Covenant Theology in Brief

Towards the end of the ’60s I became convinced that received covenant theology in its various forms is false. After undertaking study of this issue in the Bible for myself I came to the following conclusions:

There is no covenant with creation or with Adam, man according to the flesh, who derived from the earth. On the assumption that a covenant necessarily involves at least minimal agreement, a unilateral covenant is a contradiction in terms. Thus the arrangement God made with Adam (Gen. 2:16f.) who knew neither good nor evil was an imposition totally devoid of reciprocation and hence non-covenantal. The inference I draw from this is that the temporal material creation of which man according to the flesh is a part is not intended for redemption (cf. John 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 12:27, etc.). In contrast with its Creator, it has a beginning, undergoes development, achieves maturity, ages and dies naturally (Heb. 1:11). Sin exacerbates its corruptibility but does not cause it. Creation is by nature corruptible and ultimately futile (Rom. 8:18-25) like the flesh which derives from it (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18).

The first covenant God made was with Noah (Gen. 6:18, etc.). From the standpoint of the observer, the flood threatened the very existence of the material creation, but the covenant guaranteed its perpetuation until the plan and purpose of God to make his people his heavenly children (Eph. 1:4f.) was complete (Gen. 8:21f., cf. Isa. 54:9f.; Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-26; Acts 17:8-17; 17; 17:22-31). Thus Noah as a man of faith undertook the propagation of the race (Gen. 9:1,7) and the exercise of dominion over creation as Adam had done before him (Gen. 1: 28) but with the confidence that his efforts would not be in vain (cf. Gen. 8:21f.).

God made a covenant of promise to Abraham that he would bless the world through him and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3,7, cf. Rom. 4; Gal. 3, etc.).

Next, after the exodus with the agreement of the people (Ex. 19:8; 24:3,7) God made a covenant of law or works with his elect nation through Moses. Keeping it promised life (Lev. 18:5, cf. Gen. 2:17); breaking it threatened curse and death (Ex. 32:33; Dt. 11:26-28; 30:15-20; Ezek. 18:4). Since man who is mortal and corruptible flesh by nature (Rom. 1:23) proves incapable of meeting the condition of eternal life (cf. Mt. 19:17; Rom. 5:12), he needs a Saviour who can. Thus Jesus who alone kept the law and overcame the world (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5) is universally indispensable (John 14:6; Acts 4:12, etc.).

The promissory covenant with David (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89) is an extension of the covenant with Abraham. It provides the basis of the Messianic hope which is fulfilled in Christ.

The covenant inaugurated by Jesus (cf. Luke 22:20) is an eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20) which guarantees eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12) and an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15) for his people (cf. Rom. 8:31ff.).

There are therefore five divine covenants which apply to mankind in general. The covenants with Noah and Moses are clearly temporary and provisional (Gen. 8:22; Mt. 24:35; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13, etc.) and relate to life on earth alone (Mt. 5:18; Heb. 7:16; 9:10). The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants being promissory are fulfilled in Christ whose own covenant is eternal and finds its completion in heaven in the presence of God in accordance with his plan to save his people (cf. Heb. 2:9-13). It should also be noted that the covenants with Noah, Moses and Jesus are dispensational. Even though they overlap to some extent, they are not to be merged in such a way as to hide their distinctiveness and discontinuity. They are linked by faith (cf. Heb. 11).

There is one place in Scripture where all these five covenants are clearly implied: Romans 1:16-4:8. There we find the covenants with the Gentiles (Noah), the Jews (Moses) and Christians (Jesus) who constitute a third race (cf. e.g. 1 Cor. 10:32, etc.). In Romans 4:1-8 Paul refers to the covenants of promise with Abraham and David.

The word Adam (man) embraces both the individual and the race or community. This being so, it is hardly a surprise to find that the covenants with the race are miniaturized, embodied, telescoped, re-enacted or recapitulated within the individual man, supremely in Jesus, the Man or second Adam. This Paul makes plain in two places in particular: Galatians 4:1-7 and Romans 7-8. Elsewhere Paul says that Jesus summed up all mankind in himself (Eph. 1:10). In other words, just as the history of the race is covenantal so is that of the individual: once we become rational souls we all go through a Gentile, Jewish and Christian phase in the course of our lives (cf. John 1:9-13) even though Gentiles are never specifically under the law of Moses.  Jesus himself as the second Adam epitomized this progress when he recapitulated his forebears’ stay in Egypt as a slave (Mt. 2:15), became a son of the commandment as a circumcised Jew (Luke 2:40-52) and hence a servant (Lev. 25:39-46) and, having kept the law, pioneered life as a son, the Son, under the direction of the Spirit after his baptism. In covenantal terms we all experience spiritual childhood, adolescence and adulthood. At this point, the fact that Gentiles are never formally under the law like Jewish men if not women is relatively insignificant (cf. Gal. 3:23ff. and the suggestion of the KJV of the law as a ‘schoolmaster’).

Until he was eclipsed by Augustine of Hippo, Irenaeus the father of theology was perhaps most famous for his teaching on recapitulation. In effect he taught that ontology recapitulates phylogeny, Jesus being the prime example (Gal. 4:1-7, cf. Eph. 1:10). The idea is not exactly foreign to modern science and is implied by Genesis 1 where we are told that things are created and reproduced according to kind (cf. Mark 4:28).

Covenant theology then is of prime importance in understanding the teleological thrust of the Bible and the people, that is, all of us, to whom it relates. Since this is so, the Augustinian worldview which dominates the Western church and begins where the Bible ends with the  righteousness and perfection of man in his infancy is clearly false. Righteousness and holiness are inherent only in God himself and so far as man is concerned are attained only by keeping the law of which Adam like a baby even though he was physically adult was initially entirely ignorant (cf. Dt. 1:39, etc.). (Pro)creation is followed by development leading to perfection (maturity, completeness). One thing is clear: infant baptism, which is based on original sin and a fall from the maturity of supposed righteousness, has turned biblical teaching on its head. It has in effect reduced man to a flat uniformity devoid of development (evolution) and given rise to the idea of a fall from an initial ‘high estate’. This is ruled out of court by Jesus who became the Righteous One (Acts 3:14) or perfect(ed) man only by completing the work his Father gave him to do (John 17:4f.; Heb. 2:10, etc., cf. Phil. 3:12-14). Otherwise expressed, he had undergone normal human development by keeping (the) law (Luke 2:40-52) and having gained life (Lev. 18:5) reached maturity under the leading of the Spirit. Needless to say, believers follow his lead (Eph. 2:15; 4:12-16; Gal.3:28).

Even the wicked are not born evil (Dt. 1:39) but like us all they sin from their youth (Jer. 3:25, etc.). If they refuse to repent, they are ultimately perfected (achieve maturity) in their sin (James 1:15, cf. Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:25-30; Rev. 20:11-15).

At the end both the good and the evil alike reap their respective rewards (Mt. 25:46).

See also my Covenant Theology,  Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity and Did God Make a Covenant with Creation? which examine the issue in more detail.


If there are three dispensational covenants, why are there only two Testaments in the Bible? Early in my theological career I was somewhat puzzled by Professor John Murray’s dismissal in his commentary on Romans of the Gentile heathen and his apparent desire to lump Jew and Christian together as though they alone were saved or at least salvable. By contrast Paul in Romans 3 merges heathen and Jew as sinners together and separates both of them from redeemed Christians (Rom. 3:21-26). This surely points to the answer to my question. Both Gentile and Jew are natural or unregenerate by nature and hence sinners. To become Christians they must be born again through faith in Christ. See Galatians 4:21-31 and especially vv. 25 and 31.

But this prompts the question of how and why the Jews are differentiated from the Gentiles. The answer to this is that the Jews are the elect of God (Ex. 19:3-6; Dt. 7:6) and in contrast to the Gentiles have the law or the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2, cf. 9:4). So though distinguished at this point (Ex. 33:16; Lev. 20:24,26; Ps. 147:19f.), as sinners they are both in urgent need of salvation, arguably in light of Amos 3:2 the Jews even more so than the Gentiles who lacked the law. Here it is worth noting that Paul goes so far as to say that the present Jerusalem under law is in slavery like Hagar (Gal. 4:25).

