The Beginning of the Gospel (RJS)

I posted a couple of weeks ago on the NPR story about the controversy within evangelicalism regarding Adam and Eve – A Search for Acceptance? In this story Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provided a clear proponent of the position for both a young earth and a literal historical Adam and Eve. The soundbite in the interview provide little room for developed views or discussion and Dr. Mohler expanded on his views in a recent post on his blog: False Start? The Controversy Over Adam and Eve Heats Up. It isn’t my intent here to respond directly to his post – but I would like to put up some thoughts for consideration.

Dr. Mohler headlines his post with a picture of a bible open to Genesis and the synopsis:

The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel

He concludes his post with the following statement:

If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.

I think he is dead-on right with his concluding statement, but not in his opening synopsis. If we do not know how the story begins then we do not know what the story means.

Does the story of the Gospel begin with Adam and Eve? If so how and why?

If not, then how does the story of the Gospel begin?

Here is my premise, the framework through which I consider all of these questions – a Christian understanding of  the Gospel, and of creation, does not begin with Genesis 1-3. It most certainly does not begin with Adam and Eve. A Christian understanding of creation and thus the story of the Gospel begins with John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5,14

And with Colossians 1

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Colossians 1:15-18

A Christian understanding of the Gospel begins with Jesus, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and through whom all things are reconciled. The gospel according to Paul is centered on Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. Again we can turn to Paul – this time in 1 Cor. 15.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, … Whether then it was I or they [the other apostles], so we preach and so you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:13-4,11

As a theological and doctrinal question, the question of Adam is of secondary importance.  The link between all mankind, past present, and future, as sinners separated from God in need of reconciliation and Christ as the one who reconciles us to God is crucial. The link between Adam as a unique historical person and Christ is not crucial to the gospel. Many different views of Genesis 1-3 are consistent with mankind in broken relationship with God. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if we all agree here – I could be wrong, Jack Collins could be wrong, Pete Enns could be wrong, Al Mohler could be wrong.  Anyone of us could be dead wrong about the historicity of a man, Adam, and if we agree on Christ who died for our sins  and was raised on the third day as the central figure in the story of the gospel we are all still on the right track. I reject categorically the notion that having the right view of Adam (or any specific view of Adam) is a requirement for having the right view of Christ and his redeeming work in the world.

I think the question of Adam is important – and I will continue to post on the topic and explore the various facets of the question. I think the questions raised at the interface of science and the Christian faith, especially the questions raised by evolution are important. They are important for individual Christians struggling with the intellectual coherence of what they learn about the world from science and what they believe as Christians. They are important for evangelism in at least part of our secular society and this will be an increasingly important factor.

A false start to the story produces a false gospel. The start to the story is Christ who was in the beginning with God, who emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of man, who became flesh and dwelt among us. Frankly, I don’t think that the incarnation is a solution to a problem created by our original forefathers, whether two unique individuals created from the dust or a community who evolved into humans. I think that the incarnation was part of God’s plan from the beginning.

No doubt there are those reading here who disagree with some part of my statement, but this makes for good and enlightening conversation.

Where do you start the story of the gospel?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Alan K

    Amen! This was so good I’d read it all over again if you re-posted it tomorrow!

  • Joe Canner

    I like this approach a lot. A focus on Adam, whether as historical figure or genetic representative, has the potential to become a search for a scapegoat: someone or something to blame for our problems. A focus on Jesus and his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming points us to the solution to our problems. (Perhaps our politicians could learn a thing or two from this.)

  • Rick

    Very good post, and I agree with most of it. Not sure about your line,

    “I don’t think that the incarnation is a solution to a problem created by our original forefathers, whether two unique individuals created from the dust or a community who evolved into humans. I think that the incarnation was part of God’s plan from the beginning.”

    Reconcilation is key in the passages you quoted, so you are saying that either: 1) the incarnation was more than the reconcilation and that the reconcilation was an add-on, or 2) God created things unreconciled to Him.

    In regards to Mohler, I think he is saying that for reconcilation to be a factor (since it is part of the gospel), the only viable answer is a historic Adam. I am not sure he would hold that position if another viable option was presented to him.

  • DanS

    One of my first pastors used to always quote the dictum “a text without a context is a pretext”. Your attempt to make Christ the “start” of the gospel by quoting New Testament texts fails because Mohler’s point was that Evolution changes the context in which Christ’s mission is understood.

    From Mohler’s article, “Furthermore, it is clear that the historical character of these chapters is crucial to understanding the Bible’s central message — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” So Mohler is not saying Adam is the central theme of the Bible, Christ is the central message, but Christ’s mission is understood in relation to the origin of man, the origin of sin, and the origin of death.

    You yourself state, “The link between all mankind, past present, and future, as sinners separated from God in need of reconciliation and Christ as the one who reconciles us to God is crucial.” But scientific naturalism alters the story of creation, refusing to allow God the right to act in ways that go beyond the laws of nature. Evolution makes death a part of the fabric of God’s creative activity, altering the meaning of Christ rescuing us from “the sting of sin” which the New Testament defines as death. Evolution severs the link between sin and physical death, meaning that the horrors of death, suffering, decay are part of the natural fabric of the created world and not a consequence of rebellion.

    Nothing in scripture teaches that death is part of God’s creative plan or that sin is unrelated to physical death. Asserting Christ as the answer while redefining the problem does not settle the issue. It skirts the issue. Why did Christ come? To put an end to sin and death. What does Evolution mean? That sin and death are unrelated and death is a necessary part of the natural processes God (undetectibly) used to create.

    So the context of Christ’s mission changes even if one chooses to believe Paul linked an historical Christ to a fictional Adam and built a theology of salvation on that tenuous relationship. Mohler’s point is right. Rejecting the historic position of the church that the account of Adam and the fall at least have roots in historical events changes the context of Christ’s mission and alters the meaning of the gospel. I applaud his courage in standing largely alone against the tide of current evangelical thought.

  • Rob Watt

    This is a good discussion to refresh our thinking about the gospel the Scriptures speaks of Vs the cliche which we tend to reduce it to, something far less Godward and less amazing.

  • Rick Cruse

    While in agreement with this post (and with no desire to nitpick), couldn’t we say that the beginning of the gospel is in the “community” of the Triune God? Also, in response to commenter #3: “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself. There are two purposes stated here for the incarnation: reconciliation, yes, but also full disclosure/demonstration. If we want to know what God “looks like” (as did Moses), we need look no further than at Jesus.

  • Jeff L

    Good stuff RJS. Mohler seems to think that a denial of A and E’s historicity is simply a desire to go along with the culture. But it’s not that simple.

    A lot of us face a choice different from the one Mohler poses but just as stark: either we reconcile evolution with a Jesus-centered Gospel or we lose our faith altogether. Thank God people like you are helping us move toward the former rather than the latter option.

  • MD

    rjs- how do you address the idea of a pre-creation jesus being the start of the gospel within a conversation about the fall and your new testament passages about the cross, christ dying for our sins, and reconciliation to god?

  • Richard


    You said, “Asserting Christ as the answer while redefining the problem does not settle the issue. It skirts the issue. Why did Christ come? To put an end to sin and death.”

