The Human Path to Perfection


According to traditional church dogma, man, like creation in general, was created perfect, fully mature or complete.  To all intents and purposes he was a god-like creature. Some ‘sound’ Bible teacher would have us believe that when he was created Adam looked as if he was thirty years old! Unfortunately, the Bible fails to support this scenario. Rather it indicates, first, that creation was originally a chaos and had to be reduced to order, and, second, that mankind, that is, Adam, who emanated from it (Gen. 2:7), far from being holy, righteous and perfect, was created knowing neither good nor evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22) and like a baby in the womb had to begin at the beginning with a view to attaining both physical and spiritual maturity. Thus the author of Hebrews clearly conceives of Jesus himself, the second Adam, as beginning in innocent imperfection in the womb of Mary his mother but ending fully perfected (2:9-10; 5:9; 7:28) and so eventually being seated at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3,13, etc.).  In view of this it is hardly surprising that the apostle Paul pictures himself in Philippians 3:12-14 as a heaven-bound pilgrim in the process of being perfected.  And according to the author of Hebrews, the same holds true with regard to the rest of us (Heb. 3:1; 11:39f., cf. Eph. 4:1; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:11). In light of this, the traditional idea that when Adam sinned, he ‘fell’ from putative perfection and brought a curse on himself and the rest of creation over which he was meant to exercise dominion is an imposition on the plain teaching of Scripture. So what is the real story of man’s odyssey from earth to heaven implied in the very first chapter of Genesis but only properly accomplished by Jesus himself (John 3:13; 6:38,62; 13:3; Eph. 4:9f.; Heb. 4:14; 7:23-28; 9:24)?



Man like all animal flesh (cf. 1 Cor. 5:46) is created by God presumably as seed in the earth which is our mother. (1* In other words, the egg precedes the chicken on which see my The Chicken or the Egg.)  This is implied in Genesis 2:7 and 19. It is confirmed by Psalm 139:15 and Ephesians 4:9 (cf. John 3:13, etc.) which clearly indicate that all the posterity of Adam stem from him whose own origin was the earth. Thus all are regarded in the rest of the Bible as dust (Job 34:15; Ps. 103:14, cf. 78:39; Eccl. 12:7; 1 Cor. 15:47-49) or clay (Gen. 3:19; Job 4:19; 10:9; 2 Cor. 4:7).



Once he has been created as seed, Adam the individual who epitomises the race as Jesus, the second Adam, does his people, is then sown by God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8,15), clearly the womb of the race, to gestate and develop. Like Esau and Jacob in their mother’s womb at a much later date (Rom. 9:11), at this stage he knows neither good nor evil and so survives in blissful animal-like ignorance. In other words, he resembles the rest of the animals over which he is later given the dominion that was planned from the start (cf. Gen. 1:26-28, cf. Gen. 2:19). However, like seed sown in a garden he sprouts up (cf. Isa. 45:8; 55:10; 61:11), and eventually attains to physical maturity (cf. Mark 4:26-28).


Adam’s Posterity

However, it is plain that Adam himself differs from his posterity in that they do not like him literally begin life in the earth. Once initial creation has occurred, since Adam and the rest of the animals and plants are by divine design created as seed-bearers (Gen. 1:11f.), procreation which recapitulates creation takes over (cf. Isa. 45:10). So far as man himself is concerned, in the providence of God Eve derives from Adam (Gen. 2:18,20-22) as he himself derived as seed from the earth and we ourselves in our turn emanate as seed from our fathers’ loins (cf. Isa. 48:1 NASV, NRSV; Heb. 7:10) to be placed in our mother’s womb (cf. 1 Cor. 11). Together like the rest of the animal creation Adam and Eve reproduce as we see later in Genesis 5:1-4. In other words, Adam as the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7) sows Eve who is typically mother earth (cf. Gen. 3:20, or mother earth recapitulated in miniature, cf. 1 Cor. 11:12) in order to reproduce. Thus it should cause us no surprise that the second Adam recapitulates the birth of the first Adam by being born of woman rather than specifically in the earth. In light of Genesis 3:16, where strong emphasis is placed on Eve’s increased pain in childbirth, we are forced to conclude that animal, including human, reproduction occurred naturally, though unconsciously, in Eden. In short, since procreation mirrors creation, it ensures that eventually the earth is fully inhabited as God intended (cf. Gen. 10f.; Isa. 45:18).