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

In my view Wright makes a major mistake in allowing the possibility of an original covenant with creation and Adam (pp.326f.). This would surely suggest that creation (and its corollary the physical creature, 1 Cor. 15:50) is intended to be redeemed which Scripture clearly denies. He further maintains that though this world is cursed, it is also covenanted. But this is contradictory. The point of the temporary covenant with Noah was to forestall any future ‘cosmic’ curse before the end of the world (Gen. 8:21f.; Isa. 54:9f.) and the completion of the plan of salvation (cf. Luke 17:26-30). See further my A Brief Review of ‘The Mission of God’ by C.J.H.Wright.


J. Stott, Authentic Christianity, pp. 334f. Stott rightly maintains that every man’s spiritual history becomes a microcosm of God’s dealings with the race.

Are We Frauds?

In the British monthly paper Evangelicals Now of March 2008 there appeared an article entitled Are We Fundamentalists? by Barry Seagren. It was a thoughtful and provocative piece of work aimed at contrasting biblical with Islamic fundamentalism in its various forms. I agreed with the author’s conclusion that there is “a world of difference between the life-giving fundamentalism of the Bible and the destructive fundamentalism that we see in some forms of Islam.”


However, the essay raises questions about the exact nature of so-called biblical fundamentalism which also has various forms. Apart from the fact that the epithet fundamentalism, which is nowadays usually associated with (dispensational) premillennialists who claim to take the Bible “literally”, is misleading when used of evangelicals in general, some of these forms appear to derive more from tradition than the Bible and to that extent seem to promote an ideology, even a politicised one on occasion, after the fashion of Islam. (1* Christian Zionism by S. Sizer, 2004, is well worth reading in this connection.) If this is true, it is incumbent on genuine evangelicals to take seriously their much-vaunted commitment to the Bible and bend all their efforts to understand exactly what the Bible is proclaiming. If they do not do this, they are in great danger of being classified as frauds. It is simply not good enough to qualify the authority of the Bible with the word Reformed or dispensationalist and/or premillennialist and so forth, since such qualifications which add to Scripture (Mark 7:7ff.; Rev. 22:18) may well be distortions of the truth.

The Two Sacraments

After some fifty years of devoting attention to the study of the Bible and mainly Evangelical theology, I am convinced that there is much that is seriously amiss with aspects of our doctrine. In light of this it is hardly surprising that evangelicals are radically divided among themselves. The historical root of the problem is the failure of the Reformers to carry through their reformation of Catholic doctrine to its logical conclusion. This inevitably led to their bearing diverse spiritual offspring. Perhaps the most obvious example of their failure relates to the sacraments. While the Reformers dismissed the mass as false and recovered in essence the truth regarding the Lord’s Supper, they failed abysmally to deal adequately with baptism. Behind this failure lies far more than meets the eye.

Justification by Faith

For a start, it may be argued that since all evangelicals claim that Scripture is their final court of appeal, they all agree that justification by faith is at the very heart of the biblical gospel. But this doctrine is frequently compromised and/or jeopardized by theology that leads in another direction seen at its most obvious in the divisions in Anglicanism, for example, which somehow comprehends both Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals. Even some Lutherans wonder how it came about that Luther who so strongly stressed justification by faith could retain the baptism of infants who are naturally incapable of exercising faith. How is it then that many if not most of the sons of the Reformation still baptize infants?

Original Sin

It is generally admitted that the Augustinian dogma of original sin has historically played the principal part. On the basis of this belief Augustine held that since infants as the children of Adam were born in sin, they faced inevitable damnation and in order to be saved they had to be baptised. In other words, Augustine believed that baptism applied by hand like circumcision was the antidote of original sin and conveyed regeneration. Two points need to be made here.

First, the dogma of original sin is not and, unless it is inconsistent with itself, cannot be taught in the Bible. The nearest suggestion of it appears in Psalm 51:5. Apart from the fact that this verse is sometimes mistranslated, it is open to more than one interpretation. At the very least it is hyperbolic. In light of pervasive teaching in Scripture which implicitly denies the sinfulness of babies (e.g. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.) and the transference of sin from parent to child (Ex. 32:33; Dt. 24:16; Ezek. 18, etc.), we are forced to this conclusion.

Second, though the classical location of the dogma is said to be Romans 5:12, the teaching of the epistle as a whole militates against it. For example, Paul insists that where there is no law, as in the case of infants, there is no sin (4:15; 7:1-13), graphically depicts actual sin against the law (chs. 1-3) and claims that he himself was “alive”, that is, like Adam and Eve before they received the commandment, prior to the impact of the law on his developing mind (7:9f.). Bearing these and other matters in mind we can safely dismiss the traditional addition of  “in him”, that is, “in Adam”, from 5:12 and charge those who refuse to do so with eisegesis as opposed to exegesis.  (See further my Adding to Scripture In Romans.) It can be said without fear of rational rebuttal that original sin like its counterpart original righteousness, which also depends on law, is a myth. It belongs to ecclesiastical tradition not to the Bible. (For more extensive treatment of original sin, see various articles of mine referring to it including An Exact Parallel?.)


Another argument used to support infant baptism is the so-called parallel between circumcision and baptism. Proper exegesis of Colossians 2:11 which distinguishes between flesh and spirit clearly denies this. For all that, it is claimed that as the Jews circumcised infants, so Christians ought to baptize them. The argument is spurious.

First, apart from noting that only boys are circumcised, it ignores the difference between the covenants. To be baptized by law into Moses (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3; cf. 1 Cor. 10:2) is a far cry from being baptized on confession of faith and repentance into Christ.

Second, despite the fact that John the Baptist served as the human agent, the baptism of Jesus himself is paradigmatic for all Christians who claim to follow him. He was baptized by the Spirit, that is, acknowledged as the Son of God which since he had achieved righteousness under the law equates with receiving eternal life (Mt. 3:13-17). (See further below regarding the order of salvation.)

Third, Christians are not Jews under law, that is, the physical children of Abraham. They are, however, by faith his spiritual children. This being so, they should be baptized as he was circumcised as a believer. Paul’s argument in Romans 4 ought to be decisive in this matter, all the more so when Galatians 3 which forges the link between Abraham, Jesus and believers is considered. What is at issue is fidelity to the plain teaching of Scripture.

To argue that circumcision is the sign of the covenant with Abraham and is therefore appropriately applied to babies is to miss the point. Abraham apart (though note Ex. 12:44,48), both Jesus (John 7:22) and Paul (Gal. 5:3, etc.) associate circumcision with law. Baptism reflects repentance, faith, righteousness and regeneration not the curse associated with circumcision (Gal. 3:10). Baptism applied to infants inexorably  jeopardizes the very essence of the gospel.


Yet another argument widely used to bolster infant baptism, which implicitly denies justification by faith, is covenant theology. I have already suggested that the Mosaic covenant of law is intrinsically different from the covenant inaugurated by the death of Christ which requires repentance and faith for it to become effective. Reformed federal theology, which is based on the view of two different covenants with Adam on the one hand and Christ on the other, is false to Scripture. The same must be said of the so-called covenant of grace. A truly biblical covenant, theology which gives due weight to the difference between the covenants while recognizing their interrelatedness, undermines any attempt to substantiate infant baptism. The truth is that like Jesus (Gal. 4:4f.) if we attain to maturity we are all the beneficiaries of the covenants of nature, law (2* Gentiles of course are never under law in the same sense as Jews are.) and grace. If it was necessary for both Jews who had been under the law of Moses and Gentiles who had  enjoyed the benefits of the covenant with Noah (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:27-34) to be baptized on confession of faith, it follows as night follows day that the same must be true of us.

(See further my articles Covenant Theology and Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?)