    This assumes that the Gospl begins in Genesis 3, not Genesis 1. It also assumes that the only purpose to the incarnation was Jesus’ death to conquer sin and death and that he wouldn’t have come if there hadn’t been a fall. This isn’t something new because of evolutionary claims, this is an old debate over the very nature and purpose of the incarnation.

  • Wm

    When the scientific evidence for the development of the earth and life on earth is taken into consideration, we have to re-imagine the whole bible story. I wonder if the ‘incarnation’ is a clue to the whole. In other words, did God incarnate into ‘our’ story – the myth that man created and developed over the millennia, or has God brought enlightenment to ‘His’ story? Jesus seems adept at using that which is common to man to teach valuable truths. Maybe our whole story isn’t about divine ‘facts’, but merely a vehicle the infinite God easily adapts to inculcate divine ‘truths’. Of ultimate value is a transformed heart rather than a correct construct.

  • Patrick

    I tend to disagree respectfully.

    Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfiller and “fill fuller”( I know it isn’t a proper word, but, it’s is what the Greek term = as well as fulfill) of every OT prediction about the redeeming of the nations and every human back from the side of darkness we all are a part of at some point.

    Jesus is also the fulfiller and fill fuller of every OT type of Christ.

    Example, Jesus is the greater Joseph, greater Moses, He is the greater Jacob, he is the greater David, the greater Boaz, Jesus led His people through the greater exodus, in fact Jesus stated when heading to Jerusalem the last time, “I must go to Jerusalem for my Exodon”.

    As Jacob and Moses( and Isaac via a servant who IMO represents John Baptist) found their wives at a well, so did The Lord in Sychar at Jacob’s well find the representative of His Church/bride of Christ, the Samaritan lady, both Jew and Gentile.

    What does Jesus’ baptism mean? Him representing the authentic Israel of God coming out from the chaotic waters the 1st Exodus was only a type of? IMO, yes.

    Genesis 3:15 is the first salvation verse and Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled that promise as the head of the “seed of the woman”. It’s why He had to exist in the flesh.

    God saved human souls way before 30AD and by the same method, just read about Abraham’s salvation. Jesus just sealed the promises.

    Jesus is “the prophet” of Deuteronomy 18:15. He is the royal king in David’s line who’s throne will never go away from the OT. He is the priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, another weird Genesis figure, reckon Melchizedek is a myth?

    If the Gospel starts with John 1:1 which is patterned after Genesis 1:1 and one ought to wonder why I think if Gensis is largely myth, then we are in danger of detaching our faith from it’s reality, the worship of the unique God-Man of the Hebrew Old Testament promised for millenia as opposed to a bunch of foolish pagan ideas as the gnostics held.

    Why did Jesus follow Joshua’s path crossing the Jordan if the Gospel starts at John 1:1? Why did He return to Jerusalem on the path David did before Him?

    Look, Jesus stated plainly that the righteous blood of Abel would be on the heads of His sanhedrin opposition and in their generation.

    That sure doesn’t sound like a myth to me. That sounds like Abel really existed and really was murdered by his brother Cain to me.

    When Jesus stated this, He can be seen textually as beyond the “parabolic era” and into the “straight talk era” of His ministry as well, IMO.

    Why Adam needs to be a myth is beyond me honestly.

    Just because Professor Mohler has a hermeneutic as weak as I had as a 100% uneducated layman red neck is no reason to make the leap that we then must see Adam as a metaphor.

    The entire Bible is written by Jews, it is their paradigm.

    Normb may be right, Adam may not even be meant for us to see him as the first human of all humans. Maybe he is, his age is undetermined, the Genesis 10 tables their most theologians believe is a table of nations, not geneaologies for example and it is a concensus that the Jews skipped generations in their documentation.

    The Gospel is harmed when we try and mythologize the antecedents of Christ, IMO. It is weakened intellectually.

    Our faith is strengthened when we see the symmetry and literary unity of the Bible, things such as Jesus meeting His “wife” at a well like the types of Christ in Genesis did.
    Or, Jesus being the greater “wealthy man from Bethlehem” compared to Boaz and instead of buying Ruth out of slavery, he bought humanity out of it.

    Or finally, Jesus being the “seed of the woman” who will crush the serpents head and reverse the works of the devil.

  • EricW

    Is Paul’s AdamEve-ology the only one that a Christian must adopt? I ask this because Jesus says so little about it (was His mention of “paradise” to the thief on the cross a reference to Eden?), and it seems to me that the rest of the OT outside of Genesis 2-4 also makes hardly any mention of them and what happened in the Garden. Nor do the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms base much, if any, of their teachings on the events in Genesis 2-4.

    Paul probably says more about Adam and what he (and Eve) did than anyone else in the entire Bible.

    If one were to read Genesis 2-4 and the rest of the OT in light of the Gospels, and vice-versa, would one conclude the same things about Adam and Eve vis-a-vis Christ and His work that Paul seems to have concluded and written?

  • John Mc

    Dan @4:
    You said “Nothing in scripture teaches that death is part of God’s creative plan or that sin is unrelated to physical death.”

    I disagree. Death is part of God’s design, without which life could not flourish. Nature and the scriptures both teach this. Our bodies, and the bodies of all creatures are nourished by the death of other life. The seasons themselves proclaim death and resurrection. No life has in its genes the ability to live eternally, and no animal life can sustain itself on non-organic nutrients.

    Adam and Eve (regardless of whether they existed) did not bring death into the world, but their story teaches that human choice can and necessarily does lead to human distance from God, and to a breach in our relationship with our Creator. Their death discloses the consequences of the prodigal nature of humanity, and the resulting separation from God and the inability of humanity to access the Tree of Life on its own. As such humanity has absented itself from the transcendent presence of God and we become creatures of the natural world and consequently, like all other creatures of nature, we too must die.

    In the Christian Gospel humanity is once again offered access to the Tree of Life, access to the divine presence, and thus access to life eternal. Having witnessed our prodigal wandering long enough, the Incarnation came among us to show us the way home.

  • Here is another verse to add to your list, particularly relevant because it explicitly claims to be where the gospel begins:

    “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” (Mark 1:1-3)

  • RJS – great post. While I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusion regarding a historical Adam and Eve (becuase I do think that based on Romans 4 the historical Adam and his federal headship is necessary), I think you’re right to point the discussion to a time before Genesis 1.

    The gospel begins in the context of the Trinity and the Apostle John in chapter 1 properly places us there. This is not necessarily a “Christian” understanding of the gospel as much as it is a “biblical” understanding of the gospel. The New Testament and Old Testament are of equal value. The prologue to John provides context for Genesis 1.

    This is what is important, that the gospel is not God’s plan B. This is why supralapsarianism is a key theological concept, although it is often forgotten. It seems to me that to say that the Gospel is rightly begun in Genesis 1-3 misses the entire point that within the counsel of the Trinity the decision was apparently made for an incarnational redemptive action of God the Son on behalf of the entire creation. This can be understood partially through Genesis 1-3 but comes to greater light in John 1.

