesus (v.16), then goes on to say (explain?), first, that Jesus is his beloved Son. What does he mean? Is he simply saying that he, God, loves him because Jesus is his Son by (the Virgin) birth? Perhaps. Certainly this cannot be dismissed as irrelevant (cf. Hos. 11:1). At the very least he is acknowledging Jesus as his Son. But there seems to be more involved because, second, he goes on to say that he is well pleased with him. Why? In view of the plan of salvation there can only be one reasonable answer. As man, Jesus has kept the law which was the precondition of life (Lev. 18:5, etc.). Prior to his coming all men and women from the time of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 7:9f.) had signally failed to do this (1 Sam. 8:8; 1 K. 8:46; Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 3:9f., etc.). So though a true man born of woman and through her a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), Jesus was unique. Having perfectly kept the law which was the test of life (Ex. 15:25; 16:4; 20:20, etc.) and inherited the promise, he was not merely God’s Son by natural or physical birth, that is, by creation (cf. Heb. 10:5) but also by spiritual rebirth. In other words, his baptism confirmed his sonship. If Jesus had demonstrated his pedigree (who he was) by his performance (what he did), his Father acknowledged it and blessed him accordingly. In common parlance, we might say that God confirmed him as a chip off the old block. He was the genuine article, a true-born and not a bastard son. The same can hardly be said of us, though even we have been legitimized or naturalized (cf. Heb. 12:8f.)!

The Real Baptizer

If it is again pointed out that it was John the Baptist who baptized Jesus, we have to agree. But as we have seen, even John himself realized that there was something odd about this (v.14). This was no ordinary baptism. So, how do we explain it? The truth is that at Jesus’ behest John was simply playing the role of a human agent performing an external rite using water which signified a divine action (cf. Ezek. 36:26f.), that is, God’s baptism of his obedient Son with the Spirit. In plain language this means regeneration. The latter is something that John admitted he himself was incapable of on the one hand (Mark 1:7f.) and needed Jesus to accomplish for him on the other (Mt. 3:14). The same holds for all who administer baptism throughout subsequent history. In fact, John’s role in the baptism of Jesus is a prime illustration of the fact that man cannot baptize with the Spirit (though compare Acts 8:14-24). So the idea that a priest can achieve baptismal regeneration is undermined precisely by John’s baptism of Jesus. All man can do is perform the outward ceremony; only God can regenerate (cf. John 1:13; 3:5-8). So, whereas John performed the visible external rite for Jesus, God performed the normally invisible spiritual baptism (cf. Col. 2:11-14). We thus infer that as the last of the OT prophets John provided a vital link between old and new covenants in the progressive and varied history of salvation. He was privileged to perform the first Christian baptism marking the end of Jesus’ stint under the law of his minority and his initiation into the new creation of his majority, his career under the leading of the Spirit (1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; 6:15, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). Almost needless to say, this inevitably involved the enhancement or radicalization of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, in what became for his disciples after Pentecost the new covenant code of conduct (cf. Jer. 31:31-34).

So Jesus, far from identifying with John and sinners in general, was in fact distancing himself from him and initiating a new era or dispensation, the prelude to a new covenant.

Covenant Theology
The truth of this is evident from Matthew 11:11 where Jesus, though freely acknowledging John as the greatest among those born of (fleshly) women (6* This assertion in itself indicates that Jesus, whom even John had earlier recognized as being greater than himself, was separating himself from those merely born of women and implying his own spiritual rebirth.) explicitly denies that he is in the kingdom of heaven. And John himself apparently recognized this (Mt. 3:14). By contrast, Jesus, having met the condition of life by keeping old covenant law (Dt. 30:20; 32:46f., Ezek. 20:11,13,21, etc.), is now no longer captive to the law (cf. Gal. 3:23-29) but is led by the Spirit which has remained on him (John 1:32; 6:27). Bluntly, he is born again in accordance with the promise made to all who keep the law (Lev. 18:5). Now his task is to go beyond the law, fulfil all righteousness (v.15), inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth, live out the Sermon on the Mount, make atonement for his people and attain to the perfection of God (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 1:3). To put the issue yet another way, by being baptized with the Spirit Jesus becomes the first ‘Christian’ (cf. Heb. 2:11-13), the prototypical model or paradigm of all future Christians who are also born of God (John 1:13) and are baptized with the Spirit (John 3:3-8; Rom. 8:9). The basic identity or unity of Jesus’ spiritual or regenerational baptism with that of believers at Pentecost is there for all to see. And it is underlined from a somewhat different perspective by the author of Hebrews who considers all the spiritually reborn including Jesus as constituting one family (2:11-13, cf. Rom. 8:29). Jesus is not simply our Saviour; he is our elder brother and we are joint-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17,32).


Paedobaptists rightly argue that when Jesus was baptized, he was being prepared and empowered for his ministry as the Messiah. But this prompts the question as to what was involved. In John 1:32 in highly significant words John had said that he saw the Spirit descending on Jesus from heaven and remaining on him. This surely indicates that from this point on Jesus is no longer under the law but is spiritually born from above and led by the Spirit. He has received the fullness of God’s empowering presence (cf. Gordon Fee’s fine book under this title) and is now qualified to see to the salvation of others (cf. Acts 10:38). Is not this precisely what is said about believers in Christ who are no longer under law but are born again and led by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 6:14; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; Gal. 5:18; 6:15)? It is generally acknowledged that regeneration means being born again or, alternatively, being born from above. When we truly believe and are justified by faith, we receive eternal life as Jesus himself indicated in John 3:16. Following or recapitulating the pattern established by Jesus, in the words of Paul we receive the Spirit as he did (Gal. 3:1-5). As sinners justified by faith we are baptized and so publicly identify with Jesus (cf. Rom. 10:10), our elder brother and pioneer (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11-13). When Jesus was baptized, he did not identify with either John or us since he was not a sinner; rather he identified with (the purpose of) God who was his real baptizer. (7* Carson, p.108, is surely right to say, “By his baptism Jesus affirms his determination to do his assigned work”.) As Paul expresses the issue in Romans 6:3-7 we are baptized (identified or united with him) into his death (as the Israelites were baptized into Moses at the Exodus, 1 Cor. 10:2) so as to be identified or united with him in his resurrection (2 Cor. 4:14). In Galatians 3:26-29, the stress is again on our identification with Christ, not his identification with us. Just as Christ having achieved righteousness under the law received the ‘remaining’ Spirit at his baptism (John 1:32), so we who are declared righteous through faith in him (justification by faith) receive the Spirit at our baptism. In this way we are identified with him, not he with us. This would appear to be virtually proved when we consider that to receive Christ who is a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45, cf. John 5:26) is to receive the Spirit (Gal. 4:3-7) as he did from his Father. And if we lack the Spirit we do not belong to him (Rom. 8:9). (The pattern is somewhat similar to that of the word in Revelation 1:1f. where there are five movements: from God to Jesus to angel to writer to readers. In baptism the Spirit moves from God to Jesus, to apostles to believers to God’s sons or children).


Jesus was the first and only man in the entire history of the race to keep the law to his Father’s satisfaction (Mark 1:11; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22, etc.). By doing so, he uniquely met the precondition of (eternal) life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). Therefore he was baptized with the Spirit (=born again) in accordance with God’s promise, not by John the Baptist who merely performed an external rite with water as usual, but by God himself. The baptism of Jesus showed two things: first, God acknowledged and confirmed him as his own Son, and, second, Jesus identified with the purpose of God in the salvation of all those associated with him or regarded as being in him. So when we are baptized as Christians we identify with Jesus and like him are born again. How can we as sinners do this? By repentance and being justified (accounted righteous) by faith. Just as Jesus’ natural sonship, that is, his incarnation was confirmed when he was baptized (cf. Rom. 1:4), so our physical creation is confirmed by adoption when we are baptized. (It is perhaps helpful to remember at this point that whereas John (the apostle) tends to stress our new birth and refer to believers as the children of God, Paul tends to underline our sonship and refer to us as sons.) The whole point is that just as Jesus was born again, so are we; just as Jesus was a Son, the Son, so are we adopted sons in him. He is our elder brother, the author of our life, our pioneer, trail-blazer, leader, perfecter and Saviour (Luke 1:47; 2:11; Acts 3:14f.; 4:12; 5:31; 13:23; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 2:9-13; 6:20; 12:2, etc.). We identify with him, not he with us. He was the prototype, we like Adam are types (cf. Rom. 5:14). That is why we are called ‘Christians’.

Jesus Identified With His People

It may be complained that in denying the paedobaptist position I am not taking the identification of Jesus with his people seriously. This is hardly true. First, Jesus clearly identified with humanity in his incarnation; he was the second Adam, not the first. He conformed to or recapitulated an already established pattern and, like all Eve’s children (Gen. 3:20), he was born of woman (Gal. 4:4). By nature then he had to be made like us in every respect (Heb. 2:14a,17a). As Peter says, it was only in his avoidance of sin that he differed from us (1 Pet. 2:22, cf. Heb. 4:15). Secondly, as Paul indicates he was not only born of woman but also under the law (Gal. 4:4). (We should not forget that like his forebears he was under Noah in Egypt, Mt. 2:15) Since God’s promise of eternal life was originally made to Adam as man on condition of keeping the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 7:9f.), so it was made to Jesus on the same basis. To serve as the second Adam Jesus initially had to be identified with the first Adam and all the rest of his fleshly offspring. In plain language, despite his natural equality with God, he had to be made incarnate (cf. Phil. 2:6-8) and as such live under the law of Moses. If he had not been incarnate, he could not have made atonement for us (Heb. 2:17b, cf. 1 John 2:2; 4:10). It was as one of us that he defeated sin in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3). In fact, Paul goes even further and asserts that in atoning for our sin, he was actually made sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Having said this, however, we must recognize that in his baptism where sin, despite John’s initial reaction, is not the issue, he separated himself from us and indeed from John himself as the latter apparently came to realize. While he was on earth Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God and raided the devil’s domain (cf. Mt. 12:28). John, however, even though he was the appointed forerunner or herald of Jesus, doubted and had to be told on one occasion to open his eyes to the evidence (Luke 7:22f., cf. John 3:3). On another occasion Jesus tells us in memorable words that even though John was a burning and shining light (John 5:35) he was not in this heavenly kingdom (Mt. 11:11). How come? Though he was the greatest of the old covenant prophets, the new covenant was not established until after he had finished his course (Acts 13:25). In fact, it could not be so until Jesus had been crucified, raised and the Spirit poured out at Pentecost to apply his atoning work to believers. The plain truth is that if Jesus had not been born again and led by the Spirit, he could not have achieved what he did (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38, cf. Eph. 2:10). So long as he was under the imperfect law, he could not have perfected anything (Heb. 7:11,18f.). He could fulfil all righteousness only under the Spirit (Mt. 3:15; 19:21) and we only in him.

Righteousness and Exclusion from John’s Baptism

It is interesting to observe that whereas the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the baptism of John, that is, refused to be identified with him because they mistakenly believed in their own righteousness (Luke 7:30, cf. 20:1-8), John himself initially repudiates the suggestion that Jesus should be baptized by and identified with him precisely because he is all too well aware that Jesus is not a sinner in need of repentance but that he really is righteous. It is he, John himself, who needs to be baptized by Jesus. However, he allows himself to be overruled when he realizes that something else is afoot. Before he baptizes others, Jesus himself as man needs to be baptized by God. After all, he confesses freely that apart from his Father he can do nothing (John 5:19; 8:28).

Summary of Identification

1. When Jesus was made flesh at his incarnation, he identified with man (Heb. 2:14a,17a).

2. When Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and at the age of thirteen became a Son of the Commandment, he identified with all Jewish men who were in bondage to the law (cf. Gal. 3:23).

3. When Jesus went to Egypt (Mt. 2:15), he identified with his forebears in heathen bondage (cf. Gal. 4:1f.).

4. When Jesus was made sin in the atonement (2 Cor. 5:21), he identified with all believers. He died for his sheep (John 10).

As Irenaeus indicated long ago, Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is. Alternatively expressed, Jesus had to be identified with us so that we might be identified with him.

5. At his baptism, however, far from identifying himself with unregenerate sinners*, Jesus separated himself from them as John apparently realized when he said he needed to be baptized by Jesus. At this point Jesus became the leader or pioneer, not a follower, in the new order or dispensation. By our own baptism as Gentiles, we sinners identify both with the repentance of John the Baptist and the reception of the Spirit (eternal life) of Jesus. In our case, conversion (repentance and faith) symbolized by John’s water baptism precedes regeneration symbolized by Jesus’ Spirit baptism as old covenant precedes new covenant. As Paul says, in baptism we clothe ourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Just as the regenerate Son called God his Father, so do we as his regenerate children (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:5-7).

* The notion sometimes touted that Jesus’ baptism indicated a proxy or vicarious repentance is fundamentally unbiblical. First, there is no evidence for it. Secondly, repentance and faith like sin are always personal and cannot be transferred (e.g. Ex. 32:33; Dt. 24:16; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18). If this were not so, all irrespective of their sin would be saved. The Bible does not teach universalism.

6. Just as we identify with Jesus’ in baptism and new life, so we identify with his death in the Lord’s Supper. In vivid metaphorical language, we eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6) and are baptized into his death (Rom. 6:4f.). If his death was ours, ours was his (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24). There was undeniable interchange (2 Cor. 5:21).

7. Just as Jesus identified with us in a physical or natural body of dust (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14,17), so we identify with him in a spiritual body of glory (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Phil. 3:21).

The New Birth a ‘Natural’ and Universal Necessity

In contrast with the sin-obsessed Augustine, in John 3:3-7 Jesus deals exclusively with our fleshly unregenerate nature. Sin is not mentioned, but flesh emphatically is. To intrude sin into this passage is to indulge in an exegetical fallacy. (8* This is not to deny that regeneration is the first step and plays a defining role in the sanctification of sinners as Ephesians 2:1-5 and Titus 3:3-7 demonstrate. Tragically, Augustine never got over his days as a Manichee. The Manichees believed that the flesh along with all matter was evil as such.) What does Jesus mean by flesh? Clearly he means our natural unregenerate condition as human beings born of woman (cf. v.4; Mt. 11:11) and normally by the will of man (cf. John 1:12f.). What Jesus is saying in language that can hardly be mistaken is that all who are flesh or born of woman cannot see and enter the kingdom of God or go to heaven unless they are born again from above. Since he also was flesh and born of woman the same necessarily applied to him. (9* See again my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.) Denial of this is docetism. (10* It might be objected at this point that Jesus makes an exception of himself because he says in verse 7 that “you (plur.) must be born from above,” NRSV. In reply two basic points must be made. First, in verses 3 and 5 Jesus says no one (lit. except anyone) can either see or enter. This clearly includes himself, or, as Berkhof says, “leaves no room for exceptions”, p.472. Secondly, if what has been argued above is true, even if Jesus is by implication making an exception of himself in verse 7, he is doing so for the simple reason that he is already born from above and has been plainly acknowledged and confirmed as the Son of God. It is now incumbent on his hearers to recognize the necessity of their own regeneration as John had done, Mt. 3:14.) If there is earth or this present age, there is also heaven or what for us is the age to come. If there is a natural birth, there is also a second or spiritual or supernatural birth (John 3:6). This is confirmed by Paul who states in 1 Corinthians 15:44 that there are two sorts of body, the first physical or natural adapted to life on earth, the second spiritual adapted to life in heaven. Our problem in this provisional, temporal world is how to escape and get to heaven (cf. Rom. 2:7,10, etc.). If we cannot keep the law (cf. Rom. 3:19f.), Jesus is the only answer (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gal. 2:16, etc.).

Matthew 3:13-17: Exegesis and Exposition

Assuming that a text without a context is often no more than a pretext, it is important to establish that the context of this particular passage is the rest of the Bible. So the question we must ask is what the rest of the Bible is saying. What, in other words, is the plan of salvation?

The Plan of Salvation

To cut a long story short, man, in contrast with the rest of the animal creation, is not merely dust, and therefore by nature ephemeral, but is also made in the image of God. As such he is promised eternal life if he keeps the commandment (Gen. 2:17). Adam, the first man, fails and sins, likewise all his posterity (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23, etc.). All to the very last man and woman sin and earn wages in death (Rom. 6:23, etc.). No one under the old covenant kept the law and gained life (cf. Rom. 1-3). It is into this world of universal sin and death that Jesus comes. Though he is like all other men and women in every respect, he alone keeps the law, does not sin (1 Pet. 2:22) and so inherits the promise of eternal life (Lev. 18:5, etc.). However, he did not come into this world simply to demonstrate that he could keep the law; he came to save the world, or more specifically, all who put their trust in him (John 3:16, etc.).

As long as he himself was under the law, his purpose was to ‘save’ or justify himself, and he was in no position to help other people. To do the latter, he had to have eternal life himself. You can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself. So when he came to John for baptism, he certainly did not come to confess his sins. Even John realized that, for he himself had already declared, first, that his baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), second, that there was one who mightier than he coming after him who would baptize not with water but with the Spirit (Mark 1:7f.), and, third, that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Given these facts, Jesus’ request seems wrong-headed as John himself realizes (3:14). On the one hand John recognizes Jesus does not need to repent and on the other that he himself needs to be baptized with the Spirit. What he apparently does not realize, however, is that even Jesus as man needs to be baptized with the Spirit of God before he is in a position to baptize anyone else. But there is more to it than that.

Jesus The Saviour

To qualify as Saviour, Jesus had not only to earn the approbation of his Father under the law (Mt. 3:17), but also under the Spirit (Mt. 17:5). His baptism by John then was but the beginning of his odyssey preparing him for service as the Saviour of others (cf. Mark 10:45; Acts 10:38). He had in his own words to fulfil all righteousness as he was led by the Spirit. Otherwise expressed, he had to attain to the perfection of the God who loved the world (Mt. 5:48; 19:21). But this was impossible under the law (Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7). It was not until Jesus had completed the work that his Father had given him to do (John 17:4; 19:30, cf. Luke 13:32), ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of his Father (cf. Heb. 1:3) that he was able to apply his work of salvation to those who put their faith in him. He did this by pouring out his Spirit on his people (pace the Orthodox) who were justified by faith just as God had poured out his Spirit on himself at his own baptism.

Jesus’ Baptism

Having overcome what in the circumstances were his natural objections, John is now prepared to baptize Jesus. But as the events that follow clearly indicate his baptism has nothing directly to do with sin or sinners. For God first pours out his Spirit on Jesus (=gives him the eternal life originally promised to Adam, Gen. 2:17, and all his posterity, Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:16, on condition of keeping the commandment), second, designates Jesus as his Son, and third, declares that he is well pleased with him. (This is arguably a misleading way of expressing the issue. It is perhaps better to regard points two and three as one. Having pleased God by keeping the law Jesus was confirmed as God’s Son, that is, by spiritual re-birth or birth from above, cf. Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:5; 5:5; Rom. 1:4. This is not adoptionism and a denial of the Virgin birth but recognition of the intrinsic difference between physical and spiritual birth which pervades the Scriptures.) Had he not been born again, acknowledged and confirmed as God’s Son, Jesus would have proved a fraud. What in the OT was never more than a promise (Dt. 29:4; 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34) is in the NT realized and epitomized in Jesus. Only in Jesus can we have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 14:6; 1 John 4:9) and so be saved (Acts 4:12).

Points To Ponder

Jesus’ Baptism and Our Salvation

If Jesus had identified himself with sinners at his baptism, he could not have saved them. It would have been like asking a blind man to save another blind man (cf. Mt. 15:14). Rather it was precisely because he was NOT identified with them that as the regenerate Son of God he was enabled to save them, that is, by atonement. We do not believe in autosoterism. Our salvation is all of grace.

Covenant Theology

If Jesus progressed from conception to birth of woman and lived, first, under the covenant with Noah like the heathen (nature, uncircumcision), then, second, under the law of Moses after his bar mitzvah (like the Jews, circumcision), he must logically have completed his human pilgrimage as a regenerate Son under the Spirit (Gal. 6:15). Surely this is the implication of Leviticus 18:5 and is spelt out by Paul in Galatians 4:1-7. If he had not followed this course to perfection (Luke 13:32 ESV, KJV), he could not have become our pioneer into heaven itself.

Traditional Docetism

The tragedy of traditional Christology is its inherent docetism. While the Bible goes out of its way to insist on Jesus’ genuine humanity even in his Virgin Birth (Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14a,17a; 4:15; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7), our forebears tended to stress his deity and thus make him an exception. But exception implies exclusion. If Jesus was not a man, born of woman, under the law, in need of regeneration and transformation, he could not have been our Saviour. In the event, the only difference between him and us was that whereas he kept the law that promised life, we did not (cf. Rom. 9:31; 10:3). By God’s grace, however, we attain to righteousness and hence life by faith (Rom. 9:30).

It was in his incarnation and death that Jesus identified himself with sinners (2 Cor. 5:21), and paid their penalty! In his resurrection, sinners identify and rise with him (1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14).


1. According to Jesus, regeneration is intrinsically necessary, not imperative, to man as man (John 3:1-8). Therefore as a man he himself had to be born again. As incarnate, he could not possibly have been an exception.

2. Under the law Jesus was in no position to die for others. First, if he had attempted to do so he would have been identified as a sinner since under the law death was the wages of sin. Second, only by keeping the law could he gain eternal life for himself (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5). Third, it is only as the regenerate Son who already had eternal life that he was in a position to give his flesh for the life of his friends (John 10:17f.; Col. 1:22, etc.). Only sons have something to give freely (Mt. 17:24-27; Eph. 2:10).

3. The inter-change of 2 Corinthians 5:21 (cf. 1 Peter 3:18) would have been impossible under the law. However, because he already had eternal life, he was able to take his fleshly life (psyche) again and rise from the grave never to die again (Rom. 6:9; Rev. 1:18). In freely spilling his blood, he had paid the penalty and achieved forgiveness of sins for all time (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12,26).



L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

D.A.Carson, EBC Matthew 1-12, Grand Rapids, 1995.

G.D.Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, Peabody, 1994.

R.T.France, The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, 2007.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 2, London, 1960.

D.Macleod, Jesus Is Lord, Fearn, 2000.

H.D.McDonald, The Atonement of the Death of Christ, Grand Rapids, 1985.

Alec Motyer, Look To The Rock, Leicester, 1996.

John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, Phillipsburg, 1979.


Our forebears including the Reformers assumed that John 3:1-7 required infant baptism (cf. e.g. Hodge, 2, pp.242,247). According to Augustine all babies that were not baptized were damned. If this was true, John the Baptist who clearly was not baptized by Jesus was damned. How do we overcome this conundrum?

The answer lies in the plan of salvation and especially the order of salvation (ordo salutis). First, original sin is not taught in the Bible, so regeneration is not its antidote. Second, conversion precedes regeneration. As we have seen above, righteousness gained by keeping the law is the precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). Since all OT believers failed to keep the law, they were justified by faith. The reason why John the Baptist was not born again was that for chronological or historical reasons he never received the Spirit poured out by Jesus. While it is true that John was not truly saved in the new covenant sense of that term, that by no means permits us to infer that he was therefore damned. The Bible tells us that repentance and faith take precedence as the prerequisites of salvation. In contrast with regeneration which is wholly a work of God, they establish a degree of human responsibility without ever becoming the cause of salvation. Furthermore, by the grace and purpose of God they are relative thus broadening the scope or range of salvation as Hebrews 11, for example, makes clear. (See further my Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology; The Order of Salvation; The Order of Salvation in Romans.)




Sin And Nature

According to traditional Augustinian theology the entire creation is under a curse as a consequence of Adam’s (original) sin. (1* See e.g. Stott, pp.41,121,153,231; Wright, pp.198,395, etc.) As the work of the perfect God the assumption is that it was initially created not simply ‘good’ but perfect along with Adam and Eve who from the start were holy, righteous, immortal and incorruptible. If this is so, various questions immediately arise. For example, how can that which is perfect become subject to sin and lose its perfection? If it can, then the implication is that the God who is perfect can also lose his perfection. Maybe he like the devil will fall like lightning from heaven Luke 10:18)! If this is the case, what guarantee have we that he will maintain his promises to us? The anchor of our souls is clearly less reliable than we thought (Heb. 6:13-20). Fortunately, we are in a position to dismiss the initial premise that a perfect God is obliged to produce perfect artifacts. The author of Hebrews recognizes this when he says that the builder of the house has more honour than the house itself (3:3).

Creation Imperfect

On reflection, we realize that throughout Scripture all created things are regarded depreciatively in comparison with their Creator (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 45:11f.; 51:6,8; 54:10; Heb. 1:10-12; 1 John 2:17, etc.). They are but shadows of the real (cf. Heb. 8:1-7). What is ‘created by hand’ (cheiropoietos) is not to be compared with what is ‘not created by hand’ (acheiropoietos, Heb. 1:10-12; 9:11,24, etc.). While the creation may have a certain glory of its own (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20), it pales when compared with its Author just as the old covenant pales in comparison with the new (2 Cor. 3). (2* See my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity.) In fact creation merely testifies to God’s power and divine nature and is certainly not divine in itself as the heathen world frequently believed. Thus it is not at all surprising that God’s chosen people were forbidden to worship creation in any form (Ex. 20:3f.; Dt. 4:15-19).

Man’s Imperfection

Man himself as created is clearly intrinsically imperfect, that is, immature and incomplete and needs to be perfected (Phil. 3:12-14; Heb. 6:1, etc.). His imperfection is natural and has nothing to do with sin. He does not and cannot become sinful until he breaks the law. As flesh he is mere dust, clay, grass like the rest of the animal creation (Ps. 103:14, etc.).

What this suggests is that nature as such is inherently defective and needs to be upheld by the sovereign providence of God on the one hand and the delegated dominion of man created in the divine image on the other. Apart from man’s habitation and cultivation the creation like the temple at a later date (Mt. 23:38) is a desolate wilderness (Isa. 6:11).

Assertions like this are supported by other biblical evidence. For instance, quite apart from sin, creation has by nature a beginning and an end (Gen. 1:1). It is initially uncovenanted, visible and impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18; 1 John 2:17). It is also imperfect (Gen. 1), corruptible (Heb. 1:10-12; Rom. 8:18-25), shakable (Heb. 12:27) and destined for ultimate destruction (Zeph. 1:18; Mt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12).

Adam and Noah

The initial lack of a guarantee for creation is made evident by the contrast between the mere commandment given to Adam and the covenant made with Noah. But even the latter was to operate only while the earth remained (Gen. 8:22). In other words, the flood which threatened total destruction makes it plain that an uncovenanted creation had no guarantee of permanence. It was only when God made a covenant with Noah that the latter in contrast with Adam (cf. Gen. 1:26-28) could undertake to exercise dominion with hope of success (cf. Jer. 31: 35-37; 33:19-26). Even then, it was for a limited time only (Gen. 8:22). And even Jesus who overcame the world (John 16:33) could not reverse its inherent corruption and inevitable end which were clearly ordained by God (Mt. 24:35; Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). Even he had to escape from it by keeping the law which promised life and being crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9, cf. Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7). Just as the law of Moses which relates primarily to the flesh is obsolescent by nature (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13), so is creation and the flesh which emanates from it (Mt. 5:18, cf. Heb. 7:18f.). And since the law is incapable of perfecting anything (Heb. 7:19), escape or transformation is intrinsically necessary. This is the invisible hope referred to by both the author of Hebrews (7:19, cf. 11:35) and by Paul (Rom. 8:20, 24f., cf. Heb. 10:20; 1 Pet. 1:3)

Two Factors

There are then two factors involved so far as man is concerned: he must exercise dominion (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8) if he is to gain glory, honour and praise (Rom. 2:7,10), and he must keep the law if he is to gain the life God promised to (naturally) mortal man from the beginning (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 7:10). (3* In other words, man must attain to incorruption and immortality and thus take on the generic image of God, cf. 1 Cor. 15:53; 2 Tim. 1:10. See further my Death and Corruption.) Thus sin and nature frequently appear together and though intimately related they must both be overcome. A clear illustration of the distinction between sin based on law and corruption or decay by nature appears in Luke 13:1-5. Though they seem to operate separately, nonetheless they achieve the same result which is death. While Luke 13:4, which deals with natural corruption, can be linked with 12:33 (cf. Mt. 6:19f.), Luke 13:1-3 corresponds with passages in Luke 21:5-36 where various events occur by necessity, that is, as part of the divine intention. Obviously, if creation is naturally corruptible or subject to corruption (cf. Rom. 8:18-25), it will show increasing signs of its corruptibility as it ages in more frequent earthquakes, celestial portents, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and so forth. Alongside them, however, as in Luke 13:1-5, there is plenty of evidence of sin in wars, insurrections and international hostilities (Luke 21:9f.). The sack of Jerusalem is a type of the end and hardly surprisingly the two appear interwoven in Scripture (Luke 21:20-26). These events both natural and sinful will be capped off by the second coming of Christ (Luke 21:27f.).


No one reading carefully about Paul’s missionary journeys can fail to note that he constantly has to cope with both sin and nature. We see this in Acts 27 where nature perhaps predominates in contrast with Jonah where sin and nature are arguably treated more even-handedly. In 2 Corinthians 6 (cf. 4:8-12 where Paul refers to his naturally ‘mortal flesh’), however, sin and nature are more obviously interspersed. On the one hand the apostle has to cope by great endurance with afflictions, hardships, calamities, labours, sleepless nights and hunger, on the other hand he has to submit to beatings, imprisonments and riots and the like. Again, in chapter 11:23-28 we read of labours, shipwreck, being adrift at sea, danger from rivers and the wilderness, toil and hardship, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure on the one hand and of imprisonments, beatings, lashes, stonings, hostility from both Jews and Gentiles in the city, and so forth. In chapter 12 Paul talks of his mysterious thorn in the flesh from which God did not see fit to relieve him and in verse 10 the mixture of sufferings stemming from both sin and nature.


The fact that Jesus as incarnate was both mortal (like all flesh he was naturally subject to death, Heb. 5:7, and so died) and corruptible (he got older) should surely teach us something about creation. (4* See further my Death and Corruption, Romans 8:18-25.) If he was subject to nature even apart from sin (as Adam had originally been before he sinned), he had to overcome both nature and sin. And, despite all his trials and temptations (Mt. 4:1-11; Luke 22:28; Heb. 4:15, etc.), praise God he did precisely that (2 Tim. 1:10). He kept the law which graciously promised life and defeated sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). He thus freely, that is, by the grace of God tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9). But his death and subsequent resurrection were only part of the story. As the author of Hebrews indicates, he was crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9). This can only mean that since he did not see corruption in the grave, he rose still corruptible. But in accordance with the promise of God, having finished his work and thereby gained honour and praise, he was transformed at his ascension. (5* In other words, Jesus’ resurrection, which relates to sin and death on our behalf, and ascension, which relates to the decay ordained by God in hope, Rom. 8:20, are separate events and must not be merged as many writers merge them today. See more below and my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?.)

Creation Defective

This points again to the fact that nature or creation as such is defective in comparison with divine perfection (cf. the earthy and the spiritual bodies in 1 Cor. 15:46-49). It is therefore of prime importance for us to recognize, as noted above, that death is often the result of nature, not sin. For example, animals which do not know the law cannot sin but they all nonetheless die in conformity with the law of creation. Sinless embryos (cf. Job 3:16; Eccl. 6:3) and babies (cf. Dt. 1:39) sometimes die. Ignorance in children guarantees that they cannot keep the law by which to sin or to exercise faith. Like Adam and Eve at creation, as born of woman, they are uncovenanted and undeveloped and so, if they die, they do so in innocence (cf. Dt. 1:39, etc.). They will not come into judgement since they can neither believe nor sin (Rom. 2:1-16).