The Order of Salvation

Linked with the above is the traditional teaching regarding the order of salvation (ordo salutis). In 2008, it is still being taught by professing evangelicals who claim to be faithful to the word of God that regeneration precedes faith. The need for this view is of course erroneous belief in original sin and misapplied stress on divine election. It is argued that since man is born in sin and therefore dead in sin, he is completely incapable of believing when the gospel is preached to him. Augustine taught that this impediment is overcome by election and regeneration. Though this seems logical enough, if the premises are wrong so is the conclusion. That regeneration precedes faith is certainly not the teaching of Scripture. What is the truth of the matter?

Briefly, like Adam we are all born innocent (Dt. 1:39, etc.). Since as babies we are naturally ignorant of (the) law which we are taught later (Dt. 4:9, etc.), we cannot break it. However, like Paul we transgress it when it dawns on our consciousness (Rom. 7:9f.) and thus forfeit its promise of eternal life on condition of keeping it (cf. Gen. 2:17). In light of this it comes as no surprise that one of the most pervasive teachings of the Bible is Leviticus 18:5 in its various forms. It insists that that we gain life when we attain to righteousness by keeping the commandments. Alternatively expressed, obedience or  righteousness is the precondition of life. Of course, Jesus was the only man ever to succeed and as a consequence was uniquely proclaimed as the (regenerate) Son of God at his baptism. Thus as the pioneer of our salvation he made us all dependent on him (John 14:6, etc.). As sinners all, we can only inherit life by being regarded as righteous through faith in him (Phil. 3:9, etc.).

The Flesh

This raises the question of why the rest of us fail. The traditional argument that we all sinned in Adam is clearly invalid and the imputation of sin is read into Romans 5:12-21 not derived from it. The many problems it encounters are insuperable. What is true is that as flesh, which is a law to itself and has its own passions and desires, like Adam and Eve we prove incapable of mastering it (cf. Gen. 4:7), all the more so since we are influenced and conditioned by their example (Rom. 5:12-21). The Bible makes it clear beyond dispute that no flesh (that is no man or woman who is flesh by nature) will be justified before God (Rom. 3:19f.; 7:7; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16, etc.) who from the start intended that he alone should be the Saviour of his people (Isa. 45:22f., cf. Phil 2:9-11). Paul sums up the situation in Romans 7:14 where he says that he is of the flesh and hence in slavery to sin (cf. Eph. 2:1-3, etc.). If this is true, then all else apart, original sin, which impugns the goodness and righteousness of God, is redundant and totally unnecessary.

What the advocates of original sin fail to realize is that though man is by nature a sinner (i.e. like Adam and Eve he determines his own moral nature by his sin, cf. Eph. 2:1-3, etc.) he is enabled by the grace of God to receive the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8, cf. Acts 18:27). Abraham was justified by faith even though he was ungodly and hence by definition not regenerate (Rom. 4:1-5). As the OT, where regeneration is always a promise (Dt. 29:4; 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:39, etc.), makes clear this gift comes short of regeneration which awaits the coming and work of Christ and the consequent out- pouring of the Spirit. It is not until he is glorified that the Spirit is given and the new birth experienced by sinners justified by faith in Christ (John 7:39; Acts 2). (For more on the order of salvation, see for example, my Cart-Before-the-Horse TheologyRedemption Applied (Order of Salvation) and The Order of Salvation in Romans.)

So, to sum up, in accordance with his plan of salvation God has legitimately consigned us all to (actual) sin so that he may have mercy on us in Christ (Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). To have imputed Adam’s sin to innocent children would have been to contravene his own canons of righteousness (see e.g. Gen. 20:6f.; Ex. 32:33; Dt. 7:10; 1 Sam. 14:27; 22:15; John 9:41; 15:22,24, etc.).


I referred to premillennialism above. Like many others I remain at a loss to understand how anyone committed to the authority of the Bible can entertain it and many of the notions that are its concomitant. (See further my Preunderstandings of the Millennium?.) It is not merely based exclusively on one passage in the highly symbolic book of Revelation, it runs counter to the very essence of biblical teaching in many other respects. Most obviously, it reflects woeful misunderstanding of covenant theology on the one hand and denies the finished work of Christ on the other. Regarding the latter, it renders his return to earth to complete what the Bible says he accomplished in the first place a necessity (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; 9:28, etc.). (See further my A Summary of Reasons Against the Return of Christ to EarthIs Jesus Coming Back to Earth?Thoughts on the Redemption of Creation, etc.) This makes premillennialists ill-equipped to criticize the Roman Catholic dogma of the mass which also involves repetition. To cut a long story short premillennialism is based on OT restorationism. It is furthermore the offspring of the absurd Augustinian worldview which has bedevilled our understanding of the Bible for so long (cf. my WorldviewThe Biblical Worldview. At this point some may claim that Augustine rejected Chiliasm. He did indeed but that has not prevented premillennialists from adopting his general outlook.)

It needs finally to be stressed that the Augustinian view that creation was perfect when it was first brought into being and that man was originally created immortal, holy and righteous is an appalling fallacy. The Bible frequently contrasts the perfect Creator with what has been made (Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27, etc.). (See further my Manufactured Or Not So.) Original sin and its consequence cosmic curse are part of our ecclesiastical tradition and should be dismissed as the distortions they are. The truth is that since we originally derived from the temporal earth, we were created mortal and innocent (Rom. 1:23) with a view to gaining eternal life by keeping the commandments (cf. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7) and by grace sharing the glory of our incorruptible God as his children (1 John 3:1-3).

What Scripture teaches in one of its best-known passages is that as mortal corruptible flesh we cannot enter the kingdom of God and need a second or spiritual birth in order to do so (John 3:1-8). Since this depends on righteousness achieved by keeping the law (Lev. 18:5; 1 John 3:7, etc.), we need Jesus who having alone met the condition himself died on our behalf.

Are We Frauds?

The question then remains: Are we frauds? To the extent that we deny the clear teaching of the Bible we profess to believe the answer is an unequivocal yes. Throughout the Bible tradition is primarily a bane. If Jeremiah became its prey, so did Jesus and Paul. My contention is that modern evangelicals have succumbed to it (see my Have We Inherited Lies?The Betrayal of the Reformation) and need as a matter of urgency to set their house in order. If they do not then they can only expect divine retribution like that wreaked on the Jews who refused to repent and to undergo reformation after the death of Christ. God himself will become our enemy.

The Way Forward

What I have written above prompts questions about me personally? Who am I to make these charges? Am I immune to mistakes? Not at all! It has long been of deep concern to me that though I have sought to debate basic issues with others and been ready if necessary to be corrected, yet no one has been willing to enter the fray. Though I have thrown down the gauntlet, no champion has entered the lists to do battle! Surely there is a Goliath somewhere capable of dealing with a mere David. Sadly, however, evangelicals, despite professing to be always reforming (semper reformanda), like the fanatical devotees of some of the world religions, seem to live in mortal fear of an open forum. (3* The book Always Reforming, ed. A.T.B.McGowan, 2006, makes a token gesture but is in substance rather disappointing.) They prefer assertion to substantiation. I myself do not wish to be told that I am wrong but to be shown that I am wrong. On the other hand, if ecclesiastical orthodoxy cannot justify itself, it testifies to the fact that something is seriously wrong that needs to put it right as a matter of urgency. There is little doubt in my mind that a false covenant theology and a ludicrous Augustinian worldview hang round our necks like millstones. (It is Augustinianism rather than the Bible that to a substantial degree instigates and fosters the struggle between science and theology.) So unless evangelicalism adopts an open forum approach, on the merely human level we are in serious danger of suffering permanent marginalisation, let alone dismissal as frauds.

The distinction between brandishing the banner of truth and flying the flag of fabrication should be obvious to all. To continue to teach as the word of God what is clearly contrary to it invites a curse (Gal. 1:8f.).