    This shows again the subtle differences between those who are Reformed and those who are Calvinist Baptists. Well done.

  • Jesus at the beginning and the end of the Gospel is good and all. But, the question is raised, would we even need Jesus if Adam never fell? It is only because of original sin and the total depravity of man that we need Jesus. Even the Scriptures declare if there is no Adam, there is no Christ crucified.

    “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15)

  • Wm

    I think we have made an idol of the ‘story’ and missed the intention of the story. The fact that God meets man where man is, never makes where man is equal to what God is. The ‘good news’ transcends the story itself. The story is the vehicle used. The ultimate point is that God ‘is’ and God seeks to help man live with love for one another. All else is a ‘prop’ to express this eternal truth.

  • Joe Canner

    JeffL #7: The evolution issue is a big one for me, but I imagine that one could have a problem with the Adam & Eve story even without a strong belief in evolution. Based on what we know about genetics and psychology (among other things), the whole idea of original sin (not a particularly explicit teaching, anyway, IMO) gets a bit sketchy.

  • Joe Canner

    FiveDills #16: Don’t you think sin and depravity are pretty evident even without reference to the Bible at all?

  • The fathers from the first millenium are pretty much unanimous that the Incarnation was always a part of God’s plan independent of man’s fall. As creatures we had no ability for true union/communion with God. God had to join his nature to ours to accomplish. If man had not been fallen creatures subject to death, Jesus would not have had to die to defeat death. But he became one of us so that we might become united with God.

    So I think that part of your post is precisely accurate though I see that some already don’t like it.

  • Amos Paul

    I might say, rather along the lines of G.K. Chesterton, that the Gospel story begins right here and now. For every believer, including the Biblical stories, the Gospel stories start the penultimate most obvious and empirical fact of Christianity. That is, the presence of evil and badness in the world. Even the relativists can’t escape it. They call it aesthetically un-pleasing and justify opposing it on preferential grounds.

    Jesus comes to give a Divine answer to that evil. Illuminate that evil is, indeed, organized into a kingdom. An onslought of darkness which His Kingdom opposes. This is God’s love in action, to heal and transform our lives in spite of this evil. To let good win. To love God and love others.

    Everything else, they say, is commentary.

  • Matt

    If we take Gen 2-3 (and Gen 4-11 for that matter) to be in some sense historical with a heavy mythological glaze, I’d be interested to hear what people think about John Stott’s (and Tom Wright’s?) suggestion that pre-Fall death for God’s image bearers was sting-less, e.g., like Enoch being taken. Also, does Jesus’ ascension in his untainted, resurrection body fit and/or is it analogous to such proposals?

  • T


    Yes, changing our understanding of Adam changes our understanding of the Story, which is ultimately a story centered on Christ. It’s important to note that heliocentrism also changed the way we understood the Story, supposedly in ways that could not be tolerated for the Story to be acceptable, at least according to its historic opponents.

    I’m glad you mentioned death and its ties to sin. I do think we need to discuss more thoroughly what exactly scripture teaches on this point, what it doesn’t, and how. My suspicion is that we have filled in some blanks here with our systematics and our view of scripture that are more at stake than the biblical teachings themselves.

    When I was a kid and knew only the YEC story, I often wondered (and asked adults) about the existence mosquitos, and sharks and similar carnivores whose entire physiology is geared towards eating animals instead of plants. Did the actual physical structures of animals change after the Fall? Did lions still have teeth and claws and tremendous speed before the Fall? Did bees have stingers and just not poison? Did the scorpion just not exist? Either creation existed with these features, but had them “on hold” until Adam sinned (which certainly puts some ‘intent’ on God’s side with stingers and fangs and claws), or there was a physiological change at the Fall, both with existing and new creatures, that was so extreme as to amount to a second creation. Yet the Genesis story seems utterly unconcerned with even mentioning these monumental physical realities. These kinds of questions (let alone the physical evidence that scientists discover) lead me to believe that, as RJS has argued here many times, we have perhaps been looking at Genesis to give us answers and context for the Story beyond what God intended for those first chapters to convey, which we have done before with other parts of the Story.

    On top of all that, I think the thesis of Scot’s new book is also relevant in that we evangelicals have problems with our gospel in that our gospel has led many a pastor within our movement, let alone many a congregant, to wonder if Jesus preached the gospel at all. Mohler’s logic works in reverse, as well. Perhaps there is a connection b/n the (reformed) focus on their understanding of justification by faith as the centerpiece of the gospel and the supposed necessity of a YEC reading of Genesis. Perhaps the problems of understanding at one end of the story are related to the misunderstandings at the other end.

  • @14: Mark 1:1-3 reads as if the good news of the Messiah starts with the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. For Mark the gospel begins in Isaiah’s (and Malachi’s) expectation of a coming messenger who will prepare the Messiah’s path. Any thoughts?

  • Wrong! If this is so, then why have the Old testament at all? Why do we even need the foreshadowing of the gospel, when the gospel is all we need???

    Because, we need to know that the Bible is accurate. We need that evidence and historical data, to back up our faith.
    We need to know how those before, waited and yearned for the Savior to come. This is to know about their great faith and how God supplied what they needed.

    Adam and Eve are intrinsically essential for the story of Eternal Life and Eternal Death. They are essential for knowing that Jesus is the second Adam, that gives life instead of death.

    I agree that you have a false start, when you don’t know the whole story. You throw the Baby out with the bath water, if you do not tackle sin.

    When evangelizing, you either talk of the fall of man first, or have them read John. But, you can not say that Adam is not important to the gospel story. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be in the Word of God.

    Yes, Jesus is the most important, but the others are important also, and key for understanding our failed humaness to the resurrected King.

  • dopderbeck

    Good post. A subtle but I think important nuance: the “beginning” of the story is neither Adam nor Christ; it is the Triune God.

    When we understand that the pre-incarnate Son is one of the pre-existent persons of the Trinity, we can then begin to understand the Son as agent of creation and of redemption, as the “true man,” the “true Adam,” who was “chosen before the creation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20) and “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), and in whom we were chosen “before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

  • Jason

    The question is often asked me by my athiest friends – Why would God create a people which necessitate the death of Jesus and hell?

    You stated, “I think that the incarnation was part of God’s plan from the beginning.”

    Curious how you would answer based on that foundation.

  • “The incarnation was God’s plan from the beginning”…YES, I agree.

    But, there has to be a reason FOR the incarnation to come. There has to be an explanation FOR our need to be saved…a painting of the picture, so to speak; a map of the journey towards that redemption.

  • Paul

    I think starting the story with Adam & Eve has the potential to turn almost any issue into a “major” issue. Which means that we all must agree on almost all issues in order to get the “gospel” right

  • Is it a play on words…but might the Greek word “beginning” found in Mark 1:1 reflect back to Genesis 1:1?

