December 1, 2020

Paul, Christ, and Adam

Paradise I, Chagall

By Chaplain Mike

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned–

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

• Romans 5:12-14, NIV

As we begin our study today, let me first mention a few observations about the Genesis narratives that Paul uses in the NT passages in which he refers to Adam and the story of the fall. Supporting quotes are from Peter C. Bouteneff’s book, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives.

One of the more interesting facts about the “Adam” narratives in Genesis 2-3 is that, in and of itself, the transgression portrayed within “is not portrayed as an anomalous infraction that uniquely and permanently sullies a theretofore perfect humanity” (Bouteneff, Beginnings, p. 7). Instead, it serves as one of a series of “fall” narratives that lead to God’s climactic judgment in Genesis 6-9 (the flood), then begin again with another “garden” fall narrative in which Noah and his sons are the main characters. Ultimately, all humankind is scattered from Babylon, from whence God chooses Abram to once again begin anew.

All the stories in Genesis 1-11 follow the pattern set by the Garden narratives. God relates to his chosen people, they disobey, and judgment and salvation follow.

Creation, Chagall

Another observation that may surprise students of the Bible is that “neither the primordial Genesis accounts nor most of the theological questions that they addressed (such as the origin of sin and death) play any role of consequence in the rest of the Hebrew Bible” (Beginnings, p. 11). Bouteneff traces the few referents and allusions to the creation stories in the Prophets and the Writings and comes to this conclusion: “The creation narratives are not foundational, nor do they serve to ground a teaching about humanity, sin, or death, as they do in later Jewish and especially in Christian thought.” (p. 16)

In fact, it is only in the second century BC, in the book of Jubilees, also known as “Lesser Genesis,” and also in Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, that sustained reflection on the Genesis narratives begins to emerge. Other Jewish apocryphal and pseudopigraphal works took up the task of interpreting these stories, culminating with Philo, whose works had a strong influence on Christian writers in the patristic era.

In essence, then, when Paul commented on the story of Adam in the light of the Christ-event, he was riding a wave of interest in and discussion of these texts that had emerged in the post-exilic era. Israel’s experience of exile in Babylon, where they certainly heard the creation myths of their captors, led them to reevaluate what their own sacred stories were saying about their calling in the world, what had gone wrong, and what the way back to God’s blessing might be.

Paul, Christ, and Adam
Just as the return from exile led Israel to rediscover Adam, when Paul reflected on Jesus and what he did, it led him to think of Adam.

  • In light of the exile, when Israel considered the Genesis portrayal of the “first man,” she saw herself in the mirror — God’s chosen representative, blessed with God’s land and law, disobedient and cast into exile, yet kept alive by God’s promise.
  • When Paul looked at Jesus and then at Adam, the Spirit of God prompted him likewise to recognize parallels — each was the first of his era, each was God’s chosen representative, each committed a decisive act with far-reaching implications. As Romans 5:14 says, Adam is a “pattern of the one to come.”

It was through Adam that sin entered the world, and death through sin. Adam’s sin is described in Romans 5 as “sin,’ ‘breaking the law,’ ‘transgression,’ and ‘disobedience.’” The consequence of that sin is called, ‘death,’ ‘judgment,’ and ‘condemnation.’” Whatever the specific mechanism, Adam’s sin spread and became universal — “all sinned,” and “the many were made sinners.” As a result, the penalty also spread to all people: “death came to all people,” “death reigned,” and “one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people.”

In parallel fashion, it was through Jesus and his act of obedience that God gave “the gift of justification and life for all people.” Paul emphasizes throughout this passage that what Christ did not only counteracts the work of Adam, but indeed far exceeds it in its effects.

Adam and Eve Banished from the Garden, Chagall

The “Death” Adam Brought
Now, one of the questions that arises from our earlier discussions involves the presence of death in the world. If death existed in the world before Adam’s “fall,” what does this passage in Romans mean when it says that death entered the world through Adam? Well, if you read even just the simple summary above, you see that Paul is describing a reality that goes beyond mere physical human death when he presents the consequences of Adam’s sin. The “death” he speaks of is a “death” that brings “judgment” and “condemnation” from God.

This reflects the emphasis of Genesis itself. God told Adam that he would “surely die” upon eating the forbidden fruit (2:17). Yet Adam did not die physically for more than 900 years, according to the record. However, he was prevented from eating of the Tree of Life and was cast from the Garden into exile.