Unregenerate Man

In 1 Corinthians 2:14f., Paul clearly distinguishes between the natural (generate) and the regenerate man apart from sin. So he is fully aware of the natural ignorance that characterizes all of us in our infancy and minority. To stress this alternatively, sin is not the only problem. Even Jesus spent thirty of his years on earth as a once-born ‘natural’ man, a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), and only after keeping the law that promised life to his Father’s satisfaction was he born from above at his baptism. He thus became the first and only man in the entire history of the race to receive the Spirit and gain life by obeying the law (cf. Lev. 18:5). Prior to his time all had failed (1 K. 8:46; Pss. 130:3; 143:2; Rom. 3:9-20, etc.). Only when the time had fully come did God send forth his Son and put him in a position to redeem all the rest who were still under the law (Gal. 4:4f.). This had been his intention from the start (Rom. 3:20; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). He had planned from before the foundation of the world that before him no flesh should boast. But the point to note is that man by nature even apart from sin can neither see nor enter the kingdom of heaven. His regeneration is a ‘natural’ necessity (John 3:1-8).

The Body

However, if man’s rebirth is spiritual, what about his body? A spiritual birth does not provide for a resurrection from the dead. And since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, transformation also becomes a ‘natural’ necessity quite apart from sin (1 Cor. 15:53). Even Jesus had to undergo it as he ascended into heaven (cf. John 20:17; Phil. 3:21).

The Importance of Sin

Sin derives its importance from the fact that it prevents the necessary rebirth and transformation from occurring. The original promise of life and glory that God made to Adam in his natural mortality and corruptibility was conditional on his keeping the commandment. If the commandment was not kept and life not gained, then death as wages (Rom. 6:23) and corruption (decay) inevitably followed. Thus since all, like Adam, sinned, all died (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Only Jesus despite being tried to the utmost overcame sin (1 Pet. 2:22) in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). Only he as a true man to whom the original promise made to Adam applied (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) was able to serve as Saviour (cf. Heb. 2). After all, the OT had made it crystal clear that only God could save (Isa. 45:22-25) and that before him no flesh would boast (Isa. 42:8; 48:11, cf. Rom. 3:20; 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:9). But since Jesus though flesh was also God, he triumphed. Gloria Soli Deo.


By blindly following the sin-obsessed Augustine, traditional theology has confused and merged sin with nature not least by embracing the idea that we are born sinful. As hinted above, the same is true when the resurrection of Jesus from the grave is regarded as transformation resulting in the virtual obliteration of ascension which implies escape from nature in Jesus’ case, not sin. (6* This comment doubtless requires explication. Writers like Stott, ch. 4, and Harris, pp.103,139ff.,413f., who virtually reduces the ascension to drama, p.423, merge Jesus’ resurrection with his transformation and fail to recognize that while Jesus’ transformation was a divine necessity reversing his incarnation, cf. John 3:13; 6:62; 13:3; 17:5, his resurrection which followed his death was not intrinsic to his life at all. As one who had kept the law and gained life, he did not have to die, but he freely and vicariously did so. By contrast his transformation after, John 20:17, but definitely not at his resurrection, cf. Luke 24:39, was, as already implied, inherently necessary, Gk dei, 1 Cor. 15:53. See my John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus.) This can only be described as a gargantuan gaffe which has largely hidden the truth of the gospel for so long. From an Englishman’s point of view, the harsh reality is that the British quaternion of Murray, Lloyd-Jones, Packer and Stott, despite much good work, have helped to embed us in a theological quagmire from which it is more than high time for us in these tumultuous days (2012) to be rescued. Since we are all like the rest of the animal creation part of and hence captive to nature, nonetheless as those who are also created in the image of God we find ourselves presented with the opportunity of escaping its bondage by keeping the law (Rom. 8:18-25, cf. Heb. 1:10-12; 8:13; Gal. 6:8) and of gaining glory by exercising our delegated dominion (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5, cf. Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7). But since on account of our susceptibility to sin we find this impossible, the only means of salvation open to us is faith in Christ (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12, etc.). He alone triumphed over both nature and sin, over the world, the flesh and the devil (John 16:33; 1 John 2:14-17, cf. 2 Tim. 1:10).

Additional Note

The church’s traditional confusion of sin with nature appears in the widespread idea that at his resurrection Jesus was transformed despite the fact that he was visible, audible and tangible (cf. 1 John 1:1f.) and that as a result we shall inherit a body like his as seen by the disciples. (At this point it is important to notice the difference between what they saw and what Paul saw on his way to Damascus.) Some even believe (contrary to the explicit teaching of Paul that flesh and blood cannot by nature inherit the kingdom of God) that Jesus went physically to heaven and that he will return as flesh to reign for a thousand years in the millennium. The truth is that just as Jesus himself taught that spiritual regeneration was by divine design necessary for all (including himself on the assumption that he was a man), so Paul taught that corporeal transformation was equally so. (See further my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.)

The difference between flesh and spirit are noted both by Jesus (John 3:6) and by Paul (1 Cor. 15:48). Both imply the need for change.

Again, on reflection, it becomes quite apparent that the Augustinian worldview which involves original perfection confuses the beginning with the end. The natural development or evolution so evident in human life taught by Irenaeus was to all intents and purposes obliterated by Augustine.

It is high time we recognized that perfection, that is, maturation or the completion of the divinely intended goal, is part of the essence of the biblical worldview. Even Jesus had to be perfected, that is, become the full-grown man (Eph. 4:13) as the letter to the Hebrews in particular makes clear.



John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, Leicester, 1992.

M.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.

Christopher J.H.Wright, The Mission of God, Nottingham, 2006.


During the course of my Christian pilgrimage I must have read thousands of times that we are, or need to be saved, from sin. This is the heart of the Augustinian worldview in which sin is basic. The received idea is that originally God, being God, created the world not merely good, that is, serving a purpose (Gen. 1; Ps. 119:91; Prov. 16:4; Eccl. 3:11), but perfect along with Adam and Eve the first humans who were deemed to be immortal, righteous, holy and good. Tragically, however, despite their perfection, our first parents succumbed to the temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil and ‘fell’. In so doing they brought a curse not only on themselves but on the whole creation they were intended to rule. And this is the situation that we have inherited today. We as the posterity of Adam and Eve are by nature born sinners who inhabit a cursed or fallen creation. Bluntly expressed, all our problems stem from sin and it is from sin that we must be saved. When this occurs, paradise will be regained and creation restored.

But is this a true depiction of what the Bible teaches? I think not.

Divine Perfection

In the Bible the only perfect being is God himself. He alone is immortal and incorruptible (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), holy, righteous and eternal. In plain words, he is “complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4, cf. Ps. 50:12-15). The mere fact that he created the temporal universe which has both a beginning and an end brings into question its original perfection. The apostle Paul tells us that all that is visible (Rom. 1:20) is also temporary (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27). From this we are compelled to conclude that the physical creation far from being perfect was simply ‘good’, a useful tool designed by the Creator to serve a purpose (Ps. 119:91; Prov. 16:4; Eccl. 3:11) which, once achieved, would be dispensed with (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). If this is so, the Augustinian idea that after sin has been taken care of creation will be redeemed and restored is false, for nature itself as ‘hand-made’ constitutes a problem. We are thus forced to conclude that the creation/fall/restoration schema widely accepted today (Jan. 2012) is a figment of the Augustinian imagination.

If this is so, what then is salvation in the Bible all about?

Creator and Creature

First, we must take seriously the view that the Creator God himself is uniquely eternal, immortal and incorruptible. As has already been affirmed, he alone is perfect and complete. According to the Bible, in his love he freely chose to create man spiritually in his image but physically from the earth with the intention of bringing him to eventual perfection as his child (Mt. 5:48; 19:21; Phil. 3:12-14, etc.). (1* We may well wonder why God chose to love us, cf. Dt. 7:8; Ps. 8:4. Love is free but it also involves the glory he gains in our redemption and adoption.) As created from the earth man is dust (cf. Ps. 103:14). He thus stands in patent contrast with his self-existent Maker as being naturally both mortal and corruptible, that is, subject to both death and decay. So if man is ever to attain to the perfection of his Creator (Mt. 5:48), he must somehow ascend from ground to glory (cf. Eph. 4:9f.), from dust to destiny, from Eden to eternity.

Man’s Vocation

According to the book of Genesis, God challenges mortal man (Adam) to avoid the death to which, contrary to the traditional view, he is naturally subject. It is of vital importance to recognize this, for if death is the last enemy of mortal man (1 Cor. 15:26), it is also the first (Gen. 2:17). So, if death is to be avoided, eternal life or immortality is a paramount necessity implied in the commandment (cf. Rom. 7:10) God made to Adam (Gen. 2:17) who alone among all the animals was made in the image of God. Only he in the course of his development from total animal/infant ignorance (Dt. 1:39, etc.) could attain to knowledge and understanding (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). But knowledge (commandment/law) on its own was not enough: all it did was provide the test (cf. Ex. 15:25; 20:20; Dt. 8:2,16, etc.) on the basis of which there came either blessing or curse (cf. Dt. 11:26-28, etc.). To gain life man had to fulfil its initial condition which was to keep the commandment (Gen. 2:17). Then, after the development of the race (and the individual) in both extent and maturity, the precondition of life (cf. Dt. 30:1-6; Jer. 31:33; 32:39f.) became obedience to the law (of Moses) in its entirety (Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:15-20; Ezek. 20:11,13,21, etc.).


However, the OT itself makes it plain that there was a massive problem inherent in the condition: man who derived from the earth was afflicted by fleshly weakness (Ps. 78:39; 103:14; Rom. 7:14) and, deceived by the devil, he lacked the ability to meet this condition (Ps. 130:3; 143:2, etc.). The obedience which was the prerequisite of righteousness (Rom. 5:21) needed to please God (cf. Mt. 3:17) was in its turn the condition of regeneration (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5), and it proved universally elusive. As the Psalmist (14:1-3) and the apostle (Rom. 3:10) maintained, none was righteous not even one. From Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land (Num. 14:19; 1 Sam. 8:8), from youth to maturity (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:25), from Adam (Gen. 3:22-24) to Moses (Rom. 5:14) and from Moses to Jesus (1 K. 8:46-53), all to the very last one broke the law with the result that all forfeited the promise of life. All without exception became prey to sin, earned its wages and died in conformity with the rest of the temporal creation (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 5:12, cf. 3:23).


Babies, however, like Adam and Eve before them, at the start of their lives do not know the commandment (law) and so are incapable of breaking it (cf. Rom. 3:19; 7:1,7). While the sinful parents of the exodus all sinned and died in the wilderness, their little ones survived because they were innocent (Dt. 1:39) and under the leadership of Joshua entered the Promised Land (Num. 14:3,26-36). This shows beyond reasonable doubt that the received dogma of original sin, which is in any case rejected by the Jews and even the Orthodox, is false. Sin, which may be defined as transgression (James 2:11, cf. 1 John 3:4), does not exist apart from the commandment. The apostle Paul states explicitly that where there is no law there is no sin (Rom. 4:15; 7:8f.).


It is into the sink of the universal sinfulness of rational men and women that eventually the promised Messiah came. His purpose was not to play the role of a military leader capable of defeating Israel’s enemies, especially the Romans, but to deal with sin (Mt. 1:21). To do this he had to live as a man among men, uniquely keep the law to perfection (Lev. 18:5; Mt. 5:48), please his heavenly Father (Mt. 3:17) and permanently receive the Holy Spirit (John 1:32; 6:27). In other words, he had of necessity (Gk dei, John 3:7) like all those who were flesh (born of woman), to be born again from above (John 3:3,5,6). In his case, this occurred at his baptism when his Father acknowledged and confirmed him as his Son who had successfully kept the law. He had come into the world not to offer sacrifices as in the OT but where all others had failed to do God’s will in the flesh (Heb. 10:5-9, cf. Rom. 8:3). And that is precisely what he did and was consequently rewarded by the permanent gift of the Spirit (John 1:32; 6:27) at his baptism (Mt. 3:13-17). He had uniquely met the precondition of life (Lev. 18:5).

Christian Believers

But Jesus did not undergo incarnation (become flesh) simply to prove his personal prowess. As the author of Hebrews goes on to point out in 10:10, we as his fellow human beings who believe in him have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. In chapter 2 our author had painted the picture in greater detail. There he told his readers that the Saviour was crowned with glory after suffering on behalf of his people (2:9). He goes on to say that it was fitting that God in bringing many sons to glory should have made the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Together they were all brothers (Heb. 2:11-13, cf. John 17:2) and hence heirs of a common glory provided they suffered with him (Rom. 8:17).

Jesus Both Saviour and Saved

The author of Hebrews makes another point that needs to be highlighted since we so easily fail to recognize it. Behind the work of Jesus, the man of flesh and blood, is the eternal living God. Though Jesus was himself the Word of God, yet when he became flesh he was necessarily weak and dependent (2 Cor. 13:4, cf. Rom. 8:3). As a true man and our model or paradigm, he needed the full support of his heavenly Father like the rest of us (John 5:19,30; 6:38). Indeed, our author goes further and suggests that even Jesus needed salvation if not from any sins he might have committed (cf. 1 Pet. 2:22). He says that in the days of his flesh he offered up prayers and supplications to him who was able to save him from committing sin (cf. Heb. 2:17a; 4:15) and its consequence death (Heb. 5:7). He thus learned obedience through what he suffered and became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchisedek (Heb. 5:8f.). We need to note too that apart from John 2:19 and 10:17f. Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is always attributed to God and regarded as a demonstration of his power (e.g. Eph. 1:19-22). Truly no flesh will boast before God (1 Cor. 1:29) who is not indebted to anyone or anything (Rom. 11:35). He will not give his glory to another (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). If we read that before Jesus every knee will bow (Phil. 2:10f.), we need to recognize that in so doing it is to the glory of God (2:11, cf. Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:10-12).

Salvation from the Flesh

Jesus plainly teaches that all who are flesh, that is, born according to nature and regardless of sin need to be born again (cf. John 3:6). Why? Because we belong by nature to this transient world and have to endure the test to qualify for the next (Ex. 20:20; Dt. 8:2,16, cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:7, etc.). We must prove ourselves pure in heart and spirit to be accepted by a holy God. Those with defiled consciences cannot stand before God (Heb. 9:9,13f.;10:1-4). When Jesus died, he committed his sinless spirit to his Father (Luke 23:46) leaving his body in the grave. In other words, while his flesh and blood could not enter heaven, his spirit could. It broke through the curtain that had been rent in two (Heb. 6:19f.; 10:19f.). Of course, his spirit returned to his uncorrupted body and he was able to resume his earthly life. However, his work was to all intents and purposes finished (John 17:4; 19:30) but having in his retirement (!) given his disciples their final instructions, he then at his ascension took his seat at his Father’s side in his heavenly kingdom not merely spiritually qualified and perfected but corporeally changed. His bodily transformation crowned his earthly work (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4,10).


What did this change involve? Taking his flesh to heaven? Not at all. As Paul says, flesh and blood cannot by nature inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). Just as his natural spirit had had to be reborn from above, so now his body had to be transformed. (2* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.) An eternal spirit could not possibly be permanently housed in a temporal body of flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1), in what was effectively a temporary tent (John 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:13). Was this on account of sin as has been traditionally taught? By no means. After all, God had given him his body of flesh when he was ‘born of woman’ (Gal. 4:4, cf. Heb. 10:5), but this was the product of a futile creation. Now, because he was naturally subject to age (Luke 3:23; John 8:57) and hence decay (2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 8:13), his fleshly nature had to be changed (cf. Heb. 1:10-12). So he had to be given a body of glory to fit him for heaven (Phil. 3:21, cf. Rom. 8:30) and reception of the eternal blessings of David (Acts 13:34), and this occurred at the end of his life at his ascension from the earth. Escape at last!

Salvation from the Physical Creation

It is common nowadays in the 21st century under traditional Augustinian influence to assume that since creation ‘fell’ when Adam ‘fell’ that creation will be restored and redeemed once sin, and therefore death, has been eradicated. (3* The deeply dubious idea that Jesus was changed at his resurrection while still in the flesh is used to support this. See my Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?, John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus, etc.) But is this a viable proposition? I suggest not. As we saw above, the truth is that material creation was never perfect: it was only ‘good’ (Gen. 1) or fit to serve a temporal purpose. It was made ‘by hand’ (cheiropoietos, Isa. 45:11f.), an OT designation indicating its pejorative nature in contrast with heaven which was ‘not made by hand’ (acheiropoietos, cf. Heb. 9:11,24). (4* See my Manufactured Or Not So.) And since we as flesh stem from the earth and are consequently dust (Ps. 103:14; 1 Cor. 15:46-49, etc.), both our flesh and the material earth/creation itself must of necessity be changed or rather replaced by divine design. Sin does not come into the picture. This is surely what Paul teaches in Romans 8:18-25 and the author of Hebrews in 1:10-12. Like the flesh which in contrast with God himself is mortal and corruptible, the physical creation in general was likewise subjected to futility and destruction from the start. Why? Because God had something better in mind for those who were to be his adopted children. Paul calls this an invisible, and therefore a permanent (2 Cor. 4:18), hope (Rom. 8:24f.). Clearly he means heaven itself, the Father’s house to which Jesus returned and for which Paul himself strove with might and main to attain (Phil. 3:14). At the end of his life he was convinced that he would reach his goal (2 Tim. 4:18) and gain his crown of righteousness (4:8) just as Jesus himself had been crowned with glory (Heb. 2:9). He was not alone, for Peter entertained the same idea. He also had a living hope and believed in an inheritance that was imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Pet. 1:3f.). What is more he too thought in terms of a crown of glory awaiting him (1 Pet. 5:4). James likewise thought similarly: he hoped to receive his crown of life too (James 1:12). This was doubtless the eternal life that God had promised from the start (1 John 2:25, cf. Rev. 2:7). And John entertained the same hope (Rev. 2:10).

The Restoration and Redemption of the Physical Creation

To hope for the restoration and redemption of the physical creation as many seem to do nowadays in the 21st century is therefore completely contrary to the mission of God (pace C.Wright, N.T.Wright, p.179, Surprised By Hope) which is to bring down the curtain on the earthly life of this evil age (Gal. 1:4) of affliction, trial and tribulation (2 Cor. 4:17) once its purpose has been achieved (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 21:1-5). To restore creation is reminiscent of the Israelites returning to Egypt or Christians yearning to return to Judaism, reverting from the new covenant to the old or from Judaism to paganism. Once we are launched on the pilgrimage of life there is no fetching back the Age of Gold, returning to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22-24), to paradise, to the womb (John 3:4), to Egypt, to Judaism (Heb. 3,4), or to the world (2 Pet. 2:20-22, cf. 2 Tim. 4:10; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). The entire book of Hebrews is a warning against this. (5* See my No Going Back. As Dt. 17:16; 28:68; Hosea 8:13b; 9:3; 11:5 indicate, going back involves pain and punishment.)


Rather we are to follow in the steps of Jesus our paradigmatic pioneer who went from ground to glory without deviating except to die freely on our behalf. (6* See my The Journey of Jesus.) Just as he led the way (John 14:6) to glory (Heb. 2:10; 12:1f.), so we follow his lead (John 17:24). “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30 ESV). Where he is we shall be too (John 12:26); where he goes we shall go too (Rev. 14:4), and so we shall be forever with the Lord (1 Thes. 4:17, cf. John 12:26; 14:3). This is salvation indeed. Glory to God alone.



C.J.H.Wright, The Mission of God, Leicester, 1996.

N.T.Wright, Surprised By Hope, London, 2007.

The Challenge of Jesus, Downers Grove, 1999.






Profiling Modern Pharisaism

Some months ago the minister of our church began his sermon with the following comment: “The Pharisees were the evangelicals of the New Testament”. If this is true, it ought to strike fear into the hearts of all who call themselves evangelicals. For it was the so-called evangelicals that Jesus criticized more scathingly than any other group (see e.g. Mt. 23).

Most of us associate the Pharisees of the NT with hypocrisy, with “putting on a mask” or pretending to be what they were not (Mt. 23:27f.). So the question immediately prompts itself: Am I (or are you) as a professing evangelical guilty of pretending to be what I am not? Generally speaking, I personally would not readily associate myself, or the evangelicals I have known, with play acting and dissembling. They have not appeared to be like the Pharisees Jesus criticized for insincerely putting on a show (Mt. 6:16; 23:5) or for a meticulous adherence to legalistic formality (Luke 18:12). But is there more to the issue than first meets the eye?


I have always associated the word evangelical with the evangel, the gospel as portrayed in the NT. Evangelicals profess to regard Scripture, or the apostolic foundation of the gospel (Eph. 2:20), as their final authority and court of appeal in matters of doctrine. They are, in other words committed to the Bible as the word of God. But are they as good as their profession? After all, the Pharisees of the NT saw themselves as children of Abraham (cf. John 8:33) and true disciples of Moses (John 9:28), yet Jesus nonetheless subjected them to blistering criticism. In Mark 7:6f., it is noticeable that Jesus locates their hypocrisy in their nullifying the word of God by their tradition. Considering the wildly different doctrines presently propounded by modern evangelicals, the suggestion is that many are, first, simply failing to understand the Bible. Since we are all be guilty of that from time to time, we need to be always ready to take another look and if necessary to revise our opinions. After all, Jesus warned us about getting things wrong and of the need to avoid acting as if we had one eye when in fact we have two (cf. Mt. 18:9). But, second, it would seem that many are in fact sidestepping Scripture and appealing to other authorities. Perhaps we are failing as our predecessors in the NT did. Anyhow, the issue is worth subjecting to further examination.

The Pharisees were of course but one group among the Jews at the time of Christ. On occasion, Jesus even supported their stance on matters of crucial importance to the gospel. For example, he took their part, as Paul did later (Acts 23:6-9) against the Sadducees with regard to the resurrection (Mt. 22:23-32). The latter he accuses of ignorance and failure to appreciate the power of God rather than deliberate distortion of the Scriptures.


One of the disturbing features of the modern scene is the tendency of some to equate their denomination or sect with Christianity. Here in Australia, at least on TV, Roman Catholicism is regularly equated with the Christian faith. Then again many evangelicals refer to their stance as “Biblical and Reformed”, thereby adding to Scripture. When we consider that the Reformation occurred nearly 500 years ago, are those who embrace Reformed theology saying that despite believing that doctrine should always be subject to reform (semper reformanda) no further progress in understanding the faith has been made? As long ago as 1609, John Robinson, pastor to the Pilgrim Fathers, while acknowledging the greatness of Luther and Calvin was convinced that God had more light to break forth from his word. Yet even post-2000 some evangelicals give the impression that their traditional creed is fixed and unalterable (semper eadem), and to be classified as unorthodox is equivalent to denying Scripture. I suggest, however, that the boot may be on the other foot and that the source of so much doctrinal error in evangelicalism is a refusal on the part of the so-called orthodox to re-examine Scripture.

The Need for Conversion

When writing to the Galatians Paul left his readers in no doubt that to teach what he called a “different gospel” (1:6, ESV) led to distortion, and, even if this so-called gospel appeared to emanate from an angel from heaven, it should be rejected on pain of being cursed. In general, in my experience most evangelicals cling to the doctrine of justification by faith which was Paul’s main consideration especially in Galatians. But the apostle implies that other doctrines are also of basic importance, and, if they are misunderstood, disregarded or distorted, they can, when taken to their logical conclusion, undermine the faith. On the assumption that the Christian faith constitutes a complete worldview, a comprehensive, connected whole, any perversion of its parts threatens not only its unity but also its intelligibility. This comment requires expansion with reference to infant baptism, for example.

Infant Baptism and Its Theological Support

While infant “baptism” appears to jeopardize justification by faith, there is good evidence available to suggest that this can be overcome to some degree. Even some Catholics have acknowledged the need for conversion at a later stage in the lives of the “baptized”. And most Anglicans lay a good deal of emphasis on confirmation, even if it is not a biblical doctrine. (I deny that it corresponds with circumcision and bar mitzvah.)

However, if this paedobaptist tradition is supported, for example, by a false covenant theology, not to mention original sin or an equation of baptism with circumcision, the issue becomes much more serious. For our entire worldview is greatly affected by it. As it happens, even baptists are tarred with the same (Augustinian) brush as their counterparts in non-baptist churches. And this clearly accounts for much of the doctrinal mayhem confronting us today.

Original Sin

Then, let us take a quick look at that time-honoured dogma of original sin. First, it needs to be recognized that the Jews and the Orthodox have never embraced it. Second, it has been virtually set in cement in the West by Augustine. He did not read Greek, and where the latter has “because all sinned” in Romans 5:12, he read “in whom all sinned” (Latin ‘in quo’). In other words, he believed that we all sinned “in Adam” and were therefore born sinful. (The only text I can discover in the Bible that might possibly support this idea is Psalm 51:5. But since it runs counter to more explicit teaching and the general belief of the Jews, we must assume that David, under the stress of his sin with Bathsheba resorted to hyperbole. (Compare e.g. Ps. 58:3, cf. Isa. 8:4; Job 31:18.) Augustine went on to distinguish between Jesus and the rest of Adam’s descendants by arguing that since the former was born of a virgin without “carnal concupiscence”, he was therefore innocent. This contrasts with the author of Hebrews who tells us that the only way in which Jesus differed from the rest of us as a human being was that he did not personally sin (Heb. 2:17f.; 4:15). The implication of this is that we, like Adam and Eve who until they broke the commandment knew neither good nor evil, are all, like Jesus himself (cf. Isa. 7:15f.), born innocent (Dt. 1:39, cf. Num. 14:3,39-33, etc.), or as Paul says “alive” (Rom. 7:9). It is only with the advent of law that the trouble starts (cf. Rom. 4:15; 1 Cor. 15:56, etc.). As ordinary men and women of dust we prove incapable of keeping it (1 K. 8:46, etc., as God, who planned to justify us by faith in Christ, always intended), while the man of heaven proved that he could (John 8:46; Rom. 8:3; 1 Pet. 2:22, etc.).

Covenant Theology

In light of this it should come as no great surprise that when the Reformers, or rather their successors, came to develop a covenant theology, they posited a covenant with Adam regarded as the head and representative of all his posterity. So they taught that when he sinned all sinned ‘in him’ (cf. Bengel’s comment: omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante). But not only is this not taught in Scripture, it is actually contrary to its basic teaching. For Moses (Ex. 32:33), Jeremiah (31:29f.) and Ezekiel (18), for example, insist that sin cannot be transferred. Moses went so far as to lay it down as an axiom that the child could not be punished for the sin of the parent (Dt. 24:16, etc.). Yet even today writers tell us that we sinned in Adam (see, e.g. Horton, pp.88f., Collins, p.277, etc.), and adhere to the notion of the imputation of Adam’s sin. The latter is based on a glaring fallacy implicitly contradicted by Paul himself. For if the wages of sin is death and all died (Rom. 5:12), they must have earned their wages. Imputation is ruled out of court for the simple reason that it excludes wages (Rom. 4:1-8).

Natural Corruption

If infants, who do not know the law, die, since imputation is out of the reckoning, there is obviously another explanation for their death! This brings up another subject. According to the Bible the corruption of the material creation is natural. God made it that way (Ps. 102:25-27; 103:14-18, etc.) No wonder God has established his throne in the heavens (Ps. 8:1; 113:4, etc.), and not on the impermanent earth (Ps. 103:19) which is his footstool (Isa. 66:1). That explains the plan of salvation. To gain eternal life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) mortal man must escape from the natural corruption to which even the incarnate Jesus himself was subject (John 8:57) by keeping the commandments. He can’t. But Jesus could and did. He thus began his exodus (Luke 9:31), died for others, took back his life (John 10:17f.) since death had no claim on him, (Acts 2:24) and made his escape (Lu. 9:51; Rev. 12:5) by returning to the glory of his eternity (John 17:5, cf. Eph. 1:20f.).

Since infants who know neither good nor evil never receive the commandments in any form, they cannot be either righteous (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7) or sinful (Rom. 4:15; 7:1-13, cf. 6:16). Furthermore, since they are not covenant children like Noah, they sometimes succumb naturally like all flesh (Gen. 6:17; Ps. 49:12,20), that is, apart from moral considerations, to the corruption of the material world of which they are a part.

The upshot of all this is that the so-called Christian, but what is in reality the Augustinian, worldview propounded by many is deeply flawed. The idea that God created a perfect world to be ruled over by the perfect human beings Adam and Eve is traditional twaddle. Our first parents were not by nature holy and righteous, least of all perfect, and the creation they were called on to rule was manifestly imperfect or defective in some sense (cf. Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). If Adam and Eve were perfect, their fall into sin and the ruin of the creation over which they were intended to exercise dominion is a complete mystery. It is not only contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture but also absurd. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22 the picture is different. The temporal creation and the eternal Creator are differentiated throughout the Bible. The one is on no account to be worshipped, the other is (Rom. 1:23,25)!

What has this to do with Pharisaism? A whole lot! It proves that if we adopt at some point an erroneous but traditional interpretation of the Scripture we claim as our authority, we are inevitably jeopardizing the faith we claim to uphold. It may be true that God can overcome error and use people who genuinely misunderstand. Calvinists argue that God did this in the case of the Wesleys who were Arminian. Genuine misunderstanding, or the doctrinal immaturity that has always characterized the church to some degree, is one thing but persistence in clinging to dogma that is shown to be false is another. To claim as Christian what is manifestly unchristian (cf. Isa. 5:20) is a serious matter and may lay us open to the charge of the Pharisaism that Jesus so heavily criticized.

Over thirty years ago I myself wrote a book indicating that there was something seriously amiss with traditional Reformed theology. My principal criticism was leveled at received covenant theology. Of course, I could have been wrong and perhaps still am. But I continue to await the refutation of my own thesis on the one hand and to see the justification of traditional views on the other. All too often assumption masquerades as proof. Let me illustrate what I mean.


Some twenty or more years ago I read Murray’s “The Imputation of Adam’s Sin”. When I had finished it, I wrote somewhere that he had “cheated”. My complaint was that at the end of the first section of his book his argument had fallen short of the proof that the doctrine required. (This is scarcely surprising since, as I have noted above, it is incapable of proof. Paul’s own teaching in Romans shows that it is built on a blatant error.) In the second section, however, he simply assumed what needed to be proved.

More recently Collins has presented us with his “Genesis 1-4” which in some respects has much to commend it. However, my complaint is again that he has “cheated”. He promises proof of a creation covenant. Despite many hints, inferences and assumptions, this proof never materializes. Again this is hardly surprising since Scripture not only fails to refer to such a covenant but also in the nature of the case it cannot do so. The material creation, as the flood which threatened it implied, lacks both covenant and guarantee. It is, as Genesis 1:1 asserts, temporal and not eternal. Its ultimate destiny, like that of the body of flesh which derives from it (2 Cor. 5:1) is oblivion. Thus the contrast between the Creator and the created is maintained throughout the Bible (Isa. 51:6, etc.). Jesus himself says: “Heaven and earth will pass away but the word of God will abide forever” (Mt. 24:35). Once the material creation has served its purpose of nurturing the children of God (Mt. 24:8; Rom. 8:18-25), it will be dispensed with, not least by Jesus himself when he returns in the glory of God as a consuming fire (2 Thes. 1:7; Luke 17:29f.; Mt. 22:7; Heb. 12:29; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 20:11; 21:1-4). In other words, the message of the Bible is loud and clear: there is no ultimate future for either the flesh or this world in general. The present age must give way to the age to come (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.).

Personal Pharisaism

So, I am compelled to ask whether I personally am a Pharisee? Am I seeking to make tradition and confessionalism my final arbiter and so rendering the word of God ineffective? Over the years I have not only changed churches (though not always as a result of conviction) but also changed my opinion. As one who embraces the notion of constant reformation (semper reformanda) and of maturing in the faith (cf. Phil. 3:12-16), I trust that I shall continue to do so. If the perfection or glory of God is my aim in Christ, I can do nothing less.