The Curse

This brings us to the issue of the so-called cosmic curse. Historically, given the church’s frame of reference derived from Augustine of Hippo who died in 430 AD, the curse somewhat mysteriously followed on Adam’s alleged perfection when he sinned and produced what is still called the ‘fallen world’ which we inhabit even today in 2016. However, since in light of the fact that the earth had a beginning implying an end (Gen. 8:22) and was ‘made by hand’ (e.g. Isa. 45:11f. (2* Usually, Gk cheiropoietos. See my Manufactured Or Not So.), we are bound to infer that it was never perfect, only ‘good’ like a tool serving God’s (temporal) purpose (Gen. 1). Alternatively expressed, it was, like the law that related to the flesh, provisional and was subjected to futility from the start (cf. Rom. 8:20; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.) with a view to a better invisible (Rom. 8:24f.) world once it had served its purpose as man’s nurturing and testing ground (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:5; Gal. 1:4). It follows from this that man as flesh which stemmed from the earth was naturally incapable of inheriting the spiritual kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). For all that, the curse was clearly a reality in the early history of the race and it began when Adam and Eve sinned (Gen. 3:14-19). The question is: Of what did it consist or what was involved? The answer would appear to lie in the nature of the relationship between creation and man as outlined in Genesis 1. There we learn that man’s vocation is to exercise dominion over or to rule the obviously imperfect created world (Gen. 1:26-28). But this he failed to do, first, because he sinned by disobeying God’s one commandment given to test him (Gen. 2:16f., cf. Ex. 15:25; 16:4, etc.) and, second, because, though physically mature, he was racially speaking but an infant (cf. Eph. 4:11-16, etc.). If we extrapolate from what we know of man the individual who recapitulates the community, we can infer that Adam despite his physical maturity was spiritually infantile and like modern infants dominated by his flesh.  This scenario is epitomized especially by Eve who apart from succumbing to the devil’s deception caved in to her physical desires (Gen. 3:6, cf. Rom. 7:11; Heb. 3:13). Adam, however, though acquiescing in Eve’s weakness was typically held to be more responsible because it was he who had received the commandment directly from God just as the Jews, as the elect people of God, summed up in or epitomized by Paul in Romans 7:13-24, were to do later. (3* See my Interpreting Romans 7.) So it was Eve who in this way came to symbolize the heathen who were without the law (Rom. 2:14f., cf. 1 Tim. 2:14), while Adam who received the commandment typified the Jews who were given the law of Moses in all its fullness (Rom. 2:17-29; 9:4, cf. Amos 3:2; Mic. 3:11; John 5:45).

If it is true that Adam and Eve exemplified the gestation of mankind to physical maturity in the Garden of Eden or the womb of the race, their sin occurred just prior to their ejection from that womb with the result that like Israel at a later date before entry into the Promised Land (Isa. 48:8) they entered the inhospitable, intractable outside world as we know it as sinners.  It is of vital importance to note that the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the idyllic Garden of Eden into the harsh world outside constituted their birth (cf. Job 3:3,10f.; 10:18f.;  Jer. 20:14-18). That the external world was not cursed but simply natural, futile and recalcitrant is proved by such references as Genesis 13:10, Exodus 16:3; Numbers 16:13, Isaiah 36:17 and the ‘exceedingly good’ Promised Land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27; 14:7). It is clear from Acts 14:17, 17:27, 1 Corinthians 10:26-30 and 1 Timothy 4:3f. that Paul knew nothing of the putative cosmic curse  our ecclesiastical tradition has palmed off on us, though minor curses stemming from lack of habitation, carelessness and neglect feature regularly throughout Scripture as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, for instance, indicate. (4* See further my Cosmic Curse?, Supplement to ‘Cosmic Curse?’, Understanding the Curse, Observations on The Curse, etc.) As indicated above, it is as both the slaves of sin (John 8:34) and as ‘infants’ that Adam and Eve failed to fulfil their vocation to rule the earth. Little wonder that the world we read of in Genesis 4-8 is cursed. It culminated in the cataclysm of the flood which destroyed the bulk of mankind who failed to bear fruit before their dispersion throughout the earth. Since the Creator had a plan of salvation in mind, however, he did not make a ‘full end’ (cf. Jer. 4:27, etc.) of the created world as Noah knew it. Instead he made a covenant with him which guaranteed not only the survival of creation but also the creature until his salvific purpose was fulfilled (Gen. 8:22, cf. Jer. 31:35-37; 33:19-26).