  • T

    Good point, Paul (29), and David in 26. Here’s one reason that I don’t agree with Mohler’s point: I see lots of ‘gospeling’ or telling of the good news in the gospels, Acts, and even the letters that don’t mention Adam and Eve. I’m sure Paul got around to it eventually in the churches he founded. But the key is that the gospel of Christ, and even the Story, was still compelling and powerful to save without any reference to Adam. So if a YEC understanding of creation is “crucial” to the gospel, even if not “crucial” enough for it to be included in most (all?) gospel preaching in the NT, isn’t it more likely to be “crucial” to Mohler’s particular systematics than to the gospel message?

  • T

    A couple of other points: we all have a (partially) false grasp of the gospel, especially if the alternative is a perfect knowledge of it.

    I can’t help but be reminded of Mohler’s assertion several months ago now that theism itself was at stake in the age of the earth debates. I was surprised because the idea there was that one would lose faith that God is active in the world today if YEC was not our history. In a nutshell, that seems to assume a very, very insignificant value on each person’s own testimony of what God has done that they have witnessed themselves. I’m not a theist because of my belief about Genesis. I’m a theist because of all the things I’ve seen God do and because of his Holy Spirit in me and others, and even the creation convinces me that he is the creator, however he did it.

    In the same way, the gospel doesn’t have the power it does because of how Adam and Eve are presented (if presented at all). It has power because Jesus is Lord, because he is seated at the right hand of God, because he is the Messiah. There are many things about God and the world about which we are all mistaken. Thankfully, the power of the gospel isn’t actually at stake with the vast bulk of them. Given how much difficulty that even greats of the faith (Augustine, Calvin, etc.) had with Genesis, how can getting this right be so central?

  • Excellent, excellent post. This is one example of why Douglas Campbell is right to say that the gospel is retrospective. It works “backwords” from Christ to our sinfulness. Humanity’s plight can only be understood in light of God’s revelation in Christ.

  • Scot, great post. I agree 100%. I wrote a response as well, and was linked to yours by a commenter. Yours might be more gracious 🙂

    Dear Al Mohler: To Hell With Adam and Eve

  • Jesus did not come of out nowhere and step into a vacuum. The proclamation of the Gospel in the New Testament is firmly rooted in the Old Testament, particularly in the story of Israel, and of Abraham. Abraham did not come out of nowhere and step into a vacuum. Genesis 1-11 provide the context and the background by which the narratives concerning Abraham and of Israel make sense, and therefore the proclamation that Jesus is Messiah and Lord (King), which is firmly grounded in those narratives, makes sense.

    Genesis 1-11 is not incidental to the story but vital. That is why the story opens with creation and with Adam, and not immediately with Abraham. If it were not necessary to the story of Abraham, I do not think it would have been included. There is a reason why the Tanakh and even the Torah itself opens with it. John 1 does not do away with that but, indeed, points us to it.

  • phil_style

    Jennifer: “”“The incarnation was God’s plan from the beginning”…YES, I agree.But, there has to be a reason FOR the incarnation to come. ”

    Why not God with us? is a demonstration of divine nearness a reason?
    Why not victory over death (irrespective of how that death began)?
    Why not an example of godly living?
    Or an example of the resurrected life?
    Why not a breaking in of the kingdom?
    Why not to expose human evil?
    Why not to overthrow the scapegoat/sacrificial mechanism?
    What about a ransom “payment” to the devil?

    If one reasons that the incarnation is predicated on the need to be saved then one is more likely to ask “saved from what?”, and then one is forced, out of the need for a theodicy, to blame humanity for putting themselves in the “need to be saved” category (one feels the need to get God of the hook somehow). However, there is a great deal of assumption and rationale going on in that process, which is not necessarily necessary..

  • We can all agree that the creation storieS are important and even vital, but accepting them as LITERAL is not. The point of Gen 1-3 is not to set straight the science of creation or to insist in a literal first human couple but to counter act the other creation stories that existed prior to Genesis which insisted the earth came into being out of conflict between gods. Genesis proclaims in such a world that there is a God who created out of love and joy and that this is indeed GOOD.

    So yes, that is vital. But a literal Adam and Eve? Nope.

  • I agree that God’s desire from the beginning was to unite with humanity, and so, the Incarnation. But that did in itself did not necessitate the Cross and the Resurrection. If Adam had not sinned, then the Word could have become flesh and dwelt among us without any need for those. So what is needed, then, is not an explanation for the Incarnation but for the Cross.

  • Robin

    Skimming through all of the posts, it seems clear to me that taking RJS’ path leads to the entire history of Christian theology being turned on its head. Maybe that needs to happen, maybe classic understandings of creation, fall, redemption, ascension are relics of mideival scientific understandings. I just don’t see how you can adopt RJS’ understanding and be left with any historic Christian theology. It seems like you’d even have to toss out most of the creeds as well and start with (1) God created the world cruel and man sinful (2) Jesus came in the flesh (3) ???

    I’m sure that is a leap many would like to take, it just seems vastly different from any version of Christianity that has passed down through the millenia.

  • Robin,
    Why does tossing out a literal Adam and Eve negate that God created the world good and that we (human) become idolaters, exceeding the limit God placed upon us by grasping for that which is not ours?

    The Hebrew for “Adam” simply means “man” and the Hebrew for Eve simply means “Life.” This is not a documentary on the History Channel but a beautiful MYTH pointing us to a God who creates and loves.

  • phil_style

    Robin, “it seems clear to me that taking RJS’ path leads to the entire history of Christian theology being turned on its head. ”

    I can’t agree with you there. Christian theology is much much broader than western post Augustinian interpretations of the sin/death/salvation problem. It might have significant implications for those of us who’s theology HAS been reliant on a historical A&E (no pun intended), but is of little import for our many brothers and sisters who never theologised according to our mechanisms for rationalising the faith and the sacred texts.

  • phil_style

    Jeff “So what is needed, then, is not an explanation for the Incarnation but for the Cross”

    Great observation! Now this is interesting. It’s important to be very specific about what we are talking about and exactly where we think the sticking points might be, which is exactly what you have done.

  • Robin

    I’m not sure what you are saying Chad. Are you saying that God create us as good Amoebas or Chimpanzees and the creation was “good” yet when we evolved into humans there was some type of gradual emersion of selfishness and sin that constituted a gradual fall?

    If we are talking from a naturalistic standpoint, I don’t see much of anything in the evolutionary world that looks “good” as we are told things were before the fall and will be in the new earth.

    I just don’t see creation and fall paradigms in theistic evolution unless you say, “sure it’s pure evolution from start to finish, but let’s just pretend there was some metaphorical “fall” in there somewhere along the way.”

    If you’d like to sketch out your idea of how naturalistic evolution is consistent with perfect creation, fall/entrance of sin, redemption from the fall, and return to eden I would love to hear it.

  • Robin

    Also, doesn’t anybody else find it odd that we would mythologize the first several chapters of scripture, but then take literally the new heavens and a new earth which clearly harken back to the perfection of the original creation?

  • Robin


    So 99% of Christians post-Augustine have been dead wrong, but you, RJS, and a few isolated brethren (can you at least name the groups) finally have the “real truth”

  • RJS,

    WOW. Spot on.


  • DRT

    #20 Scott Morizot says “As creatures we had no ability for true union/communion with God. God had to join his nature to ours to accomplish. If man had not been fallen creatures subject to death, Jesus would not have had to die to defeat death. But he became one of us so that we might become united with God.”