But if this is so, I must ask whether you, the reader, are a Pharisee? Lacking the insight and the perfection of Jesus I cannot answer that question for you. If the cap fits wear it! If it does, then add your name to those who seek for a new reformation. On the other hand, it is vital for all of us as individuals to change our views only as prompted by conviction and insight. If these are missing, it is far better to remain with time-honoured tradition. At least it has the backing of some of the great names of the church whom God blessed in their time, and these are not to be lightly tossed aside. Clearly we should all make haste slowly. But in these days when we are being challenged both within and without the church, make haste we must. For only the truth will make us free (John 8:31f.).

The Question of Truth

This brings up another point. If the truth is something that the world has suppressed (Rom. 1:18) and failed to attain to (1 Cor. 1:21), then it is vitally necessary for the church which is meant to be the pillar and bulwark of the truth to propagate it (1 Tim. 3:15). The failure of the Jews to do this resulted in judgement, first, in the Babylonian exile, then in the punishment and dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. If God has vented his wrath on his own in times past, he may well do the same again in our time. This time the Assyrian may not be the rod of his anger (Isa. 10:5) but the Muslim in general may be. The Pharisaical refusal of those who claim to acknowledge the Bible as the word of God to abide by its teaching threatens the veracity of Christian witness.


A false worldview has other implications which cannot be dealt with here. I therefore allude to just one. It is vital for Christians in these days of potential suicide bombers to emphasise the natural impermanence and corruption of the temporal creation (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6; Mt. 24:35; Rom. 8:18-25, etc.). Apart from other considerations, this can only mean that those who blow themselves up lose their corruptible flesh permanently (Gen. 3:19, cf. Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8). Their hope of lapsing into the embrace of buxom beauties in the world to come is forever forlorn. In heaven, as Jesus clearly taught in accordance with the Bible in general, there is no marriage for the simple reason that we shall be the children of God who is spirit (1 Pet. 4:6) and hence like the angels (Luke 20:34-36, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50).


The Augustinian worldview with its stress on the original perfection of creation, original holiness and righteousness (*1), original sin, “Fall”, universal curse and the eventual redemption of the material creation is not only lamentably unbiblical, it is ludicrous, and it is high time it was abandoned. Failure to jettison it can only lead evangelicalism at best to marginalisation, at worst to total rejection (Mt. 23:38). And then there is the possibility of the judgement of God in more tangible form. We have been warned.

*1 A more blatant case of putting the cart before the horse would be difficult to find. Even Jesus had to begin his pilgrimage in innocence (cf. Isa. 7:15f.), achieve righteousness by keeping the law and then to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:13-17) in his bid to attain to the perfection of God (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 1:3f.; Rev. 3:21, etc.).



C.J.Collins, Genesis 1-4, Phillipsburg, 2006.

M.Horton, God of Promise, Grand Rapids, 2006.

The Exaltation Of Jesus

In my essay Still Docetic I have argued that at his incarnation the Word of God was made man (John 1:14) as the son of Adam (Luke 3:38), as the seed of Abraham and David (Mt. 1:1; Rom. 1:3) and born of woman (Gal. 4:4, cf. Heb. 10:5; Jer, 1:5). Though obviously still God in person, he laid aside his divine nature and took on human nature. On the face of it, without going further, both John in John 1:1-18 and Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 seem to teach this. However, history, as evinced not least in the Chalcedonian Creed, subverts this contention by positing two natures in one person (the hypostatic union). In other words, it is held that it was impossible for God the Word to divest himself of his divine nature in order to become man. This is apparently is a patent denial of what the Bible teaches and leads inevitably to what is known as docetism, that is, that Jesus appeared to be a man but was not really so. The idea that one human person can possess at one and the same time the nature of both God and man and still be a man, a true human being of the sort portrayed in Scripture, is logically impossible (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46 where Paul teaches that we are first flesh and then spirit finally transformed or ‘deified’ as in 15:50-53). Little wonder therefore that theologians like Berkhof (p.321), Berkouwer (p.285, etc.) and Milne (p.46) maintain that the two-nature doctrine is an inexplicable, incomprehensible or ineffable mystery. In fact it is contrary to reason and if allowed, it undermines all confidence we might otherwise have in the extensive use of logic throughout the Bible. Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisees (1* See espec. Stott on Jesus the Controversialist.) and Paul’s contentions regarding the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 especially involve logical reasoning, and it must be upheld on pain of death.


Apart from John and Paul, the author of Hebrews especially presents us with the a genuinely human Jesus who for a little while as God incarnate was made lower than the angels but then, having successfully finished his work, was crowned with honour and glory in accordance with the promise made to the first Adam (Heb. 2:7-9, cf. 1:3f.). In other words, he conquered as man (cf. Rom. 8:3) in a world where all other men failed, and it was for this reason that he had to die on their behalf. According to our author, unless he had become like his fellow human beings in every respect as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he could not have served as their representative and substitute (Heb. 2:17). Now, if the pre-existent Word had retained his divine nature, he could hardly be said to have been a true representative of man, a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) and one whom Paul regards as the second Adam. We are faced with two inseparable and apparently contradictory points: first, the OT tells us that salvation must be achieved by man (Adam) on condition of keeping the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) and, second, that God alone saves (e.g. Isa. 43:11; 45:20-25). In light of the failure of Adam and all his descendants (1 K.8:46, etc.), it was therefore necessary that God the Word became man as a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), kept the law, gained eternal life and ascended to heaven, perfected as man in the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). This is precisely how the clearly human Jesus is presented in Hebrews. Having become like his fellows in every respect apart from sin (2:14,17; 4:15, etc.), at his exaltation he achieves not the divine nature which on Chalcedonian principles he already had and had never lost but the exact image of God as man (Heb. 1:3, cf. Col. 1:15-20; 2:9).

In sum, though eternally God in person and the human Son of God born of woman (Gal. 4:4), as man he fulfils the charge originally given to Adam as man made in the image of God and is perfected in the likeness of God. In other words he established the pattern of human salvation or pilgrimage from earth to heaven (John 3:13; 13:3; 16:28) in accordance with the plan of God. He was thus not merely representative man like Adam whose conduct all his descendants imitated (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, pace Augustine.) (2* On imitation, see my Imitation.), but, since he died on their behalf, he is the covenant representative and substitute of all who put their trust in him. As such he is their elder brother (Heb. 2:10-13), man the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

In dealing with Jesus’ exaltation, it is vital to see that his genuine humanity is paramount. If he had retained his divine nature, first he could not have been genuinely the human son of God like Adam (cf. Luke 3:38);  second, he could not for a little while have been made lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7,9); third, he could not have kept the law as man; fourth, he could not have represented his fellows as a true brother; and; fifth he could not have been exalted as man to sit at God’s right hand as the perfected image of God (cf. Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15). He would simply have confirmed his nature as God, but this is surely not what Scripture teaches.

Throughout the NT we are taught that it is Jesus the man, the genuine Son of God born of woman when the time has fully come, who is finally exalted as Lord (Acts 2:33-36; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:3). As the second Adam he did what the first Adam (and all his descendants Jesus apart) failed to do, that is, achieve victory as man in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14). In fact, to argue that throughout his earthly sojourn he retained his divine nature is to undermine his exaltation as man altogether and to make nonsense of it. The NT makes it abundantly clear that Jesus, the man, was the Son of God by a woman. Just as Adam had been created literally in the earth, Jesus was created in his mother’s womb (Heb. 10:5, cf. Jer. 1:5). Since his mother was herself dust, that is, flesh as deriving from Adam (Ps. 78:39; 103:14, cf. Gen. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 15:47-49), so Jesus followed the same path as his father Adam (Luke 3:38) had but in his case, since he kept the commandment or law, to perfection. Indeed, he could not have become the second Adam apart from this.

The Second Adam

It may be asked at this point who the second Adam really was? Surely the answer must be that he was as Paul says the man from heaven. How could he be that since the very name ‘Adam’ establishes man’s connection with the earth? (See e.g. NBD, p.13, col.2.) The answer must lie in the fact that as man, the son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he uniquely kept the law in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) and was born from above in accordance with the promise originally made to the first Adam. It is thus as the second Adam that he became the firstborn representative of the new human creation (Col. 1:15, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).

Is all this borne out by the rest of the NT? The answer must be in the affirmative. First, it is the man who was born to a woman who is recognized as God’s unique Son in the birth narratives (Matthew and Luke). Next, he is the one who pleased his Father by keeping the law thereby qualifying to be his regenerate Son (given eternal life) at his baptism (Mt. 3:13-17; John 1:32, etc.), then at his transfiguration and again at his resurrection (Acts 13:33) and finally at his ascension (Rom. 1:4). Some may argue that the latter reference relates to the resurrection from the grave but this is to miss or ignore the fact that the resurrection is often viewed comprehensively in the NT. Sometimes it is shorthand for the whole process of exaltation and clearly includes not merely his resurrection from the dead as such but also his ascension, transformation, exaltation and heavenly session. It is doubtless used in this way by Paul in Romans 1:4 where Jesus is seen not in the weakness of his flesh (2 Cor. 13:4, cf. Mt. 26:41) but ‘in power’ as Lord. (3* Mt. 28:18 is surely proleptic like John 20:22, cf. 7:39; Acts 2:33, etc.)

Again study of such references as Luke 24:26, Acts 2:33; 5:31; Romans 8:17, Ephesians 1:20; 4:10, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:3, cf. 2:9, 10:12 and 12:2 all point to the same conclusion.

Eternal Sonship

Of course, church tradition would have us believe that Jesus was God’s eternal Son signifying his Sonship as the pre-existent Word. There is no evident support for this view in the Bible as even its advocates concede. (4* See e.g. Giles, p.66,88.) The idea of the eternal generation of the Son stems in part from the belief that God cannot change his nature for which again there is no evident Scriptural support. Rather it seems to be an inference from the Greek philosophical view of God which regarded God as utterly transcendent, immutable and impassible, but it flies in the face of the clear teaching of the Bible, especially John 1 and Philippians 2 and is implied in 1 John 1:1-3 (cf. John 20:27-29). In other words, what John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11 teach is implicitly denied, and as a consequence we inevitably have the docetic Jesus who has plagued the church for centuries. Instead of accepting that God became man, we are urged to believe that his eternal, implicitly subordinate, Son became man. If this is the case the cutting edge of the humiliation of God is inevitably blunted (Phil. 2:7f.). On the other hand, if it was God the eternal Word who truly became man, then his exaltation makes sense. It is difficult indeed to understand how one who retained his divine nature could be either humbled or exalted. As Creator, he was Lord of heaven and earth by nature (Col.1:16).

This is of basic importance. Jesus had to be a true man to serve as man’s representative and mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). If he had preserved his divine nature he would not, could not possibly be a genuine man, the elder brother of his fellows. He could not have been a true trail blazer and pioneer (Heb. 12:2) but an alien. His salvation would have been an act of power like that portrayed in Islam but apart from righteousness and holiness (cf. Isa. 45:21,24).

Let us thank God that he sent Jesus his incarnate Son Jesus to serve as our elder brother and author of our salvation. It is he who now sits at his Father’s side as the Lamb, the Lord of glory, on the throne of the universe interceding for his blood-bought people. While he may now be subordinate (1 Cor. 15:24-28) as Joseph was to Pharaoh (Gen. 41:40,43; 44:18, etc.), it is for our sake (cf.. Gen. 45:5,7; 50:20). What humility! What love!

Gloria Soli Deo.



L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

G.C.Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, Grand Rapids, 1954.

K.Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, Downers Grove, 2012.

B.Milne, Know the Truth, 3rd ed. Nottingham, 2009.

John R.W.Stott, Jesus the Controversialist, Leicester, 1970.


The Ecclesiastical Christ

My extensive reading and writing over a number of years have led me to believe that the traditional Jesus of the churches is docetic. This observation is occasionally made by others usually with regard to a particular doctrine, though I am unaware of anyone who has tried to demonstrate the issue in any detail. I believe, however, that the evidence for it is substantial.

Having recently (2013) written an essay entitled Still Docetic in reaction to a book by Professor Bruce Ware entitled The Man Christ Jesus (2013), I remain convinced that the problem is much more deeply rooted than most are aware. In the present essay I attempt to show even if somewhat superficially just how the traditional image of Christ is portrayed in the churches and in the text books.

Original Sin

First, it is often pointed out with reference to Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus was like his brothers in every respect apart from sin. The point being made is that he was a genuine human being. On the face of it this settles the issue: the only difference between Jesus and all his fellow human beings is that he did not sin. This would appear to be supported by such texts as Hebrews 4:15 (cf. 2:14,18) and 1 Peter 2:22. In contrast with Adam and the rest of us, we can say that Jesus was the obedient Son of God. He kept the law to perfection: the rest of us do not.

There is a problem, however. Historically, under the influence of Augustine of Hippo in particular, the church has strongly stressed the ‘Fall’ from original perfection, righteousness and holiness into sin, and this is said to have affected the whole of humanity along with creation in general. All the descendants of Adam are deemed to be sinful even from conception. (1* Cf. Ps. 51:5. This verse is not only frequently mistranslated assuming what needs to be proved, but almost universally misinterpreted by evangelical Christians. The Jews, followed by the Orthodox, have never drawn “Christian” conclusions from it, and with good reason. See further my various articles on original sin.) They are one and all the victims of original sin, sinful by nature and born under a curse. Given this assumption, Jesus too as the Son of Adam (Luke 3:38) through Mary his mother who rejoiced in God her Saviour (Luke 1:47) must have been born sinful. But this is emphatically denied by most Christians, and the Bible itself makes the position clear as we have already seen. However, on the assumption that original sin is true, a Jesus who was sinless at birth and different from all his fellows was clearly not human, and the conclusion we must draw from this is that he was docetic, definitely not like the rest of us. His exception by birth nature inevitably involves his exclusion: as an exception he was excluded from the human race, not genuinely part of it.

The question that confronts us now is: How do we overcome this problem? Tradition tells us that the first Adam was sinless as created and that Jesus replaces him. This, however, ignores the indisputable fact that Jesus had forebears including Adam himself (Luke 3:38) as Matthew 1:1-6, to go no further, indicates. God could not possibly begin again like a potter. To begin again with Jesus he would have to obliterate a substantial portion of previous history as Moses was fully aware (cf. Ex. 32:11-14; Num. 14:13-19). (See note 2 below.) Clearly the answer lies in the fact that the dogma of original sin is contrary to sound doctrine. It simply cannot be true, and the idea that the sin of Adam is either transmitted (Catholics) or imputed (Protestants) is foreign to the Bible. Apostolic teaching informs us that where there is no law there is no sin, that sin involves breaking the law and that moral attributes are not transferable except by faith. As Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31:29f., for example, clearly indicate, they have to be acquired. We become murderers by murdering, adulterers by committing adultery, the slaves of sin by sinning (John 8:34), and so forth. (2* The much-touted idea that we sin because we are sinners by birth nature is clearly false. If we are born sinful in contrast with Adam, then God has made us such and we are blameless. The very idea is blasphemous. It makes God the author of sin. In any case, throughout the Bible God opposes the imputation of sin to those who do not sin, cf. Ex. 23:7; 1 K. 21; Prov. 17:15, etc.) On the one hand we are deemed righteous by keeping the law; on the other hand we are deemed unrighteous by not keeping it. But babies which do not know the law can neither keep it nor disobey it and are consequently innocent like Adam before he sinned by breaking the commandment when it eventually registered on his mind (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.). In Romans 7:9f. Paul clearly indicates that he recapitulated Adam and Eve’s experience. He was, he claims, once ‘alive’ but when the commandment came and he broke it, though it promised (eternal) life, he earned the wages of death (Rom. 6:23). And so with all of us apart from Jesus (Rom. 3:23; 5:12).

But, it will be said that Jesus was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21). He was indeed but only by faith. Just as we are justified (deemed righteous) by faith, so he who did not personally sin and earn its wages was accounted sinful by faith. (3* On this, see my An Exact Parallel?) He bore our sins on the tree voluntarily and vicariously. Why? Because in no other way could he save his fellows who all actually and willfully sinned and were doomed to die (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, etc.).

So, I conclude that the ecclesiastical Christ who was not born sinful as the rest of us are said to be is docetic. The only way to overcome the problem that this constitutes is to abandon the dogma of original sin. (4* See further my various articles on original sin including those on imputation) It is not and indeed cannot be true. The creeds, church tradition (apart from the Orthodox) and false exegesis, especially of Romans 5:12-21, have led us astray. A simple syllogism clarifies the situation:

  • First premise: According to the churches all human beings are born sinful.
  • Second premise: Jesus was not born sinful.
  • Therefore Jesus was not a human being.

On the assumption of original sin, I conclude that the ecclesiastical Jesus was docetic, not what he appeared to be.

The New Birth (Regeneration)

Closely associated with the dogma of original sin is the doctrine of regeneration. Perhaps the best known chapter in the Bible is John 3, yet I would argue it is among the worst understood. In verses 1-8 Jesus makes it clear beyond reasonable dispute that the new birth is not an imperative like repentance (Mark 1:15) but a natural necessity (Gk. dei) for all who are flesh. Since his incarnation made him flesh, by inexorable logic we must conclude that Jesus too had to be born again. As Wheeler Robinson once wrote: “… if regeneration be entrance into conscious sonship to God, we must regard regeneration as the normal and ‘natural’ completion of what was begun in the first birth” (p.327). (5* Jesus’ sonship requires brief explication. First, he was the Son of God like Adam by natural (physical) birth, Luke 3:38, cf. Mt. 2:15. Second, as the first and only human being ever to keep the law, in accordance with Leviticus 18:5, cf. Gen. 2:17, etc., and having thereby pleased his Father, he was confirmed as his Son by baptism of the Spirit (= was born again), Mt. 3:13-17. Third, he was further acknowledged as God’s Son at his transfiguration when God bore testimony to him, Mt. 17:1-8; 2 Pet. 1:17, then, fourth, at his resurrection, Acts 13:33. Finally, he was appointed or declared to be the Son of God in power at his ascension transformation, Acts 13:34; Rom. 1:4. Though the latter verse refers to his resurrection, it clearly involves the entire process of resurrection including his exaltation and heavenly session.)

So far as Jesus is concerned this conclusion is to my knowledge universally denied in the church. Why? The answer lies in the fact that quite unwarrantably the sin-obsessed Augustine of Hippo, who did so much to fashion church tradition, claimed that the new birth provided the cure for original sin, and since Jesus was not its victim, he did not need to be born again. As a consequence of this, anyone brave or rash enough to suggest that Jesus needed to be born again is immediately but quite wrongly accused of charging Jesus with sin! Yet if Jesus himself was truly flesh (note v.3) the ‘obvious’ truth is that he was born again at his baptism. It was he who in contrast with all his sinful forebears (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20, etc.) who brought life to light (2 Tim. 1:10).

As we have seen above, however, original sin is alien to the Bible. In fact, all human beings recapitulate the experience of their forebears of whom Adam and Eve were the first. In other words, we all begin at the beginning and mutatis mutandis recapitulate the history of the race. (Only the other day I heard on TV that this is one of the findings of modern geneticists!) Just as Adam lacking all knowledge of the law (commandment) was created knowing neither good nor evil, so are all his descendants (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.). Genesis 5:1-3 says nothing about sin and the notion that we are all created in the moral image of Adam (not to mention that of God) after he had sinned is simply false (cf. e.g. Ezek. 18, etc.). The fact is that original sin is a mythical not a real problem, a veritable mare’s nest which has led to all sorts of unnecessary and erroneous speculation about the Virgin Birth. In reality, Jesus did not avoid original sin by being born of a virgin – a solution which when subjected to critical analysis proves both false and inadequate. As the Son of God he simply did not sin and thereby proved his divine pedigree. He was, in common parlance, a chip off the old block, a true Son of his Father. If he had sinned, he would have proved an impostor.

Having said this, however, we must hastily add that as the Son of Mary he was made in Adam’s fleshly image (Luke 3:38) and as such he needed to be born again as a natural necessity. As a true human being he was in contrast with his Father both mortal and corruptible (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16, etc.). He had a natural or created spirit (cf. Num. 16:22; Zech. 12:1, etc.), but to enter the kingdom of heaven he had to have an eternal one of which God was the Father (John 1:12f.; Heb. 12:9). How, it may well be asked, did he acquire this? The answer is that he did it by keeping the law that all the rest of us failed to do. At the beginning, Adam was promised eternal life if he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17). He failed. By contrast Jesus kept that commandment, indeed the entire law of Moses, and so inherited life in accordance with the promise (cf. Lev. 18:5). Prior to him no one, on account of sin (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20, etc.), was born again, and throughout the OT regeneration remained a promise which was never fulfilled (Dt. 29:4; 30:6; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 11:19f.). Jesus as the second Adam was the first to be born from above as his baptism makes plain. He was the leader of the band, of the new or regenerate humanity (cf. Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, etc.). Only he was in a position to establish the new covenant by his death. Had he not been born again, he would have remained forever under the law and under a permanent obligation to keep it. In this situation he would have been incapable of doing good works as opposed to works of obligation (Eph. 2:10; Acts 10:38), least of all of atoning for the sins of his fellows. As the author of Hebrews says, the law could not perfect anything (Heb. 7:18f.).

I conclude then that a Jesus who on his own testimony regarding the flesh (John 3:1-8) was not born again was not truly human. Though he apparently failed to appreciate the logic of his assertion, Louis Berkhof was dead right when he wrote regarding the new birth in John 3:3, cf. vv.5-7: “This statement of the Saviour is absolute and leaves no room for exceptions” (p.472). The Bible implies, even if it does not explicitly state, that Jesus was born again; but the churches traditionally deny it. The plain truth is that a once-born Jesus is not and cannot be our elder brother (Heb. 2:11-13) and trail-blazer into heaven (Heb. 6:19f.; 9:24; 10:19f.; 12:2, etc.). On this assumption, he is, like Adam, dead, permanently so as we shall see below, and we are still in our sins.

Jesus’ Fleshly Corruption and Transformation

Traditionally, following Augustine, the churches attribute both moral and physical corruption to sin. (6* Older writers like Ottley apparently attribute Jesus’ fleshly corruption to sin. He writes: “Christ is ‘flesh’, is ‘man’, morally such as he originally was, but physically such as sin has left him, i.e. subject to creaturely weakness, pain, temptation, and death, but sinless”, p.100, cf. pp.105,115.) But is this what the Bible teaches? Emphatically not. First, we must acknowledge the fact that Adam was created from the physically visible, temporary, provisional and hence corruptible earth (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). This being the case he himself in contrast with his Maker was naturally mortal and corruptible. As we saw above, as such he was promised (eternal) life on condition that he kept the commandment. He did not, and so he died being paid the wages of sin. And the rest of us, Jesus apart, followed suit (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, etc.).

However, what would have happened to Adam if had not sinned? Jesus, the second Adam provides us with the answer. First, as we have seen, he did not sin, pleased his Father and so was born again (= gained eternal life). But this was a spiritual rebirth not a physical one as Nicodemus seemed to think. Second, this prompts questions regarding our physical flesh. Some even in the twenty-first century apparently believe that it can be transformed despite the fact that Paul dogmatically denies that flesh and blood and all that is perishable by nature can inherit the kingdom of God. They base their argument on the putative transformation resurrection of Jesus from the grave. This is clearly false. If Jesus was transformed at that point, his perishable flesh would have been imperishable and this contradicts Paul’s plain assertion in 1 Corinthians 15:50b. (7* On this, see, for example, my John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus, When Was Jesus Transformed?, etc.)

The truth is that the flesh, like the earth from which it is taken, is perishable or corruptible by nature (creation) as the entire animal creation implies. If it had a beginning, it will also have an end. Thus it is that according to Paul transformation is a natural necessity intended, in fact ordained by God and integral to his plan of salvation (Gk. dei, 1 Cor. 15:53, cf. John 3:7). So Jesus who was flesh and in contrast with his Father grew older (Luke 2:42; 3:23; John 8:57, cf. Mt. 5:36; Heb. 1:11f.) had consequently to be changed even though he was not a sinner. And this change according to Paul must have taken place at his ascension. Indeed, just as he was the first to be born again, so he was the first to be corporeally changed (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). (8* Superficially considered, Enoch and Elijah in the OT seem to be exceptions. It is important to realize however, that nothing is said of their receiving a body of glory like that of Jesus, Phil. 3:21. As Hebrews 11:39f. indicate, their perfection both spiritual and corporeal still awaits them.)

All this brings under suspicion the still widespread Augustinian idea that creation was originally perfect but was cursed when Adam “fell” and lost his putative original righteousness and immortality. If the sinless Jesus was corruptible and subject to aging, then the corruptibility of creation must be natural, nothing whatsoever to do with sin. It is vital to note that Paul claims that even though Jesus was truly flesh and hence subject to death and corruption, having abolished death he brought to light both life and incorruption (Gk.) (2 Tim. 1:10. In other words, Jesus uniquely met the conditions of life and incorruption.) While the ecclesiastical Jesus has been regarded as God, he has failed to be truly appreciated as man who by nature needed to be born again and transformed. (9* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Death and Corruption.) Whereas with the old or unregenerate man the natural precedes the spiritual, with the new or regenerate man the spiritual precedes the supernatural or incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:46-49). If Jesus had not been born again and changed, as naturally corruptible flesh he would eventually have died or disappeared (cf. Heb. 8:13).

A story from classical mythology illustrates the point I am making:

The goddess Aurora fell in love with the beautiful Tithon and carried him away. He requested immortality and that was granted him. Unfortunately he forgot to ask for incorruption with the result that he gradually grew old, decrepit and began to fade (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.). So, since he could not die, he requested to be removed from the world. The goddess then turned him into a cicada or grasshopper.

The difference between this and the teaching of the Bible ought to be plain to all. As man, then, though Jesus never earned the wages of death, he was inevitably growing old (Luke 2:42; 3:23; John 8:57, cf. Mt. 5:36). But as the regenerate Son of God who had kept the law, the condition of eternal life, he was transformed as a natural necessity (1 Cor. 15:53) at his ascension to inherit the holy and sure (eternal) blessings of David (Acts 13:34). Thus he received the powers delegated to him by his Father as the Lamb who sits at the right hand of God (Mt. 11:27; 28:18; Rom. 1:4; Rev. 5).

The Exaltation

Traditional ecclesiastical theology contends in accordance with the Chalcedonian Creed that at his incarnation the Word never gave up his divine nature. Despite the explicit biblical assertions that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37, etc.) and that the eternal Word who was God became flesh (John 1:14) and emptied himself (Phil. 2:7), the reason given for this is that it was impossible. This idea doubtless stems from Greek philosophy (which thought of God as an immutably transcendent and impassible monad) and can only mean that he never truly became man. Bluntly, Chalcedon is a denial of the incarnation, for no one person can at one and the same time have two natures. (10* Just how a body of flesh could contain the divine nature even in the womb, cf. the theotokos or mother of God idea, is not merely incomprehensible but plainly impossible. If God’s incommunicable attributes by definition are not granted to men in general, how could they be to Jesus who was one with his fellows, Heb. 2:10-13, etc.? Col. 1:19 and 2:9 describe the situation in heaven and refer to Christ’s transformed body of glory. Compare John 17:5,24; Phil. 3:21. Note also that when Jesus returns he will do so in his own and in the glory of God, Mt. 16:27, etc.) However, Jesus himself while strongly stressing the fact that it is the humble who will be exalted (Mt. 23:11f., etc.) even goes so far as to describe himself as gentle and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:29). The evidence of his life and death supports this to the hilt. He who was originally exalted in his divine nature freely humbled himself and became man (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). Even in that condition he humbled himself still further and so was finally exalted in his humanity (Phil. 2:5-11). His life reflects both correspondence and violent contrast with the characters alluded to in Ezekiel 28-32 (cf. Luke 1:52).

Lower Than the Angels

But this matter can be taken even further. For example, it is said that Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7,9). If he retained his divine nature as their Creator he was always and forever superior to the angels and not for a little while lower. And it follows from this that since he never underwent true humiliation, he was never exalted. But Scripture insists that he was both humbled and exalted. In other words, while the Bible clearly teaches that he became man and as such was humbled (e.g. Phil. 2:7), it also teaches that in that condition he was further humbled and on that account was exalted as Lord (Phil. 2:9-11, cf. Acts 2:33,36). Thus it was as man that he was crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:12f., cf. Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7) and as the firstborn received the worship of the angels (Heb. 1:6). In this way he regained as man the glory that he had had as the eternal Word who was with God and was God (John 17:5).

So while the eternal Word retained his identity and remained God in person (2 Cor. 5:19-21), he nonetheless changed his nature by divesting himself of his divine non-communicable attributes. For example, in the days of his flesh (Heb. 5:7), he clearly lacked divine omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, incorruptibility, immortality and eternity. As a true human being he was wholly dependent on his heavenly Father apart from whom he could do nothing (John 5:19, cf. 15:5). (11* On this see e.g. Berkouwer, pp.185ff.) To become man he could do no less. This would appear to be the point Paul is making in Philippians 2:5-11 (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

The Glory of Jesus

This raises yet another point for in John 17:24 it is implied that Jesus’ glory, which he prays his people will see, will be evident only in heaven (cf. Rev. 5; 22:4). This deals the death blow to those who claim that he was transformed and glorified at his resurrection from the grave when he was physically visible and hence still impermanent by nature (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18). Indeed, after his resurrection Jesus goes out of his way to stress his fleshly nature (Luke 24:39; John 20:28f.; Acts 10:41) and that he had not yet ascended (and by implication been transformed, John 20:17). Truly, as Paul indicates, he could not in this state inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).

The Inheritance

If the eternal Word had retained his divine nature during his incarnation, it is difficult to see, first, that he was truly man, and second, that as such how he could receive his inheritance, the sure or eternal blessings of David (Acts 13:34, cf. Rom. 1:3f.). In any case, if he was still God both in person and in nature, he did not require an inheritance. As the eternal Word equal with God he was already the owner of everything (Ps. 24; John 1:11, compare Gal. 4:1). But Paul tells us that as the Son of God he was the heir and we ordinary human beings are joint-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17, cf. Mark 12:7; Luke 22:25-30). It is as perfected man, the first-born of all creation (Col.1:15), the Lamb of God who sits at God’s right hand (Rev. 5:13) that Jesus inherits everything and becomes Lord of all. He was the antitype of Joseph who became lord of all Egypt with the exception of Pharaoh himself (Gen. 45:10,26).

Delegated Powers

If it is hard to appreciate Jesus as the heir assuming he had retained his divine nature during his sojourn on earth, it is also hard to understand why so much is made of his delegated powers. As the eternal Word he was God and as such he exercised divine sovereignty (see John 1:1-4; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1). As man, however, he is clearly subordinate and his purpose is to do the will of his Father in heaven (John 4:34; 8:29; 17:4, etc.) and not to please himself (Rom. 15:3). It is clearly as man then that he is said to be Lord and to exercise the powers normally attributed to God (cf. Mt. 11:27; John 5:26, etc.). As the one who had been baptized by the Spirit and acknowledged and confirmed as the Son of God not simply ontologically but functionally, he was in a position to receive and exercise the power to forgive sin, to be worshipped, to perform miracles (signs in John), to serve as judge (John 5:22) and to distribute the (gifts of) the Spirit. These things were granted to him by his Father but were wholly unnecessary, even superfluous, if he had retained his divine nature and not become incarnate. If the latter were the case, he would have acted on his own account (cf. Jud. 6:31, 1 K. 18:21,24-26) even if in inter-Trinitarian agreement. It is surely as man, the Lamb in fact in the book of Revelation, that he is seen to take his seat at God’s right hand (Rev. 3:21, cf. Rom. 1:4)

Eternal Son

It is widely held in the churches that Jesus was the eternal Son of God, that is, that he was God’s Son even in his pre-existence before his incarnation. If this is true, then he was never truly (equal with) God (John 1:1; Phil. 2:6) but inherently, that is, in essence a subordinate being. Apart from the fact that this derogates from his humiliation so powerfully stressed in the NT, there are all sorts of problems attaching to this view which need more space to develop than I have here. (See at greater length, however, my essay Still Docetic, referred to above.) Suffice it to say, it is not taught in the Bible as even some of its advocates concede. It would appear to be a false inference drawn from what is called the projectionist language both the Bible writers and we ourselves all use from time to time. Scripture tells us plainly that prior to his birth of Mary Jesus was the eternal Word, equal with God, indeed God. The doctrine of the Trinity itself is at issue here.