The Curse and Modern Man

At this point it is necessary to note the difference between early man and modern man. Early man developed physically to full maturity before he left Eden or the racial womb; modern man does not attain to physical maturity until long after he has left his mother’s womb. In other words, while the former as a physical adult, though with minimal understanding, was under an obligation, even compulsion to work in order to subdue a recalcitrant and intractable earth and thereby earn a living by the sweat of his brow (Gen.  3:19, cf. 2 Thes. 3:10), the latter is born a baby as we know it. This means that its infancy occurs in total dependence and blissful ignorance. It is only as it is weaned that it gains understanding of and hence accountability through knowledge of the transgenerational commandment which is basically the word ‘no’, as it was in Adam’s case. This can only mean that during its infancy the modern baby does not endure the curse on creation that Adam experienced. For, first, in its ignorance of the law or commandment like an animal it knows neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39) and is clearly not accountable; second, it is incapable of working in any case; and, third, it has mature parents to do that for it. It thus inherits a world fashioned by the history and culture of its forebears (5* Ex. 20:5f.; 34:6f.; Ps. 51:5 on which see my Thoughts On ‘Adam, The Fall And Original Sin’.), and this can mean suffering specifically as in the case of the children of Israel in the wilderness (Num. 14:33) and/or blessing when entry into the Promised Land is achieved, though even this in the event is not without its problems as Hebrews 3 and 4 indicate.


The Covenant with Noah

So God dealt with the problem confronting early man by making a covenant with Noah who in contrast with Adam was conspicuously obedient (Gen. 6:22, etc.) and faithful (Heb. 11:7). Clearly, compared with Adam and his immediate successors he had undergone some development and maturation, that is, he had progressed from infancy to childhood, as mankind’s original vocation etched in Genesis 1:26-28 and repeated in Genesis 9:1-10 implies. The covenant, significantly lacking in Adam’s case (pace various modern commentators), and hence the flood, guaranteed, first, the continuous fruitfulness of the earth to the end of the age (Gen. 8:22, cf. Luke 17:26-30), and, second, that there would be no more ‘cosmic’ curse until the divine purpose was fulfilled (Gen. 9:11, cf. Isa. 54:9) when the earth would be finally destroyed by fire (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.).

It is important to point out, however, in light of the writer’s assertion in Genesis 8:21 that sin which has loomed so large in traditional Augustinian theology is at a relative discount. The difficulties facing early man certainly stemmed from sin which was an exacerbating factor but they arose primarily from nature which meant that only the fit could survive. For contrary to tradition,   creation, far from being a perfect and autonomous benefactor like Eden is, first, naturally futile and intractable and has to be inhabited, worked, cultivated and subjected to man’s dominion to make it fruitful (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:1,7,20). But, second, man as part of nature himself is subject to the moral law (the commandment) on the one hand but immature on the other. In fact, it was the gradual development from animal (flesh) to man that constituted the essence of human difficulty. Whereas animals can readily live off the land, so to speak (cf. Gen. 2:16), without consciously working, self-conscious intelligent man cannot, especially if he is to exercise dominion by developing the earth’s resources and human society as was obviously intended. It is not without reason therefore that the OT in particular depicts a regression from land previously rendered fertile by human industry to desolation when it is uninhabited and/or neglected as at the exile (cf. Isa. 5:6; 6:11,  etc.). When it is not cultivated and worked, it is fit only for occupation by animals (cf. Ex. 23:29; Dt. 7:22; Prov. 24:30-34; Isa. 5:6; 7:23-25, etc.). The period depicted in Genesis 4-8 is then largely a period of barren transition, not of permanent universal curse. Man’s animal beginning is under the providence God gradually giving way to his conscious intelligent humanity. And it is in light of this that further covenants are made by the Creator preparing the way for continued development to maturity or perfection. Regretfully, historical covenant theology has failed to understand this.