Some call what he experienced “spiritual death.” I think it is more accurate to call it “covenant death.” God invited Adam and Eve into a covenant relationship with himself. Their disobedience severed that relationship and brought about alienation and separation from its benefits (“life”). Exile portrays banishment from covenant relationship and privileges. Death.

In the context of the Torah, this had its most immediate application to Israel. As God’s covenant people, they were given the Promised Land and God’s Law, with the promise of blessings for obedience and the warning of curses (ultimately leading to exile) for disobedience. Paul takes the illustration even further, suggesting that what Adam and Israel underwent is the universal experience of humankind.

Tentative Conclusions
Now, let me give you my tentative conclusions about how I think this may all work out.

  • Since Adam, the entire human race is under the reign of covenantal sin and death.
  • Covenantal sin and death entered the world through Adam, for he was God’s first representative man, his first chosen covenant partner, the one who was commissioned to bring God’s blessing to the whole world.
  • Though there may have been other human beings in the world before Adam (and I think there were), and though they may have acted in ways now deemed sinful (and I think they did), and though they may have died physically (and I think they did), the “sin” and “death” they experienced was not “covenantal.” God had not revealed himself and his law to them yet; God had not yet set up his “temple” and commissioned humans to bring his blessing to the whole world. (In like manner, some make a distinction between Homo sapiens and Homo divinus and suggest that there may have been a point in the evolutionary process when God bestowed the image of God upon humans. From that point on, humankind was spiritually accountable to God. See the BioLogos article, “Was there death before the fall?”)
  • At some point, God prepared a land and interacted with Adam and Eve there as his first covenant partners. Their failure led to their own covenant death and the death of those who became complicit in their act (all humankind). Physical death itself took on a more profound meaning for now it involved facing God’s judgment. When Paul says, “death entered the world and spread to all men because all sinned,” it is this more profound death, this covenant death—death that brings with it divine judgment and condemnation.

I will be the first to admit that this is all very tentative in my mind right now. I still have not dealt with the other pertinent passage in 1Corinthians 15, which places its emphasis on death and resurrection. Suffice it to say that I am not presenting this in any dogmatic sense. I am open to discussion and clarification and push-back.


  1. Aidan Clevinger says

    I commented on the post “One of the Stickiest Issues”, so I won’t get too detailed here. Suffice to say that while I definitely think there was death for non-human life before the Fall, I don’t think the biblical text allows the interpretation that physical death is not part of the curse. In Galatians, it says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being made a curse for us – surely this includes His death. And if death was part of God’s original plan, then why is Resurrection included in His redemptive purpose?

    I have the utmost respect for this site, its mission, and most of its teachings, but I do think that this could be a dangerous place for you to go. The denial of physical death as part of God’s punishment for our sin seems to transport the whole Platonic ideal of “matter-bad-spirit-good” back into the Church, where I don’t think it belongs. Not that I think that this is your intention or even where you personally will go. But it could lead others astray.

    Love in Christ,


    • But I did not deny “physical death as part of God’s punishment for our sin.” As I said in a comment to yesterday’s post, “death” is a complex matter—some natural, some part of the “surd evil” we cannot understand, some attributed directly to human sin. Christ will overcome it all.

  2. Re. spiritual/”convenant” death.

    In Jeremiah 26:8, the prophet Jeremiah had been telling people that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. The people were not happy with him and said, “You shall die!” – the same phrase God uses in Genesis 2:17. What did they mean? They expand on this a couple of verses later:

    “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” (Jeremiah 26:11)

    In other words, saying, “You shall die” was intended to mean, “Your fate is sealed”. It didn’t mean that Jeremiah or Adam (and Eve) would die immediately. In other words, it’s wrong to suggest that the death God warned Adam about was not physical because it didn’t happen straight away.

    (BTW, I got this from J.H. Walton’s commentary).

    • I may not have said it clearly enough, but I believe physical death IS part of what God is saying; not that Adam will experience something that has never existed before, but that the death he will die and pass on has new signficance.

  3. Ah! Now we come closer to the truly greatest problem for OE/TE:
    “Though there may have been other human beings in the world before Adam (and I think there were), and though they may have acted in ways now deemed sinful”

    This is what I call the opposition of God’s creative pleasure and God’s Law. That is, mankind was what God had made him to be through millions of years of evolution. This includes “sin analogues” (sin-like behavior in animals and early proto-men).

    “Sin-analogues” must be pleasing to God, because God is directly responsible for them. But, then God comes along to some poor humans hundreds of thousands of years later and says “Quit it!” Is God schizophrenic? This Law is an alien imposition. Why is God suddenly so angry with what He has made?