Son of Man

Jesus’ usual self-designation was that of the Son of Man. His meaning has been much disputed and cannot be reasonably dealt with here. On the assumption that the title derives from Daniel 7:13f., rather than, say, from Ezekiel, references such as Matthew 24:30 and 26:64 make admirable sense. Jesus the man is to return transformed, we are told, in his own and in his Father’s glory (Mt. 16:27; Luke 9:26). Jesus the man is not merely King of the Jews (Mt. 27:37, etc.) but the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

The Glorification of Man

The glorification of man in general is surely dependent on his union with and the glorification of Jesus as man. It could occur in no other way. If the eternal Word had remained God in nature as well as in person (John 1:1-3, cf. 1 John 1:1-3), it is more than a little difficult to see how man could be glorified as man and gain access to the presence of God (cf. Eph. 2:18; Rev. 3:21). Jesus who as man was our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) was also our pioneer as the author of Hebrews is at pains to stress (2:10; 5:9; 6:19f.; 10:19f.; 12:2). He was made for a little while lower than the angels to win salvation and glory as man. And it is as man that we shall see his glory in accordance with his promise (John 17:24, cf. 14:9; 20:28f.). To suggest that he did not divest himself (Phil. 2:7, ekenosen) of his divine nature in order to become man makes the idea of his humiliation followed by his development or perfection through incarnation, regeneration and exaltation a charade. How different is the picture painted by John (3:13; 6:62; 16:28, etc.)!

High Priest

The letter to the Hebrews in particular (though note John 17) depicts Jesus as our heavenly high priest (8:1-7). Since priests are representative men (like the Levites) who mediate and intercede on behalf of other men before God (Heb. 5:1f.), as God become man Jesus is the perfect mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) and high priest after the order of Melchizedek who ever lives to intercede for his people (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:15f.). Having equipped himself to perform these vital roles through incarnation (Heb. 2:14), personal experience (Heb. 2:17f.) and exaltation, we cannot but rejoice. He meets our need ideally. (How different he is from Allah who apparently acts by mere power!)


It can be argued that no one who performed the kind of miracles that Jesus performed could be performed by anyone who lacked the nature of God (though note John 3:2; 9:16,33). But this fails to reckon with the fact that others, like Elijah who James reminds us had a nature like ours (5:17), even in the OT performed miracles. And just as they attributed their miracles to the power of God at work through them, so does Jesus (e.g. John 5:17,19,20,20, etc.). If Jesus was truly God’s Son then, as his Father, God would testify to (see e.g. Mt. 17:1-8, cf. 1 Pet.1:17) and honour him (John 12:28, etc.) and even raise him from the dead. This is the picture presented in the NT. Jesus as man is God in person but as a human being while lacking the nature of God he is nonetheless empowered by him (cf. John 5:17). In heaven at his Father’s right hand he exercises all the prerogatives of deity (Mt. 28:18). The unity between God and man (John 10:30; 17:22, cf. 1:14; Rev. 3:21) culminates or attains its apogee at this point.

Permanent Subordination

Nothing is more clear than the teaching that in eternity Jesus was the eternal Word, equal with God (John 1:1; Phil. 2:6), but who became man (John 1:14) in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). The churches, however, ruled apparently, as was mentioned above, by a Greek philosophical principle emphasizing the immutable transcendence of God deny that he changed his nature. If this is the case, how is it that he who was originally equal with God and according to Paul ‘emptied’ himself (Phil. 2:7) is presented to us as permanently subordinate to God even in heaven (1 Cor. 15:24-28). The answer must lie in the fact that in his love and humility he freely became one of us and in so doing humbled himself to death on the cross to save us (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9). In this way he revealed and manifested the loving character of our God in the most radical way possible. No wonder the Roman soldier at the foot of the cross said of Jesus that he was the Son of God and that Doubting Thomas after subjecting him to meticulous physical examination acknowledged him as God (John 20:28, cf. 14:9; 1 John 1:1-3). To say this, however, forces us to infer that if Jesus could be called God while still in the flesh, he was so in person but manifestly not in nature.

The Trinity

One of the more obvious differences between the OT and the NT is the doctrine of the Trinity. It is only in the NT that Jesus, himself the Son of God born of Mary, teaches his disciples to call God Father. The Trinity is a NT revelation only made possible by the incarnation. This necessitated a change in relationship whereby God became Father and the Word became Son. This reaches the heart of the love and humility which radiates from new covenant doctrine.

Who Is Jesus?

So, then, who is Jesus? My brief answer to this question is that he is the eternal Word made man, approved by God (Mt. 3:17; 17:5; Acts 2:22, cf. 10:38) and perfected in the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3, cf. Mt. 5:48). It is he before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord to the glory of the Father. It is he who sits at God’s right hand, and it is to his image that we as his fellow (adopted) sons (Heb. 2:10-13) and co-heirs (Rom. 8:17) will be conformed (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) and glorified (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 3:21; Rev. 3:21).


Without going further, I conclude then that the Chalcedonian or ecclesiastical Jesus of the churches is sadly distorted. Traditional Christology is in effect a denial of the incarnation. As the eternal Word Christ remains for ever God in person and can do no other. As such, however, in his humiliation freely undertaken in demonstration of the love of God (cf. Fee, p.384), he was made man the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). Having in love and humility changed his nature to become the Son of God at his incarnation (John 1:14; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6f.), he remains for ever man even after his ascension transformation and exaltation to the right hand of his Father. And though all things are slowly but surely being subjected to him (cf. Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 2:5-10), he himself will be finally subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him so that God may ultimately be all in all (1 Cor. 15:27f.).

If God really is the Creator, the author of all life (Acts 17:25; 1 Tim. 6:13) and universal redeemer (1 John 2:2), nothing less can be expected (cf. Neh. 9:6; Acts 17:24-28; Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 4 & 5; 22:1-5, etc.).

Soli Deo Gloria

Note 1

It is strange that evangelicals seem to be more concerned with the deity than the humanity of Jesus (see, for example, God Became Man, A.M.Stibbs, The Truth of God Incarnate, ed. Michael Green.) Apparently, this was not so in the early church when his deity was more readily accepted. It was doubtless for this reason that John, like Paul (Phil. 2:5-8; 1 Tim. 2:5), so strongly stresses the Word’s coming in the flesh and reprobates those who deny it (John 1:1-18; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:2; 2 John 7). Of course, the very idea that God could become flesh (human) was as intolerable to the Jews in apostolic times as it is to both Jews and Muslims today (2013). But that is surely what the New Testament teaches (cf. John 17:3).

Note 2

If we assume the eternal generation of the Son, it is difficult to see how Jesus could become man at all since as such he was changeless. On the other hand, the assumption that he became the Son of God at his incarnation permanently undermines the idea of original and hence birth sin. Why? Because if Jesus had sinful ancestors through his mother (cf. Rom. 1:3; Mt. 1:1-6, etc.), he must have inherited their sin or he was not human. To overcome this problem he would have had to make a new beginning but to do so would mean the destruction of God’s earlier plan of salvation as Moses recognized in Exodus 32:11-14 and Numbers 14:11-19. Of course, since we have incontrovertible evidence that he was born sinless, we are forced to conclude that original sin as propounded by Augustine is false. This is further proved by references such as Deuteronomy 1:39, 1 Kings 3:7,9, Isaiah 7:15f. and Hebrews 5:13f. Furthermore, if Israelite babies were born sinners, on what basis were they differentiated from their fathers? In contrast with them who died in the wilderness, how did they come to enter and inherit the Promised Land (Num. 14:31; Dt. 1:39)? The plain fact is that like Adam, Eve and Paul (Rom. 7:9f., cf. 9:11), babies are born innocent because they do not know the law and so cannot break it (Rom. 4:15, etc.). In truth, we all begin at the beginning and each individual to the extent that he/she gains maturity recapitulates the history of the race as the father of theology, Irenaeus, taught (cf. Heb. 2). Jesus not only recapped to perfection first Adamic history, but as the second Adam he inaugurated and ‘precapitulated’ regenerate or kingdom life, died for his sinful fellows (cf. 1 John 2:2), and blazed a trail for all who follow him into heaven itself (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 6:19f.; 10:19f.; 12:2, cf. Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 15:50-55).



L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

G.C.Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, Grand Rapids, 1954.

Gordon D.Fee, Pauline Christology, Peabody, 2007.

Michael Green, ed., The Truth of God Incarnate, London, 1977.

R.L.Ottley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation, London, 4th ed. Rev. 1908.

A.M.Stibbs, God Became Man, London, 1957.

B.Ware, The Man Christ Jesus, Wheaton, 2013.

H.Wheeler Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man, Edinburgh, 1911.




Still Docetic

Over many years of studying theology I have read occasionally that the church still suffers from placing undue emphasis on the deity of Christ to the diminution of his humanity. The point is usually made without specific comment apart from the fact that a proper appreciation of the humanity of Jesus was one of the few benefits accorded to us by liberals. It has, however, always seemed obvious to me that anyone who believes in original sin, for example, is docetic in his or her thinking. For, unless one takes the clearly false Roman Catholic view regarding the Virgin Birth, how could Jesus have been born sinless if all his fellows, not to mention his ancestors (cf. Mt. 1:1-6), were born sinful? Only highly questionable exegesis could warrant an appeal to Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15 at this point since like 1 Peter 2:22 they surely point to actual sin as does Romans 5:12. The truth is that if Jesus, though a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) was an exception to the normal rule, then his humanity is immediately called into question and he is automatically separated and excluded from the rest of humanity. The solution to this conundrum is of course to reject the dogma of original sin which the Bible does not and indeed cannot teach without contradicting itself. (1* On this see my various articles on original sin and imputation. If we assume original sin, we can illustrate its effect by means of a syllogism: Major premise: All humans are sinners by birth and not simply by deed as Scripture teaches (John 8:34; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3). Minor premise: Jesus was not a sinner by birth. Conclusion: Therefore Jesus was not human.) Once we have rejected original sin, we can safely regard Jesus as a true human being born of woman without knowledge of (the) law (cf. Rom. 4:15) and hence of good and evil (Isa. 7:15f., cf. Rom. 7:9f.), like all the rest of the descendants of Adam (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:14-16).


Docetism, however, is the idea rife in the early church and still alive in Islam in 2013 (see e.g. Green, pp.113f.,146) that Jesus only seemed to be a man. What is more, it continues to make itself evident even among modern (2013) evangelicals who traditionally lay strong emphasis on Jesus as God, so much so in fact that Professor Bruce Ware has written a book, The Man Christ Jesus (2013) in what I believe proves in the event to be a notable but nonetheless forlorn attempt to undermine it. In one of the comments in the blurb promoting this book Todd Miles claims that the church is functionally docetic and that the divine Christ only seemed to be human. He goes on to assert that Ware skillfully and passionately explains that the gospel and its implications depend on the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. They do indeed, but after reading the book I was left with the feeling that Ware for all his good intentions has failed to fully extricate himself from the traditional trap. For one thing he still believes in original sin (e.g. pp.98,122f.). But more significantly and relevantly his understanding of the full deity and the full humanity of Christ as expounded by Paul in Philippians 2 is in my view less than satisfactory.

Philippians 2:5-11.

It is worth commenting that not merely books but perhaps even libraries seem to have been written on this passage. And the reason is not far to seek. Some 50 years ago I remember reading D.M.Baillie’s God Was In Christ. In this seminal book Baillie was at pains to deny that when Christ became man he underwent kenosis or self-emptying as he, Baillie, understood it. In doing so, he asked what he seemed to think was an unanswerable question: What would have happened to the world if the second person of the Trinity who played a role in its creation (John 1:3) and by whom it was sustained (Col. 1:16, cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb.1:3) had laid aside his divine nature in order to become man? (This question was apparently posed earlier by Archbishop Temple.) It was precisely this question that a Jehovah’s Witness who recently visited me asked, again as if it was unanswerable. Yet, even at that time of my relative ignorance I sensed that the answer to the problem lay in the doctrine of the Trinity, for a strict monotheism or monad seems to exclude the very possibility of God becoming man. (See further below.) The evident dependence of Jesus on his Father so strongly stressed in the NT is excluded by a purely monotheistic God who must forever retain his nature as God (cf. Rev. 4:9-11) as a matter of inherent necessity and thereby preclude the very possibility of an incarnation unless, as Arius followed by the JWs maintained, Jesus was a creature and therefore intrinsically subordinate.

The Two Natures

It is here that we touch the heart of the issue of docetism in evangelicalism and in the churches in general, for it seems to be accepted as a self-evident and hence a non-negotiable truth that in order to maintain his identity as God Jesus also had to retain his divine nature. And this is one of Ware’s primary contentions and presuppositions. In view of this I would argue that he does not merely set off on the wrong foot, he actually shoots himself in the foot thereby disabling and rendering himself completely incapable of eradicating docetism from the church. Despite what is taught in time-honoured creeds, the notion that Christ retained his divine nature when he became human is highly vulnerable, and Ware is honest and perceptive enough to acknowledge this. On page 23 he avers that the idea of one person, Jesus, having two full and integral natures, one uncreated and the other created is beyond our understanding and a mystery. On the face of it, it would appear to be not merely incomprehensible but logically impossible. (2* From the perspective of history Ware appears to have rejected common-sense monophysitism and opted for grandiloquent but intrinsically nonsensical Chalcedonian Dyophysitism. Chalcedon is and always has been a threat to both the incarnation and to the Trinity. In comment on John 1:14, p.102, Morris takes as strong an anti-docetic stance as anyone could reasonably wish for, but in comment on John 1:18, p.114, he clearly thinks in terms of two natures, for he asserts that when the Word became flesh his cosmic activities did not remain in abeyance until his life on earth had ended. If this is so, then the Word did not become flesh after all! No wonder he, like Ware, refers to mysteries that man cannot plumb. By asserting that the incarnation meant adding something as opposed to subtracting as in the Athanasian Creed something which kenosis implies, he has opened up the way to the docetism he has already in principle rejected.) But it also prompts a blunt question: If Jesus retained his divine nature, why didn’t he rely entirely on himself (cf. Jud. 6:31), regard his Father as redundant and his help as unnecessary in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Absalom in his relations with his father David. In the words of Dale Davis, there is something jarring about the supposition of omnipotence receiving help (p.143). Is it not rather cynically asserted from time to time that God helps those who help themselves? In fact, however, Jesus epitomizes the man who in his fleshly weakness (2 Cor. 13:4, cf. Mt. 26:41) relies totally on his heavenly Father as all human beings should and in the end must. In light of this we need to be very sure of what Paul in Philippians 2 and John in John 1 are actually saying.

Philippians 2

First, I would argue that traditional exegesis of Philippians 2 is flawed. Adopting a more general synthetic approach and trying to read this passage skating over some of its manifest exegetical difficulties dealt with in detail by the commentators like O’Brien, Martin and Fee leads me to the conclusion that what Paul is intimating in plain words is that Christ as the Word (John 1:1), who as the one who was equal with God and had the nature of God in eternity, humbly and freely set it aside in order to experience in person the life (nature) of a man (cf. 1 John 1:1). Bluntly, he did what Bruce (p.46), like Fee (p.211 n.81) and O’Brien (p.218), emphatically denies, that is, exchange his divine nature for human nature or flesh (cf. Heb. 2:7,9; 5:7) just as he exchanged his righteousness for sin in 2 Corinthians 5:21, his life for ours in Matthew 20:28 and 1 Timothy 2:6 and his riches for poverty in 2 Corinthians 8:9. Of course, Bruce in traditional fashion attempts to justify his negation by quoting J.B.Lightfoot’s rendering of ‘emptied himself’ as “ ‘… he divested himself’ not of His divine nature, for this is impossible, but ‘of the glories, the prerogatives of Deity’.” (3* It is interesting to note, however, that Bruce has no problem with interchange when he comments on 1 Thessalonians 5:10 and alludes quite happily to Irenaeus’ famous dictum to the effect that Christ became what we are so that we might become what he is, pp.113f. We do well at this point to note the change in nature implied by 2 Peter 1:4, not to mention 1 Peter 1:3f., 4:6, etc. And note espec. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:46-49. See also my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, etc., and the apposite comments and references of Richardson, p.242.)

At this point I ask a simple question: On whose authority and on what grounds do we accept the notion that it was impossible for Christ to divest himself not of his deity, his identity and divine character but of his divine nature? (4* In all probability the ultimate culprit is the immutable monotheism of Greek philosophy which maintained that there is and can be only one divine existence. According to Reichenbach the Platonists deprived God of all emotion because a perfect God has to be unchanging. He adds, surely correctly, that a ‘de-anthropomorphized’ God is totally transcendent to the affairs in which he has a part, p.199. Writing in the 1920s on the Anglican Articles, Griffith Thomas, in effect denying kenosis, says it was impossible for Christ to achieve manhood by renouncing his deity and that he did not, because He could not, surrender his essential form of being (morphe), p.44. Again he talks of “an unthinkable metamorphosis of God into a man”, p.45. By contrast Fee commenting on Philippians 2:7, while rightly emphasizing pre-existence, reduces kenosis to a “metaphor, pure and simple”. This smacks of evasion rather than interpretation, p.210, for even metaphors have meaning. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that Fee who is a superlative commentator is also governed at this point by tradition and an erroneous philosophical principle rather than by the biblical text. Bray denies both a change in nature and in person, p.243. See also Berkouwer, esp. p.199.) As intimated above, however, change would seem to be an unavoidable requirement of the very possibility of an incarnation. So it is worth asking what the divine nature consists of if not of the glories and prerogatives of God including his immortality (1 Tim. 6:16), incorruptibility (1 Tim. 1:17), omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. (5* See further my Creation Corruptible By Nature.) According to Paul, this divine nature stands in significant contrast with human nature (Rom. 1:23 Gk, cf. Ps. 106:20). But Lightfoot seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it. His highly questionable assumption seems to be that if the second person of the Trinity emptied himself of, or laid aside his divine nature, he ceased to be God in person. Here, it seems to me, we reach the nub of the issue, for exchange seems to be demanded by the very idea of incarnation. Without it there can be none, for while three persons can share one nature (consubstantiality) as in the (immanent) Trinity, it is impossible for a single individual person to have more than one nature at one and the same time and remain either divine or human, the one or the other. Apart from anything else such a one is a hybrid or a freak or a third alternative. (6* It is ironic that those who assume that kenoticism is an impossibility seek to substitute it with and counter it by means of another indisputable impossibility, that is, a Christ with two natures. This is quite simply to jump out of the pan into the fire. Furthermore, many rob the second person of the Trinity of his equality with God by attributing eternal Sonship to him, but more on this below.) To put the issue somewhat differently, if Christ retained his divine nature at his incarnation, his humanity would at best be but a shadow, a reflection, an extension, an appendage or a supplement of his divine nature and not a true incarnation. In other words he would be docetic. He did not really become man and traditional theology is reduced to a charade. If it is now urged that Scripture makes it clear beyond dispute that Jesus had both a divine and a human nature I would agree, but not simultaneously only consecutively.

A Simple Illustration

If a wicked witch were to turn me into a dog or, as the children’s fable has it, into a frog, I would inevitably have all the physical attributes of a dog: four legs, large ears, a hairy coat, a long or at least a waggable tail, a wet nose and heightened physical sense perceptions that are part and parcel of the nature of a dog. In other words, I would inevitably lose my human nature involving not so much my “flesh and blood” (Heb. 2:14, cf. Ware, p.119) but my upright stance, two arms, a smooth skin and all the physical attributes making it possible for me to speak. I would inevitably change my present physiological condition in fact. In plain words, I could not possibly retain my normal human nature and become a dog at one and the same time. (7* By the same token man and dog cannot interbreed! If it were possible, such offspring would be third alternatives or tertium quids like a minotaur or centaur, neither the one nor the other but hybrid freaks or dogmen. Equally by the same token, Jesus could not have two natures at one and the same time or he would be a godman or a theanthrop, neither God nor man. In other words, it is not only logic but nature itself that teaches us the impossibility of such a duality turning monad.)

The Illustration Flawed

Of course, my illustration is flawed because whereas it is possible to accept that the second person of the Trinity could become a man who is potentially made in the image of God, it is impossible for me as a person to become a dog. Why? For the simple reason that whereas I am made in the image of God, a dog is not. If I became a dog my personality would be obliterated. I as a person would cease to exist. However, when Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 temporarily lost the image of God and to all intents and purposes became a mere (human) animal, he did not lose his human nature as flesh and blood. What he did lose according to the text was his reason which rendered him temporarily a non-person incapable of ruling or ‘inheriting’ his own kingdom (Dan. 4:34,36), let alone the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). To all intents and purposes he ceased to be a man or a person. So with Jesus. Somewhat like Nebuchadnezzar he laid aside his glory then regained it (John 17:5,24). He became a human animal or baby, but like all human babies in contrast with mere animals he had the potential to be perfected and ultimately to gain the complete image and likeness of God (cf. Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). (8* This stress on the indispensability of the image of God relative to the incarnation has another important corollary: it indicates that the foundation of the incarnation was laid at the beginning, at the creation of man, specifically in Genesis 1:26-28. Truly is the Bible all of a piece; truly is it the inspired word of God.)

In light of this illustration it is difficult indeed to hold dogmatically to the view that the second person of the Trinity who was spirit (cf. John 4:22) could not divest himself of his divine attributes and become a man, especially since man is created in the image and likeness of God. This view is supported by the teaching of John’s gospel in particular where it is insisted in unmistakable terms that Christ descended and became a man (cf. John 1:9f.,14) precisely in order to ascend as a man (John 3:13; 6:38-40,62) with his transformed fellows in train (Heb. 2:10, cf. 5:9). Indeed, John 17:5 and 24 are especially apposite at this point since they portray Jesus himself praying, first, that he as a man having lost the majesty and splendour of the glory that he once enjoyed during his divine pre-existence might regain it, and, second, that his people should see that glory which in his days on earth they could not possibly see since he had laid it aside in order to become incarnate, man in the flesh, or, to put it more appositely, because he had changed his nature. Denial of this constitutes foundational heresy as John intimates (1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7).

Geisler and the Resurrection

In further support of my contention that Paul’s ‘emptied himself’ (or stress on what is known as kenoticism) should be given its full significance, I would draw the reader’s attention to the bodily transformation that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 must (Gk dei) as a matter of natural or rather divine necessity occur for entry into heaven and the presence of God. (9* Cf. the new birth referred to by Jesus in John 3:7 on which see my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities). Some years ago while trying to assess the relative merits and validity of the views of Murray Harris and Norman Geisler on the question of the resurrection, I noted that the latter, in contrast with other commentators took the view that when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, he had in mind only corruptible flesh. (10* The problem here is that all flesh is by nature corruptible. Compare e.g. Fee, p.798, who says that the synonymous parallelism of 1 Cor. 15:50 indicates that the present physical body cannot inherit the heavenly existence of vv. 47-49. Again, in comment on Romans 7:18, Dunn, p.391, says that sarx (flesh) in contrast with soma (body) is tied to this age and must perish before redemption can be complete.) His argument was apparently that flesh and blood are essential to the nature of man and to be bereft of them means that man is no longer man even in heaven! His exact words were that “Paul is speaking not of flesh as such but of corruptible flesh. For he adds, ‘nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable’ (1 Cor. 15:50 NIV, emphasis mine). Paul is not affirming that the resurrection body will not have flesh, but that it will not have perishable flesh” (p.122). This I would (and did) argue is an impossible position to take, for since the creation from which flesh derives is by nature (that is, not on account of sin) perishable (Gen. 1:1; 8:22; Ps. 102:25-27; Heb. 1:11, etc.), it follows remorselessly that all flesh (dust, clay, grass) as such is also perishable (Isa. 40:6-8; 2 Cor. 4:7; James 1:10f.; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). It was never intended to last forever. This is why sinless animals, which do not know the law cannot break it (Rom. 4:15) and thereby earn its wages (Rom. 6:23), nonetheless die (i.e. apart from sin) and undergo corruption (decay). (11* On this see further my Death and Corruption, Geisler on the Redemption of Creation, etc. It might usefully be added at this point that Geisler seems to understand better than most the correspondence between the flesh and the creation. With a true philosopher’s logic he recognizes that if the creation is redeemed, so is the flesh which emanates from it, and vice versa (pp.32f.). In contrast and with similar logic, I adamantly deny both in my Romans 8:18-25, Creation Corruptible By Nature, etc.)

The Change in Nature

So what is the point I am making? It is that just as a change in nature is a ‘natural’, that is, a divine necessity for man to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50-53, cf. 2 Pet. 1:4), so a change in nature was necessary for Christ the Word to become man in the first place, and again when he as man returned to heaven to regain his former glory (John 17:5,24; Phil. 3:21). This is what would appear to be involved in the heavenly assumption of mankind and was part and parcel of the plan of salvation from before the foundation of the earth. Apart from transformation, the change from flesh to spirit which involves the acquisition of the generic as well as the moral nature of God, salvation is impossible (cf. John 3:6). (We need to remember here, of course, that righteousness is the only gateway to eternal life, Lev. 18:5.) While we live on earth, God’s footstool, our flesh and indeed creation in general serve as an impenetrable barrier or veil between us and God and his throne. After all, even Isaiah in the OT recognized that God was a consuming fire with whom flesh could not possibly dwell (Isa. 33:14-17, cf. James 5:3, and note also 1 Tim. 6:16 and Paul’s blindness on his conversion). It is only through the mortal flesh of Jesus that that barrier or curtain can be penetrated to allow for man’s transformation and inheritance of the kingdom of God (cf. Heb. 6:19f.; 10:19f.).

The Heart of the Issue

Just as we are divested of our flesh in order to receive God’s generic nature as the children of God (1 Cor. 15:50-53; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:3f.; 1 John 3:1-3), so the Word had to divest himself of his divine nature in order to take on human nature. God really did become man and if he didn’t, Christ was docetic, not what he seemed to be. In the event his change in nature highlights the amazing love of God (John 3:16) and the awe-inspiring humility freely accepted in order to save us and bring us to glory. Surely this is what Paul is teaching in Philippians 2, John in 1:1-18 (cf. 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7) and the author of Hebrews in chapter 2, and we dismiss it at our peril.

Anthropological/Cosmological Dualism

What traditional views fail to take account of is the fact that man is an anthropological dualism, both flesh and spirit (cf. Isa. 31:3; John 3:6, etc.) who corresponds with cosmological dualism (earth and heaven) and is hence an exception in the animal world. As flesh he is tied intrinsically and indissolubly to the earth and the animal world in general and as such he is naturally subject to both corruption and combustion, burial and cremation, dust and ashes (Heb. 12:27; James 5:3; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). As the potential image and likeness of God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), however, he is linked with the eternal or heavenly world, for God has put eternity into his heart (Eccl. 3:11) and made eternity his goal (John 3:16, etc.). If he could take his flesh to heaven, then all the animals could presumably be accorded the same privilege. In fact, however, it is only man who on his divine side can be transformed, glorified and enter the presence of God minus his flesh which is temporary and corruptible by nature since it derives from the transient material creation (Gen. 2:7, cf. Heb. 2:7,9; 5:7). And in case the reader has any doubts, let me roundly assert that even Jesus could not enter his Father’s presence in the flesh, that is, as aging dust (clay, grass, cf. John 3:7; 1 Cor. 15:53), pace Geisler. Even he as flesh was corruptible, growing old (Luke 3:23; John 8:57) and was necessarily susceptible by nature, that is, by divine decree, to the transformation Paul clearly regards as indispensable. And it is Jesus precisely who, having differentiated between flesh and spirit (John 3:6), brought to light both life (cf. John 6:63) and incorruption (Gk 2 Tim. 1:10). (12* This, of course, raises the question of when Jesus himself underwent transformation. While I assert unequivocally that he did so at his ascension, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-53, many in the course of church history have held the view that he was transformed or glorified at his resurrection from the grave. I maintain that this is impossible since both Peter, Acts 2:31, and Paul, Acts 13:34-37, emphasize the fact that he did not experience corruption in the grave in which case he must have remained the same flesh as was crucified. Alternatively expressed, what was sown was raised and his post-crucifixion body was numerically the same as his pre-resurrection body. It is at this point if not at others that I side strongly with Geisler against Harris. See my When Was Jesus Transformed?, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?, John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus)

In his aforementioned book Ware stoutly maintains and repeatedly asserts that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and depending what he means by this, I would agree. But where I would certainly disagree is that he had two natures simultaneously as opposed to successively. The former view is impossible, for it would logically require Christ to be two persons, not one. At this point it is worth recalling the illustration I used above regarding my becoming a dog. If I became a dog, I would not, could not retain my human nature. So it follows remorselessly by parity of reasoning that when Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, became man, he could not retain his divine nature. Despite this, however, as man born in the image of God like Adam before him (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; Luke 3:38), he did not for a moment lose his identity as that person. This the Scriptures are at pains to indicate (e.g. Heb. 10:5-10). But again I stress that if he did not change his nature, he did not become human at all! In other words, the retention of his divine nature inexorably implies denial of the incarnation and points unerringly to docetism.

The Incarnation and the Trinity

As I indicated above, those who are tied to tradition and confined by creed argue that when he became man Christ retained not merely his identity as the second person of the Trinity but his divine nature as well. In the words of Chalcedon his two natures were united “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably”. They are therefore apparently convinced of two things: first, that Christ without his nature as God is no longer God (cf. Geisler and his insistence that man without flesh and blood is no longer man), and, secondly, that creation would collapse if he divested himself of that nature.

It is here, however, that Scripture intrudes its demurral. Apart from insisting that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37), there is not the slightest suggestion that Jesus ever lost his personal identity. He was always fully God in person if not in nature. This is surely implied in both his humiliation and his glorification. When he entered the world (kosmos) he was made lower than the angels; when he re-entered the world (oikoumene or heaven) as the first-born crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9) all God’s angels worshipped him (Heb. 1:6). This view of the matter is essential to the gospel. His virginal conception and birth underwrote the fact that he was truly God’s human Son or God incarnate (cf. Adam, Luke 3:38). And like all good fathers his Father took care of him, treated him like a son, not an illegitimate bastard, and even disciplined (tested) him appropriately (cf. Heb. 5:7; 12:7f.). (13* Compare us believers who are (spiritually) born of God, John 1:13, and have his seed in us, 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9, and are not abandoned as orphans, John 14:18. We do not, however, fully become the children of God until we receive his generic nature when our fleshly bodies finally succumb to corruption and we are given spiritual bodies at our resurrection transformation.) Furthermore, as a son, the only Son, on the level of his incarnation, that is his flesh, Jesus was as subject to salvation as the rest of us (cf. Heb. 5:7) since there was no good in his flesh even apart from sin (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18; 1 Cor. 1:29 Gk). Autosoterism or self-salvation was as alien to Jesus the man as it is to us. (14* At this point the reader needs to appreciate the fact that I deny that sin is the only obstacle or barrier to salvation. As I argue in my Not Only But Also we need to be rescued from the world and the flesh by nature as God intimated when he promised naturally mortal and corruptible Adam eternal life noticeably before he sinned on condition of the perfect obedience which he could not provide, Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5. We need to be born again and transformed by nature apart from sin, but sin is what prevents this from taking place.) Well does Ware stress that Jesus felt deeply his need of divine assistance and what must be provided to him by another (p.61). So, with the superficial exception of John 10:17f., the NT writers make it crystal clear that he was totally dependent on his heavenly Father. And like the rest of us believers of whom he was the pioneer, he was kept by the power of God through unwavering faith (1 Pet. 1:5) and whole-hearted commitment (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29, etc.). In other words, as God in person he kept the commandments to perfection in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14). (15* It must never be forgotten that Jesus uniquely kept the law, the condition of eternal life, Lev. 18:5, and so brought in life, 2 Tim. 1:10. His manifest dependence on his Father is a subject in itself and one which I cannot reasonably explore at this juncture. It must be stressed, however, that if he retained his nature as God, his dependence on his Father would be superfluous, totally unnecessary (cf. Jud. 6:31). Again, the idea that he simply kept it in abeyance brings its own problems, not least docetism.)