    I am believing that Jesus proved our relationship with God, not created it. Jesus did not have to die for him to defeat death, Jesus had to die for us to see that he would defeat death.

    Jesus showed that, indeed, God will be all in all.

    The sting of death is its permanence, not dying.

  • rjs


    I don’t have time to engage here until later this afternoon, but you are misinterpreting what I think and what I said. The gist here is that Dr. Mohler could be right, or Dr. Jack Collins could be right, or I could be right, or Dr. Stott could be right about Adam – but it is a secondary issue, not the issue on which the gospel hangs or falls.

  • Robin


    The issue I am pointing out is that without a creation and a fall it is hard to understand why a cross is necessary. With theistic evolution and no Adam and Eve the best you can do is a metaphorical creation and fall and I still think it is hard to understand the need for a literal cross in that scenario. Without those two aspects, the cross just kind of becomes “something that happened, but we’re not really sure why it was necessary.”

  • DRT

    Jason#27 said

    The question is often asked me by my athiest friends – Why would God create a people which necessitate the death of Jesus and hell?

    You stated, “I think that the incarnation was part of God’s plan from the beginning.”

    Curious how you would answer based on that foundation.

    I can’t respond for rjs, but I would answer that the death of Jesus was demanded by us or else we would not believe the good news that God will be all in all, that we will be raised up, that we can participate in his kingdom now and that we should as part of participation in his creation! The ways of this world are not the final answer, God is.

    He did not have to do it. We need it.

  • nathan

    Christian theology is not being turned on its head.

    The Genesis accounts are pre-modern, pre-scientific discourses that negotiate the innate human understanding of the ambiguous character of what we are and the world in which we exist.

    We sense something beautiful and good inheres in the features of the universe/existence (of which we are a part), we experience it and even help create some of it. (N.T. Wright treats this beautifully in his first part of Simply Christian.) Hence our sense of pervasive culpability even within the self-organizing complexity of the universe.

    We also sense and experience the brokenness and decay of the world. We even create some of it. Sometimes we are powerfully subjected to it via massive tragedy (i.e. tsunamis, earthquakes, cancer, etc.)

    Genesis is a theological text. theological.
    It attempts to situate us within the wretched beauty of an ambiguous world/existence.

    I don’t lose any sense of my culpability and need for Christ because of this.
    I gain a great sense of the magnitude of brokenness, the great tragic character of the wondrous beauty of the created order in which I am a part–a tragedy to which I contribute daily no matter how hard I may try to do better–my depravity/inability.

    This compels me to recognize my need for a divine intervention–grace.

    AND…it confirms my deep longing to see the beauty and goodness that inheres in the creation brought to fullness and completion. i.e. rescued

  • Amos Paul

    Robin, while not defending any particular stance upon this issue herein–I would beg you to take another look at this issue in church history. It has *not* been every saint and church father that has agreed upon the ‘correct’ interpretation of the Genesis story. There is, indeed, a wide range of interpretation even IF there has been a fairly consistent majority in a certain general direction.

    In fact, Christianity has had many branches throughout history with several different views and interpretations–some often neglected by our Western recorded history as soon as they’re label heretics. The Arians, Nestorians, etc–both of those groups actually ahd *more* adherents in their day than the other Christians. Indeed, I’d say that very few theological ideas presented these days are ‘new’ (if any are).

  • dopderbeck

    Robin (#49) — I share your concern that the “Fall” is ontologically real. The Fall is not just a metaphor. In the fabric of creation, there is a rupture, real, black, ugly, and deep, a rupture resulting from the rebellion of free spiritual beings (remember, the “serpent” is already in the Garden before Adam eats the forbidden fruit!) and humans, a rupture not causatively attributable to God.

    But “real” doesn’t require a dichotomy between the Biblical narrative of the Fall as “literal vs. metaphorical.” It think this is where all the “sides” in this debate constantly go wrong.

    The form of the Biblical Fall narrative, as far as we can tell based on textual, literary, historical and scientific considerations, is essentially metaphorical. It refers primarily to spiritual realities and not primarily to empirical / “natural” realities. But the spiritual realities to which refers are ontologically quite real — perhaps more fundamentally real than what we can glean from empirical observations.

    The problem is that both Fundamentalists and skeptics assume that if the primary content of the text is not empirically verifiable, it is not referring to anything “real.”

  • Robin


    Let me try again. A literal creation and fall give us an objective necessity for a cross and a savior to undo the evil wrought in Genesis. The narrative of scripture becomes a march toward God restoring his creation to himself.

    Without that objective story, all we seem to be left with is our pre-modern ancestors coming up with myths to explain their subjective emotions, longings, etc. The need for a cross just doesn’t seem very great when you’re just responding to subjective emotions of cave dwellers.

    I guess you could say that even though the first part of scripture is myth, the cross is still necessary to fulfill other prophecies in the OT (unless we assume they are mythological as well) but the “umph” of the cross is diminished if it is merely fulfillment of a random OT prophecy, and not the culmination of God’s redemptive plan begun in the garden.

  • PaulE

    “Frankly, I don’t think that the incarnation is a solution to a problem created by our original forefathers, whether two unique individuals created from the dust or a community who evolved into humans. I think that the incarnation was part of God’s plan from the beginning.”

    I’m not sure if you meant to present this as a dichotomy; but I would like to suggest that yesterday’s post “That Necessary Both/And” applies here. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Al Mohler would disagree with your statement about the incarnation being God’s plan from the beginning.

    Also, this feels like a lot of quibbling over semantics. The “beginning of the story” doesn’t have to refer to the absolute start of the story. Yes, the story begins with the eternal God, with the eternally begotten Son “chosen before the creation of the world”, and with our being chosen in Him “before the creation of the world”. But the beginning also includes creation, it includes Adam and Eve, it includes the fall, and it includes even Abraham to whom the gospel was announced. This is all part of “the beginning of the story of the Gospel”.

  • Robin


    I appreciate that response. I just have trouble thinking about a “real fall” in an evolutionary context with primates and intermediary forms.

    Could you please sketch what you think a “real” fall could look like in this context.

  • Rick

    Scott M #20-

    Then what is considered “The Fall”?

  • sorry RJS for confusing you with Scot. But I’m sure you’ve been called worse. 🙂


  • dopderbeck (53),

    Very well said. I guess I’ll just throw kudos around today!

  • P.

    Good points in the article. As a lay person, I have no problems with Adam (and Eve! since Adam represents only 1/2 of humanity) being a metaphor. We as humans want to rebel against God and therefore need Christ as the redeemer. So, I do agree that it all revolves around Christ.

  • Adam

    A point that people are missing is that Incarnation and Reconciliation are different things. Humans who need reconciled with God need a cross BUT preceding that, humans need an incarnate God. The idea of Eden is not the final perfection. The pre-sin Adam and Eve are not the Fully Human Ones.

    This ties perfectly with the Nicene Creed where it states “Christ was not created”. Jesus is not the after thought meant to fix Adam and Eve’s problems. Jesus is what Adam and Eve were always meant to be. And to be blunt, pre-sin Adam and Eve are not Jesus.