The Covenant with Abraham

Apart from the fact that there was technological development under the covenant with Noah (Gen. 10f.), man’s spiritual progress was apparently slow and sin continued to disfigure his divine image.  (6*It is worth pointing out here that man’s own physical nature was part of the creation over which he was required to rule. So while genuine progress was made in ‘taming’ nature under Noah, less success was achieved controlling the flesh as is evident even today, cf. James 3:1-9.) However, in his grace and mercy with ultimate salvation in view God’s next significant move was to call Abraham and make a covenant of promise with him. Even at this early stage it is made clear that Abraham was not only to become a great nation but to be a blessing to the nations of the entire earth (Gen. 12:2f.). The promises that God made to him regarding both land and people were of such importance that they were covenanted (chs. 15,17). Much later the author of Hebrews stresses their emphatic nature when he says that the promises were confirmed by an oath (Heb. 6:14,18). Thus the hope of all believers as the true children of Abraham is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul guaranteeing  ultimate entry into heaven itself, for  we  follow in the steps of Jesus who has already pioneered our way to perfection and the presence of God (Heb. 2:10-13; 6:19f.; 12:2).


Life in Egyptian Bondage

Along with the promises made to Abraham is the warning of difficulties lying ahead (cf. Acts 14:22), for the land of Canaan in which he lived as a sojourner in anticipation of heaven (Heb. 11:13-16) was not to become that of his posterity until after they had spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt (Gen. 15:13). After that long and gruelling period in the house of affliction, the children of Abraham were finally rescued by Moses. As with Jesus himself who recapitulated his forebears’ experience (Mt. 2:15), their childhood slavery (cf. Gal. 4:1-3) eventually came to an end and, having passed through the trials and temptations of the wilderness, they finally reached the Promised Land.

Before going further it is important to notice that all this took place under the covenant with Noah by which even Egypt, like Assyria later (Isa. 36:17), was blessed (cf. Num. 11:5; 16:13), perhaps not least because it was worked by Hebrew slaves. If it was finally ‘cursed’ or ruined (Ex. 10:7), this was because Pharaoh persecuted Abraham’s posterity (cf. Gen. 12:3), and not because the land as such was under the so-called cosmic curse. However, the time had come for the promises to be fulfilled, at least in part (cf. Heb. 6:15; 11:39), and a new dispensational covenant was called for, though even it contained a promise of life (cf. Rom. 7:10). It is necessary to stress here, however, that the covenant with Moses did not involve the obliteration of either the covenant with Noah or that that with Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:17). If it had, the plan of salvation as such would have foundered.


The Covenant with Moses

Now that the children of Israel who had proved so prolific during their Egyptian bondage were numerous enough to form a nation, it was necessary for them to be given a constitution. This occurred at Sinai when God emphasising that he had rescued his people from Egypt (Ex. 20:2) now imposed his law on them. Why? First, it was a step away from what had been their lawless heathen state when they worshipped foreign gods in Egypt (Josh. 24:2; Ezek. 20:7f.,16,24). The law thus became a wall of separation between God’s elect people and the nations in general (Lev. 20:22-26). But second as Paul says it was intended to point up transgressions (Gal. 3:19). While not salvific itself though it promised good if kept (Dt. 5:33), it demonstrated man’s inability to keep it (John 7:19; Heb. 2:2; 10:28), and hence the need for salvation by other means, that is, by faith like that of Abraham and so by Christ (Gal. 3:14,29).

As Paul says, the law served as a school master (KJV), as a guardian of God’s people who were still in relative spiritual minority and would remain so until Christ arrived. In other words, it was temporal and provisional and would eventually pass away (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:6-13). It did in Jesus’ own case when having kept it he was baptised by the Spirit (Mt. 3:13-17) and as the regenerate Son was no longer under the law. In view of the teaching of some a caveat must be entered at this point, for apart from faith in Christ, the law still stands. It has come to an end only for those who put their faith in the Saviour who has fulfilled the law (Mt. 5:17). For them as regenerate believers he is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4, cf. Gal. 3:24).