Continued Divine Activity

It should be noted that it is Jesus himself who while still in the flesh insists that his Father is always at work in a way that he himself as a dependent man on earth cannot be (John 5:17). The sovereign God who created and continues to sustain the world now sustains him in the flesh which is an integral part of the world. He thus ensures that he (Jesus) fulfils the purpose for which he came, for God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). It is on this account that Paul is adamant that Jesus’ humiliation and subsequent exaltation are to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:11). All this underlines the basic, non-negotiable truth of the Trinity. While my JW visitors denied both the incarnation and the Trinity, I argued strongly for both since it is impossible to have the one without the other.

The Trinity Again

This leads directly to my next point. Since all three persons of the immanent Trinity are equally God, are of the same substance (consubstantial) and so share the same essence and nature, it follows that each person of the Godhead can perform the function of the others. This has been the longstanding conviction of the church based on Scripture in times past. Thus in a chapter on the Trinity Knox rightly avers that the close unity of Trinitarian relationship is expressed in the theological dictum that all God’s works in the world are not divided (p.54). And a little later he adds significantly that the works (and words) of God in the world may be ascribed to any of the persons of the Trinity. Alan Richardson, who was professor of theology at Nottingham when I was there, arguably makes the situation clearer when he explains that in every activity of each of the three ‘persons’ it is always the one-and-the-same God who acts (16* Latin: Opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa, p.123. See also J.I.Packer in God the Holy Trinity, ed. George, p.102.) Now if this language of appropriation, or mutuality of powers, is true, concern about providence and the sustaining of creation during the incarnation is unwarranted, even misplaced and implicitly a denial of the Trinity. As we have already seen, while he was here on earth temporarily in the flesh (Heb. 2:7,9; 5:7) Jesus himself said explicitly that God was still at work and by implication not least in himself (John 5:17, cf. 10:37; 14:10, etc.), a fact that even Nicodemus recognized (John 3:2).

A Retrojection

While there may be difficulties, not least exegetical ones, with the suggestions I have put forward, it is arguable, especially in view of John 1:1-4, that the apparent references to Jesus as the Son before his incarnation are but retrojections of his earthly sonship. After all, I remember my mother saying in my youth such things as “When I was expecting Ken …”. The truth is that during her pregnancy she didn’t even know that I was a boy. I became ‘Ken’ later after birth and before that only in retrospect. Wayne Grudem in his commentary on 1 Peter 4:6 (p.159) even more appositely refers to the birth of Queen Elizabeth in 1926 and points out that at that stage she was not a queen, and, as history makes plain, not even likely to be so. But whereas she who, relatively speaking, was a nobody became a somebody, Jesus was a somebody who became a nobody (‘of no reputation’ according to the KJV, compare also Hos. 1:9f.). With these examples in mind, I suggest that awareness of the danger of thinking anachronistically when dealing with Christological problems may enable us to question more boldly what is known as the eternal generation of the Son or Jesus’ eternal Sonship.

Eternal Generation

So Ware’s book raises another point which relates directly to the incarnation and the issue of docetism. He refers frequently to Christ as the eternal Son of God. In a note in his opening chapter (p.15) he distinguishes three distinct but related senses in which the word ‘Son’ is used, the first being eternal Son. (17* Lane, who seems to have reservations, is putting it mildly when he says that there is a certain degree of unresolved tension in the author of Hebrews’ designation of Jesus as Son since the title can be applied to the pre-existent Son, to the incarnate Son where its use may be proleptic, and to the exalted Son, pp.25f., cf. pp.cxxxix,12,118,121.) In support of this he alludes to John 3:16f., Galatians 4:4, Hebrews 1:1f. and 1 John 4:9f.

It so happens that shortly before I read his book I had read part of Kevin Giles’ on The Eternal Generation of the Son. I found it impressive but a good deal less than convincing. It seemed to me to betray a number of serious weaknesses, one in particular as we shall see.


First, the expression ‘eternal generation’ is enigmatic at best and almost certainly not understood by most who encounter it especially as they recite the Nicene Creed. Second, it seems to be a contradiction in terms, a veritable oxymoron. Third, Giles virtually admits his failure to find explicit biblical evidence supporting his case (e.g. pp.66,88) and relies heavily on the great theologians of the past, creedal tradition and convoluted theological reasoning. Fourth, it is difficult to see why if Jesus was the eternal Son of God he needed to keep the law as a man in order to meet the condition of regeneration and eternal life (Mt. 3:13-17). (18* Of course, his regeneration is strongly denied in the Augustinian tradition which links it with sin and thereby emphasizes its inherent docetism. The truth is that regeneration relates primarily to nature not to sin as John 3:3-8 plainly indicate to the unprejudiced eye. See further my Was Jesus Born Again?) How could he as the eternal Son grow older, die, be raised, ascend and be transformed thereby inheriting a new nature. How could God give up his own Son to death if he was still his eternal co-equal Son (Rom. 8:32)? Would this not be deicide, even suicide? Indeed, this ought to remind us that if the Son retained his nature as God who is a consuming fire during his incarnation, he would have been self-consumed (cf. Isa. 33:14; James 5:3. The story in Daniel 3 hardly constitutes a denial of this. After all, Jesus miraculously walked on water contrary to the laws of nature.) Again, the idea that Jesus as the eternal Son of God retained his divine nature as the incarnate Son of God and presumably watched himself, that is, his alter ego (!), his human nature, die on the cross is quite beyond my understanding. (If Jesus was not two persons as the two-nature theory implies, he was not two sons either.) Such ‘schizophrenia’ is, I suggest, totally alien to Scripture and indeed reality. Fifth, how could we be regarded as Jesus’ brothers all having one origin and all sharing a common sanctification (Heb. 2:10-13)? If we are Jesus’ human brothers we have a common Father. In the OT God was not known as Father (though note Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1) except in prophecies such as Psalm 2:7f. (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5f.). Jesus’ birth of a virgin signifies his change of nature (cf. O’Brien, p.224 n.119). Mary was not the mother of God (theotokos) but of a fleshly human son (cf. Gal. 4:4) who was hence our brother. In other words, Christ could not at once be the eternal pre-incarnate Son of God and our elder brother. Rather, it was the incarnate Christ who became our brother, the antitype of Adam. Sixth, the impression is constantly given in the NT that Jesus first became a son at his birth (Luke 1:32) or creation in the womb of Mary (Heb. 10:5) and his sonship was progressively acknowledged and confirmed as he matured (=was perfected, cf. 2 Cor. 3:18) as a true human being at his baptism (Mt. 3:17), his transfiguration (Mt. 17:5) his resurrection (13:33) and finally his ascension (Rom. 1:4; Heb. 1:6). The pleasure of his Father at his righteous and holy conduct (Mt. 3:17; 17:5) so manifestly missing with regard to the rest of us implies his genuine humanity. Well does Paul say that he (God) condemned sin in the flesh of his Son (Rom. 8:3). It was on account of his sinlessness in the flesh that Jesus, the Son of David, was raised to power (Rom. 1:3f.) (19* I take the reference to Jesus’ resurrection here comprehensively, i.e. meaning resurrection, ascension, exaltation and session. This would seem to be confirmed by verse 5.) It is as man, and obviously not as the eternal Son of God, that he is said to have become superior to angels (1 Pet. 3:22, cf. Eph. 1:20-23) both in essence and in name (Heb. 1:4), and it is as man that he became the mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), the plenipotentiary of God (Mt. 28:18) and a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45, cf. John 5:26). Seventh, according to John it was the eternal Word, and implicitly not the eternal Son, who became flesh (John 1:14) though Ware like so many others equates the two. It was as (human) son (cf. Gal. 4:1f.) that Jesus was appointed to be a prophet (greater than Moses), priest, and heir (king) by means of an oath and no mere promise (cf. Heb. 1:2-5; 5:5; 7:1-28). This is part of the essence of the argument of the author of Hebrews who regularly and surely significantly refers to ‘Jesus’ throughout his letter and majors on Jesus’ humanity (cf. Heb. 2:17, and 2:14 which corresponds with Romans 8:3). In light of this Jesus can be regarded as eternal Son at best only retrospectively. However, serious difficulties arise from regarding Jesus as the eternal Son without implying his eternal subordination and thereby denying his equality. Again, in eternity he did not have a mother! But even more to the point according to the author of Hebrews he did not have a father either (7:3)! Furthermore, the bracketing of Psalm 1:8 and 2 Samuel 7:14 together in Hebrews 1:5 points away from the eternal Son idea which is as foreign to Scripture as it is to experience. Indeed, it is fair to say that the ultimate reference of 2 Samuel 7:14 to Jesus, the Son of Mary, is difficult to miss. It is he who will be God’s firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth (Heb. 1:6, cf. Col. 1:15) and the one who inherits the name of Lord (Heb. 1:4, cf. Rom. 1:4). This suggests that the entire notion of the eternal generation of the Son is an ecclesiastical concoction based on misunderstanding, not least the assumption that God cannot change his nature. On the other hand we can accept without qualm Hughes’ implication in comment on Hebrews 1:2 that the eternal Word who had brought the world into being became the Word incarnate (p.36). And this is doubtless what Paul meant when he said that God sent his born-of-a-woman Son (cf. Rom. 1:3) in the fullness of time, not eternity (Gal. 4:4f., cf. John 1:1-4; 3:16f.; 1 John 4:9f., cf. Rom. 8:3). (20* Lane’s claim that the order of (eternal) Son, creation and inheritance is logical is disputable, p.12. It would seem that the ‘transcendent dignity’ which he attributes to the Son is post- not pre-incarnate throughout Hebrews 1. Mention of his original role (note the ‘also’) as creator reads like an explanatory comment or reminder of his real identity as the second person of the Trinity, cf. John 1:10.) Eighth, it is Jesus the incarnate son who is the heir (Mark 12:7, cf. Gal. 4:1-7). But in eternity both Paul and John insist that as co-Creator he as the Word was equal with God and the owner of all (John 1:11; Col. 1:16, etc.). But it is only as the incarnate Son of his Father that he is both priest and heir. In any case, how could he be heir to everything he already owned (cf. Ps. 50:10ff.; Heb. 1:10-12)? Furthermore, it is surely in light of his human sonship that the devil tempted him and offered him what was not his to give, that is, all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Mt. 4:8f., cf. Mt. 5:5). The fact is that Jesus as the incarnate Son was along with us the heir of his Father (cf. Rom. 8:17). In eternity, however, his so-called Father was not his Father but God equal with the eternal Word as both Paul and John assert. The truth is that this Word voluntarily, lovingly and humbly became a son, the Son, at his incarnation in order to redeem his brothers under the law (Gal. 4:4f., cf. Heb. 9:15b). Ninth, if Lane’s claim that Jesus’ sonship is correlated with his priesthood by the author of Hebrews is correct (p.cxl), since the latter was not eternal (cf. Ps. 110:4), then neither was the former. But to say this is immediately to bring into question the notions of eternal Father and Son yet again. How could they be such before the foundation of the world? How could God the Trinity be both consubstantial Father and Son at one and the same time? Such designations make sense only if they apply after the incarnation. Prior to that time they are prophetic promises. At this point it becomes clear that we are back with anachronistic thinking, projectionism and the tendency of our forefathers to treat the Bible as a flat uniformity devoid of historical and doctrinal development. Their misunderstanding is patent.

Tenth, Giles as an Anglican relies more heavily than I care to do on traditional creeds, confessions and the great theologians of the past. While not denying the greatness of the latter, I jib at investing them with the semblance of infallibility, and hence regard them as vulnerable, subject to criticism, correction and upgrading in the light of my understanding of Scripture. Having said that, while I would not quarrel with Giles’ claim regarding the anti-subordinationist intentions of Athanasius et al., I would certainly quarrel with the language they used which almost inevitably leads to misunderstanding even among the most able theologians as the evidence Giles himself produces indicates. The problem is that to our ears they say one thing and mean another and the very notion of the eternal generation of the Son as opposed to the Word is, apart from being a contradiction in terms, inherently docetic. Like Ware whom he criticizes on other grounds (pp.33f.,229f.) he is implicitly docetic if not intentionally subordinationist in his thinking and at the end of the day, Giles is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black. The sooner the idea of the eternal generation of the Son is dropped the better or docetism will continue to dominate the church.

The problem arises from the fact that Giles relies heavily on Athanasius whom he greatly admires. On page 73 (cf. p.116, etc.) after quoting him he comments that Athanasius saw with great clarity that if the Son is not eternal then God is a God who changes. Precisely! Giles like Lightfoot, Bruce and the rest simply cannot accept the great exchange of Philippians 2. He clearly regards it as impossible and hence, logically, he denies the incarnation (cf. 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7). As for Athanasius, he apparently held a static or non-dynamic view of an immutable God. By contrast, I argue that the Trinity retained its identity but changed its nature. John’s prologue which most would claim is modeled on Genesis 1 makes it clear that the creator God of the OT became Father and the Word became incarnate Son. The plain truth is that the Son as Son was not eternal and not equal and not independent but very definitely subordinate. It is only as the Word that he was eternal. And he remained the Word of God in person even when he changed his nature! Despite all his protestations, Giles himself falls prey to what he condemns in others, that is, the interpretation of the immanent Trinity in terms of the economic Trinity. Without any biblical support, he applies the term ‘Son’ to the immanent Trinity and fails to note that John in his prologue studiously avoids this. Put otherwise, his projectionist use of the word Son inevitably means he is docetic if not intentionally subordinationist in his thinking since the eternal Son by definition is unchangeable and therefore cannot be incarnate and mortal. To argue then that the language that is traditionally used is analogical not univocal (see e.g. p.260) is beside the point. The damage has been done.

So when Ware regards Christ as the eternal Son, that is, as the Son of God eternally generated prior to the incarnation, on the basis of questionable exegesis of texts like Romans 1:3f., 8:3 and Galatians 4:4, I must protest. (21* As already implied I argue that Jesus as a man was a son by ‘natural’ even if by virgin birth and, since he uniquely kept the law, cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc., by spiritual rebirth. John 3:3-7 applies to all believers including Jesus if he was truly human just as certainly as Paul says transformation does in 1 Cor. 15:53. Berkhof, p.472, rightly maintained that John 3:3 does not allow for exceptions, but he somehow failed to recognize that if Jesus was truly human even he could not be an exception either, since exception implies exclusion. Denial of this again raises the issue of docetism which pervades traditional theology. See once more my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Death and Corruption.) Does this not mean that he was eternally subordinate? Indeed, Richardson’s comment (p.123) is a propos at this point. He writes: “The very word ‘Son’ implies derivation, subordination and dependence”. If so, then the second person of the Trinity, the very Word of God (John 1:1-4), is not as equal as Paul avers (Phil. 2:6), and Richardson’s further comment that the word ‘Son’ “asserts identity of substance and therefore co-equal divinity” is quite gratuitous. (22* Compare Hughes, who, claiming the support of Athanasius and Cullman, says that the title “Son” implies the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father, p.40. Perhaps it does but it certainly does not imply equality as Galatians 4:1-7, for example, intimates. It is an extremely dubious thesis if it means that Jesus as the original Word was simultaneously the Son.) Not only is it open to question but it is also a patent non sequitur. If Jesus was the eternal Son, he could arguably be compared with Absalom waiting in the wings ever ready to seize his Father’s throne. But this is the exact opposite of Paul’s assertion that Christ Jesus as the Word did not regard his equality with God as something to be clung to. Like King Edward VIII, Jesus abdicated his throne, if only temporarily (Heb. 2:7,9), not for love of a woman but for the sake of mankind in general. (23* Of course, it may be said that the Jews were incensed when Jesus referred to himself as Son because that made him equal with God in John 5:18, 19:7. But this involves a question of status rather than ontology. Whatever ‘equal with God’ meant, for them it was blasphemy.)


If the designation ‘eternal Son’ implies subordination (as Ware among others apparently thinks), it must inevitably detract from the humiliation that the incarnation involved. In other words, it leads to the inference that the incarnation of the subordinate Son is one thing and that God became man is another. At its worst it implies that a strict and severe Father ordered his son to do his dirty work! Yet, on my thesis even Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, does not compare with the sacrifice God made. For if the Word was equal with, even was God and was of one substance with God, his sacrifice was infinitely greater. God himself was in Christ his incarnate Son reconciling the world to himself. If this is so, Ware’s laudable emphasis on the eternal Son’s humiliation falls short of the reality. My contention is that the humiliation was so radical that it involved a freely undertaken change in the divine nature, pace Athanasius, undertaken to accommodate man. Indeed, it was so great that Jesus was not ashamed to call us his brothers (Heb. 2:11, cf. 2:17; Phil. 2:7b). In his book, God’s Greater Glory, Ware impressively highlights the unconditional character of God’s love (see e.g. p.56) and Fee, who majors on the character of God, observes in comment on Philippians 2:7 that God is self-giving for the sake of others (p.211). How true. Yet, he also says that the one who was himself God and never during the whole process stopped being God did not exchange one form of existence for another (n.81). But surely this is precisely what Paul is asserting, and it is at this point that we touch the heart of the divine humiliation. If we deny it, we diminish that humiliation and are back with docetism. The change in nature is as absolutely indispensable to incarnation and humiliation as it is to regeneration, transformation and ultimate glorification. Truly did Jesus, who as God the Word was rich, become poor for our sakes, 2 Cor. 8:9, and just as truly do we by a change in nature become the children of God (1 John 3:1-3, cf. John 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:50-53). Of course, it may be said that this change brought about a kind of separation or distancing within the Trinity which a change in nature would seem necessarily to imply. After all, man is distant from God by nature. He begins by being far off, is made near and is eventually given access to the very presence of God (Eph. 2:17-21, cf. Dan. 7:13f.). Thus the development or perfection of Jesus was fundamental to his life in the flesh and paved the way for his God-ordained transformation. The question is: Is this still further supported by Scripture? It is important to try and find out.

The Covenant of Redemption

However, before we leave the subject of the eternal Sonship and by implication the eternal generation of the Son which I claim implicitly belittles both the love and humiliation of God in Christ, it is important to draw attention to what I regard as a much more congenial idea, that of the covenant (or counsel or council) of redemption which is characteristic of Reformed orthodoxy as ‘the eternal prototype of the historical covenant of grace’ (Berkhof, p.270). Correctly understood and this is important, it surely eliminates the idea of Christ as the eternal Son and presents him as the eternal Word of God, a co-equal member of the Trinity, playing his proper and fundamental role in the formation of the covenant or pactum salutis (John 1:1-4, 14; 6:37-51;14:15-17,26; 15:26; 16:12-15). In other words, the plan of salvation formed before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2) involved an eternal pact within the Godhead between the three persons who were the same in essence, power and glory as God, Word and Spirit. Though they were implied as early as Genesis 1:26, only at the incarnation, at the beginning of the Christian dispensation, did they become Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a change of nature, relationship and function. As Berkhof says (p.266), it is only in the economy of redemption that there is an apparent division of labour by which the Father is the originator, the Son the executor and the Holy Spirit the applier.

Permanent Humanity

It is often said that Jesus remains eternally incarnate in heaven (24* See, for example, Bruce, Hebrews, p.98, Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.859, cf. p.835; Packer, Christianity Today, March 2004). In light of 1 Corinthians 15:50 to go no further this cannot be literally true. A change in nature, a transformation, necessarily intervened (1 Cor. 15:53). What is true is that Jesus is forever human. But while he is no longer (temporary, corruptible, combustible) flesh, pace Geisler, (cf. Heb. 2:7,9; 5:7; 1 Cor. 15:50-53), he clearly does not divest himself of the humanity or the image of God in which he is perfected (Heb. 1:3; 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). The question then arises: Does he regain the divine nature as opposed to the glory that he laid aside at his incarnation (cf. John 3:13; 17:5,24)? What seems to be the case is that like all human beings who enter the presence of God, while he receives by necessity the generic nature of God (John 3:6; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 Pet. 4:6), he cannot so long as he remains man become God as such in a Nirvana-like absorption. For a start he has a body (Phil. 3:21) and God has not, but it is in the embodied Jesus that we see God (Col. 2:9, etc., cf. John 14:9; 20:28).

Since we ourselves as the sons (children) of God become God-like, even gods according to Jesus in John 10:34, we nonetheless retain our individuality and separate identity with spiritual as opposed to dusty bodies (1 Cor. 15:46-49; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:21). Next, it is as man perfected (Heb. 7:26,28) that Jesus takes his place at the right hand of God (1 Pet. 3:22, etc.) and it is there that we ourselves as his fellow conquerors and children of God join him (Rev. 3:21), but neither he nor we literally become God (in nature). Then we need to realize that in the book of Revelation we read not simply of God on his throne but of God and the Lamb who in chapters 4 and 5 are equally but individually glorified (cf. 5:13; 14:4; 15:3; 21:22; 22:1,3). Though they are always one in spirit or character (cf. John 10:30), they always remain as distinguishable as they were in the immanent Trinity. This is made manifest in Hebrews, especially 12:22-24 where the living God is differentiated from Jesus the mediator (cf. John 17:1-3). (25* Note how Jesus sits at the right hand of God in Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12f.; 12:2, cf. 4:14;7:26.) Furthermore, it is the still-God-in-person Jesus who has the generic nature of God as man and who is man the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5, cf. John 1:51). In Jesus the perfection of man in the image of God attains its apogee (cf. Rom. 8:29). The union between man and God is here as close as it can get (John 1:18). In the words of Morris it stresses that “Christ is in the closest possible relation to the Father” (p.112). But it comes short of identification. The distinction is not obliterated, not intended to be and indeed cannot be if the gospel is true.

Is Jesus God?

So if I am asked if Jesus the man is God, I immediately respond in the affirmative (John 1:18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13, etc.). Yes, Jesus remains eternally, essentially and ontologically God in person but not consubstantially so as in his pre-existence as the Word. He does not recover the divine nature (the Trinitarian consubstantiality) of which he divested himself when he became man for the simple reason that in the saving plan of God he remains forever man and as such the King of kings. To recontextualize the language of Athanasius as quoted by Giles (p.117), “The Father is ever the Father and never could become Son, so the Son is ever Son and never could become Father”. Rather as Paul intimates in Colossians 1:15 he is not God per se but the image of God and the firstborn of all creation (cf. Heb. 1:3). (26* Again I would point out that for two natures there must be two persons. And Jesus is one, Eph. 4:5f. Having changed his nature at his incarnation, he is now the perfected image of God by exaltation, function, power and heavenly session, cf. Rom. 1:3f. Alternatively expressed, he is man perfected in the image and likeness of God, Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:3. If this is the case, we might well ask how if he had retained his divine nature he could he become the image of God, 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3. In the event, when we see him, we see God the Father whose express image he is, John 14:9; Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 22:4.)

Man’s Permanent Subordination

Again, it is imperative for us to be aware that Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 presents the perfected man Jesus to us, not in his so-called equality as the eternal Son but as God’s exact image as man seated at his right hand (Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 1:3, etc.). It is the all-conquering Jesus (Rom. 8:31-39; Rev. 5:5) who delivers the kingdom to God the Father. In other words, even though Jesus is at once the Son of man and the Son of God in his humanity not his divinity (cf. John 1:1-4; Phil. 2:6), he is by nature subordinate. God as God remains forever and ever (Rev. 4:9-11), but the same is now said of the Lamb (Rev. 5:13, cf. John 3:16; Dan. 7:13f.). Truly in Christ are God and man united in an eternal relationship, and now with all relationships restored (Acts 3:21; Col 1:20) God is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). Well does Jesus urge those who believe in God to believe in him (John 14:1f.). Just as it was with Joseph (cf. Esther 3:1f.), a type of Christ if ever there was one, who ruled over all Egypt with the exception of Pharaoh himself, so it is with Jesus, the Man, who sits forever at God’s right hand (Gen. 41:40-44; Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 1:3,13; 1 Pet. 3:22, etc.). Such is the wonder of the gospel testifying to the love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God and fellow heirs with Christ (1 John 3:1; Rom. 8:17).

Additional Note

If we as children or sons of God are not (equal with) God, neither is Jesus as the Son of God, pace Athanasius et al. Of course it may be replied that Jesus was the unique Son of God, but then it may be countered that the NT teaches that we are brothers and Jesus is our elder brother (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:10-13). The fact is that we are now by nature what Jesus is (cf. Irenaeus and interchange) and we shall be with him forever (John 12:26; 1 Thes. 4:17) and in the same Father’s house (John 14:2-3) with a body like his (Phil. 3:21). We share together the generic nature of God our Father as his children (cf. 1 Pet. 4:6) just as all the children of Adam, including Jesus, shared his generic nature without actually being Adam (Gen. 5:1-3; Luke 3:38; 1 Cor. 15:46-49; Heb. 2:14,17; 5:7, pace those who believe in the imputation of Adam’s sin or Platonic realism). Otherwise expressed, we are together ‘deified’ (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4) in the sense that we are transformed (1 Cor. 15:50-53). Jesus differs from us only in that he forever remains God in person and has pre-eminence. (When the author of Hebrews says that he remains the same yesterday, today and forever, 13:14, he is obviously referring to his personal deity and character. If he were referring to his nature, he would be denying his incarnation and the very fact that he is truly human even in heaven. In view of Hebrews 2 this is the very last thing he is saying.) It is at this point that God and man are indissolubly united in ‘marriage’ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:32). And it is for this reason that our salvation is eternally unshakable (Rom. 8:31-39). It can never be undone. That is why divorce except on grounds of adultery, which at this point is not on the horizon, is taboo.

Summary of Basic Contentions

1. Whereas it is possible for three persons to share one nature as in the Trinity and for many persons to share the one (human) nature of Adam (Gen. 5:1-3), it is impossible for one person to have two natures at one and the same time. Only he who was God the Creator was ever in a position to become man (creature) and elevate his fellow human beings (creatures) to heaven and the divine presence. Christ could not at one and the same time be God and his eternal Son eternally generated (cf. Gal. 4:1-7). The eternal generation of the Son as opposed to the Word involves a profound misunderstanding. Jesus became (was made and was not begotten as) a Son and God a Father at the incarnation, not before. In other words, the Trinity as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a NT revelation. Though purposed before the ages began (2 Tim. 1:9), it was realized when the time had fully come (Gal. 4:4) and was integral to the plan of salvation.

2. Jesus was the incarnate Son of God uniquely (monogenes) born of a virgin (Mt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; Gal. 4:4; Rom. 1:3f.). Denial of this constitutes radical heresy (1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7).

3. The incarnation necessarily involved a change in nature (John 1:14; Phil. 2:6-8), so when God became man, he thereby humbled himself (cf. Heb. 2:7,9; 5:7). While remaining forever God in person, the Word ceased to be God in nature when he took on human nature. Just as we who are flesh are divested of our flesh in order to receive God’s generic nature as his children (1 Cor. 15:50-53), so Jesus divested himself of his divine nature in order to become flesh, the son of Mary.

4. Jesus the incarnate Son of God became a servant and died the death of a slave. He was thus perfected (cf. John 19:30; Heb. 2:9) and exalted (Acts 2:33,36) as man in the image of God. It is only as God in person and man in nature that Jesus could serve as man the mediator and give himself as a ransom for man (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5f.).

5. Jesus the Man, the perfected image of God, sits exalted and crowned with glory (Heb. 2:9, cf. John 17:5,24; Eph. 1:20-23) at God’s right hand as the pioneer, priest and representative of his people (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21, cf. Dan. 7:13f.). He is notably Jesus Christ our Lord, the King of kings.

6. Jesus as glorified man is forever subordinate to God (1 Cor. 15:24-28) in accordance with the covenant of redemption freely entered into by the immanent Trinity. No wonder Paul, like John (1 John 3:1) was both overawed and overwhelmed by his sheer love and humility.



L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

G.C.Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, GrandRapids, 1954.

Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God, Downers Grove, 1993.

F.F.Bruce, Philippians, Basingstoke, 1984.

1 & 2 Thessalonians, Waco, 1982.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1965.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Message of Daniel, Nottingham, 2013.

G.D.Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, 1987.

Paul’s Letters to the Philippians, Grand Rapids, 1995.

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, Nashville, 1992.

Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, Downers Grove, 2012.

M.Green, The Books The Church Suppressed, Oxford, 2005.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids/Leicester, 1994.

1 Peter, Leicester/Grand Rapids, 1988.

M.J.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.

P.E.Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids, 1997.

D.B.Knox, The Everlasting God, Homebush West, 1988.

Leon Morris, The Gospel According To John, Grand Rapids, 1971.

J.I.Packer, Christianity Today, March 2004.

Bruce R.Reichenbach in The Nature of the Atonement, ed. Beilby & Eddy, Downers Grove, 2006.

Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, London, 1958.

W.H.Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology, London, 1930.

Bruce A.Ware, God’s Greater Glory, Illinois, 2004.

The Man Christ Jesus, Wheaton, 2013.

A Note on Giles

1. Giles implies that the Fathers said one thing but meant another. They were both confused and confusing.

2. The language of the Fathers is subordinationist because they were covert docetists who logically if not intentionally undermined the incarnation. They inevitably contributed to the rampant subordinationism evident in modern theology.

3. The term eternal generation or procession of the Son and of the Spirit is contradictory and implicitly denies the equality of both. Again it contributes to modern subordinationism and docetism.

4. It cannot be biblically justified (see e.g., p.66). John 1:1-18, which summarizes the immanent Trinity of the OT, that is, God the Creator, the Word and the Spirit, studiously avoids this language and stands in violent contrast with it.

5. The term ‘eternal generation of the Son’ is conditioned by and culled from the economic Trinity, yet Giles strongly insists that the immanent Trinity should not be construed or determined by it, rather the reverse. In other words, Giles, like his mentor Athanasius, holds to a false view of the immanent Trinity where there is neither Father nor (implicitly subordinate) Son but God, Word and Spirit in equality.

6. The term ‘eternal generation’ of the Son like the term ‘eternal Son’ is inherently docetic since it implies that there can be no change in the nature as opposed to the person of the Word, yet it is this change in nature which is integral to both the humiliation of God (kenosis) and of the incarnate Son, as Paul affirms.

7. It is only when the time had fully come (Gal. 4:4) that the eternal Word became the Son and the creator God the Father in relational change (cf. Heb. 1:5). (Note how in Hebrews 1 the prophets speak first and are followed by the Son who according to Deuteronomy 18:18-22 succeeded Moses.) In other words, the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is confined to the NT and to Christianity. It illustrates the progress of both covenantal revelation and dogma (cf. John 17:3). It is as incarnate Son that Jesus invaded the devil’s domain and conquered (Mt. 12:22-32, cf. Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.).