    We may want to go even further and say that the Resurrected Jesus is the final incarnation. The Resurrected Jesus is “Man made in God’s Image”.

    In Genesis, when God makes that statement “Let us make Man…” do we have to assume that Adam and Eve were the totality of that? Or maybe God is intentionally taking his time in creating the “man in His image”.

  • Ann

    I don’t understand why Genesis 1-3 has to be literal in order to be true. Maybe there was an actual Adam and Eve and maybe not. Whether you read it literally or metaphorically, the Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration framework still works. I absolutely believe Gen 1-3 to be true in the fullest sense of the word. But insisting it can be read as a historical factual account has no baring on it being true or real. At least for me.

  • If Adam and Eve are merely metaphorical, was there an actual fall? If there was no actual fall, then was mankind created inherently corrupt? Genesis 1, after all the creative acts, says that God saw all He made and saw that it was “very good.” That would include man. But if man was created inherently corrupt, then how would God think that was “very good.” If man was inherently corrupt and God thought that was “very good,” then why was the cross necessary? For man was already very good.

    OTOH, if man was not created inherently corrupt, but inherently “very good,” then at some point he became inherently corrupt (which is why all have sinned and come short of the glory of God — not a “very good” thing). In which case we must ask when and how that happened, for it made the Cross a necessity.

  • Ann

    Is anyone saying there wasn’t a Fall? I don’t see that to be the issue at all. One can read the account in Genesis as metaphorical and still believe in a very REAL fall. I believe Dopderbeck (53) was saying just this.

  • Some do say there was no fall. However, if there was a fall, then who fell and when?

    A real fall would be one in which man began in a higher state (e.g., inherently good) but then subsequently descended into a lesser state (e.g., inherently corrupt). So, for example, if man began in an inherently corrupt state and is presently in an inherently corrupt state, then no fall has actually taken place. OTOH, if man began in an inherently good (“very good,” according to Genesis 1) state and remains in an inherently good (“very good” state), then no fall has taken place — and there is no need for redemption.

  • RJS – another thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I follow your line of thought until your statement “I reject categorically the notion…” With all due respect, such a stance is overstated. How one grasps the Hebrew Bible does directly influence how one reads the New Testament, and to suggest seeking to secure the “right” reading (the threshold question actually) of portions of the Old Testament is secondary improperly devalues the text. While I understand your statement refers to the question of the historic Adam and Eve, such a stance may be applied to much of the story revealed in the Old. Regardless of one’s stance as to the historic Adam and Eve, it is not appropriate to deny the relevancy of the Old Testament for a fuller understanding of the New Testament and the Gospel message. I am not convinced it is possible to grasp the Gospel without having a grasp of the Hebrew Bible as they say. Chaplain Mike is posting a series on this very subject. Maybe a good read.

  • rjs


    I agree that the Hebrew scriptures are essential to our understanding of the gospel. In fact, this is something I emphasized in my post on Tuesday. In the resurrection appearances at the end of Luke Jesus reveals how he is the point of the Hebrew scriptures. The gospel that I quote above from 1 Cor 15:3-4,11 specifies that he died for our sins according to the scriptures and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

    I reject the notion that our understanding of this hinges on our view of Adam – whether he is a unique individual, representative, federal, metaphorical, an ancient way of dealing with a revelation from God that the very first humans rebelled, a proto-Israel, …. any of a number of possible views, all of are consistent with a fallen humanity out of fellowship with God.

  • why was my last comment removed?

  • Dana Ames

    Thanks rjs. Excellent post.

    John 1 gets us on the road to the Trinity, from Whose love all of life is engendered, however that happened. Affirming that the Incarnation was always part of God’s plan would lead one to ask the question, “Ok, then, Why?” This question pulls us straight to the Purpose/End/Fulfillment of creation – eschatology. More and more I understand NT Wright’s idea that our eschatology – that is, what we believe creation was made *for* – is what drives our understanding of beginnings. What’s the end of the story?

    DRT, one of the reasons Jesus died was to identify with us even to the point of death and the grave. As St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, that which is not assumed can’t be healed. The Resurrection showed that Jesus had defeated death and new creation was launched; death still happens to us, but it has lost its sting: because Jesus went through it, its character has been changed. It is still the enemy, but it no longer has the ultimate victory, and one day it will be no more.

    Robin, in fact one can adopt rjs’ point of view and not lose historic Christian theology, unless one is a very strict Augustinian. Go back and read the earliest Christian interpreters of scripture. The “Classical Christian” view includes the Eastern fathers, who did not know anything “penal” about the Cross; the purpose of the Cross was to absorb sin and its effects and thereby demonstrate God’s forgiveness, sacrificially pay the ransom for our sin (not to God or to Satan, but to humanity still in its sinful and mortal condition!!!), provide the way for Jesus to voluntarily give himself up to death in identification with humanity in our mortality, and to defeat death by death. Read Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” to get the consensus view on the incarnation.

    Many of the fathers treated A&E as historical, but on this there was no consensus. Kallistos Ware writes, “Even if many Orthodox Christians continue to regard Genesis 2-3 as literal history, the Orthodox Church as such is not committed to this position.” Arguably the greatest thinker among the ante-Nicene fathers, Basil the Great, was not convinced or concerned that Adam and Eve be historical personages; see “On the Human Condition”. The fall was not from perfection as human beings, since the consensus of the fathers was that humans were as yet not fully developed. The fall was about humanity’s rejection and loss of our ability to respond to God’s love and thus retain his “likeness”, which had cosmic implications. So just as in one human being (“adam”) all died (where the rejection of God’s love and life leads to death), so as in Christ, the representative Human Being’s (or, if you like, of humanity if it had not rejected God) “act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all”. Rom 5.18 RSV

    The Nicene Creed makes no mention of the fall; it does, however, finish up with the eschatologic point: the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. That’s where God is taking history, his story.


  • rjs

    Because Chad, it opened a rabbit trail that contributes nothing to this conversation and can only serve to derail it.

  • Dave

    If we forgo the historical aspect of Adam, how can we take Paul’s writings in Romans regarding the Gospel? Paul is pretty clear about humanity’s fall “out of Grace…” which is really the fall INTO Grace. Chapter 5 is really the telling evidence as to Paul’s thoughts. Man needs reconciliation, not for our daily actions, but for our Sinful Nature. That is what is represented by Paul’s letters. Humanity’s Sinful Nature, brought into the World by Adam’s actions, and reconciled with Jesus’ Act.

  • Not to mention that it knocks Milton’s “Paradise Lost” into a cocked hat!

    I think that Mohler is right with both statements. To surmise that the incarnation of Christ was in God’s plan all along, regardless of the Fall, may seem to be an answer; but it does, in fact, completely destroy the moral outline of human history that forms the core of the biblical worldview, a worldview that stands at the heart, for instance, of Calvin College’s purpose and curriculum: creation, fall, redemption, and reconciliation.