    • perhaps He is showing them a better way, one that involves a deeper appreciation and fuller recognition of their existence.

    • nedbrek seems to be bothered by the latest string of articles on internetmonk.

      • I spent most of my life in bondage and depression due to evolutionary thought. It saddens me some would play with fire like that.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          So you flipped one-eighty into YEC Uber Alles?
          Like Communism begetting Objectivism?

        • I would be more depressed about the idea that Eve took a bite of an apple and as a result God cursed mankind in perpetuity with horrible punishments. That is an angry, nasty, cruel God. I would not want a father like that. Throw a temper tantrum when you are two years old and you will still be chained in the basement when you are eighty.

          • But Fish, what are the alternatives?

            That there is no curse – that God is pleased with the way things are. Is there even sin in this case? This is not better in any way?

            That the first sin was more serious in some way? But why then doesn’t the Bible say that? It doesn’t seem averse to detailing a great many terrible things.

          • or on the flip side A & E had one, just one, rule not to break. They rebelled anyway.

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

            Is anyone arguing that there is NO curse involved? It seems to me that the question is the nature of the curse. What exactly was it? To what (and/or whom) did it apply? What is the relation of the curse to the whole of creation? I don’t think anyone is saying that God is pleased with things “just the way they are.” It seems to me that the argument is setting up an either/or fallacy. “Either the entire world was originally created as a paradise or God is pleased with the current state of the world.” There’s a whole lot more room for other possibilities in there.

          • The problem is that in TE models, there can’t really be any difference in anything due to any one person (or group of people).

            There is supposed to be a continuous, unbroken chain from rocks to people. There is no radical change anywhere.

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

            With all due respect, I think you’re completely misunderstanding theistic evolution. Or at least your understanding is not what I understand them to be saying, especially as portrayed here at iMonk (I’m admittedly less familiar with BioLogos and their crew). I don’t see anyone here arguing that there has been no change or no need for redemption of creation.

          • Perhaps I can sum up. I understand the TE is basically modern evolutionary theory, with “God did it” applied to the evolutionary tree (not the most generous term, but sufficient for a quick summary).

            A key component of evolutionary theory is “cladistics” – the idea that all organism can be grouped by traits and common descent. This can be summarized as “similarities in cousins are due to common ancestry”, “differences are due to evolution”.

            So, our closest cousins lie among the great apes and chimpanzees. Any trait present in both is due to a common ancestor. This common ancestor must be pre-A&E (whatever your conceptualization is).

            “Sin analogues” are present in chimpanzees. Therefore, they were present in our common ancestor, and pre-A&E. And therefore, according to God’s perfect will. And contrary to His moral law.

        • Brendan H says

          if evolutionary thought is bondage… BABY, TIE ME UP!!!

        • Ironically, I grew up in an environment where evolution was seen as a big bogeyman, and I actually used to support people like Ken Ham. Now, though, I find myself being drawn more and more into a view that see evolution not only as possible but as probable. It’s actually been quite freeing to me. It’s not something I really want to spend a whole lot of energy arguing about, but it also frees me from having to hold in suspicion every Christian who doesn’t believe in a literal 6-day creation.

    • Nedbrek, while I appreciate the dilemma your logic has led you to with regard to this and other matters we’ve discussed in recent days, I think what I’m discovering as I study this further is that God’s ways may be much bigger and more unfathomable than any of us realize. Isn’t that the message of Job? Those who wanted to say they had the whole thing figured out with regard to sin and judgment and human culpability in the end were simply overwhelmed by a God who said, “Where were you when I was creating things and overcoming evil long before you humans ever came on the scene?”

      • You don’t find it at all ironic that you deny that God directly created anything? Many at Biologos say “Creation creates itself” (in one way or another). Or death is our Creator, as I mentioned elsewhere.

        I don’t think you can invoke mystery here. You should apply your beliefs to their logical conclusions. To do otherwise is sloppy thinking (and atheists will tear you apart for it).

        • “You don’t find it at all ironic that you deny that God directly created anything?”

          Don’t mean to gang up on you, nedbrek, but I didn’t get that at all from Mike’s posts.

          • Correct. You won’t find it here. You have to dig deeper. Biologos is a good storehouse of it.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Nedbrek has been trolling Biologos since it was first featured here at IMonk. I used to see his comments all over their blog.

        • Nedbrek, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. We are not talking about who but how. We are having a discussion on this for certain important reasons, but if I were preaching or teaching Genesis in church I would not focus on the science at all because it is not in the view of the biblical authors. The Bible is about who created and why and I have no problem proclaiming that. These issues of science and faith have to do with how we live in the world, relate to our neighbors, and develop a thoughtful apologetic for our faith.