The Promissory Covenant with David

Moses himself though the mediator of the law, which significantly was regarded as delivered by angels (cf. Gal. 3:19), proved a failure and possession of the land was achieved initially under the leadership of Joshua. However, the land flowing with milk and honey soon proved to be less than an idyllic and permanent rest, a point stressed later in Hebrews 3 and 4. But throughout the OT, life continued to be lived under natural law on the one hand and the moral law on the other. In the event the law proved impossible to keep as the OT people themselves were well aware (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20), and they suffered as a consequence from frequent setbacks at the hands of their enemies, even God himself (Isa. 63:10). Nonetheless, hope was inspired by the wonderful covenant promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7 (cf. Ps. 89) despite his own failure under the jurisdiction of the law. For all his faults David epitomised Messianic hopes which sustained a troubled, even exiled and subjugated people through turbulent centuries. As perhaps all people in their relative, especially spiritual, minority become  aware, the fulfilment of the promise of the future seems long delayed, but after many trials and temptations it eventually arrives. The path to perfection is more involved than we think and it involves yet a further phase.


The Messianic Covenant

Inability to keep the law, which is the precondition of life (Lev. 18:5), requires another means of salvation, that is, rescue by Christ who according to the gospel is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). Though justification by faith featured early in the piece especially in the career of Abraham (Gen. 15:6, cf. Heb. 11), the need for regeneration or eternal life is only met by Christ who alone kept the law (cf. Mt. 19:16-21). But even though we accept him as Saviour and Messianic king, the Son of David, life remains a struggle, a time of continual testing (Job. 7:17f.; Ps. 11:4f.). Even when born again after being justified by faith in him, we still have to face the fight between flesh and spirit as he did (Heb. 4:15), and to overcome a thousand and one difficulties thrown up by unpredictable events in a futile and decaying world. There are enemies both within and without and they all have to be overcome if we are to attain to perfection. Having accepted Christ as our Saviour and having a heavenly goal in our sights, we are however guaranteed another helper in the form of the Spirit. And thus we follow by faith in the steps of him who served as our pioneer into heaven itself (Heb. 6:19f.; 10:19f.; 12:1f.).



At this point it is essential to recognise the parallel or correspondence between the path to perfection of the race in general and the pilgrimage of the individual. What historical theology has lost sight of under the pervasive and baneful influence of Augustine of Hippo is the notion of recapitulation. For while Augustine spoke of an originally perfect world including man ruined or cursed by Adam’s sin, Irenaeus who preceded him rightly stressed development from intrinsic immaturity to final perfection despite sin. Clearly the latter’s case was illustrated by Jesus himself who having begun in infancy finally achieved perfect manhood and so took his seat at this Father’s side. Though we are all dust as the children of Adam, by God’s grace we follow in his steps (Eph. 4:9, cf. John 1:14; Heb. 2:14). So as human beings created in the image of God, we are first animal flesh (even Jesus was born in a manger), then (Egyptian) slaves (cf. Mt. 2:15), servants under the law and finally sons by the Spirit through faith in Jesus (John 1:13; 3:16). In other words, we follow the covenant pattern and are baptised first into Noah, then, if we are Jews into Moses (cf. Gal. 3:19-24), and finally into Christ (Gal. 3:27).  Again it might be said that we who accept the priesthood of all believers conform to the symbolism of the temple and pass through the court of the Gentiles, the court of the Israelites, the holy place of the priests and finally enter the holy of holies which our high priest alone has entered (Heb. 9:24, cf. 6:19f.; 10:19f., etc.).


Perfection Achieved

On the assumption that this is the scriptural view, it is imperative for us to jettison with rigour and despatch the worldview that we have inherited from Augustine. The notion that Adam as mankind’s representative was originally created perfect, that is, fully mature, holy and righteous from the start but sinned occasioning original sin and a fall which brought a curse on the entire created world is not only false but ludicrous. It has turned theology on its head! Little wonder that as Christians we are at war with science. The truth is that science and modern technology in general properly understood are the consequence of mankind’s dominion over creation and reflect the fulfilment of his vocation as taught in Genesis 1.  But whereas the natural man made in the image of God has reached the moon, only Jesus, the Son of God, has conquered in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.) and attained to heaven to take his seat at his Father’s side. And this the rest of us who believe in him will also do in due course (Rev. 3:21), for our goal from the start was heavenly perfection (Rom. 8:31-39; Heb. 11:39f.).


See further my:

Adam’s Genealogy and Destiny

Augustine: Asset or Liability?

The Ascent of Man

The Human Pilgrimage from Ground to Glory

The Journey of Jesus

Recapitulation in Outline

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Perfection, Challenging The Church

Death and Corruption

Creation Corruptible By Nature

The Biblical Doctrine Of Human Evolution