    As Tolkein and then Lewis believed, the early Genesis chapters may well be myth in their being, in modern parlance, low resolution pictures of a reality too large for our “computers” to render, but they are “true myth”: they speak of real events that had real impacts–the key being that the creature made in God’s image was originally in a state of moral innocence and endowed with immortality, that he was deceived and disobedient, fell into moral degradation, was removed from the source of perpetual life (the Tree of Life), was cast out of and barred from Eden, found himself having to cope with a changed material environment, and passed on to subsequent generations his bent toward sin and rebellion. Human history tells the rest of the past story. The Revelation tells the future story. In the meanwhile we can delight the only real hope humanity has–in the coming Kingdom (a la N. T. Wright in “Surprised By Hope”)

    Maybe I am dense on this, but why does accepting some sort of evolutionary development of mankind have to mean that the moral history of man as proclaimed by the Bible can’t be true?

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff and Robin — Dana (#69) summed up much of what I’d want to say. In this regard, Dean (#72), I like your idea of a “moral history of man.” Our moral relationships are no less “real” than our physical bodies. There is no scientific reason why the locus of the human-Divine moral relationship could not have begun in two particular people. Someone must have been the first sinner. But Mohler would not be satisfied with this because it isn’t empirically “literal.”

    Something that is so often overlooked in this discussion is Gen. 1:28’s command to “fill the earth and subdue it.” “Adam” had work to do, and things to learn, in a world that required his effort in order to be “subdued.” Milton’s vision of the supralapsarian state isn’t Biblical.

    And whether “Adam” is “literal” or not, another clear point of the story, which is also a point St. Paul employs, is that the Fall is recapitulated in each one of us by our own free choices. The point is not so much the absolute origin of evil (again, remember that the serpent predates Adam’s fall!) as it is in the pattern of sin that Adam initiates and we each inevitably recapitulate — and that only Christ, the true Adam, is able to break.

  • EricW

    In the beginning the world was in a state of flux between matter and energy, which explains how things could be created seemingly instantaneously. There were many humanoids in the early earth (the adams), but a single pair, “Adam” and “Eve,” ate the fruit and collapsed the paradisiacal quantum wave function into the state of “fallen,” which naturally affected all humans everywhere (as well as the rest of the earth and indeed the entire universe).

    There was not a “historical” Adam and Eve, because the fall happened outside of “history,” though the fall in a sense created history, and its telling is in historical terms. But there was a real Adam and Eve.

    There, that was easy. Now both literalists and mythologists can worship Christ and read the Bible together again. 🙂

  • Rick

    Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin (issue), but it is interesting how this is becoming more about the Fall, than about Adam.

  • “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.”

  • I often admire the faith of young earthers but not always their grace!

  • How does the reversal motif found in the gethsemane scene affect our view of the Adam and Eve. Is this not a view of the fallen children of Adam pining away as the second Adam Jesus prepares to be not only the willingness the children of Adam need but also the strength to reverse the curse. How does this passage and story relate to Adam and Eve? I have always seen the Meta-narrative here linking this back to the last time God was with the children of Adam in a Garden. How do some of you see this passage from other perspectives?

  • RJS @67 – I believe we are in agreement that the Gospel is a much bigger story than the question of the historicity of the Adamic story. My pushback was solely intended to clarify that (1) the Hebrew Bible is essential (I have heard a number who have asked me why should they read the Hebrew Scriptures – some very thoughtful and intelligent people btw) and (2) that the way we read the Hebrew Bible most definitely influences our understanding of the Gospel. Hence, this topic makes me a little uneasy as I am not sure there is ever going to be an answer that is acceptable to large numbers of people and pushing hard on this topic tends to be divisive. Notice the number of responses this topic generates compared to many other, equally thoughtful and topical posts.

  • rjs

    Rick (#75)

    I don’t quite think a historical Adam and Eve and the fall are two sides of the same coin – but I do think that the fall is the big sticking point. This is why so many who have respect for the science and no problem with an old earth favor a position that retains some form of Adam and a fall or at least a fall. C.S. Lewis, John Stott, Tim Keller, NT Wright … I think Scot is in this camp as well, although he can answer for himself here, … and I could list more. Jack Collins is certainly in this camp in the book I’ve been posting on.

    I think a fallen humanity is both essential and self-evident. Perhaps this means a historical fall, I am agnostic on some of this at this point. I am posting on various aspects as I think through the issues.

    A conversation like this is good because it allows some clarification and refinement of ideas. I’ve been busy today and not able to respond to everything, but will come back to some more of the comments later.

  • nathan

    @robin in 54:

    But our experience of the reality of the world we live in is an objective reality.

    We see ourselves do horrible things and have horrible things done to us.
    We see a cosmos packed full of beauty and wonder and we participate in it.

    These are objective lived realities.

    If anything they reveal the profound extent we objectively need and objective intervention by God.

    Theo-poetic, pre-modern narratives make these objective realities come alive for me more powerfully than anything I was ever raised with when I understand them as such in light of objective observations and lived experience.

    That’s why it’s hard to understand how I could have lost anything when my own experience/understanding is such that my commitment to the profound depths of our need for God’s rescue has been solidified and brought into even higher relief.

  • Brian Considine

    If God used evolution as the pathway for human life, and allegedly it was “very good,” when did it become not so much? Why would God not simply have directed DNA toward the very good and kept it that way through the billions of years it took Him to evolve us from dust? When then does the Fall happen along that evolutionary pathway and if it doesn’t then why is redemption even necessary? I don’t think anyone is saying there wasn’t a Fall but if God used this evolutionary methodology for creating humans why not just take the time to make it right from the beginning of that pre-human community? Or was it that the pre-humans just decided to become human and then reject God’s commands? How did they know them? Did God speak to all these A and E’s collectively and they all rebelled together? But why would they do that if their DNA was encoded by God toward a trajectory of human advancement? And, if evolution is true why would we not just keep advancing in our humanism to the perfect state that God could have known all along, why would we need Jesus?

    Not to worry, I’m not expecting answers to these question. The point is that when we change the Biblical narrative it opens up many unanswerable questions but in our pride we think we can actually figure this stuff out. Only scientific dogma tells us that evolution is the basis of human development. While science has great value in determining how life works, it cannot answer the question of why and offer cosmic meaning. But when you buy the current scientific explanation then you have to answer the question of why God would do it that way and what it changes about how we understand ourselves in relation to God. Then you are also forced into re-reasoning about Scripture but can provide no sensible answers to serious questions like the Fall narrative and end up redefining ideas to fit what you think is true.

    Or maybe its just that in our evolutionary development we still cannot comprehend the mind of God but are asked simply to accept God’s story the way its given to us.

    RJS, you are right, the Gospel actually starts before the foundations of the world is laid, God being omniscient and all, but as pointed out you nicely circumnavigated around the necessity of the Gospel and the main issue in what Mohler is saying. Carry on. 🙂


  • dopderbeck #73,

    Dana speaks of a fall from the “likeness” of God as humanity’s rejection and the loss of our ability to respond to God’s love. But still, that would be a fall in the sense of something that was inherently present before (for man was created according to the likeness of God, in Genesis 1, and was part of the “very good” at the end of Genesis 1) and inherently absent after the fall. It accords with the idea of man being created inherently good but then after the fall becoming inherently corrupt.