The Biblical Worldview

It is generally agreed that everyone has a worldview or, as some would maintain, a “religion” even if it is never properly articulated. A worldview is the way we understand reality. According to Raeper and Smith it has been defined as “a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously) about the basic makeup of the world” (pp.278,337f.,340,351) (1* Cf. Byl who says “Our worldview consists of our most basic faith commitments, through which we interpret the world we experience and by which we live. Our worldview is the pair of spectacles through which we view the world and make sense of it”, p.14. Regrettably Byl’s own useful presentation of the Christian worldview is tarnished by Augustine, ch.10). As Christians we hold to a particular worldview, but when it clashes with others, the so-called scientific worldview, for example, the question arises as to whether it is “Christian” or biblical.

The biblical worldview is theistic, uncompromisingly theocentric (2* Cf. e.g. Dunn, Theology, pp.28-50). More specifically, God is the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. For believers there are in fact two worlds, the visible natural world of creation and the invisible supernatural world or heaven of the God who inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15; 66:1). This cosmological dualism is reflected in us who derive physically from the earth but are also made in the image of God. We are thus anthropologically dualistic. (3* Cf. my Biblical Dualism)  We further believe that God alone knows his creation exhaustively but, while we his creatures do not, we nonetheless claim to be able to pursue meaning and truth. We believe that the Christian worldview is uniquely true and as such it makes the world intelligible and purposeful (4* Cf. M.Payne in Hoffecker, p.356). Furthermore, it is the Creator God of biblical revelation, the only God who is the Saviour and Redeemer (Ps. 96:5f.; Isa. 45:20-25; Jer. 10:10-16, etc.) of man who is appointed once to die and after death face judgement (Heb. 9:27).

In the West, so-called “Christianity”, or what might more accurately be termed “Churchianity”, has been built largely on the foundation laid by Augustine of Hippo, d. 430 AD. When he became a Christian against his pagan background, education and experience, Augustine developed a worldview dominated fundamentally by sin. Misunderstanding the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1, he believed that the world God created was originally perfect and Adam and Eve along with it. His contention regarding the latter was their original moral righteousness, holiness and even immortality. This, however, was clearly a major mistake. According to Scripture, man as both individual and race was created imperfect, that is, immature like a baby without knowledge of both (the) law and hence of good and evil (Gen. 2:16, cf. 3:5,22; Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.). When with his physical and mental development the commandment (law) eventually made its impact on his mind, Adam was in a position to respond either positively or negatively to its requirement (Gen. 2:17). In the event, he responded negatively and set a pattern of sin which all his progeny who are made in his image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) have not unnaturally followed (Rom. 3:23) under his influence (Rom. 5:12ff.). (5* A prime example of the latter is Paul who, having begun life innocent, followed first Eve’s then Adam’s lead when the commandment dawned on his mind, Rom. 7:9f. In other words, like all of us Paul became a sinner, Eph. 2:1-3; Tit. 3:3, not by the transmission or imputation of Adam’s sin as tradition has it but by breaking (the) law by which sin is established and defined, Rom. 7:8; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4; 5:17, etc. See further my The Pattern of Sin.) Nonetheless, man’s original challenge was to obey the commandment with a view to attaining to righteousness and eternal life by keeping the law in all its fullness (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 7:10; 1 John 3:7, etc.) as Jesus, the second Adam, did (Luke 2:40ff.; Mt. 3:13-17, cf. 19:17). According to Augustine, however, our first parent Adam mysteriously “fell” from his putative perfection into sin and, as the divinely appointed lord of creation, dragged it down with him. Thus even today, despite Paul’s contention that creation is still ‘good’ (1 Cor. 10:26,31; 1 Tim. 4:3f., etc.) many constantly refer to creation as “fallen” and argue that it labours under an Adamic curse from which it needs redemption (e.g. C.Wright, p.395). (6* The word ‘fall’ is rightly queried by Dunn, pp.93f., cf. Romans 1-8, p.178, and Routledge, pp.154-156).

While Protestants differ from Roman Catholics in various ways, the Western church as a whole has largely adopted the Augustinian worldview. If for the Reformers and their Puritan successors the universal dominance of sin was manifest even in creation itself, how much more was it for some of their millenarian offspring (cf. Sizer, p.255). In the words of Ladd, “Premillennialism is the doctrine stating that after the Second Coming of Christ, he will reign for a thousand years over the earth before the final consummation of God’s redemptive purposes in the new heavens and the new earth of the Age to come. This is the natural reading of Revelation 20:1-6” (p.17).  Thus, superficially at least, all seems to be based on a very questionable interpretation of the book of Revelation. At bottom, sin is the cause of the corruption (decay) evident in the entire creation which consequently needs redemption. (7* For expansion of Ladd’s views which have in recent years come to exercise a profound influence on the Protestant worldview, see his The Gospel of the Kingdom, Jesus and the Kingdom, etc.)

Against the background of their Augustinian worldview, fundamentalists believe not only that the seven days of Genesis are literal but also that death did not appear on the earth until Adam “fell” and earned it as wages (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). (8* See my Death Before Genesis 3, A Double Helping.) Assuming the truth of all this, the idea of paradise lost and regained is rampant though it is more readily conceded nowadays that the paradise of Revelation is enhanced. (See, for example, the note on Wolters below.) The problem here is that Scripture contains a great deal of evidence suggesting that the visible material creation including man as flesh is temporal (Gen. 1:1, cf. 2 Cor. 4:18), provisional like the Promised Land which is a type of heaven (cf. Heb. 3,4) and corruptible by creation or nature (Heb. 1:10-12, cf. Rom. 8:18-25) and will, once it has served its purpose and produced its harvest, be destroyed and not redeemed (Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 54:10; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Mt. 24:35; Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). (9* See e.g. my The Correspondence between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10, The Destruction of the Material Creation, The Harvest of the Earth.) Once the harvest which comprises man made in the image of God has been garnered, the field, which is the world (Mt. 13:38), ceases to be of value and becomes redundant (Mt. 13:30; Heb. 6:7f. 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. Mt. 7:19; Luke 13:6-9, etc.).

So we are compelled to ask whether the traditional Augustinian worldview is correct. Is it a true reflection of what the Bible teaches or is it an imposition that leads to a major distortion with unacceptable ramifications?

Creation Temporal Not Eternal

First, the very first verse of the Bible teaches us that creation has a beginning and by implication an end. Genesis 8:22 confirms this. In other words, in contrast with its Creator who is eternal, immortal and incorruptible and has neither beginning nor end (Ps. 102:25-28; Isa. 40:28; 57:15; Rom. 1:23, cf. Heb. 7:3), it is temporal, corruptible and destructible by creation. Like all its products both plant and animal it grows old (Heb. 1:11, cf. Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33). In light of this it is scarcely surprising that Paul tells us that the visible material is temporary (2 Cor. 4:18) and that our hope in view of the corruptibility of creation is an invisible one (Rom. 8:20,24f.). (See further my Faith and Invisibility – Seeing the Invisible.)

Perishable Food

Thus it is clear from Genesis 1 that the vegetation that stems from the ground as a result of the creation mandate (Gen. 1:11f.) is a source of food (cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:6) which implies death. Later in the Bible we learn that all flesh, which includes man who is also made from the earth, is (dependent on) grass, which is transient by nature (Isa. 40:6-8; James 1:10f.). The Psalmist is very conscious of the fact that though God feeds them, animals die (104:27-29; 147:9, cf. Job 38:39-41). Indeed, it can hardly escape notice that lions kill their prey by divine design (Ps. 104:21). Jesus himself stressed the fact that all who eat perishable food are themselves perishable (John 6:22ff.) like the creation from which they derive (Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33). So the inference must be that all flesh, both man and animal, is subject to corruption (physical decay) apart from sin, though sin in its various forms may be an exacerbating factor. If this is so, it is more than questionable whether we can read Genesis 3:17-19 back into Romans 8:18-25. Yet this is constantly and apparently universally done without warrant.