          • I don’t think you can separate the who and the how. Is God mighty to save? Did He mightily create?

            I think John Macarthur says it well, “If you don’t believe God on the things we can see, why believe what you cannot see?” (either because it is invisible (spiritual) or yet to come (salvation))

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

            I don’t mean to be a difficult, but by your argument, Nedbrek, wouldn’t it be problematic to affirm human reproduction? God didn’t create you or I ex nihlo. He used our parents to generate us from their genes and whatnot. That doesn’t make you or I any less God’s creation. It doesn’t mean that he’s not our Creator.

          • What I mean is that there’s a big difference between a God who directly creates what He desires, and a god who tries to create something good, but ends up with what we have.

      • Amen. Far too often we evangelicals try to squeeze God into this tight, tiny little box that we have created. We come up with definitions and attributes for God that are so narrow it’s a wonder anybody is going to get into heaven.

        Case in point: I have recently graduated with a degree in mathematics and am searching for a teaching job in a private school. Catholic schools are wonderful. They are truly concerned with your content of knowledge, enthusiasm, and character. Evangelical schools, on the other hand, often require applications of over 15 pages in length, most of which require essay answers on topics ranging from alcohol, to my beliefs on homosexuality, to whether or not I agree with their doctrinal statements on the rapture, full immersion Baptism, communion as a symbol, active church membership, and many many more. Oh, and there might be half a page asking about my education, experience, and other qualifications.

        I just have to be honest and write that for most of their doctrines, I have not formed convictions. Who am I to squeeze God into the box?

        btw it isn’t that I would not teach in an evangelical school. More often than not, they are filled with friendly, loving people who work there that really want to positively impact their students. But man, the applications are out of control.

        • My amen was regarding Chaplain Mike’s comments, btw.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          …btw it isn’t that I would not teach in an evangelical school. … But man, the applications are out of control.

          Too much Thought Police interrogation re your Purity of Ideology?

        • Wow. A school where intellectual exploration is forbidden and everyone marches in lockstep around a certain set of ideas is not going to produce academic excellence — or good citizens. Perhaps this Christian “education” is part of the root of our society’s problems with citizens believing what they are told by the TV without applying any critical thought.

          • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

            It’s all education. The school that truly allows freedom of thought is very, very rare, no matter if it’s Christian, secular, public, private, home-based, church-based, charter, or anything else. Schools primarily exist for one form of indoctrination or another. You start advocating true freedom of thought and you’ll find yourself in a cave being forced to take a shot of hemlock.

          • Well, when it comes to the education of my children, I find that some types of indoctrination are more onerous than others.

            It is probably better to not be aware of dinosaurs at all than to be taught they never existed and are simply a conspiracy by evil secular scientists.

        • Arthur Gonzerelli says

          I could write an essay on alcohol.

  4. “neither the primordial Genesis accounts nor most of the theological questions that they addressed (such as the origin of sin and death) play any role of consequence in the rest of the Hebrew Bible” (Beginnings, p. 11). Bouteneff traces the few referents and allusions to the creation stories in the Prophets and the Writings and comes to this conclusion: “The creation narratives are not foundational, nor do they serve to ground a teaching about humanity, sin, or death, as they do in later Jewish and especially in Christian thought.” (p. 16)

    Interesting thoughts. Adam and Eve lived in a one-rule world…”don’t eat that fruit”…which, as a result of their sin, evolved into a world filled with thousands of laws. I have to say that Bouteneff is probably right here…I can’t think of any context in the OT in which the “heavy yolk” is mentioned, the one that Christ compared to His own “light yoke”. I can’t recall off the top of my head anyone really bewailing the yoke of the law in the OT, other than David’s profound remorse over his sin…but he didn’t complain about the law…he just acknowledged his inability to keep the law.

    I’m not sure that I agree that there were other human beings before Adam and Eve, but I do have a theory that they likely weren’t the only created beings. Adam’s sons married, and I’ve heard lots of theological discussions about who they married, but I tend to lean toward thinking that if God could make one man/woman set, He’s certainly capable of making another. CM, let’s plan on asking God about that when we get swept up into the clouds, okay? I think Camping said it’s gonna happen September 29 now…Don’t get caught wearing white pants after Labor Day, cause Jesus is comin’ back!