Arius and Athanasius

It might usefully be added in clarification at this point that both Arius and Athanasius especially as expounded by Giles were wrong. Neither understood the nature of the immanent Trinity. Athanasius, who used the language of subordinationism but sought to deny the fact, clearly thinks of the immanent Trinity in terms of the economic Trinity and denies that Jesus was by nature a creature like all other human beings (cf. pp. 113f.). His attempt to avoid the charge of subordinationism must therefore be pronounced a failure (pace Pannenberg who opined that “Athanasius vanquished subordinationism”, p.113). In contrast, Arius wrongly believed that God was a divine monad (cf. Greek philosophy) not a Trinity (p.102, cf. pp.67,113f.). This being so, it was impossible for him to believe in the incarnation, as I suggested earlier in my essay. Given his presupposition, Jesus was a creature and could not be anything else no matter how exalted. On the other hand, if he had recognized with Scripture that Jesus was God in person but visibly a creature in nature (see especially Luke 24:39; John 20:28), he would have hit the nail on the head. Again I must point out that man cannot see the unveiled God, who is both a consuming fire and dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16), and live. When Jesus returns in his glory and that of God (Mt. 16:27; Luke 9:26), he will come as fire and light. And he will come to destroy his enemies but also to rescue and transform his people.

In my view Giles’ book, though reflecting profundity of thought, genuine erudition and given his presuppositions considerable powers of argumentation, resembles John Murray’s The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (Grand Rapids, 1959) in that it is founded on a glaring fallacy (see my D.M.Lloyd-Jones and J.Murray on the Imputation of Adam’s Sin, Straightforward Arguments against the Imputation of Adam’s Sin to his Posterity). He fails to appreciate, first, that the Son as Son does not belong to the immanent Trinity. If he did, he would not be equal, and both his incarnation and his humiliation would be diminished, if not impossible. Second, at the incarnation Jesus, the Word, remained God in person but not in nature (pace the Athanasian Creed’s “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God” where the former is indispensable to the latter). In him the invisible God changed his nature and became visible (cf. John 14:9; 20:28f.) temporal, even temporary, flesh (2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 2:7,9).

In light of this, I for one will not be joining with Giles in confessing the Nicene Creed which refers to Jesus Christ as eternally begotten of the Father and begotten not made (p.261). Denial that Jesus was made denies that he was ‘made by hand’ (cheiropoietos) and hence flesh. In other words, it inexorably implies denial of the incarnation. The plain fact is that far from being eternally begotten the Son as son was made, as teaching about the Virgin Birth in particular amply demonstrates (Mt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20, cf. Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14,17; 10:5). It is simply not correct to say following Augustine that the economy reveals what is eternally true (p.158), for he who was God humbled himself and became flesh in time (John 1:14; Gal. 4:4). The salvation of mankind was no mere demonstration of power as in Islam but required a change in the very nature of God himself. In love and humility he made that change. In his humiliation he became flesh like a flower of the grass but in his exaltation he rejoiced (cf. James 1:9f.; Heb. 2:7.9; 12:2).  The language of eternal Sonship leads inexorably to original subordinationism, docetism, obfuscation and confusion. Rather than protecting the Trinity, it has the effect of jeopardizing both it and the incarnation. It is safer by far to use the language and logic of Scripture and avoid that of creeds and confessions where misunderstanding is permanently enshrined.

A note on Carson’s ‘Jesus The Son of God’

Since writing the above I have read the important little book Jesus The Son of God (Wheaton, 2012) by Don Carson. He does not directly address the problem of docetism and he does not refer to it. However, he accepts the eternal generation of the Son without equivocation and so fails to appreciate its ramifications and implications. For example, on pages 66f., where he is dealing with John 5:16-30, he talks of the Son’s functional subordination. But surely Jesus’ subordination was much more than merely functional. While he retained his eternal deity as a person (cf. Heb. 7:8,16; 13:8), he was clearly subordinate in nature or he did not become mortal flesh and play the role of a servant. (As a well-known commentator on John’s gospel Carson has apparently failed to notice the change in nature implied in 1:10f. and 1:12f., cf. John 3:1-8, not to mention that in verse 14.) Carson says (ibid.) that Jesus’ imitation of his Father was exhaustive. It was indeed, praise God!, but as man in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.). If he was still the so-called eternal Son of God this would be quite unremarkable! But it was as man that he was made perfect like his Father (Mt. 5:48) and as his perfect(ed) image (Heb. 1:3) able to blaze a trail for us into his presence (Heb. 2:10; 12:2, etc.). Carson also says that the Son in contrast with us created a universe, but he fails to add ‘but as the Word and definitely not as the Son’. Indeed, as the latter he was part of creation himself (cf. Col. 1:15)!

However, it is on page 41 that Carson makes his position crystal clear. Here he denies in effect the difference between the immanent and the economic Trinity and hence logically denies the Word’s incarnational change or change in nature so clearly taught in John 1:14. My contention is that Jesus was NOT the Son of God from eternity but the eternal Word equal with God, God as such in fact (John 1:1, cf. Phil. 2:6), who became the Son of God when, not after as Carson suggests, he arrived in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). (It is here that adoptionism is rigorously excluded.) If it is ‘fanciful’ (Carson’s word) to think this way, then I respectfully suggest that he has misunderstood the biblical position. It has long been a mystery to me that John should begin his gospel with reference to the Word as (equal with) God if the notion of the eternal generation of the Son is true. If it is a genuine biblical doctrine, here of all places it ought to have found prominence. In fact, however, the apostle’s prologue is a distillation of the somewhat recondite OT teaching on the Trinity where God, the Word and the Spirit all appear, albeit sporadically. (The Spirit, of course, is not referred to in the prologue but appears unmistakably as the third person of the Trinity later in the gospel.) Again, I conclude that the Trinity conceived as Father, Son and Holy Spirit belongs to the new and certainly not to the old covenant. The change in covenant involved a change in the nature of God.

But it is his manifest misunderstanding of Hebrews that really upends Carson. He states rather naively in comment on Hebrews on page 41, “the Son (his italics) is the one by whom God made the universe”. But where in the whole Bible is this taught? Here he clearly fails to see that the author employs the term Son (of God) in projectionist fashion, as I suggested above. The author’s intention throughout Hebrews 1 is surely to demonstrate the superiority of the incarnate Jesus, the man. As God and Creator he was obviously superior to angels (cf. Heb. 1:14a), but, after being made man and hence lower than them for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9), having made purification for sins, he is now superior again but this time as man (Heb. 1:4). It is of interest to note too that when Jesus is arrested, he does not say he will command the angels but ask his Father to send them to his aid. (More than 40 years ago in an appendix on 1 Peter 3:19ff. to an unpublished book I wrote challenging the Church with reformation I argued in comment on 1 Peter 4:6 that the reference to proclaiming the gospel to the dead meant those who had since died, not to the dead as such. Failure to get our chronology and its associated implications and intentions right leads inexorably to false doctrine. This is what has frequently happened during the course of church history. See also Grudem, ad loc. as above.)

It is in Hebrews 7, however, that the author makes his point indisputably clear. Here part of his stress on the eternality of the Son of God (cf. 7:8,16,24f.) is based on the fact that in eternity he had neither father nor mother (7:3). This is in stark contrast with his human situation where he had both and was hence both mortal and corruptible significantly unlike God his Father in nature (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16, etc.). Indeed, Melchizedek’s resemblance to the Son of God lies precisely in the fact that he (i.e. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God) in eternity had no genealogy (= he had no mother or father, neither birth nor death and therefore neither beginning nor end in direct contrast with the material creation which again has both). In other words, if by his reference to the Son of God our author meant the eternal Son of God, he would be involved in a blatant contradiction. The plain fact is that it was as the eternal Word, not as the so-called eternal Son, that he created (obviously) before his incarnation when for the first and only time he became a son, the unique Son of God, the Son of Mary. And once he became flesh at his incarnation he was a dependent, mortal, corruptible, temptable and salvable human being like the rest of us (Heb. 2:14,17; 4:15; 5:7, etc.), an integral part of his own creation or property (Carson) (cf. John 1:10f.). Whereas he was by the grace of God triumphant through unwavering faith and unswerving obedience (cf. 1 Pet. 1:5; Heb. 4:15, etc.), we are failures (Rom. 8:3, cf. Heb. 12:1f.). But for all that, we are saved through him (Rev. 3:21).

So in eternity as the Word, Christ was equal with God (Phil. 2:6), in fact he was God. And it is only as he emptied himself and became the incarnate Son that he was subordinate and totally dependent on his Father as a true human being. Denial of this leads inevitably to docetism on the one hand and diminishes his achievement on the other.

Later in his book Carson has some very useful things to say about Muslims and translation work in general. I agree with his conclusions, all the more so because he recognizes that purity of theology is of paramount importance. It is vital then that we get our beliefs regarding the Trinity and the incarnation, not to mention other things, right. Otherwise, false conversions will be inevitable. But not only that, we shall be hindering evangelism in general through failure to tell the devotees of the world religions and various ideologies what true Christianity really is. In other words, we need doctrinal reformation for their sake as well as for ours. If we really care for Muslims, Jews and the rest, it is high time that we got the planks out of our own eyes in order to see clearly the splinters in their eyes.

Our God is a great God not simply because he is our sovereign Creator but because he is love demonstrated not least in his humiliation and sacrifice in Christ. Greater love has no one than this that someone lays down his life (psyche) for his friends (John 15:13, cf. 10:11; Rom. 5:7f.). He is not merely a friend as he was to Abraham and Moses, however, but our Father and we are his children, born of his Spirit (1 John 3:1-3). What a God! Soli Deo Gloria.

Note on Monotheletism and Dyotheletism

The notion that Jesus had two wills rises directly from the idea enshrined in Chalcedon that he had two natures at one and the same time. (1* See, for example, Bray, p.207, and Hill, pp.102f.) The problem again is that a person who has two wills is no longer one person but two. It must be conceded, however, that a human being is pulled in two directions because he is both flesh (cf. Gen. 2:7) and spirit (cf. Zech. 12:1) by nature. (2* In John 3:1-8 Jesus and Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:53 regard our condition as both flesh and spirit as natural, that is, created as such by God but that we need to be spiritually born again and corporeally transformed in order to enter the kingdom of God irrespective of sin which neither mentions, pace Augustine. See further my Death and Corruption, Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.) As Paul explains in Romans 7, while he, like the psalmist (119:14-16, etc.), may love the law as one who is a rational person made in the image of God, he cannot keep it because the law in his fleshly members is too strong for him. Like Adam and Eve (cf. Gen. 3:6) before him he falls into sin (Rom. 7:9f., cf. Rom. 3:23; 5:12) and so finds it impossible to attain to the perfection God requires of him as a creature mandate (Gen. 2:17). With Jesus the situation is different. Though he also is tempted at all points like the rest of us, he succeeds in conquering his natural passions according to the law (Heb. 4:15, etc.). And his success at this point is made clear by the fact that at his baptism he gained eternal life as man (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, cf. Heb. 7:16, etc.). It was at this time that the Spirit descended and remained on him because he had pleased his Father by keeping the law (Mt. 3:17). He had passed the test to his Father’s satisfaction (cf. Gal. 4:1-4) and continued to do so till he was finally exalted (Mt. 17:5; Rom. 1:4).

But the point to note is that he does this in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14), that is, as a true human being like all his fellows (Heb. 2:17). Thus it is that we read that Jesus as man seeks always to please his Father (not to harmonize his human will with his own divine will) as we all should as the following references among others indicate (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29). Most of all he submits himself to death in accordance with his Father’s will (Mt. 26:39). And that it is his Father’s will is made clear by Paul who says he did not please himself (Rom. 15:3). In other words, he had to deny himself as flesh (cf. Mark 8:34f.; Gal. 5:16f.) in order to accomplish the will of God.

But a further point needs consideration. According to James, God himself is not tempted (1:13), but Jesus clearly was even though in the event he overcame it (vv.14f., cf. Mt. 4:1-11). So yet again we are forced to draw the conclusion that he was truly human by nature. If he had retained his divine nature, he could not have been truly tempted. As it was he endured a titanic struggle with his flesh as all human beings do. Where he differs from us is that in the power of the Spirit he triumphed over his fleshly tendency to sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22).

It is a sad fact that tradition especially under the influence of Augustine has made Jesus an exception (e.g. though a son of Adam, Luke 3:38, no original sin and no regeneration*) and has given us an excluded and therefore a docetic Jesus. According to Scripture Jesus was by nature truly human and differed from the rest of us only in that he did not sin (Heb. 2:17; 1 Pet. 2:22).

* See my Was Jesus Born Again?The Ecclesiastical Christ.

More problems

While we can accept that the person of the Word took on human nature and became flesh, it is more than a little difficult to imagine him taking on the nature of God which could not be contained in temples in the flesh. Acts 7:49f. scuttles this idea. In any case John tells us that the Word ‘tabernacles’ among us. Can we really believe that the entire nature of the universal God could be confined to a tent made by hand, cf. John 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:14? Of course, if we accept two separate natures as in Nestorianism, God clearly did not become man. And the same holds with regard to Chalcedon. Again, on the assumption of his eternal sonship, Jesus was clearly two sons since the one is eternal and immortal while the other, the incarnate son, is temporal and mortal. He did in fact die!

This, of course, raises another question: if there are two sons there are two births. Here the author of Hebrews specifically denies this. In 7:3 with reference to Melchisedek, he plainly denies a birth to the so-called eternal Son. The more we probe, the more problematic the whole scenario.

Note on Stott’s ‘The Authentic Jesus’ (Basingstoke, 1985)

Having on page 30 maintained the Chalcedonian two-nature idea, on page 74 Stott maintains that Jesus remains forever flesh and as such sits at God’s right hand. To say this means he directly contradicts Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 15:50 (also implicit in John 3:1-8). Amidst much confusion of thought on Romans 8:18-25 he affirms the destruction of the flesh but not the body on page 243 of his The Message of Romans (Leicester, 1994). If the flesh is destroyed, so is the physical creation from which it stems, and the notion that creation, which is temporary by nature, will be renewed is clearly fallacious. It is an OT idea which is superseded by the revelation of heaven brought by Jesus in the NT. 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 rightly interpreted in context do nothing to undermine this. Furthermore, to argue that flesh can dwell in the very presence of God who is by nature a consuming fire (cf. Job 25:5f.; Isa. 33:14; Heb. 12:29; James 5:3) is clearly erroneous. The plain fact is that if Jesus was truly flesh, he could not possibly have retained his divine nature for it, not zeal, would have consumed him. At his ascension transformation, he rid himself of corruptible flesh forever (cf. Acts 13:34) and so sat at his Father’s right hand.

Chalcedon or the hypostatic union (the union of Jesus’ divine and human natures in one person) is manifestly false for yet other reasons. First, Paul flatly denies that the fleshly body (dust) and the body of glory (spirit) exist in the one person contemporaneously. He explicitly informs us in 1 Corinthians 15:46 that the physical or natural body comes first and is followed by the spiritual which comes second (cf. vv.47,49). While all who are redeemed have both bodies, they have them successively not simultaneously. Otherwise expressed, just as Jesus was given a fleshly body as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) at his incarnation, after his ascension he was given a body of glory (Phil. 3:21). How otherwise could the fullness of deity have indwelt him (Col. 2:9, cf. 1:19)? Chalcedon’s two-nature theory is both illogical and patently unbiblical.

Second, it must further be added that Doubting Thomas addresses Jesus as God while he is still in the flesh. Here the difference between his person and his physical human nature is beyond reasonable dispute (John 20:27f., cf. 12:45; 14:9).

Reflections on Re-reading Berkouwer

(1) Most Christological speculation seems to stem from the (Greek) denial of the possibility that the Word could become man (cf. e.g. Calvin, p.354 and almost all others both before and after). This is plainly contrary to what John (cf. also 1 John 1:1-3) and Paul are saying. Unless man is to become literally God (cf. Hinduistic pantheism, Nirvana, etc.) as opposed to his child (1 John 3:1-3), a change in nature for both God (cf. Eph. 3:15) and man is at the heart of biblical revelation. Without it man cannot be saved as John 3:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 clearly indicate. (See further my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities) In becoming the Son of God in the fullness of time and born of woman at his incarnation, Jesus ever remains his Son. Though he is the eternal Word in person, he remains man forever. As such he is uniquely the bridge between God, now Father, and man his son in Christ. (The idea that Jesus is God’s eternal Son, that is Son before the incarnation, is not only a dreadful misunderstanding in itself but it generates a host of theological problems.)

(2) Berkouwer fails to see that one person cannot have two natures at one and the same time. Far from proving a bastion against docetism Chalcedon inevitably fosters it, since a person with two natures is not and cannot be a true man. The union of two natures (hypostatic union) is not merely incomprehensible, an ineffable mystery, etc., (pp.286,295, etc.), it is an impossibility which Scripture clearly rejects.

(3) Committed to Chalcedon, Berkouwer constantly uses it as his touchstone instead of Scripture (e.g. p.313).

(4) Berkouwer correctly identifies the dilemma facing readers of the Bible. On page 361 he maintains that on the left lies the ravine of theopaschitism, the idea that God as such suffered on the cross; on the right the complete humanization of God. Though Berkouwer seeks to evade the logic of the issue, the latter, the complete humanization of God is what Scripture teaches as I have sought to demonstrate above. The plain truth is that if the Word retained his divine nature as opposed to his personal identity, God did indeed suffer on the cross, and from this multiple problems arise. Church tradition in general is built on Chalcedon and is inevitably docetic. At bottom, by denying the kenosis, it inexorably denies the incarnation. In other words, ecclesiastical orthodoxy is biblical heresy. It has failed to heed the warning pinpointed in 1 John 4:2f. and 2 John 7.

(5) The truth is that the Word’s humiliation led to his exaltation and he remains forever the Lamb seated at the right hand of God (Rev. 5, cf. 22:1-5), the very image of God (Heb. 1:3).

(6) Not enough is traditionally made of the delegation of power to Jesus as the ultimately triumphant Son (cf. Mt. 11:27; 28:18; John 5:26; Rom. 1:4; Phil. 2:10f.; 1 Pet. 3:22, etc.). During the days of his flesh his power as the true Son resides not in himself but in his Father (e.g. Mt. 26:53; John 11:41f., etc.). As Jesus himself says without his Father he can do nothing (John 5:19., cf. v.17; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10). As flesh, Jesus is as weak as the rest of us (Mt. 26:41; 2 Cor. 13:4, cf. Jer. 17:5; Rom. 7:18; 8:6-11). His strength like that of Samson so long as he remains faithful resides in his Father (cf. Jud. 15:18; 16:28; Heb. 3:2). Since he always did what pleased his Father, he was heard, strengthened and enabled, all to the glory of God (cf. Phil 2:10f.). When God forsakes him, he dies (Mt. 27:46). But then God raises him from the dead (Acts 2:22-24) and proleptically empowers him before he takes his seat at his right hand (Mt. 28:18; Rom. 1:4, etc.). (It is again worth reminding ourselves of Joseph’s elevation to power but not to the primacy that Pharaoh enjoyed, cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28.)

Reflections on Re-reading Kelly on ‘Early Christian Doctrines’ (2nd ed. London, 1960)

(1) The variety of thought is quite astounding.

(2) Recapitulation is rather wider spread than I had thought and is not confined to Irenaeus (cf. Alan Richardson, Introduction, p.242).

(3) Platonic realism is prominent.

(4) Augustine sums up much of the thought that preceded him (p.390).

(5) Chalcedon was hardly the end of the road. In the nature of the case, it left unanswered questions. The monophysite (one nature) charge that Chalcedonian dyophysitism was Nestorian (two natures) is surely sustainable. It remains for us in the 21st century to address some of the problems it left without denying that ultimately we are dealing with mystery. We still see as in a glass darkly. One thing seems clear and that is that the doctrine of the Trinity is the indispensable precondition of incarnation (cf. Gen. 1:26f.).

Reflections on Re-reading Alan Stibbs on ‘God Became Man’ (London, 1957)

I must have bought and read this monograph in the late 1950s while still at Nottingham. Since I have always been an admirer of Stibbs I must have been impressed with it at the time. However, judging by notes in my copy I must have re-read it in the late sixties and was surprisingly critical even at that stage.

Stibbs’ prime problem like that of so many others is his uncritical acceptance of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. Since he stresses the importance of relying on Scripture his assumption is plainly that Chalcedon and its two-nature (Nestorian!) Christology is fully scriptural. It is not. In effect, Chalcedon is Nestorian (two separate natures) if not Eutychian (denial of two distinct natures) and denies the incarnation. The plain fact is that if the eternal Word retained his divine nature when he became man, he never became man. And if he did he was docetic, not truly man. While Stibbs rightly criticizes (on pages 13f.) the views of Archbishop Temple and Prof. Donald Bailey, he fails to understand the real weakness of their objections to kenoticism which was not so much their failure to understand the communicatio idiomatum but their traditional denial of a change in nature which God becoming man inevitably involved. Furthermore, Bailey was quite wrong to think of Christ being God, then man then God again (a view I myself have tended to hold over the years). The truth is, as I have tried to make plain above, that in his love and humility the Word changed his nature (obviously not his person) and became man forever, so that while Paul can teach that he was originally equal with God (Phil. 2:6) he is now as man the perfected image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:14, etc.) and, despite his delegated powers and lordship (Mt. 11:27; 28:18; 1 Pet. 3:22), permanently subordinate (1 Cor. 15:24-28) as Joseph was to Pharaoh.

In face of the ‘contradictory conditions’ the traditional view involves (p.12) Stibbs’ resort to arguments based on hypnotism and psychology is quite inadequate and wrong-headed. The plain truth is that a genuine man with two natures at one and the same time is a contradiction in terms on the one hand and a denial of the incarnation on the other. How could Jesus truly and completely depend on his Father (p.28) while retaining and holding in reserve his own divine powers (cf. Jud. 6:31)? The Jesus depicted in Hebrews 5:7f. does not make sense if he retained his divine nature. At the end of the day Stibbs reminds us of the pot calling the kettle black. In effect if not in intention, he is as much opposed to Scripture as those he criticizes. Basically, he is imprisoned by tradition.

There is irony in the very title of his monograph, God Became Man, since Stibbs’ main intention following Chalcedon seems to be to uphold Jesus as God. By contrast Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms that it is the faithful (Heb. 3:1f.) perfected (Heb. 7:28)* Son of Man who sits at God’s right hand (Mt. 26:64, cf. 16:27; Heb. 8:1; Rev. 1:5-7; 14:14, etc.).
(* The perfecting process to which Jesus was subject would seem to undermine the very idea of his retention of his divine nature.)

Reflections on re-reading ‘The Forgotten Christ’, ed. S.Clark (Nottingham, 2007)

The book is dominated, arguably over-powered, by what I call the Augustinian worldview (cf. p.46) and inevitably leads to some absurd conclusions (e.g. the idea that Adam in contrast with Jesus, the second Adam, was created fully adult!). I have dealt with Gaffin on the Last Adam (pp.191-231), who treats 1 Corinthians 15 as if, like Romans 5:12-21, it is covenantal in structure and relates to original sin, fall and curse, in my essay Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?.

Needless to say Chalcedonian dyophysitism (p.53), along with Constantinopolitan dyotheletism (p.56) and the eternal sonship (p.69), is strongly affirmed and not merely in the first chapter. This is supported by opposition to kenoticism where it is stated (quoting Stibbs) that kenotic theories ‘do not do justice to the biblical and historic doctrine as defined by Chalcedon’ (pp.56ff.). In other words, as with Berkouwer, Chalcedon is simply assumed to be scriptural and so becomes our standard of judgement. It is not without interest that on the basis of Chalcedon and its Christological two-nature theory we read of an intra-personal (?) communio idiomatum (mutual participation of attributes/properties) and communicatio gratiarum (charismatum) (communication of gifts/graces) as distinguished from the usual intra-Trinitarian communicatio idiomatum or communication of properties (pp.55f.). Given its assumptions, this is a reasonable inference. In the event, however, it implies docetism and thus compels us to believe that God did not become man after all.

Note on the non posse peccare

If Jesus had two natures he never became incarnate. What is more, if he had two natures he could not possibly sin and his temptations were all a charade (cf. Heb. 4:15; 5:7). (Arguably, an alternative would be that he could not sin as God but could as man, in which case he would have been a split personality, truly schizophrenic.) If he, the Word of God, was truly incarnate (John 1:14; Phil.2:7), he was able not to sin (posse non peccare). He thus proved his pedigree as the genuine Son of God through the VB. This is surely the wonder of Jesus, a genuine human being who uniquely did not sin (1 Pet. 2:22) but overcame sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.; 4:15).

This of course impinges on the idea of original sin. If it is true, then Jesus was a sinner at birth, and, assuming that one rejects the VB theory of Roman Catholicism, the idea that he was cleansed by the Spirit at his birth is failure to recognize that blood, not spirit, is the divine detergent! With regard to this, P.H.Eveson, The Forgotten Christ, p.64, quite wrongly says that this is the Bible’s answer to the non-transmission of sin to Jesus. Eveson of course makes two mistakes: first, he accepts original sin as biblical when it is in fact heretical, even blasphemous; second, he fails to recognize that if it is true and Adam’s sin is not imputed to Jesus, then he is not genuinely human but docetic, as I indicated in my first paragraph.

It is worth making another point here. If Jesus’ potential to be regarded as a victim of original sin as a son of the first Adam (Luke 3:38) in whose image he was made (Gen. 5:1-3) was obviated by the Spirit, why then was there ever an atonement at all? If the Spirit could work in Jesus’ case, why not in all others? Why should not Christianity function like Islam, that is by power? The fact is that Christ and his atonement are intrinsic to Christianity and true religion. And the only way in which Jesus could atone for sins before a holy God was first by becoming flesh (Heb. 2:17) and second by not sinning (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.). Jesus, like the OT sacrifices, had to be perfect, unblemished, blameless. It is only after he as man first received the Spirit himself and then made atonement that the Spirit could come (John 7:39). (Cf. Paul’s insistence in 1 Cor. 15:46 that flesh precedes spirit.)

When Jesus was born, sin had not been atoned for! In the event, like the innocent children of the sinful adult Israelites (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.), he was able to wend his way to the Promised Land (Num. 14:31, cf. v.3., cf. Mt. 2:15) and in his own personal case eventually into heaven itself (Heb. 9:24, etc.). The fact is that he was like the rest of us but while he never personally sinned, we all did and so died as a consequence (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:23)! His virgin birth is totally irrelevant to the issue of sin. All it proves is that he was the incarnate Son of God, truly human and no longer divine in nature. (On the imputation of sin see espec. my Straightforward Arguments against the Imputation of Adam’s Sin to his Posterity.)

Reflections on reading Robert Letham on ‘The Person of Christ’, Nottingham, 2013

On page 175 Letham avers “Misconceptions take a long time to eradicate.” They certainly do and this statement applies to him as much as to others (and doubtless to me!). While in fairness he is not entirely uncritical of Chalcedon and correctly comments on page 240 that it left a good deal of unfinished business on the table*, the main problem with his book is that its author is tied to tradition and inhabits a false, that is, an Augustinian rather than a biblical universe which leads him inevitably into error. It also fails to inspire our confidence in him as a christologist. (* His appendix, pp.229-246, involving the question ‘Did the church get it wrong?’ is important and should have produced a more positive answer.)

Of course, despite his doubts he adheres to Chalcedon and to the eternal generation of the Son. In the event, his book, though highly informative and wide-ranging, does not really get us far. His commitment to tradition comes well short of paving the way to deeper understanding and reformation.

It is worth remembering that Letham provides an introduction to Giles’ book on the eternal generation. Here he confesses his laudable respect for but too ready reliance on ecclesiastical tradition. However, as an individual whom he might wish to dismiss as a freewheeler (p.7), I suggest he needs to take a more critical attitude to what we have inherited from the past and not simply in the realm of Christology. (See further my essay Have We Inherited Lies?, etc.) History, including the teaching of the prophets, the apostles and especially of the Lord Jesus himself (e.g. Mark 7), warns of the dangers inherent in over-ready acceptance of tradition especially as it enshrined in time-honoured but questionable creeds. It seems to me at least that the entire church has lapsed in its understanding of the love and humility displayed by our awe-inspiring God, at once omnipotent and sovereign but amazingly loving and humble. But the idea that the doctrine of the eternal generation somehow protects and even reinforces the doctrine of the Trinity eludes me. It seems rather to do the opposite.

Personal Notes

1. John MacArthur writes: “Christ divested Himself of His glory. He went from sovereign supernatural deity, to taking upon Himself the form of a servant – and ultimately to a death on a cross ….” (Quoted from Evangelical Action, June/July 2013, p.11).

2. On the Trinity in the OT see Ottley, pp.565ff.

3. On Greek or Platonistic conception of God as a divine monad, immutability, etc., see Ottley, pp.373f.,580, cf. 401f. etc. Tony Lane, Christian Thought, pp.12f.

4. Ottley, p.584, tells us that Athanasius deprecates the use of technical language re eternal generation “on the ground that it is non-scriptural”.

5. On Romans 1:4, see Fee on God’s Empowering Presence, pp.478-484, Pauline Christology, pp.243f..

6. On perichoresis, etc., communicatio idiomatum, appropriation and mutuality of powers, see Ottley, pp. 573,581,591, cf. Richardson, p.123.

7. On salvation by ‘power’, or omnipotence or fiat, see Ottley, pp.646f.

Transgression And Transformation

According to traditional Augustinian theology the entire creation is ‘fallen’ and under a curse as a consequence of Adam’s (original) sin. (1* See e.g. Stott, pp. 41,121,153,231; C.Wright, pp. 198,395, etc.) The assumption is that as the work of a perfect God all creation was initially not simply ‘good’, that is, useful, as Scripture surely teaches, but perfect. It follows that Adam and Eve likewise as emanating from a perfect creation at the hands of a perfect Creator were from the start holy, righteous, immortal and incorruptible. The problem here is that this assumption prompts some very difficult questions.

For a start, if Adam was created righteous and righteousness is the precondition of eternal life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.), how did he not remain forever in his blessed state? Apart from the fact that it is no more than an inference which does not seem to be supported by Scripture, his so-called sin and fall is in any case not easily explained. Furthermore, if it is maintained that he could fall from perfection, are we not likely to draw the conclusion that even God himself who is perfect could likewise fall or at least decide to maintain his righteousness no longer? Have we any guarantee that he also like the devil will not fall like lightning from heaven (cf. Luke 10:18)? If this is a possibility, how can we be sure that he will honour his promises to us? Perhaps the anchor of our souls is less secure than we thought (Heb. 6:13-20). Obviously the questions are endless and the answers doubtful! Fortunately, however, we are in a position to dismiss the initial premise that a perfect God is necessarily obliged to produce perfect artifacts. All he needs to do is to produce what is useful, whatever serves his purposes (cf. Ps. 119:90f.), and even evil for which he is not directly responsible can do that (cf. 2 Chr. 10:15; Isa. 10:5-11; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11, etc.)! The author of Hebrews realizes that the builder of the house has more honour than the house itself (3:3).

Creation Imperfect

On reflection, we ourselves become aware that throughout Scripture all created things are regarded depreciatively in comparison with their Creator and his word (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 45:11f.; 51:6,8; Heb. 1:10-12; ; 1 John 2:17, etc.). They are but shadows of the real (cf. Heb. 8:1-7). What is ‘created by hand’ (cheiropoietos) is not to be compared with what is ‘not created by hand’ (acheiropoietos, Heb. 1:10-12; 9:11,24, etc.). (2* See my Manufactured Or Not So.) While creation may have a certain glory of its own (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20), it pales when compared with its Author just as the old covenant pales in comparison with the new (2 Cor. 3). (3* See my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity) In fact creation merely testifies to God’s power and divine nature and is certainly not divine or sacred in itself as the heathen world frequently believed. Thus it is not at all surprising that God’s chosen people were forbidden to worship creation in any form (Ex. 20:3f.; Dt. 4:15-19).