Bread of Heaven

In fact, Jesus went further and insisted that those who were to live eternally needed to feed on heavenly food, that is, the word of God (Mt. 4:4). In John 4:10 and 6:51 he emphasized the necessity of drinking living water and feeding on living bread or bread from heaven. The implication of this is that the animal creation, which lacks the image of God and is limited by nature to earthly food, is excluded. Since as flesh it can do no other than sow to the flesh, it is from the flesh that it reaps inevitable decay (Gal. 6:7f., cf. Rom. 8:13). Men who act likewise do the same (Rom. 8:5-8; 1 Cor. 6:9f.; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; 2 Pet. 2; Jude).


That death and corruption are natural and not necessarily the wages of sin would appear to be implied by the fact that reproduction is built into creation from the start, that is, before sin made its appearance (Gen. 1:11f., etc.). Clearly, the different species (and man according to the flesh is one of them, cf. Gen. 2:7) can only be perpetuated by reproducing themselves (cf. Gen. 7:2f.,9). Reproduction, however suggests repetition, and repetition, as the author of Hebrews strongly stresses, implies futility. And futility is a prominent feature of creation which though exacerbated by sin exists irrespective of it (Eccl.; Rom. 8:20, cf. 1 Cor. 15:14,17). It scarcely needs adding that neither death nor the reproduction which counters it features in the eternal age to come (Luke 20:34-36). This being so, we are forced to deny that this present corruptible creation, including the flesh, is subject to redemption (1 Cor. 15:50).


Another point can be made. In the OT, animals were amenable to service as sacrifices foreshadowing the one true and perfect sacrifice of Christ. Though physically without blemish (cf. Lev. 3:1), they were flesh and not spirit (Isa. 31:3) and consequently their sacrifice had no permanent moral value as the author of Hebrews strongly insists. The lesson we learn then is that the flesh as such is ultimately expendable because it is spiritually and morally useless (cf. John 6:63; Rom 7:18; 8:8).

The Death, Resurrection and Transformation of Jesus

This brings us to the sinless Jesus who as flesh was both mortal (he died) and corruptible (he got older) in contrast with his heavenly Father (cf. Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16, etc.). This being so, his flesh, though not liable to death since he had kept the law which promised life, was expendable too and he freely gave it in death as a sacrifice for our sin (Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.). Many traditionalists would doubtless respond to this by pointing out that he rose physically from the dead suggesting that his flesh, which had not succumbed as the wages of sin, was permanently saved. Some even draw the conclusion from this that the fruit of his resurrection was the redemption of creation, though 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 which refer to people clearly fail to suggest this. Obviously, this is a serious mistake. The fact is that there is no connection between the physical resurrection of Jesus and creation (10* Pace e.g. Harris, G to G, pp. 245ff., Raised Immortal, pp.165ff.). The NT makes the reason why Jesus rose physically from the grave unequivocally clear: he died not on account of his own sin but of ours. Having personally kept the law and, in contrast with the first Adam, gained life (Gen. 2:16f.; Lev. 18:5), he did not earn death as the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). Rather, his life was freely laid down as a sacrifice for his people whose own life was forfeit (cf. John 10). And since death had no hold over him personally, he rose again (Acts 2:22-24) notably without experiencing corruption (Acts 2:27-31; 13:34-37).

But another point must be made. If Jesus died and rose on our behalf, his death and resurrection were not essential to his personal earthly life. To express the issue alternatively, had he not died for us, he would have been glorified by transformation ascension apart from resurrection altogether as Adam would have been if he had not sinned. This being so, we are forced to conclude that there was no connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the redemption of creation.

The truth is that as a product of the earth and a son of Adam through his mother (Luke 3:38), Jesus was naturally temporal, mortal and corruptible. (11* Jesus was incarnate only for a little while, Heb. 2:7,9, and since he inevitably got older, Luke 2:40ff.; 3:23; John 8:57, he was subject to decay, 2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 8:13.) In light of this, the fact that he did not undergo corruption after his resurrection, which receives significant emphasis by both Peter (Acts 2) and Paul (Acts 13), can only mean that he was still corruptible. He was in his own words still flesh and bones (Luke 24:39, cf. John 20:19-25, etc.). Since, however, flesh and blood cannot by nature inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-8), like all his believing brethren who do not die at the end of the age he had to be changed at his ascension to avoid inevitable corruption on the one hand (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51ff., cf. Zech. 14:12,15,18) and to inherit the eternal throne of David, who saw corruption (Acts 2:29), on the other (Luke 1:32f.; Acts 13:34). (12* See further my When Was Jesus Transformed?)

The Need for Spiritual Regeneration

It is clearly on this account that Jesus taught that those who are born of the flesh, which is by nature liable to decay (corruption), need a second or spiritual birth from above (John 3:1-8). They need to be born of God who is spirit in order to enter his heavenly presence as his spiritual children (John 1:12f., cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.). If flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6), this is absolutely necessary. It is clearly a question of nature and has nothing to do with sin as the traditional Augustinian interpretation would have it. Morally speaking, the flesh as created is neither good nor bad. It is in fact amoral as in all animals. It is only ‘good’ to the extent that it is useful or suited to a purpose (Gen. 1; 1 Tim. 4:4). (13* The reader should note that I am not denying that the new birth has an impact on sin. Paul notes the connection in Titus 3:3-7, for example, where regeneration (cf. Eph. 2:5) relates to sanctification. Cf. 1 John 3:9, etc.)

Flesh and Spirit

In the Bible flesh and spirit/Spirit are antithetical (Rom. 7:14, cf. Isa. 31:3) and properly at war with each other as in the case of Jesus who successfully resisted all the temptations of the flesh (Mt. 4:1-11; Gal. 5:16f.; Heb. 4:15; James 4:1ff.; 1 Pet. 2:11, cf. Jer. 17:5;.). As part of the material creation the flesh is intended to be under the dominion of man’s spirit (cf. James 3:2f.) just as creation as a whole is ultimately under the sovereignty of God. During the tenure of man the earth is in certain respects meant to be under his lordship or stewardship. Thus it follows that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7). But man in his weakness has always given way to his fleshly desires even though he is specifically commanded not to (Gen. 2:16f.; 3:1-6; 4:7). Only Jesus, though flesh himself, overcame the temptations of the flesh and conquered (Mt. 4:1ff.; Heb. 4:15, cf. Rom. 8:3).

The World

But he did more. In conformity with man’s original challenge to Adam (Gen. 1:26,28), he also overcame the world (John 16:33, cf. 17:4f.; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5,12). (14* I am assuming here that the ‘world’ is comprehensive and means not simply the world of sinful men but also the world as a whole, cf. 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17.) On the other hand, in overcoming or exercising proper dominion over the physical creation Jesus clearly did not change its very constitution, that is, its temporal, provisional and corruptible nature. If it had gained these characteristics as a consequence of the curse stemming from the sin of Adam as traditionalists maintain, he would have had to do precisely this. He would simply have reversed it, but this Scripture noticeably denies (cf. Heb. 2:8; 1 Cor. 15:25.) Since he aspired to return to his heavenly throne with his believing fellows in tow (cf. John 6:38-40; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18), Jesus, like his Father the heavenly warrior, made it his footstool (Isa. 66:1; Mt. 5:34f.) to be finally destroyed like Joshua’s enemies (Jos. 10:16-28; Ps.110:1; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). His success thus paved the way for his sinful brethren to follow in his steps (Heb. 2:9f.; Rev. 3:21) and thus escape corruption (decay). (15* See further my Escape.) And even they as believers in union with Christ while still on earth are reminded that they have crucified both the flesh (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24) and the world (Gal. 6:14) which clearly includes creation (Col. 3:1-6). Thus to give way to the blandishments of both the flesh and the world is to act contrary to their new nature in Christ (cf. Rom. 6:1-7; 12:1-2) which has a heavenly orientation (cf. Mt. 6:19f. etc.).