  5. David Cornwell says

    Chaplain Mike, you’ve given me a lot think about today (and the last few days) . I’ll be in my car quite a bit today and my mind will start to work on this, both consciously and subconsciously. So, it will take time, days, weeks, or more. Then I might have some tentative conclusions. You manage to keep things churning!

  6. Thanks for this series Chaplain Mike! This is a much needed conversation in the “Evangelical” Christian world (I put it into quotes because that word means various things to various people, but I have to use some term to identify what I’m getting at!).

    You talked in previous posts about the unknown origin of evil. That is, evil was present in the world into which Adam and Eve are placed. Jesus came to live, die, and be resurrected – all to overcome evil. Death is a subset of evil, a subset which Adam somehow brought to humanity and Jesus somehow overcame for humanity, but not the entirety of the story.

    I think part of the difficulty in squaring all this with traditional understanding is the notion of creation. Traditionally we see creation in the story of Genesis One. But as John Walton has pointed out, this isn’t about the material creation. That means there must have been another time when God brought material into existence (it’s not co-eternal). I think it’s possible to say that evil entered at that time or shortly thereafter (because I think bringing “other” into existence opens the possibility up for evil). Jesus’s work is a restoration of all things (the subset of humanity’s problem as well as the larger problem of evil itself). The Bible is written for us and centers on us, but that doesn’t mean that Adam’s sin is the core of the problem that God is solving through Jesus’s work, even though this world was created with us in mind. Paul is talking about humanity’s problem when he speaks of Jesus being the second, perfect, Adam.

    Does that make any sense? Helpful at all?

  7. Radagast says

    Very interesting stuff here Chaplain Mike…

    “Though there may have been other human beings in the world before Adam (and I think there were)…”

    One of the most interesting passages in Genisis for me is:
    When the Sons of God married the daughters of men….

    This may fit in a scenario where God’s people , those who were decendants of Adam and Eve, began to intermingle with those not of this direct line….

  8. Mike,
    Thank you for taking the time to study and write this. God has certainly given you a good mind to understand the context and meaning of Genesis in light of the structure of the Old Testament as a whole, and in line with the spiritual needs of the people of Israel. Your parallel of the exile from the garden and Israel’s exile from “the land” has not been sufficiently appreciated by most Bible teachers.
    The part of this post I found weakest, however, is the link between Adam’s sin and mankind’s sin (and condemnation) if Adam is not the biological ancestor to mankind. I see you address this in the following quotes:
    “Whatever the specific mechanism, Adam’s sin spread and became universal—“all sinned,” and “the many were made sinners.”
    “Paul takes the illustration even further, suggesting that what Adam and Israel underwent is the universal experience of humankind.”
    “At some point, God prepared a land and interacted with Adam and Eve there as his first covenant partners. Their failure led to their own covenant death and the death of those who became complicit in their act (all humankind).”

    I am having a hard time seeing the “mechanism” (or any mechanism). If Adam is the head of humanity biologically, then the imputation of his sin to all humanity makes some sense to my mind, since he is the head and source of humanity (whether or not the mechanism of original sin was biological). If he is not the head of humanity biologically, and if most of humanity has been unaware and ignorant of his sin, then in what way is Adam’s sin spread to humanity or counted against humanity?

    I’m not saying this is unanswerable, just that this seems the weakest part of the argument to me so far.

    • I agree I think this is one of the weaker points of an otherwise interesting set of arguments. It seems to me biological descent from Adam is necessary to transmit sin just as spiritual descent from Christ (through faith) is necessary to obtain righteousness. If Adam is only a representative, then Christ is only a representative and essentially universalism prevails—actual faith isn’t necessary just as actual biological descent isn’t necessary.

      • JeffB-
        I don’t see a parallel between faith and biology, but an antithesis. Now the seminal headship position would imply that all men must be “from Adam’s loins” to inherit sins. The federal headship position assumes, but does not require, this. What is most interesting to me is that the Bible never seems to really separate the physical, spiritual, and mental aspects of man. This is why Israel stumbled so hard – they considered themselves God’s people because they were the biological progeny of Abraham. But as Paul argues in Romans, it was not the biological seed that was saved, but the remnant by faith. This seems to be the opposite of what you are saying. Biological descent is not necessay, but faith is (but I understand that there is a difference between descent from Abraham and descent from Adam). Of course, the church has always presumed that our sin came from Adam by descent, regardless of the specific theory (seminal or federal), and I quite agree. In fact, if there were other peeps running around, I fail to see how Adam’s actions could have effected them at all…

        • Hi John,
          I don’t think Paul’s statement is the opposite of what I’m saying at all. Yes, faith and biology are different—agreed and I wasn’t saying they were the same thing. But they are linked by analogy. Faith is what’s important (more important than biology) but you have to actually HAVE faith. Similary, to have original sin, you have to actually biologically descend from Adam. You can’t be spiritually ‘saved’ simply by being human because there is some representative man (Jesus). You have to actually HAVE faith and be ‘descended’ from Jesus, just like you have to actually descend from Adam to have sin.