Man’s Native Imperfection

Man himself as a product of the earth is intrinsically imperfect; he is both physically and morally immature and incomplete and needs to be perfected (Phil. 3:12-14; Heb. 6:1, etc., cf. Gal. 3:3). Physically he achieves perfection or maturity relatively quickly, but his moral perfection is stunted by sin (cf. 1 Cor.15:46). However, he cannot and does not become sinful until like Adam (cf. Dt. 1:39) he breaks the parental commandment (Rom. 4:15; 7:8, cf. Prov. 1:8; 4:1-9; 6:20, etc.). As flesh which derives from the ground he is mere dust, clay, grass (Isa. 40:6, ESV) like the rest of the animal creation (Ps. 103:14, etc.).

What this suggests is that nature as such is inherently defective and needs to be upheld by the sovereign providence of God on the one hand and the delegated dominion of man created in the image of God on the other. Apart from man’s habitation and cultivation creation like the temple at a later date (Mt. 23:38) is a desolate wilderness (Isa. 6:11, etc.). An untended garden like Eden rapidly deteriorates (cf. Prov. 24:30-34).

Assertions like this are supported by other biblical evidence. For instance, quite apart from sin, creation has by nature a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and an end (Mt. 24:35), and is hence temporal and not eternal. It is initially uncovenanted, and since it is visible it is impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18; 1 John 2:17). It is also imperfect (Gen. 1), corruptible (Heb. 1:10-12; Rom. 8:18-25), shakable (Heb. 12:27) and destined for ultimate destruction (Zeph. 1:18; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12).

The initial lack of a guarantee for creation is made evident by the contrast between the commandment given to Adam and the covenant made with Noah who, having metaphorically been weaned, could see and appreciate the significance of a rainbow. But though his covenant is still operative, it is so only as long as the earth remains (Gen. 8:22). Put another way, the flood which threatened total destruction makes it plain that an uncovenanted creation had no guarantee of permanence. And it was not until God had made the covenant that Noah, in contrast with Adam, could undertake to exercise dominion with any hope of success. Even then it was only for a limited time (Gen. 8:22), but nonetheless enough time (cf. Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-26) for the completion of the plan of salvation from the corruptible earth (Rev. 14:3, cf. vv.14-20). Even Jesus who overcame the world (John 16:33) could not reverse its inherent corruption (subjection to decay) and inevitable dissolution which were clearly ordained by God (Mt. 24:35; Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27, etc.). Even he had to escape from it by keeping the law which promised life (regeneration) and being crowned with glory and honour (transformation) in heaven (Heb. 2:9, cf. Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7). For just as the law of Moses which relates to the flesh and to this world (cf. Rom. 7:1; Mt. 5:18) is obsolescent and provisional by nature (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13), so is creation itself, and of course the flesh that emanates from it. Since neither creation nor the law can perfect anything (Heb. 7:19), escape by transformation is inherently necessary (1 Cor. 15:50-54). Thankfully, by the grace of God both creation and the law have a better, that is, an invisible hope in prospect (Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 7:18f.; 11:35, cf. Heb. 10:20; 1 Pet. 1:3).

Two Factors

There are then two factors involved so far as man is concerned: he must exercise dominion (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8) if he is to gain glory, honour and praise (Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7, cf. Heb. 2:9), and he must keep the law if he is to gain the (eternal) life graciously promised to man (who is naturally mortal and corruptible) from the beginning (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 7:10). Thus sin and nature frequently appear together and though intimately related they must as separate entities both be overcome. A clear illustration of the distinction between sin based on law and corruption or decay by nature appears in Luke 13:1-5. This passage makes it plain that though they can operate disparately, they both achieve the same result, that is, death. Luke 13:4, which deals with natural corruption, can be linked with 12:33 (cf. Mt. 6:19f. and Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12). Thus the tower of Siloam was like the temple ‘made by hand’ (Mark 14:58) and hence corruptible. In the event, the temple was razed by the Romans but like the Colosseum and the Parthenon (damaged by Venetian bombardment in 1687) it was naturally vulnerable to corruption as we are well aware today. Luke 13:1-3 corresponds with sections of Luke 21:5-36 where some of the events referred to occur by necessity, that is, as part of the divine purpose. Obviously, if creation is naturally corruptible, it will show increasing signs of its corruptibility as it ages in more frequent earthquakes, celestial portents, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and so forth. But interspersed with these, as in Luke 13:1-5 there is plenty of evidence of sin in assassinations, wars, insurrections and international hostilities (Luke 21:9f.). (See further additional note below.) The sack of Jerusalem by the Romans is a type of the end and hardly surprisingly the two appear interconnected in Scripture (Luke 21:20-26). These events both natural (cf. the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, Luke 17:26-30) and sinful will be capped off by the second coming of Christ (Luke 21:27f.).


No one reading carefully about Paul’s missionary journeys can fail to note that he constantly has to cope with both sin and nature. We see this in Acts 27 where nature perhaps predominates in contrast with Jonah where sin and nature are arguably treated more even-handedly. In 2 Corinthians 6 (cf. 4:8-12 where the apostle refers to his ‘mortal flesh’), however, sin and nature are more obviously interwoven. On the one hand Paul has to cope by means of great endurance with afflictions, hardships, calamities, labours, sleepless nights and hunger, on the other hand he has to submit to beatings, imprisonments, riots and the like. Again, in chapter 11:23-28 we read of labours, shipwreck, being adrift at sea, danger from rivers and the wilderness, toil and hardship, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure on the one hand and of imprisonments, beatings, lashes, stonings, hostility from Jews and Gentiles in the city, and so forth. In chapter 12 the apostle talks of his mysterious thorn in the flesh from which God did not see fit to relieve him, and in verse 10 the mixture of sufferings stemming from both sin and nature.

Yet again, in Romans 8:35 Paul refers on the one hand to tribulation, distress, famine, nakedness and danger and on the other to persecution and sword. Admittedly, tribulation and danger, for example, are general words which could arguably come under the rubric of sin, but this does not affect the basic distinction I am making. (4* Dunn goes into some detail as to the meaning of various afflictions in comment on Rom. 8:35, 2:9 and 5:3.) Furthermore, it should be noted that while verse 36 suggests sinful persecution, his general reference to ‘all creation’ (ESV, lit. any other creature) in verse 39 is all inclusive. (The apparent distinction between tribulation and persecution would appear comparable to that between affliction and distress (ananke) in 1 Thes. 3:7.)

Peter and John

Peter and John both differentiate between nature and sin. For Peter material things like gold (1:7), silver (1:18), flesh and grass (1:24) are naturally perishable and futile. It is imperishable seed (1:23) and the word of the Lord (cf. James 1:18,21) that produces the new birth “to a living hope … to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” (1:3f.) which endures forever (1:25, cf. John 3:16). What a contrast there is between these and the eventual destruction of the material universe in 2 Peter 3. On the other hand, as 2 Peter 2 makes clear sin is a separate issue and produces its own bondage (2:19f.) and destruction (2:1-3). For John the material world and the things in the world like darkness (2:8) pass away (Rev. 21:1, cf. 1 Cor. 7:31). By contrast, those who do the will of God live forever (1 John 2:15-17).


The fact that Jesus as incarnate was both mortal (like all flesh he was subject to death, Heb. 5:7, and so unlike his Father, was capable of dying) and corruptible (he got older, Luke 3:23; John 8:57, cf. Gen. 6:3) should teach us something about creation. (5* See my Death and Corruption, Romans 8:18-25.) If he was subject to nature even apart from sin (as Adam had originally been before he sinned), he had to overcome both in order to attain to heaven. And despite all his trials and temptations (Mt. 4:1-11; Luke 22:28; Heb. 4:15, etc.), praise God, he did precisely that (2 Tim. 1:10). He kept the law which promised life and defeated sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.). He thus freely, that is, by the grace of God through faith, tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9). This can only mean that since he did not undergo decay in the grave, he rose from it still corruptible flesh (Luke 24:39). But in accordance with the promise of God, having finished his work (John 17:4; 19:30) and thereby gained honour and praise, he was necessarily transformed at his ascension (1 Cor. 15:53). (6* Note the Greek ‘dei’ as in John 3:7.) In other words, Jesus’ resurrection which relates to sin and death on our behalf was, since it was vicarious, not essential to his natural life. On the other hand, his ascension, which involved his transformation, most definitely was. It related to the decay ordained by God in hope quite apart from sin (Rom. 8:20). It completed the plan of salvation once righteousness and new life had been gained. In fact, the resurrection and the transformation of Jesus were totally separate events, and to merge them as many do today in the 21st century is a massive mistake. For, while transgression leads to death and requires resurrection to counter it, transformation leads naturally to the perfection of life. (7* See more below and my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?)

Before leaving Jesus, it is important to observe that both sin and nature brought their own challenges to his work. While he overcame the personal temptation and pressure to sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), he had to deal with the sins of others including forces of evil like demons (Luke 11:20). We read of him exercising his authority to forgive sin and eventually to die for sins in general. Again he exercised his dominion over recalcitrant nature as when he rebuked the stormy sea (Luke 8:24) and unruly fevers in people (Luke 4:39); he also dealt with ordinary needs like hunger (e.g. Mark 6:30-44) and sickness. While sin is evident in some cases, it certainly is not in others. In fact, sin is specifically denied at the time when he healed the man born blind (John 9:3) and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:4). This should remind us that Sarah’s barrenness, Moses’ speech and the eunuch’s infertility (Isa. 56:3-5, cf. Mt. 19:12) were unrelated to personal transgression (cf. Mt. 19:12). Not all animals could be used as old covenant sacrifices since some were naturally blemished. Jesus was perfect(ed) both physically and morally (Luke 2:40-52; Mt. 19:21; Heb. 2:10; 7:28).

Creation Defective By Nature

All this points again to the fact that nature or creation as such is inherently defective and stands in stark contrast with divine perfection. What we noted above with regard to the hand-made temple (Mark 14:58) is also true of the human body of flesh (2 Cor. 5:1). (8* As Hughes, p.164 n.22, pointed out long ago the Greek especially of these two verses is remarkably similar. Both temple and body can fall foul of sinful destruction and/or of natural corruption. Some Christians apparently still look forward to the rebuilding of the ‘hand-built’ temple failing to see that it was provisional and transient like creation itself by nature! Even Solomon recognized this, 1 K. 8:27; 2 Chr. 2:6; Acts 7:48. After all it was only a type of the true, Heb. 8:1-5. They also think that there will be a thousand-year millennium in the flesh! The fact is that earth(l)y and heavenly bodies are essentially different, as different as flesh and spirit, as earth and heaven, 1 Cor. 15:46-49; 2 Cor. 5:1.) It is therefore of prime importance for us to recognize that death is often the result of nature, not sin. For example, animals which do not know the law cannot earn the wages of sin but they all nonetheless die in conformity with the law of a corruptible creation. Even sinless embryos (cf. Job 3:16; Eccl. 6:3) and babies (cf. Dt. 1:39) die on occasion. Ignorance in children guarantees that they cannot respond to the law by which to sin (Rom. 4:15) or to exercise faith in its promise (Dt. 30:20; Rom. 7:10). Like Adam and Eve at creation, they are uncovenanted and undeveloped, and so if they die they do so in innocence. They will not come to judgement since, like the animal world to which they belong as flesh, without (the) law they can do neither good nor evil (cf. Rom. 9:11), neither believe nor sin.

Unregenerate Man

In 1 Corinthians 2:14f., Paul, like Jesus in John 3:1-8, clearly distinguishes between the natural and the regenerate man apart from sin. So he is fully aware of the natural ignorance that characterizes us all, including Jesus (Isa. 7:15f.), in our infancy and minority. To stress this otherwise, sin is not the only problem confronting mankind. Even Jesus spent thirty years of his life on earth as a ‘natural’ man, a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), but in contrast with Adam after keeping the law that promised life to his Father’s satisfaction, he was born from above at his baptism. He thus became the first and only man in all history to receive the Spirit and gain life by his obedience. Prior to his time all had failed (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Rom. 3:9-20,23, etc.) and continue to fail to this day (Gal. 2:16). Only when the time had fully come did God send forth his Son born of woman and put him in a position to redeem all the rest who were under (the) law (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4f.). This had been his intention from the start (Rom. 3:20; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). Refusing to give his glory to any other (Isa. 42:8; 48:11), he had planned from before the foundation of the world that before him no flesh would boast. But the point to note is that by nature, quite apart from sin, man like an animal can neither see nor enter the kingdom of heaven. His regeneration is a ‘natural’ necessity.

The Body

However, if man’s rebirth is spiritual, what about his body? A spiritual birth prepares the way but does not provide for a resurrection from the dead. And since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, transformation of the body becomes a ‘natural’ necessity quite apart from sin (1 Cor. 15:50-54). After all, it was God himself who subjected the temporal creation to futility because he always had a better hope in view (Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 5:5). So, even Jesus as uncorrupted flesh following his resurrection had to undergo transformation as he had at his incarnation. This time, however, it was in reverse and it obviously took place at the end of his earthly pilgrimage, that is, at his ascension (John 20:17; Luke 44:51). So it was by transformation that he returned to glory to receive a body of glory (cf. John 17:5,24; Phil. 3:21).

The Importance of Sin

If transgression of the law, its wages as death and the need for resurrection on the one hand and transformation on the other are both factors playing a fundamental role in mankind’s life on earth, it is vital for us to see that sin or transgression derives its importance from the fact that it prevents both the necessary new birth and hence the ultimate change from occurring. The original promise of life and glory that God made to Adam in his natural mortality and corruptibility was conditional on his keeping the commandment and exercising proper dominion. If the commandment was not kept and life not gained, then death as wages (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23) and consequent complete decay (Gen. 3:19) inevitably followed. Thus if all sinned, all died (Rom. 3:23; 5:12) and decayed. Only Jesus despite being tried and tested to the utmost overcame sin (1 Pet. 2:22), the world (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9) and the devil (John 14:30) in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). Only he as a true man, the second Adam to whom the original promise of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) and glory (Gen. 1:26-28) made to the first Adam also applied, was able to serve as Saviour (Heb. 2). So while the OT made it crystal clear that only God could save and that before him no flesh would boast (Isa. 42:8; 48:11, cf. Rom. 3:20; 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:9), only Jesus as both God and man could hope to triumph.


By blindly following the sin-obsessed Augustine traditional theology has inevitably confused and merged sin with nature as modern translation and interpretation of Romans 8:18-25 indicates. (9* See my Romans 8:18-25. It is important to add in this connection that only in 2011 has the revision of the NIV, which has an Augustinian bias, changed its usual translation of the Greek word sarx as ‘sinful nature’ back to ‘flesh’ as it should be. See e.g. Rom. 8:13 and Gal. 6:8. Unlike the Greeks the Bible does not consider the flesh as such to be evil. As part of a ‘good’ creation it is meant to be subdued by man made in the image of God. Flesh, and nature in general for that matter, is just transient and hence defective (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-44) and so is regarded pejoratively when compared with spirit (Spirit).) As hinted above in the title of this essay, transgression, death and resurrection are in a different category from transformation which, like regeneration, is a natural necessity. For though Jesus did not have to die and so be raised since he did not sin, he certainly had to be transformed for the simple reason that he had been made flesh only ‘for a little while’ (Heb. 2:7,9). So when writers like John Stott (ch.4), Murray Harris (pp.103,139ff.,413f., who virtually makes the ascension redundant by reducing it to drama), and Tom Wright (pp.143f.) all insist that Jesus’ resurrection constituted his transformation, a strong protest must be lodged. They are all in effect telling us that transgression and transformation as well as sin and regeneration are correlated. (10* As a matter of indisputable fact, both Jesus in John 3:1-8 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 fail to refer to sin.) Of course, neither is true for both regeneration and transformation are ‘natural’ necessities apart from sin. By contrast, Jesus’ resurrection was not essential to his own incarnate career at all since his death was both voluntary and vicarious. Having already gained life by keeping the law and received the Spirit at his baptism, he personally could have escaped from this futile world without it (resurrection, that is), as is implied by his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39,42) before his death. However, his transformation after (John 20:17) but definitely not at his resurrection (Luke 24:39, etc.) was, as Paul insisted, inherently necessary (Greek ‘dei’, 1 Cor. 15:53).

The fact is that the Augustinian confusion of sin with nature or of transgression with transformation constitutes a gargantuan gaffe not least because it links Jesus’ resurrection with the impossible redemption of the naturally corruptible temporal creation and gives us a profoundly distorted worldview. It has helped to obscure the truth of the gospel for so long and put the church as opposed to the Bible at odds with experience, history and the genuine findings of modern science. From an Englishman’s point of view, the harsh reality of the last fifty years or so is that the influential British quaternion of Murray, Lloyd-Jones, Stott and Packer, despite much good work on their part, have helped to embed us in a theological quagmire from which it is more than high time for us in these tumultuous days to be rescued. Though like the rest of the animal creation we are all part of and hence captive to nature, nonetheless as those who are also created in the image of God we are given the opportunity of escaping from our bondage by keeping the law and so receiving life on the one hand and of gaining glory on the other by exercising our delegated dominion (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5, cf. Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7). But since on account of our susceptibility to sin we find this impossible, the only means of salvation open to us is faith, justification and life in Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). He alone as our covenant head and representative triumphed over the world (nature), the flesh and the devil and hence redeemed us (Heb. 2:9) who failed (cf. Gal. 4:1-7). It is man, the image of God, who is saved, not his flesh and the material creation from which he derives (1 Cor. 15:50). Though dead and decayed on account of sin (Rom. 8:10) but nonetheless born again through faith, resurrected and transformed, man takes his place in his Father’s house and worships before his throne in heaven (Rev. 7:9).

Additional Note

While many scientists are telling us that global warming on planet earth is the consequence of man’s ‘sin’ (abuse, etc.), others say that climate change is natural and has occurred throughout history. Who is right? The answer is that both are provided that they do not hold exclusively to the one or the other. Those who accept the Augustinian worldview blame all on the sin of Adam and the subsequent curse under which we now labour. The truth is that God subjected the visible creation to futility (Rom. 8:20) from the start (2 Cor. 4:18) for the simple reason that he had an invisible hope in mind as the ultimate goal (Rom. 8:20,24f.). Sin just made the existing situation worse, and there can be little doubt that man’s profligacy, abuse and neglect of his environment has played its part. After all, the human individual, who is creation in miniature and naturally corruptible like the earth from which he stems, can hasten his demise by failing to conduct himself with appropriate care. (The figures quoted on ABCTV regarding smoking deaths in October 2013 tell their own story!)

Thoughts Worth Pondering:

1. To merge Jesus’ resurrection with his transformation is an egregious attempt to mix oil (sin) and water (nature). While his resurrection, which was a consequence of his death, was vicarious, his transformation, which was a consequence of his incarnation, was a ‘natural’ necessity.

2. Transgression relates to death, transformation relates to nature (creation).

3. Transgression leads to death, transformation leads to glory.

4. Transgression is a wage-earning act of man, transformation is a free act of God intrinsic to his plan of salvation.

5. Transgression is not a necessity, transformation is (cf. Jesus).

6. Regeneration and transformation are both ‘natural’ necessities supernaturally accomplished by God. Note the ‘dei’ in John 3:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:53.

7. Regeneration is spiritual, transformation is corporeal (1 Cor. 15:44; 2 Cor. 5:1).

8. Resurrection overcomes the effect of human transgression and death, transformation overcomes the effect of divinely ordained corruption and futility. Otherwise expressed, resurrection relates to sin and death, transformation relates to nature and decay.

9. Resurrection is a requirement of salvation (cf. Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:20-23), transformation is a requirement of nature (creation). Thus resurrection, though needful, is nowhere said to be inherently necessary. God is indebted to no one (Rom. 11:35). He acts freely in grace or judgement according to his sovereign will and good pleasure.

10. Those who inhabit the Augustinian universe merge sin and nature in a cosmic curse, flesh and spirit in resurrection transformation, earth and heaven in redemption and old and new covenants in organic unity. The Bible distinguishes and separates them as it does the present age and the age to come (Luke 20:34-36, etc.).

(11* Relevant essays on topics touched on above can be found on this website.
In addition to the essays referred to above see also, e.g., Not Only But Also, What Fall?, Escape, Cosmic Curse?, John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus, Death and Corruption).



J.D.G.Dunn, Romans 1-8, Dallas, 1988.

M.J.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.

P.E.Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, London/Edinburgh, 1962.

John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, Leicester, 1992.

C.J.H.Wright, The Mission of God, Nottingham, 2006.

N.T.Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, Downers Grove, 1999.


Cur Deus Homo or Why the Incarnation?

Why God became man is an ancient question posed in particular by Anselm. We might well ask why the all-powerful, sovreign God took the trouble to become man and at tremendous personal cost. Why didn’t he make us like the angels and the heavenly host? Why didn’t he just save us according to his own whim as apparently Muslims believe Allah does. Bluntly, God became man to save or rescue us, but to be intelligible this assertion requires explication and elaboration.

The Background

First, God himself as the Creator is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and incorruptible (1 Tim. 1:17): unlike his creation he neither dies nor succumbs to corruption or age (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:11f.). On the other hand, man who derives from a creation that is both temporary and corruptible is by nature dust and hence, in contrast with his creator, he is both mortal and corruptible. (1* It is vitally important to see this since the Church’s Augustinian heritage has led us to believe that man (Adam) was created perfect and immortal. From this ‘high estate’ (Milton) he was deemed to have fallen, sinned and brought a curse on the entire physical universe over which he was to have exercised lordship under God!) But the Creator from before the foundation of the earth planned that the human beings whom he formed in his (potential) image should have eternal life (2 Tim. 1:1,9; Tit.1:2; 1 John 2:25) attain to glory (Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7) as his adopted children (Eph. 1:4f., Rom. 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-3).

The Promise of Eternal Life

In light of this it is unsurprising that we read in Genesis 2 that our holy and righteous God promised eternal life to Adam the first man he created out of the dust of the earth on the condition that he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. 1 John 2:25)). In the event, however, Adam and Eve tempted by the flesh and deceived by the devil (Gen. 3:1-6) proved incapable of keeping the commandment and so forfeited the opportunity of living forever. Since Adam lived in a favourable environment in Eden devoid of a defective moral inheritance from erring predecessors yet nonetheless failed, it is to be expected that his descendants in less favourable conditions followed him in his sin (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). Thus as the OT itself testifies no one under the old covenant lived a sinless life (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20, etc.) and as a consequence no one escaped. All died reaping the wages of sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23).

The Law Ineffective

But if the law which promised life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 7:10) could not deliver it (Gal. 3:21), man was in desperate straits. How could he possibly attain to eternal life? The answer to this quandary is made clear as the Bible progresses. There are two points to consider: first, the promise of life was made to man and so had to be fulfilled by man. Second, God himself is always presented as man’s Saviour and the idea that man can somehow save himself is scouted absolutely. The paradox eventually becomes both intelligible and soluble when it is made clear that God himself in the person of Christ becomes man. In other words, God’s promise is affirmed and fulfilled in Christ who was truly God and man.

This picture becomes clear when we consider passages like Isaiah 45:21-25 in the OT and Romans 14:10f. and Philippians 2 in the NT. First, the prophet calls on all the ends of the earth to turn to him and be saved since only in the Lord are righteousness and strength and only in him will the offspring of Israel triumph and glory. Then in Philippians 2 (cf. Rom. 14:11) the apostle re-interprets this passage and applies it to the Lord Jesus. This time, though all is for the glory of God, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord. Truly is it then that God saves but he does so specifically in Christ (cf. Rom. 14:10-12).

The Incarnation Necessary

On the assumption that God planned to fulfil his purpose for man despite Adam’s failure and to glorify himself in the salvation of man there was no other way. The way of Islam involving the mere power of an all-powerful deity is out of the reckoning. In the Bible salvation is certainly the act of a sovereign God but amazingly his love, grace, holiness and righteousness, not his might, are to the fore. And they are demonstrated most fully in the incarnate life, death, resurrection and transformation of Christ. In this way he became the pioneer of our pilgrimage into heaven and the very presence of God. It is because he, the Word, became man that God’s original promise to Adam was fulfilled. He alone of all men that ever lived met the divine conditions and achieved perfection in the flesh. In the words of Paul “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). It was for our sakes that Christ became poor so that we might become rich. As Irenaeus long ago put it, “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is” (Adv.Haer. 5, preface).

Colossians 1:15-20

God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world was to glorify himself in Christ (Eph. 1:4f., etc.). Man as Adam according to the flesh was never intended to triumph in his own strength (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 3:9). It was the incarnate Son of God himself who alone was able to conquer in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3). It was he who became the image (cf. Heb. 1:3) of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation. It was he who made peace by the blood of his cross and became pre-eminent. According to Paul all things were created through him and for him.

Why Does God Love Us?

But it may well be asked why God loves us. This mystery is posed in Deuteronomy 7. There in verses 7 and 8 Moses tells his fellow Israelites it is because the Lord loves them. In one sense this is not an answer. It is however rather like asking parents why they love their children. The same question is prompted by the most famous verse in Scripture, that is, John 3:16. Why does God love us? Parents have the habit of loving their children even when they don’t deserve it and they seem to derive this habit from God himself. Of course there is more to it. In Deuteronomy, stress is laid on the fact that God is bent on keeping the oath he had sworn to the fathers. But why had he sworn such an oath? The Bible ultimately makes it clear that apart from or in addition to his love God was concerned to glorify himself by saving his people. Indeed, he was to do it most amazingly in Christ who was thereby highly exalted (Acts 2:33-36; Heb. 4:14; 7:26, etc.). In light of this it is hardly surprising that in the book of Revelation both God and the Lamb receive unparalleled praise and honour (Rev. 4 & 5).

So God became man in order to fulfil his original purpose disclosed to Adam. This is why Jesus at his incarnation became the second Adam or God incarnate. In this way God was glorified, for Christ was the supreme manifestation of the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11). Truly is our God unique, the only true God both Creator and Redeemer.
Gloria Soli Deo


More Meditation On Original Sin

(Though I have already written fairly extensively on original sin elsewhere, in view of the fact that the nefarious dogma is still so widely accepted in 2012, I feel under an obligation to add further comment to other articles that appear on this website.  Having just read Bridges and Bevington on The Great Exchange, I refer to it in the main partly for the convenience of the reader as well as myself, and partly because it provides standard Reformed doctrine and is likely to be quite widely read. It is a pity that what is in essence a fine book on its primary subject should be so marred by its stance on original sin.)

It is not as well known as it ought to be that the Jews, like the Orthodox, do not accept the so-called Christian doctrine of original sin (1* See e.g. Edersheim, p.165 as referred to by Sanday and Headlam, p.137.). While the OT frequently acknowledges that all men sin (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 130:3; Eccl. 7:20, etc.), it nonetheless quite unmistakably individualizes them (Neh. 9:2; Ps. 106:6; Dan. 9:16, ESV, etc.) by pointedly distinguishing between fathers and sons (cf. Dt. 24:16; Jer. 31:29f.; Ezek. 18). In light of this we are virtually forced to infer that when Paul says in Romans 5:12 (cf. 3:23) that all (have) sinned, he is not thinking of our sinful solidarity ‘in Adam’ as Augustine taught (2* Omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante, all sinned when Adam sinned, as Bengel put it. See Sanday and Headlam, p134.) but of the fact that all who know the law fail to keep it for their own part (Rom. 7:1,7, cf. John 9:41; 15:22,24). He confirms this inference when he says that all in contrast with Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:3) prove incapable of keeping the law when it is revealed to them (Rom. 3:19f.; Gal. 2:16), which surely makes the dogma of original sin unnecessary and therefore redundant. Though it was always the preceptive will of God that men should be obedient for their own good (Dt. 30:20; 32:46f., etc.), it was clearly his decretive will that they should fail and thus turn to him for salvation through faith in Jesus (cf. Isa. 45:22-25; Rom. 9:30-10:4). But this is an entirely different kettle of fish from attributing sin to them before they actually sin.

Theological Considerations

What Christians fail to realize is that apart from exegetical considerations the theology of the OT not to mention the NT frequently militates against the notion of original sin as taught in the Augustinian tradition. Otherwise expressed, important events occur which necessarily exclude the idea of death being the wages of original sin. (3* In Protestant theology original sin involves the imputation of Adam’s sin. On the assumption that it exists at all, it can no more pay the wages of death than imputed righteousness can pay the wages of life, Rom. 4:4. Since imputation involves free gift, wages are excluded. No one properly understanding justification by faith can possibly pretend that what Luther called an ‘alien’ righteousness constitutes wages. By the same token, he cannot possibly regard his condemnation ‘in Adam’ as wages.) A prime example is provided by the exodus from Egypt.

The Exodus

In Numbers 14 the sinfulness of the fathers is sharply contrasted with the innocence of their children just as it is in significant verses like Deuteronomy 1:39. The former who have seen the glory and signs performed by God in Egypt and in the wilderness, have tested him, disobeyed and despised him are told in no uncertain terms that they will not see the land he swore to give to their ancestors (vv. 22f.). They are clearly held responsible for their own actions and, having rejected the evidence given to them, are left without excuse (cf. John 15:24; 10:25,32,37f.; 14:11; Rom. 1:19f.; 2:1). As a consequence of their sins they will all be paid wages (Rom. 6:23) and will die in the wilderness (v.29). On the other hand, the latter, who the fathers claimed would become booty, will, despite suffering as shepherds for forty years (v.33), nonetheless be brought in (v.31). That they eventually arrived safely in the Promised Land is a fact of history which points indisputably to their innocence at birth. They were not punished for the sins of their fathers (Dt. 24:16). It should be carefully noted, however, that they in their turn were in danger of repeating the sins of their fathers when they attained the age of accountability (cf. Num. 32:14f.) and were frequently warned against it (Jer. 35:15; Zech. 1:4, etc.).

Church Dogma

The conclusion we are compelled to draw from this is that all human beings, though certainly affected by the sins of their parents (v.33, cf. Ex. 20:5; 32:33; Rom. 5:12-21), sin for themselves. Despite this, it is patently obvious that the church has argued along the same lines as the sinful parents in Numbers 14 and repeated their error. Believing that Adam’s sin has been either transmitted (Catholics) or imputed (Protestants), it has assumed that children along with their fathers are tarnished with sin from birth and even conception and cannot possibly enter the heavenly Promised Land. To remedy the situation it has developed the dogma of infant baptism involving the regeneration of babies apart from righteousness by faith which is its necessary precondition (Lev. 18:5, etc.). But as we saw above when referring to Psalm 106:6, etc., the sins of the fathers are not transferred to the children who are responsible only for their own sins. In other words, contrary to the denial expressed in Article 9 of the Church of England the sins of the fathers are only punished in the children when they are repeated by them (cf. Jer. 31:29f.). The same teaching is evident in chapters like Ezekiel 18 where again the sins of fathers are differentiated from those of sons and cannot be credited to them.

In light of the evidence provided by the exodus, not to mention the fact that the imputation of sin cannot pay wages in death (Rom. 4:4), we are bound to consider that the so-called Pelagian interpretation of Romans 5:12 is correct. Augustine’s theology and his exegesis were both wrong, and his exclusive obsession with sin in Adam was a major error that contaminated so much of his thinking and as a consequence infected church dogma over which he continues to preside to this day (2012).