The Devil

In contrast with Adam and all the rest of his progeny, Jesus also defeated the devil (John 14:30, etc.). Despite Satan’s temptations, which included the offer of an earthly kingdom, Jesus overcame (Mt. 4:1-11, cf. Luke 9:25; John 18:36). He not only kept the law and inherited life and/or the kingdom of God/heaven but, having died on behalf of his people and risen again, he finally ascended into heaven as their pioneer. In view of universal failure apart from him, it was vital that he did so for salvation had to be gained by man in accordance with the original promise (Gen. 2:17; Heb. 2). Like our first forebears, the rest of us all in our turn give way to fleshly temptation, to the pressures of the world and the machinations of the devil (Rom. 5:12). As a consequence, like them we too are banished from access to the Father (cf. Gen. 3:23f.) except insofar as we are found in Christ who is our Elder Brother (John 14:6; Heb. 2:10-13, etc.).

The Big Picture

So what then in essence is the biblical worldview or big picture? First, the material creation exists solely by the will of God (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11). Next, though ‘good’, that is, useful or serving a purpose, it is inherently temporal, intrinsically transient and in fundamental contrast with its Creator who alone is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and incorruptible (1 Tim. 1:17). It moves from a beginning to an inevitable end irrespective of sin. As the author of Hebrews states, it grows old (Heb. 1:10-12). As products of creation all created or visible things are temporary (2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Luke 12:33; 1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 1:18; 3:4, etc.) and are in contrast with the invisible God himself (Rom. 1:20). Since they are all subject to decay (corruption), they are slated for ultimate destruction (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). Deriving as he does from a corruptible creation, man as flesh is also visible and subject to time. He grows old, and according to Genesis 6:3 his earthly life is limited to about 120 years. Later this age is scaled down to three score years and ten. Though as a law-breaker man earns his death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:56), nonetheless contrary to church tradition death as such is intrinsically natural as is implied in Genesis 1. For even the sinless Jesus who as flesh was born of woman got older and was hence corruptible. Had he remained on the earth he would eventually have faded away and died (2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 8:13). While he died for us in the flesh he inherited from Adam (Luke 3:38; 1 Cor. 15:22), nonetheless after his physical resurrection he was necessarily transformed and glorified at his ascension (John 20:17; 1 Cor. 15:51ff.). (16* The widespread and longstanding (it goes back at least to Origen) idea that he was transformed at his resurrection is a denial of Paul’s explicit assertion in 1 Cor. 15:50. What is more, Scripture stresses that he did not see corruption. In light of this he must have remained corruptible flesh until he experienced transformation at his ascension. See further my When Was Jesus Transformed?)

Why Creation?

Stephen Hawking the famous British scientist has suggested that the biggest question facing man is why there is anything at all and admits that science cannot give an answer. So what does the Bible say? It tells us that creation’s prime purpose is the manifestation of the glory of God (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20). However, since it was meant to be inhabited (Gen. 1; Isa. 45:18) it also reveals the riches of his grace to man made in the divine image. In other words, its purpose was and is ultimately the glory of God displayed supremely in the salvation and adoption of man (Rom. 8:12-17; Eph. 1:3-14, etc.). Isaiah 45 in particular points in this direction (Isa. 45:22-25, cf. Rom. 8:12-17; Eph. 1:3-7; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20). In the short term, however, man as God’s image is called on to exercise dominion over creation and by implication make the entire earth God’s sanctuary like Eden (18* cf. Isa. 51:3.  On this, see e.g. Beale and Alexander. Regrettably both of these writers are somewhat equivocal in their understanding of the New Jerusalem. Misled by OT materialism and its limited revelation of heaven, e.g. Isa. 65:17-19; 66:22, they fail to recognize that it is spiritual, eternal and hence already exists, cf. Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22, like the world/age to come as such, Luke 20:34-36; Heb. 9:11f.,24, etc. See further my Will Creation Be Redeemed?) In Eden, the womb of mankind, God as his Creator walked with Adam. Only sporadically did he do so in the rest of the OT though that was always the intention (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16; Rev. 21:3). So on the physical level creation nurtures man and beast alike; on the spiritual level it is a place of probation and testing to determine what is in man (cf. Ex. 16:4; Dt. 8:2,16; James 1:12, etc.) in preparation for the grand finale or the Day of the Lord which involves eternal life for all believers in the presence of God (Rev. 7:9). Thus at the end we shall all be judged on the basis of our works, thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Rom. 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 4:5; Heb. 9:27) and allotted our final inheritance (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8,18) as the Israelites were at the end of their pilgrimage from Egypt.

Man’s Failure

In himself man is of course a failure. He comes a cropper at the first hurdle. Adam fails in his first test, and all his progeny who are made in his image (Gen. 5:1-3) repeat or rather recapitulate his sin, follow in his tread (Rom. 5:12; 6:23; 7:9f.) and transgress in their youth (Jer. 3:25, etc.) They disobey the ‘no’ of their parents or guardians who teach them the law (Dt. 4:9, etc.). Having failed to keep the commandment that promises eternal life (Gen. 2:16f.; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:15-20, etc.), they fail to exercise proper dominion, and the earth which they are meant to till and tend frequently fails to respond as it should (cf. e.g. Prov. 24:30ff.). So bad is the situation in man’s infancy that the uncovenanted creation is threatened with immediate annihilation (Gen. 6:11-13, cf. Sodom and Gomorrah and Heb. 6:7f.).

The Covenant with Noah

In the event, however, though creation suffers the curse of the flood as a consequence of general sinfulness,  God in his grace makes a temporary covenant with Noah (Gen. 8:22) in order to undergird and guarantee the completion of the plan of human salvation (cf. Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-21; Isa. 54:9). When the mountains and the hills are eventually removed (Isa. 54:10, cf. 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Heb. 12:27), God’s steadfast love and covenant of peace instead of being removed will remain forever. This is the consistent message of the Bible as references like the following make clear: Psalm 102:25-28; 103:14-18; Isaiah 40:6-8; 45:17; 51:6,8; Mt. 24:35, etc. (18* See further my Did God Make a Covenant With Creation?)

The implication of this is that temporal creation will give way to the eternal heaven, the kingdom of God or the new heavens and new earth where righteousness already dwells (Jer. 50:7 ESV; Mt. 5:6,10,20; 6:10,33; 2 Pet. 3:13, cf. Rev. 21:1 commenting on which Morris rightly says that the John is not looking for a new edition of the same thing!). See further below.

The Mosaic Covenant

While the covenant with Abraham like that with David promises future blessing to all who believe, the Mosaic covenant under the terms of which the children of Abraham become a holy nation and a royal priesthood serves as a temporary guardian of the chosen people and a means of educating them in preparation for the coming of Christ. Like the covenant with Noah it is temporary and provisional until salvation comes (Gal. 3:23-29).  It is limited in that it relates to the flesh and cannot deal with the conscience (Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1; Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10), and, since it requires works beyond the capacity of ordinary men to accomplish, it cannot bring salvation (Gal. 3:21). Paul stresses its provisional and temporary nature as a covenant and hence its ineffectiveness (2 Cor. 3). But whereas Paul tends to underline man’s inability to keep the law that promises life, the author of Hebrews, who stresses the futility associated with repetition, takes a slightly different tack and emphasizes its intrinsic inadequacy (7:18f.; 8:7). The mere fact that it requires replacement by another covenant demonstrates for him its ultimate ineffectiveness even apart from sin. (19* See further my Covenant Continuity and Discontinuity.) In other words, it reflects the natural defectiveness of creation and the flesh that derives from it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49). This being the case, only Christ can bring salvation which involves escape from both physical and moral corruption to eternal life and glory (20* See my Escape.)