          Thanks for the reply.

          • Why does sin, a spiritual condition that no doubt affects us physically in any number of ways, have to be transmitted biologically through our DNA? Is there a “sin gene” that turns us all into sinners? I don’t really think that’s what the Apostle Paul’s argument is getting at. I think Paul is simply saying that we are all human, and the human condition is to be sinful. The actual biological and physical processes as to how that happens are really outside of the scope of the argument. I believe the argument is as simple as, “we are all humans, and all humans have sinned, just like the prototypical human did”.

          • Hi Phil,
            I understand your argument but I personally see that argument (based on a prototypical human) as an example of Pelagianism which was a controversy at the time of Augustine and decisively decided against (not just by Augustine, but by Aquinas and many others). But perhaps I’m incorrect in making the connection with Pelagianism.

            The process itself is a mystery, but I do think Paul is in fact making the ordinarily understood biological descent part of the argument—the same process that made Jews descendants of Abraham makes all humans descendants of Adam and therefore tainted with original sin.


          • Jeff.
            Thanks for the gracious reply. I appreciate the tone of your comments quite a bit.

            I’d say the example you give of how one becomes a Jew is an interesting one. It was possible for a person to become a Jew without being born one, and, indeed, Paul himself makes the argument that simply being born to Jewish parents or even being physically circumcised doesn’t necessarily make a person a true Jew. What matter is the state of their heart.

            So I would just say that Paul could simply be saying something about the universal condition of our hearts – something that is in us that pushes us to reject God. As far as Pelagianism, I’d say that’s the belief that we can save ourselves. I really don’t see anyone, at least not here, making that argument..

      • If sin is biologically transmitted, then we should lock up the children of thieves before they have a chance to steal like their mother or father did.

        If through no fault of my own I will be punished by God for something one of his creations did thousands of generations ago, then there is no justice, Jesus turns into a simple blood sacrifice no different than a goat, and life is in general pointless.

        The concept of original sin is one of the weakest links in Christian theology, for it rests on an unjust God.

        • There is a difference between charging the sins of Adam to all, and saying that we have a sin (or sinful) nature.

          No one needs to teach a child to lie or steal. These things come naturally. The question really is, is our nature what God created for us via evolution, or is it the result of the Fall.

          • Perhaps stealing and lying are genetic. Perhaps totally not. The different crime rates in different cultures would tend to imply there is an environmental component.

            It would have been a simple matter for God to avoid the fall. He could have kept the snake or the tree out of the garden, or created us with purer motives. Or he could have forgiven Eve.

            Perhaps he was angry at himself and took it out on us. I guess I could get mad enough at someone to hate their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren and every member of their family in perpetuity. It would take more than a stolen apple, though.

          • “It would have been a simple matter for God to avoid the fall.”

            Right, yet He didn’t. Either He had some reason for that, or not. What might that reason be?

          • Surd evil breaking through. Perhaps perfection (ie God) cannot create perfection in the physical world for some reason. I run aground on it, but I do see in evolution a movement toward goodness.

        • While the doctrine of original sin is both difficult to understand fully (imo), and misunderstood (it is an explanation of why we all sin, not punishing us for the sin of another) I don’t agree that it is a weak link.

          Every religion (and every thoughtful person, I would think) agrees that there is something wrong about humanity; that is, we do not just do individual wrong things, there is something “out of whack” in humanity in a way that is profoundly sad and profoundly ugly. Stan Guthrie (in Books and Culture) reviews professor Stephen Prothero’s survey of world religions (God is Not One) and makes the following statement: “While pointing to salient religious differences, Prothero freely acknowledges that all religions agree there is something wrong with the world, that it is somehow ‘out of balance’”. Indeed, the notion that mankind is not “right” seems to be the only thing adherents of almost any worldview can agree on.

          But, and here is the important point, most other worldviews and philosophies have no explanation for why this is the case. The most fundamental and frustrating fact about mankind is left without either a historical or philosophical reason for it being so.

          I will take an account like Paul’s, even if difficult, over a non-explanation every time.

        • Keep in mind that Eastern Orthodoxy holds to a different view.