Sin and Righteousness

Historically, Christian tradition has failed to recognize the importance of the role of (the) law in the achievement of both sin and righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19-21). It can hardly escape notice that Adam began his career like a baby or an animal in blissful ignorance (cf. Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). Initially he knew neither the law, as encapsulated in a single commandment, nor good and evil, and so lived in a state of moral innocence. It was only when he had developed sufficient understanding that he was given the commandment promising life (Gen. 2:17). When he failed to keep it, he earned the wages of death. The truth of this is brought out especially by Paul in Romans 7:9f. where the apostle claims to have undergone the same experience. Here he says that he was born ‘alive’, and it was not until he learned and broke the commandment that he ‘died’. In fact, in Romans, one of Paul’s main platforms is the impossibility of sin apart from knowledge of (the) the law. He underlines this in Romans 4:15 and 7:1-13 in particular. But if law is necessary for sin to exist and is its power (1 Cor. 15:56). (4* Cf. Rom. 7:5 which, sadly, is usually mistranslated. In the Greek there is no word for ‘aroused’, ESV etc., and not with out reason, for Paul is here simply confirming and underlining what he is saying throughout 7:1-13, that is, that sin is ‘through the law’. In other words, the law is foundational of sin. By definition sin is transgression of the law and apart from it sin does not exist, 1 Sam. 15:24; 1 Cor. 15:56; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4, etc.) the same must be true with regard to righteousness. With the implicit teaching of Genesis and the more explicit teaching of Deuteronomy 6:25 and 24:13 in mind Paul maintains that it is only by obeying the commandment or law that righteousness can be achieved (Rom. 6:16).

Since like Adam and Eve in whose image we are created (Gen. 5:1-3) we are all prone to the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil we have no trouble becoming sinful (cf. Jer. 4:22; Rom. 1-3), we might well convince ourselves that we can just as easily keep the law and gain righteousness. This, however, is far from being the case. As Paul teaches elsewhere, for those who are flesh the law proves not to be the power of righteousness but of sin (1 Cor. 15:56, cf. Rom. 7:14; 2 Cor. 3). As a consequence, we all come under its sway (Rom. 6) and, since sin is paid the wages of death, we find ourselves in desperate need of righteousness from another source. That source is Christ who alone of all men that ever lived kept the law (Rom. 8:3), gained righteousness and so both met and provided the precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). Having qualified himself (as man) by his own obedience, he then in the words of Peter suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

What does this teach us? Surely that Romans 5:12-21 does not provide the frequently claimed exact parallel between Adam and Christ. (On this, see my An Exact Parallel?) Whatever impact Adam as the natural father of the race had on his progeny, it could not possibly involve the imputation of his sin for the simple reason that faith in him was not only lacking but impossible. It is a biblical axiom that sin cannot be legitimately imputed to the innocent, to those who have not committed any (Ex. 23:7; 1 Sam. 22:15; 1 K. 21; Prov. 17:15; Luke 23:4, etc.). If this is true, the very idea of original sin is excluded. No wonder, for if it were true, even Jesus, whose human father through his mother was Adam, no less (Luke 3:38), would have been born sinful! The plain fact is that the idea of the imputation of sin is Augustinian not biblical. Of course, it may immediately be countered that our sin was imputed to Jesus. It was indeed (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21), but the Bible makes it clear beyond reasonable dispute that he received it willingly by faith. Otherwise expressed, he gave himself freely, in love (Gal. 2:20) not compulsion, to atone for our sins. He bought us at the price of his own blood (1 Pet. 1:18f.) voluntarily shed (John 10:17f.) on our behalf.

Native Innocence

Traditional theology usually makes much of the fact that in contrast with Jesus whose conception was immaculate, we ordinary mortals are born with sinful natures. (5* See e.g. Bridges and Bevington, p.167. These authors’ reference to ‘immaculate conception’ is dangerously confusing since, historically speaking, it applies (wrongly) to Mary.) The assumption behind this is that as the offspring of Adam we are sinful not merely at birth but even at conception (6* B & B, pp.19f.) Verses like Genesis 5:1-3, 8:21 and Psalm 51:5 are appealed to but on close examination prove exegetically unconvincing. But my point here is that their relevance and validity are undermined by other teaching of Scripture. For a start, it is clear from the evidence of Genesis that Adam began life in ignorance of the law and was innocent. The same is true of his posterity (cf. Rom. 9:11). We have already seen that Paul in effect claims in Romans 7:9f. to have repeated Adam’s experience and was ‘alive’ until that commandment dawned on his developing consciousness. When it did, like Adam (pace Art. 9 of the C of E) he broke it and earned the wages of sin which is death.

Moral Nature Determined by Actual Sin or Obedience

The truth is that our moral nature is determined not by birth when we are innocent and ignorant (Dt. 1:39; Rom. 9:11), which if it were true would surely impugn the righteousness and holiness of God our Creator and make him the author of sin, but by our reaction to the commandment when we eventually receive it. This is surely implied by Jesus who states in John 8:34 that it is the man (or woman) who sins, that is, commits actual sin like Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-6; 1 Tim. 2:13) who is the slave of sin (cf. Jer. 13:23; 2 Pet. 2:19-21). Paul takes the same stance in Ephesians 2:1-3 (cf. Tit. 3:3-7) where he clearly places personal will, that is, actual sin before nature.


What the Bible in fact teaches is the truth of recapitulation which was taught by the father of theology, Irenaeus, but lost to view in the theology of Augustine who eclipsed him. As the offspring of Adam we all begin where he began, that is, morally innocent or neutral, and this would appear to be the point of verses like Deuteronomy 1:39 and so forth. What is more, only on the basis of it could Jesus become the second Adam who began where Adam began but in contrast with him achieved perfection (cf. Eph. 4:9f.). Only by recapitulation could he live a fully human life and die for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

Sins Not Sin

If this is in fact the case, it is less than surprising that Paul and other writers constantly talk in terms of our sins (e.g. Rom. 1:18-32), of our being dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13) and of Jesus dying for our sins rather than for sin in the abstract (e.g. Heb. 1:3, cf. 1 Pet. 3:18). In other words, Jesus died for our personally perpetrated sins not for our sinful nature acquired by birth from Adam. There is not the faintest suggestion in Scripture that Jesus who, according to Bridges and Bevington on account of his immaculate conception did not have a sinful nature (p.167), died for our sin in Adam (p.202). Indeed, to suggest that he did is deeply problematic theologically. For a start, it depicts Jesus as dying for what he did not himself assume, that is, a sinful human nature (cf. Heb. 2:17). (7* Cf. Gregory Nazianzen on whom see e.g. H.Cunliffe-Jones, p.126.) He was voluntarily made sin (2 Cor. 5:21) but was neither a sinner by nature (birth) nor by personal commission of sins (1 Pet. 2:22). He died for our actual sins not for our sinful nature acquired by imputation or transmission. After all, if the latter were true he himself would have been implicated since he necessarily shared our birth nature. If this is denied, he was docetic and not a true human being at all. The fact is that sin imputed putatively at birth apart from faith would clearly be a gift of nature like the colour of our skin and hence incapable of redemption (8* On page 202, B & B gratuitously inform us that we are redeemed from every transgression of God’s law, from both original and personal sin. Just how we can be redeemed from what has been freely imputed to us by God himself is more than a little difficult to understand! They say, however, that original sin was imputed to us by Adam (!), an astonishing thesis with numerous intolerable implications!), forgiveness (contrast Col. 1:14) or being repented of (9* Pace B.B.Warfield, pp.278-282. Warfield though undeniably a great theologian was surely in error at this point. On page 278, he defines original sin, first, as Adam’s personal sin made ours by an external act of imputation, and, secondly, as “our own inborn depravity, common to us and the whole race of man.” Again, on page 279, he says that original sin is “not merely adherent but also inherent sin, not merely the sinful act of Adam imputed to us, but also the sinful state of our own souls conveyed to us by the just judgment of God”! Regarding repentance he says that all sin must be repented of that it may be forgiven and proceeds to argue that original sin falls within its parameters. This is highly debatable. Here, however, I confine myself to saying with Roger Nicole: “No one can repent of sin except the one who committed it. Christ … did not and could not repent in our place”, p.451, and observing that if we can repent of imputed sin we can derive personal glory from imputed righteousness. Warfield himself would, I am sure, have promptly repudiated the latter suggestion. If so, in consistency he ought to have repudiated the former.) not least because not having committed it we cannot be held responsible for it. How can we be redeemed from what is freely given to us and has become an attribute of our nature like the colour of our skin? (10* On page 220, B & B actually go so far as to argue full in the face of Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus and the rest of us differ in birth nature. While we are compelled (sic) to sin, Jesus remains innocent. I submit that this is far from what the Bible teaches. For a start it delivers a mortal blow at the incarnation. According to my Bible we all as the offspring of Adam share the same nature as flesh.) It is God’s doing, not ours. According to Paul, however, it is personal transgression of the law that makes us accountable (Rom. 3:19f.). On the other hand, if we are sinners by birth, we are under an obligation to act in accordance with nature and failure to do so is reprehensible (Rom. 1:26f.). At this point we enter the realm of absurdity.

Restoration of Fellowship

Writers frequently maintain that our redemption by Christ restores our fellowship with God. In the words of B & B: “Atonement allows for restoration of the previously disrupted fellowship” (p.23). But this is an implicit denial of the original sin and the sinful birth nature that they contend for. Why? Because apart from the fact that it makes God himself open to the charges of creating us evil and of illegitimately imputing sin to the innocent, if we are sinful even at conception there is never any fellowship to restore. In contrast, the Genesis story makes it crystal clear that mankind (Adam) enjoyed a relationship with God at the beginning, and from this we must infer that since we are all created as his offspring we too in our infancy enjoy what might be called an embryonic relationship with him as his creatures. This continues until it is broken as it was in Paul’s case (Rom. 7:9f.). The same inference may be drawn from the story of the Prodigal Son who voluntarily left his father’s house into which he was born. In light of this, the traditional attempt to lump all together in seminal identity and solidarity in sinful Adam thereby implicitly denying individual separation is false to the Bible. After all, Jesus, though a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) provides us with a clear instance of separation since he remained innocent all his earthly life. In any case, the Bible itself addresses this issue in Number 16:22 by posing the question: “Shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” In view of what follows in verse 45, that is, the separation of the implicitly innocent congregation from those who sinned and died, the answer is clear (cf. Num. 26:11; 27:3; 2 Sam. 24:17, and Caleb and Joshua at a later stage). Thus the principle propounded in the Lord’s assertion to Moses in Exodus 32:33 that the one who sins will be blotted out of his book is upheld. Along with human solidarity there is a scriptural doctrine of individual separation. (11* See further my article on Solidarity and Separation.) Thank God that this is so, since Jesus though a true human being born of woman separated himself not by birth but by not sinning (1 Pet. 2:22). (12* As indicated above, writers like B & B sadly even go so far as to argue that Jesus’ very nature was different from that of the rest of humanity, p.220, ignoring the biblical insistence that Jesus was truly a son of Adam through his mother, Luke 3:38, cf. Gen. 5:1-3, and in fact the second or last Adam. They thus draw the conclusion that on account of the imputation of Adam’s sin we are ‘compelled’ to sin. All else apart this is surely implicit blasphemy.)

The fact is that restoration of fellowship, or reconciliation which is a major NT doctrine, only makes sense if as God’s children by creation we are initially by nature in the Father’s house. It is personal sin that alienates us as it did Adam and Eve from Eden, the womb of the race. In our mother’s womb like Paul (Rom. 7:9, cf. 9:11) we still have access to the tree of life and regain it when we enter heaven through faith in Jesus (Rev. 22:2).

Union with Christ

According to the NT as believers we die in union with Christ since he acted on our behalf. By faith his death becomes ours. Since this is so, we are baptized into his death and crucified with him (Rom. 6:1-14; Gal. 5:24). Thus in him as our federal (covenant) head and representative received by faith we die to the law and to sin. But can it be said that we die in union with Adam? Did he act on our behalf? Do we exercise faith in him and become linked with him covenantally? A negative response is required for two basic reasons: on the one hand as babies we cannot exercise faith and on the other God made no covenant with Adam. Certainly Paul uses the words “die in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22) once only, but what does he mean? As the first Adam was clearly representative man according to the flesh and we are all, including Jesus, ‘in Adam’ in the sense that we are made in his image (Gen. 5:1-3), we all die as such. But this does not imply that he sinned for us any more than any other father sinned on his son’s behalf (cf. Ezek 18, etc.). Such an idea is the invention of men not a teaching of the Bible which implicitly denies it when it informs us that we cannot be punished for the sins of our fathers (Dt. 24:16; 2 K.14:6, cf. Ex. 32:33; Num. 27:3).

Once more I conclude that original sin is radically false and needs to be repudiated with rigour and dispatch. Verses like Psalm 51:5 relatively unremarkable among the Jews is in Christian exegesis made to dance to the devil’s tune. It thus distorts our entire theology and sacramental practice. Little wonder that Christians remain so hopelessly divided on the one hand and find the Jews an enigma on the other.



J.Bridges & Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange, Wheaton, 2007.

Sandy and Headlam, ICC on The Epistle to the Romans, fifth ed., 1902.

R.Nicole in The Glory of the Atonement, ed. C.Hill & F.James III, Downers Grove, 2004.

B.B.Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings ed. Meeter, Nutley, 1970.



Comment On ‘Why On Earth Did Jesus Come? by John Blanchard

This widely advertised booklet (Faverdale North, Darlington, 2009) which is likely to find a wide readership contains some useful information and here and there makes good points. But as an exposition of what the Bible teaches in certain critical areas it is something of a disaster.

On page 12, in opposition to the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Blanchard tells us correctly that the Virgin Mary was not born without sin and refers to Psalm 51:5 to prove his case. However, bearing in mind that the Jews and the Orthodox have never accepted the Augustinian interpretation of this verse, we do well to be suspicious. The problem is that depending on its correct translation and interpretation, it could arguably apply to the sinless Jesus himself who certainly came into a wicked world and was born of a sinful woman.

Our author then generalizes by adding that “at birth” (Gk “by nature”) all human beings are “children of wrath”. The difficulty here is that Ephesians 2:3b to which Blanchard refers is preceded by reference to actual sin and evil living prior to the attribution of nature. In other words, the passage cannot refer to babies and birth sin but only to those who have already sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

On page 31, however, Blanchard draws the opposite conclusion and claims that what we do is the result of what we are, that is, sinners at birth. While it is clear that what we do later in life is conditioned by what we are (e.g. Mt. 7:17), this is not true of babies who have not committed any sins. As Jesus says, it is those who commit sin that are the slaves of sin (John 8:34). So, we are forced to infer that what we do early in life determines our nature. This was certainly true in Adam’s case and since we all recapitulate Adam and Eve’s experience, it is true in all other cases. In Romans 7:9f. Paul, for example, claims that far from being guilty at birth he was “alive”, but like Adam died when he broke the commandment that promised (eternal) life. Again, in 9:11 Paul’s assumption of the innocence or moral neutrality of Esau and Jacob in the womb is vital to his argument regarding election.

What the Bible teaches then is that like Adam we acquire our sinful natures by disobedience (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:16) and our righteous natures by obedience (Dt. 6:25; 24:13; Rom. 2:13; 6:16; 1 John 3:7, etc.). (1* Throughout the Bible sin is defined by law. See further my Law and Sin) We follow either Adam or Jesus. In the event, like Adam we all prove incapable of obedience (cf. Rom. 7) and have to rely on the alien righteousness provided for us by Jesus.

Blanchard is so conditioned by his Augustinian tradition that he tells us on page 30 that Adam at first had a natural inclination to do good. This is in compete opposition to the teaching of Paul who having first characterized Adam as flesh or dust (1 Cor. 15) tells us that nothing good dwells in his own flesh (Rom. 7:18, cf. John 6:63) and further informs us that by divine design no flesh will boast in the presence of God (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:9). The real reason why we have a fatal tendency to break God’s law is not because we have inherited “a guilty fallen nature” but because in contravention of the law we give way to our animal appetites which like Adam and Eve we fail to control (cf. Gen. 3:6; Rom. 7:14; James 1:14f., etc.).(Of course, I do not intend to deny a la Pelagius the unspecified role of Adam in Romans 5:12-21 and the machinations of the devil.)

Next, Blanchard introduces a colossal contradiction into his argument and unwittingly undermines his entire thesis regarding birth sin. On page 31 he tells us correctly that “where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 7:8). However, he fails to recognize that since embryos and babies, like animals, know neither good nor evil, there is no law to be broken and therefore there is no sin (Dt. 1:39; Rom. 7:9f.; 9:11, etc.).

Referring back to page 30 our author tells us that Adam was not only the natural but also the representative head of the human race. Needless to say, he produces no evidence to support this lamentable assertion for the simple reason that there isn’t any. Adam was simply prototypical representative man according to the flesh with whom God failed conspicuously to make a covenant. (On this see my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?) He then goes on to say that Adam began to father children “in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3). And to make his point clear he adds that they and their successors inherited not only their father’s physical nature but also his spiritual nature! If this is true, then Jesus was born a sinner since Scripture certainly teaches that along with other unsavoury characters mentioned in his family tree (Mt. 1:1-6) Adam was his father too (Luke 3:38). The plain truth of Scripture is that while the children of man and woman are born with human natures (flesh, cf. John 1:13; Gal. 4:4) they do not and cannot inherit their moral natures which can only be acquired by reacting with (the) law. Fathers and sons often differ substantially. A good father can beget a bad son and vice versa as Ezekiel 18 in particular affirms and as Hezekiah and Manasseh and Amon and Josiah demonstrate. While solidarity is important, personal responsibility remains intact (Ex. 32:33; Dt. 24:16; Jer. 31:29f.; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 9:27). It is worth adding, however, that Jesus confirmed his own divine sonship by keeping the law in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). In this he was of course unique.


The degree to which Blanchard has uncritically allowed tradition to colour his interpretation of the Bible is frightening. It reminds us of Jesus’ reference to the nullification of the word of God in Mark 7:13.

It remains to add that the reason why Jesus came to earth was to rescue us who were unable to meet the condition of eternal life which was to keep the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom 7:10, etc.). He alone of all men that have ever lived attained to righteousness by his perfect obedience (Heb. 2:17f.; 4:15; 5:7-9; 1 Pet. 2:22) and as a consequence inherited the promise. This permitted him to die on our behalf and serve as the pioneer of our salvation (Heb. 2:10, etc.). In our author’s words, “He came to solve our greatest problem and to bring us into a living relationship with God that will transform our lives here and now and enrich them in heaven for ever” (p.38).


The reader is urged to read along with other relevant articles my Augustine: Asset or Liability?

Some Implications of the Redemption of Creation

The notion that the material creation having “fallen” along with Adam is presently under a curse is widespread. (1* See further my Cosmic Curse?) After all, the church has long been under the spell of Augustine of Hippo who, obsessed with sin as he was, believed that creation was originally perfect and was administered initially by Adam and Eve who were themselves perfect. In other words, Augustine misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1 and gave it a moral connotation despite the fact that our first parents knew neither good nor evil nor the law by which they are determined. Since like babies and animals (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.), they did not have (the) law (cf. Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 7:9f.), they could not have been anything other than innocent like babies.

However, because many modern Christians believe that as a result of Adam’s sin the whole creation was subjected to a curse (see e.g. Wright, The Mission of God, p.395), they have come to believe that what is clearly temporal requires redemption despite the fact that this is denied in Scripture (see e.g. Gen.1:1; Mt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:18, etc.). In contrast with Augustine who thought of creation including man as perfect but mysteriously marred by sin, Paul following Genesis 1:1 regarded it as inherently temporal, transient (2 Cor. 4:18) and subject to corruption apart from sin (Rom. 8:18-25, cf. Heb. 1:10-12). In light of this the idea that creation is amenable to redemption is surely false. Since I have argued this elsewhere (2* See e.g. my The Case Against the Redemption of Creation, The Essence of the Case Against the Redemption of Creation, Will Creation Be Redeemed?, From Here to Eternity, Restoration and Replacement, etc.), here I am adopting a different line of approach. Accepting for argument’s sake the Augustinian worldview (on which see my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview) I explore some of its implications.

The Temporal Creation

If creation has a beginning (Gen. 1:1), it necessarily has an end (Ps. 102:25-27, cf. 103:14-18; Isa. 51:6; Mt. 24:35). According to Paul what is inherently temporal cannot be eternalized, but if it is assumed that the material creation is redeemed, then what is intrinsically temporal is in fact eternalized and rendered incorruptible. This not only defies logic but is also clearly contrary to apostolic teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50b; 2 Cor. 4:18). The author of Hebrews with OT teaching in mind contrasts the Creator with his creation (Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27, cf. Isa. 51:6,8: Zeph. 1:18; 3:8, etc.). While the former is eternal, the latter is temporal, subject to aging and hence to ultimate disappearance (cf. 8:13; Rev. 20:11).

The Flesh Corruptible

If creation is to be redeemed and returned to its original perfect state (repristination, cf. the idea of paradise lost and regained), then the entire animal creation which was also the victim of death through Adam’s sin and curse, will have to be redeemed. (3* This logically includes bugs, beetles and beasts though some writers apparently attribute the existence of bugs to sin! Despite its intrinsic absurdity, even so fine a scholar as Thielman contemplates such a scenario, p.725. Needless to say his exposition of Romans 8:18-25 leaves much to be desired, see pp.358f., and compare my Romans 8:18-25). Animals are corruptible flesh and not spirit (Isa. 31:3) and hence not subject to redemption (1 Cor. 15:50a, cf. Ps. 49; Eccles. 3:18f.). This hardly sits well with 2 Peter 2:12 and Jude 10, for example, which teach that animals are made to be caught and killed. Furthermore, apart from their use in sacrifice there is no taboo on meat eating in the Bible. Little wonder that Paul makes explicit what Jesus made implicit (John 3:1-8) by asserting that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).

It perhaps needs to be added here that the widely held notion that Jesus went to heaven still incarnate, that is, flesh as opposed to ‘human’, is biblically intolerable. According to John 17:5,24 he regained his former glory and this clearly necessitated the reversal of the abasement that his incarnation brought (cf. Phil. 2:7f.). According to Paul, transformation is universally necessary (1 Cor. 15:51f.).

We know that Jesus as flesh was as corruptible as his fellows for the simple reason that he grew older (Luke 2:40ff.; 3:23, cf. Heb. 2:17, etc.) like the creation from which he stemmed (Heb. 1:11) through his mother. As such, he was necessarily prone to urination and defecation (cf. Mt. 15:17). If this is so, then his physical redemption would necessitate an eternal supply of toilet paper!

The Material Destroyed

Third, the redemption of the material is a blunt denial of the clear teaching that once it has served its purpose of nurturing the children of God creation will the destroyed (Isa. 33:14; 51:6; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). Thus, just as creation as a whole will be destroyed, so will the physical body that stems from it (1 Cor. 6:13; 2 Cor. 5:1; James 5:3). (4* See further my The Destruction of the Material Creation)

The Visible Temporary

It is part of the essence of Scripture that what is physically visible is temporary. Paul states this explicitly (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. 5:7; Rom. 8:20,24f.). The author of Hebrews holds a similar view and harps on the theme of faith in the unseen (cf. 11:1,3,13,27). Faith not sight is paramount for those who are justified (cf. John 20:28). The tragedy of those who value the visible is that like Ishmael and Esau they invest in the temporary physical/material. In the end they are left with nothing. On the one hand, having no heavenly treasure (Luke 12:33; 1 Pet. 1:3f.) they have no place in heaven (cf. John 8:35; Gal. 4:29f.; Heb. 12:16f.), on the other hand, their earthly treasure by its very nature is subject to corruption like creation itself (Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 16:9; 1 Pet. 1:3f., cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-15).

The Earth God’s Footstool

In contrast with heaven, which is God’s throne, earth is his footstool and meant to be under the delegated dominion of the creature he has made in his image, that is, man. The inference we draw from this is that once the earth has been subdued by man, it will be disposed of like Joshua’s enemies (Jos. 10:16-27). In the event, earth has in fact been conquered by Jesus who was the NT Joshua (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5), and once the plan of human salvation has been completed, it will be totally destroyed along with death, the last enemy, which characterizes it. (5* To argue that death is the wages of sin reflects failure to recognize that wages are earned by breaking the law, that is, by rational souls who have understanding. Where there is no law there is no sin, yet it is patently obvious that all creation both vegetable and animal dies. See further my Death Before Genesis 3)

The Eternal Covenant

It is widely held that covenant theology in the Bible reflects organic unity. This view inevitably leads to failure to make necessary distinctions. It is thus not recognized that the initially uncovenanted creation, which as we have seen above is temporary and provisional (Gen. 8:22; Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1) like the Promised Land (Heb. 3,4 and 11:9), the earthly Jerusalem, the temple (Mark 14:58, cf. Heb. 8:1-7) and the fleshly body (Heb. 7:16; 9:10, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1), relates to and is regulated by the provisional and temporary old covenant. (There is surely a message here for Jews and Muslims and even some legalistic Christians who cherish earthly holy places.) This in turn leads to the idea that old covenant temporary restoration can be applied to what is occasionally referred to as the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). These texts are admittedly taken up in the NT (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1) but in this new context they are almost certainly re-interpreted (cf. the references to Jerusalem and the ‘remaining’ in Hebrews) like David’s fallen tent (Acts 15:16-18) and refer to heaven which being eternal already exists. In other words, the NT writers go out of their way to distinguish between old covenant restoration and new covenant replacement (cf. Heb. 10:9). Paul, for example, as noted above, insists that the corruptible cannot inherit the incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:50). The point is that just as the temporal and provisional old covenant with its earthly connotations (see e.g. 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 4:21-31) needs replacement by the eternal and spiritual new covenant with its heavenly connotations, the hand-built temple by God himself (Mark 14:58; John 2:19f.; Rev. 21:22), the earthly Jerusalem by the new and the shadow by its substance, so the temporal earth needs replacement by the eternal heaven. The two are as distinct as the footstool and the throne of God (Mt. 5:34f.).

Manufactured or Not So

If creation can be redeemed, then what is ‘made by hand’ (cheiropoietos) can become what is ‘not made by hand’ (acheiropoietos). In light of the evidence this is impossible. (6* See my Manufactured Or Not So). The distinction between the two is fundamental (cf. Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 9:11,24, etc.) the latter being confined to the new and eternal covenant. If this is denied then the eternal Creator can be equated with his temporal creation. This, needless to say, is not only implicitly but also explicitly denied as references like Psalm 102:25-27 (cf. Hebrews 3:5f.), for example, indicate.

Flesh-Spirit Dualism

Traditional Augustinian theology dominated as it is by sin fails to appreciate biblical dualism and especially the radical difference between flesh and spirit.

Jesus tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24). In light of this it is unsurprising that Hebrews 11:3 tells us that what is (physically) seen (that is, created things, cf. Heb. 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:18), “was made from things that are not visible”. In other words, as Genesis 1:1 informs us, God who is spirit is the author of the physical creation and man his physical offspring (Acts 17:28). Thus to talk in terms of the redemption of creation is to imply that what is created can take on the characteristics of the eternal uncreated (cf. 2 Chr. 32:19). This the NT surely denies. First, Jesus tells us that those who are born of the flesh must of necessity be born again, that is, undergo spiritual but not physical regeneration (cf. 3:4). Why? So that they can enter the spiritual kingdom of God or heaven. Second, Paul endorses this by explaining that as flesh they cannot possibly do this (1 Cor. 15:50). Why? Because the flesh is naturally corruptible, that is, it grows old and wastes away (2 Cor. 4:16) like the creation from which it derives (Heb. 1:11) and the law which relates to it (Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10, cf. Mt. 5:18).

The Visible Creation

Creation has a beginning and therefore an end. Subject to time, it is inherently temporal. Like all physically visible things it is corruptible (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12). As Jesus explains in Luke 13:1-5, apart from old age death to physical human beings can come either through the collapse of decaying towers or through the sin of man (cf. Mt. 6:19f.). The Augustinian idea that corruption is uniquely the consequence of sin is a mammoth mistake, an example of theological myopia and a serious misreading of Genesis 1. While it is true that sin can exacerbate the situation, corruption (decay) on this earth is impossible to avoid because it is natural (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). It distinguishes the present age from the age to come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17, cf. Luke 20:34-36). Even the sinless Jesus who was flesh and grew daily older had to be changed in order to make his exodus from it (Luke 9:31,51). His incarnation transformation had to be counteracted by his regeneration (John 3:6) and ascension transformation (1 Cor. 15:51ff.). Positing the redemption of the material creation is tantamount to positing the redemption of the flesh. Since the one is the corollary of the other, both alike are corruptible, that is, subject to decay, and their redemption is ruled out of court. It is intrinsically impossible.

The Perpetuation of Mortality and Corruption

The most obvious implication of the redemption of creation is the perpetuation of the present age of suffering and death. Normally and traditionally speaking Christian theology associates the latter with hell not heaven. No wonder human beings are urged throughout the Bible to seek life not death (Dt. 30:15-20, etc.) and to put to death not simply the passions of the flesh (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16) but earthly things as such (Col. 3:1-5). As the children of God (John 1:12f.) we are intended to share the glory, immortality and incorruptibility of our heavenly Father (Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:3; Luke 20:34-36, etc.). In his presence death the last enemy which characterizes the physical creation is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:24-28). It flees from him along with creation (Ps. 102:26; Rev. 20:11).

Assuming its possibility, there are other implications of the redemption of the material creation. Since death and corruption are integral to and characteristic of it, they will reappear in the so-called new creation. Of course, it is frequently argued that creation will be restored, renewed, purified or transformed, but this is old not new covenant theology. It is to think like Nicodemus, not Jesus (see John 3:1-8) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:35-55; 2 Cor 4:16-18). In the Bible both regeneration (John 3) and transformation (1 Cor. 15:51ff.) are spiritual and somatic not physical. The root of the problem constituted by the redemption of creation is bad covenant theology (7* See further my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity).

To sum up, Christianity is about progress, teleology, the advance of history, of man’s maturation, evolution, perfection and glorification (cf. Rom. 8:30). The redemption and perpetuation of the intrinsically obsolescent is absurd (Mt. 6:19f.; 24:35; 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 6:8; Heb. 8:13, etc.). It suggests going backwards not forwards (cf. Jer. 7:24) and fosters the notion of repristination or a literal return to the Eden of Genesis 1, paradise lost and regained.


On the assumption of the redemption of creation the differences between heaven and earth, this age and the age to come, are difficult to explain. According to the NT in heaven (the presence and throne of God) there is no earth and heaven (sky) (Rev. 20:11, cf. 21:1), no Hades (Rev. 21:14), no devil, beast or false prophet (Rev. 20:10), no flesh and hence no corruption (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-8), no marriage (Mt. 22:30, cf. Luke 20:34f.), no death (Luke 20:36), no crying, no night (Rev. 21:25), no mourning, no pain (Rev. 21:4), no sun, no moon (Rev. 22:23), no sea (Rev. 21:1), no material temple (Mark 14:58; Rev. Rev. 21:22), no uncleanness (Rev. 21:27), no curse (Rev. 22:3), no cowardly, polluted, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolators, or liars (Rev. 21:8; 22:15).

On the other hand, there are or will be many rooms (John 14:2) and many people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9) though none will be naked or disembodied (Rev. 16:15, cf. 3:4; 19:8; Mt. 22:11-13; 2 Cor. 5:1-4; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10,12). Also present will be the river of the water of life, the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev. 22:3) and the tree of life (Rev. 22:1) in the middle of the city. There will at last be spiritual visibility unhindered by the flesh (Rev. 22:4; John 17:5,24, contrast Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:6-8) and an eternal (Heb. 9:15), incorruptible, undefiled, unfading inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4; Col. 3:24, cf. Rom. 8:32). Truly will there be a crown of righteousness and life (2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; Rev. 2:10) and an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Pet. 5:4). In other words, the redemption of creation or more of our present physical experience will be excluded. The first heaven and the first earth (Rev. 21:1) like the first body (1 Cor. 15: 45-49) will have passed away (1 John 2:15-17; 1 Cor. 7:31). In the providence and purpose of God the obsolescent first (Heb.1:11) makes way for the second (or last) (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7; 10:9; Rev. 21:4) and the old makes way for the new (Mark 2:21f.; 2 Cor. 5:17; Heb. 8:13; Rev. 21:5).

Our Heavenly Call

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).

Covenant Theology

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.