The Eternal Covenant and the Glorification of Man

Redemption (rescue/escape) from Egypt was central to the old covenant people. The problem was, however, that fleshly redemption and the subsequent acquisition of the sanctuary of the Promised Land were by nature merely temporary (Heb. 3,4). Furthermore, even in Jerusalem and its temple sin remained a problem underlined by the nature of the worship or cultus itself. What were clearly needed were an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12) and an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15), including a permanent temple/city/country (Heb. 11:8-16; 13:14) where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). This was provided by the new or eternal covenant historically inaugurated by Christ (Heb. 13:20). It is he who as man paved the way into the presence of God in heaven which, after all, was the goal from the start (Heb. 2:10, cf. John 6:38-40; Eph. 1:20f.). The high calling of man made in the divine image was his spiritual perfection (Phil. 3:12-14, cf. Heb. 3:1) as the spiritual child of God (John 1:12f.; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7; Eph. 1:4-7; 1 John 2:29-3:3) with a resurrected or redeemed spiritual body suited to his glorious heavenly environment (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:42-49; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:21).

So whereas under the old covenant with its earthly orientation the God of heaven always came down to man finally in the incarnation (John 1:14), (21* Cf. Gen. 11:5; Ex. 3:8; 19:20; Dt. 1:30f.; 1 K. 8, etc., though note Enoch and Elijah who were like straws in the wind presaging Christ’s ascension.) under the heavenly new covenant man ascends to God to the new Jerusalem or the celestial city (1 Cor. 15:51ff.). Corresponding with this, while restoration is a basic theme in the OT (e.g. Jer. 30:18), change and replacement are characteristic of the NT (1 Cor. 15:51ff.; 2 Cor. 5:1-10). (22* Contrast Wolters, who like C.Wright, e.g. p.395, sets out what he calls the reformational worldview equating salvation with restoration, pp.69ff. Apart from ignoring a whole dimension of biblical evidence, he clearly lacks an adequate covenant theology and appreciation of the plan of salvation.)

Ultimate Presentation

In light of this, it is little wonder that ultimate presentation is stressed (1 Cor. 11:2; 15:24; Eph. 1:4; Jude 24, etc.). Jesus himself tells his disciples that he will prepare a place for them in his Father’s house (John 14:2f., cf. Phil. 3:20) in the eternal kingdom of God (John 3:5f., cf. 2 Pet. 1:11), in the new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). Since it is impossible for flesh, or the corruptible in general, to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50; John 3:1-10), it ought to go almost without saying that just as he himself had to shed his corruptible flesh at his ascension, so they will have to do the same (1 Cor. 15:42-55; Phil. 3:21). If they have died and experienced corruption, their bodies like David’s will require redemption (Rom. 8:23) at the general resurrection (cf. Acts 2:27-35 and 13:34-37). If they have not died, they will have to undergo transformation like Jesus at their ascension. This is the fruit of the Christ’s own resurrection which demonstrated his victory over the world, the flesh and the devil (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Ultimately, according to Paul even Christ himself is subjected to God who will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28). When this occurs restoration to universal fellowship and harmony will be achieved (Acts 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:10; Phil. 2:9-11; 3:21; Col. 1:20).

If what has been briefly set out above is a true depiction of what the Bible teaches, then the traditional Augustinian idea that creation is corruptible on account of sin is plainly false. Creation and creature alike were subjected to decay in the purpose of God so that man might not only seek him and find him (Acts 17:26f.) but also have an invisible hope (Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Since God is spirit his spiritual children must not only worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) but also partake of his spiritual nature (2 Pet. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:3f.,23; 4:6; 1 John 3:9, etc.). As intimated above, God intended man to be his spiritual child from the start (Gen. 2:17). However, to prevent human boasting (1 Cor. 1:29, Eph. 2:9) his plan was for all men to come short of his glory by failing to keep the law so that he himself might become their Saviour (Rom. 3:19f.,23; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). As we have already seen, this is taught in the OT, especially in Isaiah 45:22-25, for example. The NT clarifies this by teaching that this salvation is achieved by Jesus before whom every knee will eventually bend and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).

A Manufactured Creation

There is a final point to make. The Bible clearly teaches that what is ‘made by hand’ (Gk cheiropoietos), like idols (e.g. Isa. 2:8; Acts 19:26), is inherently defective even apart from sin. (23* See my Manufactured or Not So.) So since God himself made the temporal creation (Gen. 1:1) including man ‘by hand’ (Ps. 102:25-27; 119:73; Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.) and forbade its worship (Dt. 4:15-19), it must be regarded as inherently defective (not evil, though note Gal. 1:4), that is, naturally temporal and subject to decay (cf. Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12). (24* The word ‘good’ = useful in Genesis 1 was seriously misunderstood by Augustine. Cf. 1 Tim. 4:4.). Just as the temporary ‘hand-made’ material creation has no guarantee apart from the temporary covenant made with Noah (Gen. 8:22, cf. Isa. 54:10), so the flesh has no guarantee apart from the temporal and provisional ‘hand-written’ covenant made with Moses which relates to it (Rom. 7:1, cf. Mt. 5:18; Heb. 9:8-10, etc.). (It might be added here by way of clarification that those who are under law are still unregenerate. The new birth, which is never more than a promise under the old covenant, comes only through faith specifically in Christ, John 3:16; 1 John 5:11f., who alone achieved the righteousness which was its condition, Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, cf. Gal. 3:2,5, etc.) What the ‘manufactured’ creation points to, like the ‘manufactured’ temple (Mark 14:58), is heaven itself which is “not made by hand” (Heb. 9:11,24) and therefore remains forever unshakable (Heb. 12:27) like God himself (Heb. 1:12b; Rev. 4:10f., cf. 2 Chr. 32:19).

So, to sum up, it may be said that the Biblical worldview presents the ‘good’ creation as a temporary instrument (Ps. 102:25-27, etc.) ideally suited to serve the eternal purpose of God which is the manifestation of his glory and wisdom in human salvation (cf. Eph. 3:11f.). Thus man who alone is created in the divine image moves from ground to glory, or as David Seccombe has it from dust to destiny, to become the child of God through faith (John 1:12f., Rom. 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-3, cf. Rom. 1:16f.). In no other conceivable way could God’s glory be more wonderfully displayed than in the death of Christ as Revelation 4:9-11 and 5:11-14 indicate (cf. Rom. 11:33-36; 16:25-27; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 2:10-13; 13:20f.).

Final Word

I began this brief essay with a reference to worldviews including that of modern science. On the assumption that what has been written above is a true reflection of biblical teaching, it would appear that the difference in outlook even antipathy between so-called Christianity and science, naturalism apart, stems primarily from the creation/fall/redemption schema of Augustine. The Bible, especially its covenant theology, far from presenting the reader with a flat uniformity from the beginning followed by a fall from alleged perfection in Adam and redemption restoration in Christ points to divinely dictated development or evolution (cf. the idea now almost universal of the corresponding progress of revelation). In other words, even Jesus himself the antitype or true paradigm of mankind having begun his earthly life in the flesh in innocent immaturity (cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc.) had to be perfected both physically and spiritually (Luke 2:52; Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) as he recapitulated the history of the race (Adam) in the flesh and pioneered or ‘precapitulated’ the regenerate life after his baptism as he was led by the Spirit (cf. Mt. 2:15; Eph. 1:10, etc.). (25* Before his eclipse by Augustine, Irenaeus, the father of theology, had taught Jesus’ recapitulation of the race or by implication that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Apart from this the world (of man) could not be saved, cf. 1 John 2:2 and the notion expressed by Gregory of Nazianzus that what is not assumed cannot be healed, cf. Heb. 2. To the extent that he was a product of the material creation and was physically creation in miniature Jesus also recapitulated or followed the pattern of creation. He too had a physical beginning and an end.) So, what Christians should be opposed to is not evolution as such which implies physical maturation to perfection on both the individual and community levels but naturalism. Intrinsic to the development of the plan of salvation for man made in the image of God is diminished responsibility highlighted by covenant theology which applies as much to the individual as to the race (cf. Gal. 4:1-7; Rom. 7-8). Thus men and women and boys and girls as rational souls from every tribe and tongue and nation will stand before the throne of God and the Lamb and give praise (Rev. 7:9f.). That is why faith which is relative comes first in the order of salvation (pace Augustinians). For the immature and even the ungodly like Abraham can exercise faith of a limited kind as they are inspired by the Spirit (cf. Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8; Heb. 11). But if regeneration comes first, then faith, repentance and righteousness are superfluous on the one hand and mechanical election is central on the other as in Islam. (26* See my The Order of Salvation, The Order of Salvation in Romans, Cart-Before-the-Horse Theology, etc.)  This inevitably means that the number of the saved is severely curtailed and, according to Augustine, the unbaptised heathen who are damned en masse  constitute a massa damnata or massa perditionis since they are outside the church (extra ecclesiam non salus).