    • I agree that this is the weakest point. This is why some have taken Adam as the first Homo Divinus and the father of all subsequent humans in God’s image. You may want to read the follow-up editorial in CT in which they insist upon a historical Adam and Eve for this very reason.

      • BTW CM, I really like the notion of seeing ‘covenantal’ death in the fall and I think it’s yet one more way the spiritual story of the entire Bible ties together. My only objection is in pushing too hard to disassociate actual physical death from the story at all, over-spiritualizing (or over-covenantizing) it. Just as YEC folks I think push too hard on the literal, physical interpretation and sometimes seem not to be able to see the many-layered spiritual lessons, I think one can push too hard the other way as well. One can appreciate, say, the story of the Exodus as a story of redemption but that doesn’t mean that a real event didn’t take place or is somehow unncecessary to the story. Similarly, I can appreciate the symbolism and/or actual truth of covenantal death here, but that doesn’t mean actual physical death wasn’t also involved or an unncecessary part of the story. Thanks for a good series on this—something I would think unlikely to be found almost anywhere else!

  9. Chaplin Mike..good posts!! Thanks for your hard work, it gives me something to chew on!! 🙂

  10. I find the statements about the fall not being all that significant a little odd (the idea that the fall didn’t represent some major event changing the nature of things or that the rest of the OT really didn’t pay much attention to it). Although it’s true that there are subsequent “falls,” it seems that these are all simply recapitulations of and ultimately a result of the one initial fall. The tabernacle/temple were decorated in such a way as to resemble Eden—being again in the paradise of God. Ultimate fulfillments of restoration picture a return to paradise. Just because Adam and Eve aren’t mentioned over and over again doesn’t mean that the truth of and consequences of the fall don’t pervade the OT. Here in the US, we don’t talk about George Washington all the time every day, but we quietly exchange money with his imprint on it, testifying to his lasting impact. Similarly, even though the OT doesn’t continually discuss Adam and Eve, it seems that the very fact of death is a constant reminder of their lasting impact. Not to mention the sacrificial system instituted for the first time at the fall, loss of paradise to which there is promised return, etc. Virtually the whole OT seems to me to be a testament to the fundamental events of the fall.

    • I think I’m with you on this. The specific event is rarely cited, but the motif is constant.

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

        Which is very typical in the biblical picture of history. It’s not so much linear as it is a stretched out slinky. Patterns and patterns and patterns. Adam is Israel is Jesus is the Church, kind of stuff.

  11. Mike, I wonder if the “spiritual death” in Genesis would relate to Adam’s sense of shame, that in desiring to be like God he made his own human existence a vanity (a la Ecclesiastes).

  12. Genesis 2:17 should not be taken to mean, “During the same twenty-four hour period in which you eat of the fruit, you will die.” This misinterpretation is what has led us to misunderstand the nature of the curse of death.

    As Jonathan Edwards argued in his book on original sin, Genesis 2:17 is referring to the general time period, just as an old man might say, “Back in my day, we didn’t need contracts; we shook hands.” So did God say to Adam, “When you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you have entered a new period of time, one that will culminate in your death.”

    The narrative in Genesis 2-3 (and in the repeated refrain “and he died” in Genesis 5) clearly presents death as an unnatural part of creation. The storyline presents death as the result of sin, not as a natural part of creation that was made worse by sin.

    If death was natural for humanity prior to Adam’s fall, and thus Adam’s fall did not inaugurate death but only death as judgment, then what of those who do not experience death as judgment after the fall? Take the line of Seth in Genesis 5. The ominous refrain, “and he died” is meant to recall our attention to the threat of Genesis 2:17. However, if we argue that Genesis 2:17 only refers to death as judgment and not death per se, then in what sense did the godly line of Seth actually experience it? Did Methuselah die under the judgment of God? Was he not a godly believer?

    Only the traditional reading can account for the fact that the deaths of those like Methuselah was both a consequence of sin (because death per se is unnatural and a result of sin) and yet not penal in nature (because his sins were forgiven).

    Death is an illegal alien in this creation. Let us not seek to naturalize it here.

    • Either that, or the writers were simply trying to make sense of why people die and this was their shot at it. Genesis was the ancient version of “Why bad things happen to good people.”

      • No, it was you have just one rule to adhere to and you rebelled anyway.

        • Yes, but God tempted them with the tree by putting it there, then created a snake to persuade them to do it. It sounds like he wanted them to rebel so he could punish mankind eternally for it.