So, to sum up, the Bible is about the ascent of man from ground to glory, from earth to heaven, from flesh to spirit (1 Cor. 15:46), from death to life, from corruptibility to incorruptibility, from creature to new creature/creation (Gal. 6:15, cf. 5:6; 1 Cor. 7:19). (27* See further my The Ascent of Man.) Jesus, who epitomized the race as the perfect(ed) man (cf. Eph. 1:10; 2:15; 4:13), became, as Irenaeus expressed it, what we are so that we might become what he is  and thus share his glory as the children of God (cf. John 6:38-40; Rom. 5:2; 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2; Eph. 1:5,11; Phil. 3:21; Heb. 2:10-13). Since God loved the world (John 3:16), we can be sure that the number of the saved will outweigh the number of the damned – a view that even Calvin, Augustinian though he was, held on the basis of Romans 5:12-21.

Additional Note: An Inherent Contradiction

Even restorationists writing on Hebrews recognize that the ministry of the Levitical priests related to a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary not to the eternal reality itself. P.E.Hughes, for example, in comment on Hebrews 8:5 argues that the antitype or  heavenly original was also the archetype. He thus correctly perceives that the reality both precedes and follows the copy (cf. John 17:5,24). In other words, the shadow cast by the eternal original also foreshadowed its future fulfillment But on the assumption that all earthly things not merely the tabernacle/temple are but temporary shadows of the real world, to posit the restoration of the material creation is to posit the restoration of the shadow or copy which is by nature impermanent and soon to be replaced by the permanent. This is clearly contradictory (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18).  It must be concluded then that Hughes’ argument regarding the destructible manufactured tabernacle/temple (cf. Heb. 9:11,24) undermines his claim that the equally hand-made creation (Heb. 1:10) can be restored, regenerated or redeemed. The inconsistency in his thinking is patent. Since it does not arise from the text (of Hebrews in particular), it clearly stems from his false Augustinian worldview in which sin ruined an originally perfect creation.

In further support and clarification of this conclusion we have only to consider Jesus himself. According to Paul in Romans 5:14 Adam was a type of the one who was to come and hence not the reality (cf. Col. 2:17). So when Jesus temporarily entered this created world as the incarnate second Adam, a son of the first (Luke 3:38), he himself was but a shadow or copy of what he was to be. (It is surely significant that the NT contains no description of the physical Jesus at all.) Thus, he was incarnate only for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9). But since he met the condition of life in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) and eventually attained to heavenly glory (cf. Acts 1:9f.; 3:13; John 7:39; Phil. 3:21; 1 Tim. 3:16, etc.), he became a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45, cf. John 5:21,26; 6:33,50; 11:25). In his case, however, the glory that he received was that which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:5) that is, in heaven itself. As the real or true he had descended so that he might ascend to where he was before (John 3:13; Eph. 4:9f. and note especially John 6:62f.) with his people in tow (Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18). So again we must say in light of this that to posit the restoration (regeneration, redemption, etc.) of the impermanent shakable creation including the flesh from which Jesus had led the escape is manifestly absurd. It is contrary to the essence of the biblical worldview in which those who believe in Christ have eternal life (John 3:16) in the presence of their Saviour (John 17:24) with whom they will dwell forever (John 12:26; 1 Thes. 4:17).

Note on Wolters’ “Creation Regained”

I had virtually completed the above when Wolters’work came to hand. Like Gaffin’s in “The Forgotten Christ”, ed. S.Clark  (on which see my Did Jesus Rise Physically from the Dead?), it is such a strong statement of the Reformed worldview that it requires brief comment.

While there is much that is valuable in Wolters’ stance especially with regard to the living of the Christian life with which he deals mainly in the second part of the book, his emphasis on redemption as the “restoration of an original good creation” (p.12, cf. pp.69ff.) which he equates with physical re-creation is open to question. It smacks of  old covenant thinking like that of Nicodemus (John 3:4)

First, Wolters stresses the importance of Scripture (p.1) (though later he omits a great deal of scriptural teaching clearly opposing his thesis). He then defines worldview as “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things” (p.2),

Next, following the creation/fall/redemption schema of Augustine Wolters fails to differentiate between the physical creation and man made in the spiritual image of God. In other words, like many others he cannot tolerate the notion of dualism (e.g. pp.12,35) which is usually dismissed as Greek dualism and/or Gnosticism (pp.49,61,65) though this is more than debatable (see my Biblical Dualism). In true Augustinian fashion he stresses the “goodness” (= perfection) of the entire creation (pp.48ff.) and assumes that it was wholly corrupted by the sin of Adam. This in itself begs a huge question. He comments that God does not make junk (p.48) and so draws the conclusion that God does not destroy junk (p.49). This is said despite the fact that in Scripture the work of God’s hands (p.70) stands in sharp contrast with what is “not made by hand” (acheiropoietos on which see my Manufactured or Not So.) Thus 2 Peter 3:10 is made to refer not to annihilation but to purification (pp.47f., cf. my The Destruction of the Material Creation.) Nowhere does Wolters seem to recognize the natural limitations of both temporal creation (cf. e.g. Heb. 1:10-12) and the temporal law that relates to it (Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1; Heb. 7:16; 9:8-10, etc., contrast Mt. 24:35). Predictably his dubious handling of Romans 8:18-25 (pp.56f.) begs fundamental questions (see my Romans 8 Revisited). For him subjection to frustration, vanity, futility and corruption all stem from the sin of Adam (p.56) even though most commentators, even Reformed ones (e.g. Murray, p.303, Moo, p.516), acknowledge that God himself is the author of the subjection in question. In other words, the notion of corruptibility by creation about which the Bible has a good deal to say (Gen. 1; Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 13:4, etc.) apparently fails to cross his mind. Rather he repeatedly emphasizes that sin is the sole basis of all our earthly problems. So just as Adam’s “fall” affected the whole creation so the redemption wrought by Christ will redeem it (pp.120f., cf. 56f.).

It is somewhat odd, however, that Wolters has a better appreciation than most of the development or evolution of creation (pp.41ff.) and, while implicitly rejecting literal 24-hour days in Genesis 1, he opts for restoration rather than repristination (e.g. pp.77f.).

I humbly suggest that with a better understanding of the plan of salvation, of covenant theology and recognition that the Bible is pervasively dualistic not least with regard to  flesh and spirit (cf. pp. 82f. where the former is wrongly ethicized),  Wolters would come to different conclusions.  The biblical worldview is a good deal more complicated than he allows and the inadequacies of earthly life cannot simply be attributed to the “fall”. (See further my The Corruptibility of Creation, Concerning Futility,  etc.).



T.D.Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, Nottingham, 2008.

G.K.Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Leicester/Downers Grove, 2004.

John Byl, The Divine Challenge, Edinburgh/Carlisle, 2004.

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

J.D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, London/NewYork, 1998.

Romans 1-8, Dallas, 1988.

W.A.Hoffecker, Revolutions in Worldview, Phillipsburg, 2007.

G.E.Ladd in The Meaning of the Millennium, ed. R.G.Clouse, Downers Grove, 1977.

D.J.Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids, 1996.

Leon Morris, Revelation, London, 1969.

J.Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, London, 1967.

W.Raeper and L.Smith, A Brief Guide to Ideas, Oxford, 1991.

R.Routledge, Old Testament Theology, Nottingham, 2008.

S.Sizer, Christian Zionism, Leicester, 2004.

A.Wolters, Creation Regained, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2nd ed. 2005.

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