        • It’s like me telling my daughter to not talk on the phone while driving, then leaving one in the car and asking her best friend to give her a call about tonight’s homework. I had to have an agenda she knows nothing about; I’m setting her up.

        • He gave them the choice.

          “It sounds like he wanted them to rebel so he could punish mankind eternally for it.”

          I am sorry that is what you get out of those passages, or out of Scripture as a whole.

    • Aaron, I don’t understand your distinction. On the one hand you want to say that death is the result of sin and unnatural but on the other hand it is not penal? Whether Adam died physically the same day as he sinned or 900 years later, is not his death the result of God enacting his penalty on sin? “The wages of sin is death, ” right? So all the “saints” of Gen 5 nonetheless suffered death as a result of God’s judgment. Please clarify, I’m confused.

  13. This is way above my head, but fascinating! There needs to be room for this conversation within orthodoxy. It does NOT undermine the authority of scripture, it merely proposes a different interpretation.

  14. <>
    FYI, that is the same interpretation that OEC’s have of the creation “days” of Genesis.

    • Sorry, my original quote was missing – I quoted Aaron saying:
      As Jonathan Edwards argued in his book on original sin, Genesis 2:17 is referring to the general time period, just as an old man might say, “Back in my day, we didn’t need contracts; we shook hands.”

  15. One more Mike says

    I’ve adopted the movie “Time Bandits” as my personal creation, origins of sin and necessity of evil statement of belief and I’ve been a great deal happier as a result.

    “The fabric of the universe is not perfect. It was rather a botch job. We only had six days to do it.”

    • hey, great theologcial notions from the movie which is one of my favorites.

      from Wiki:

      When Kevin asks why there must be evil in the world, the Supreme Being appears not to know the answer, replying “I think it has something to do with free will.”

  16. Pam Burns says

    I’m not questioning anyone’s faith, but it seems like people in this discussion, (experts included), work alot harder to make the Bible say what it doesn’t say, than just believing it at face value. It would be just as easy to explain how Jesus really wasn’t who He said He was and all the miracles were really some other explainable events. Believe me, it doesn’t have to be that hard–and it gives me a headache.

    • Sorry for the headache, Pam. There are legitimate reasons to have these discussions, and I will talk about that in my post Friday. But these are not the only kinds of discussions we have here, so I hope you will stick around. And I hope you understand that “taking the Bible at face value” is not always as simple as folks might imagine.

    • some thinking done by armchair theologians like myself, actually an inspiring & energizing pasttime. there are those that do the jit-and-tottle types intent on dissecting the scriptures to make them fit into neat+tidy sizes they then conclude the one-size-fits-all interpretation…

      some even state that such prepared tidbits are to be eaten “at face value…” 😉

      now it could be the stretching of concepts & alternate views too much heady stuff to warrant interest or participation. i like the more contemplative aspects of such approaches, but then i am created to be reflective & meditative. i enjoy like-minded interactions that help me fit missing pieces of my conclusions-in-process. of course, such pasttimes not for everyone. alternate views do not threaten me or the ‘Truth’ that is neither known in its entirety nor completely hidden. God create us as cerebral creatures with reason & imagination. i think we should use such gifts to the best of our ability & bless others with our individual perspectives. if the concepts so grand as to cause a headache, simply avoid the challenge. what is one man’s energizing pasttime is another’s drudgery. readers should proceed at their own risk… 😀

    • Pam,

      A quick thought: I don’t think anyone reads the Bible “at face value,” including the people who insist that they do. We all interpret it in some way and read it through filters, some of which we aren’t even aware. And all of us need the Holy Spirit (speaking both to us and through others) to guide those interpretations.

      Hope you get to feeling better!

  17. For me it has been easier to answer the -why God seems to blame us for something Adam did – question by thinking of Adam as being the corporate head of humanity, the best example, or epitome of human creation. He was also all of us because we all came from him. For me it helped to think of us as possibly being almost one creation. God also knows from His foreknowledge that we will all sin. So although human kind as a whole is lost a way has been made to save individuals, although we are not directly responsible for something Adam did we are still responsible as individuals for our own selves we can either accept or reject God’s gift. Hopefully that helps. Another big question we’ve been covering, which I haven’t been able to answer so well, is how death could exist in the world before Adam, but that belief, that death came into existence with Adams sin, I think is a doctrinal build up, not necessarily what the bible says, or it may not necessarily be interpreted that way, but feel free to disagree with me on that.

  18. Maybe i should have been more exact in what I mean by death, because the bible clearly says death came into the world with Adams sin. I mean all physical death so no room is left for dinosaurs or prehumans etc.