    I agree with you that someone must have been the first sinner, but it must have been someone who was representative of humanity. Not arbitrarily representative, though, as if any one of thousands of individuals, regardless of relationship to the rest, could act in such a way that would cause all the others to lose the inherent likeness of God even though they themselves may have responded in obedience and faith to the love of God. For if we start supposing arbitrary things there will be no end to our supposing.

  • Alan K

    RJS #80,

    In continuing with the wonderful Christology of your posting, humanity’s sin and sloth become evident in light of Jesus Christ. Brian in #33 nailed this.

    Also (you might already know this but for the sake of all the posters), what might help the discussion along is recognizing that Jesus Christ is indeed the first Adam and that the person in Genesis is the type. If we don’t see things this way but instead the other way around we sink in the sand of foundationalism.

  • Dana Ames

    Alan, indeed. The Person of the Trinity in Whose image the human being was created was Christ Himself. God created a world and created into which he could become incarnate, and created a being with whom he could be united.

    Everything points to Jesus.


  • TJJ

    I agree RJS and Chad post #37 that Mohler’s inistance on a particular literal reading of Genesis 1-3 is not necessary. But Mohler is correct that any approach to Genesis 1-3 must answer in a theologically coherent way Paul’s statements regarding the connection with Adam and Jesus, and the origin of sin, death physical, and death spiritual. One can appreciate understabnding Genesis 1-3 in a more non-literal, more non-scientific, more theological way, but the theological dots to the fall and to redemption must still be connected.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Bill Hale (76): You commented “Notice the number of responses this topic generates compared to many other, equally thoughtful and topical posts.”

    I think it is clear that most evangelicals believe, like Mohler, that a human fall not from perfection but from innocence is an absolute of orthodox Christianity. So any suggestion that there was no such innocent state in the early “very good” creation will raise an uproar such as this. Somewhere his spiritual and moral nature must be accounted for, or at least accepted, in the physical history of man. As Polanyi said, it is obvious that man is the only morally responsible species. I don’t think that evolution can in any way account for that.

    Further, Paul in Romans 8 and John in the Revelation 22 mention the curse and its end (joy to the world!). To me, to not have an actual moral fall cuts the fabric of the gospel into ribbons. Creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is man’s moral metanarrative.

  • rjs

    There has been a lot of comment here on the need for not just incarnation, but crucifixion and reconciliation. This requires a fall – humans need to be reconciled to God.

    It seems to me that God knew before the foundation of the earth was laid, before creation, plants, animals, or humans, that mankind, created in his image to be his representatives on earth would fall – would fail to obey and remain in fellowship with God. Thus not just incarnation, but crucifixion and resurrection, reconciliation, was part of the plan from the beginning.

    I see no reason to reject the idea that he created mankind in naivete and innocence and we rebelled from the very beginning – I don’t see how it makes one whit of difference theologically if this rebellion was an original pair, or an original community – or so lost in the mists of antiquity that all we have in scripture is a story conveying the empirical fact that we have never been able to be true to the desired relationship and covenant with God. Human history as recorded in scripture is fail after fail after fail. God chooses us but without his grace and without Christ as the faithful one, the faithful Adam (as Alan K pointed out Christ is “the first Adam”), the faithful Israel, we are lost.

    The gospel begins with Christ and is centered in Christ – his life, death, and resurrection – from the very beginning of all time. We can argue that it begins with God – but that is nitpicking a bit I think.

    None of this hinges on “an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair” and this was really the point I wanted to make.

  • rjs


    I like the point about the moral and spiritual nature of mankind – and this as distinct in some fashion from mere material evolution. I am going to have to think about this more – and read Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, which I just checked out of the library.

    I am not arguing against an actual moral fall.

  • rjs #88,

    The Bible does speak of a community that began inherently good (indeed, “very good”) and created in the likeness of God, and innocent, but which fell and became inherently corrupt and causing all who came after them inherently corrupt. It was a community comprised of two — Adam and Eve. But to suppose a community larger than that, which was created in the likeness of God and inherently good is, in regard to Scripture, without warrant and purely theological speculation.

  • AHH

    What dopderbeck said at a couple of points above, and rjs in #88.
    If the crux of the story is Jesus, incarnation and reconciliation, the details of exactly how we got into this state of needing reconciliation are secondary.

    I’ve used this analogy before, but the important things for my doctor to know are the diagnosis of the disease (sin) and the cure (Jesus). Exactly how I contracted the disease (which is pretty murky even in the Augustinian view) is of some interest, but for me to know that is not essential to the overall resolution of the story to its healthy ending.

  • Dana Ames

    Jeff @83,

    “becoming inherently corrupt” is not the Orthodox view. All humans still have a human nature (that about us which makes us human); we do not somehow take on a “sin nature” and become “inherently corrupt”. What we have lost is the connection to God without which we are indeed headed for corruption, not as in “total depravity” of sin, but as that which is the outcome of death -which of course sin feeds, and the fear of which feeds sin, a vicious circle. But even if the point of salvation is to somehow become completely morally upright (there’s something yet *behind* morality, but that’s another issue), there is still the old existential question: “Who will deliver me from this body of *death*?”


  • Dana #92,

    Man was created in the likeness of God and with a connection to God. This is part of who he was inherently. God created him that way and that was man’s original nature. But when man rebelled against God, that likeness was gone and the connection with God broken. From then on, man was in a state that was inherently lesser, subject to moral and physical corruption — that is, we all sin and we all die, and we need to be delivered from both of those aspects. So there was a descent, a fall, from an inherently higher state to an inherently lower one.

  • Dutch – nice catch. Polanyi is a great read – pointing to a stance that seems, to me, to cut into the tension I think evident as to the huge response generated for topics such as this. I am afraid this is insoluble – the line seems drawn between humanity’s need – a voracious appetite if you will – for knowledge over against coming up against a line of mystery. I am not sure humanity can live without feeding that appetite until no mystery can remain. @RJS – the point you make is accurate, the Gospel does not depend on a literal Adam and Eve but the mythology that sustained people in the past has lost its grip on and meaning for people of this age. I know Scot has spoken on this point but I think that is where the question finally rests – not on science and not on an insistence on a literal reading – but on the question of whether the foundation myth of the Scriptural authors can be understood by “modern/post-modern” humanity.

  • Dutch Rikkers


    If we take it as true that our first parents as the original representatives of mankind in God’s image who actually rebelled and disobeyed God (the way the Genesis story says it) and that God removed them from their paradisaical setting where they had access to food that kept them perpetually alive, and then increased their pain and labor and made the earth resist easy access to the benefits of paradise, we are inherently subject to the corruption of death. Sin led to death for them and for the rest of us, and we all know that we struggle with the same sinful weaknesses of our “bent civilization” (a la C. S. Lewis). You use capital O for Orthodox. Do you mean the Orthodox (Eastern) faith or small-case orthodox meaning those true to early creeds? I would say that the historic Christian faith of Bible believing orthodox followers of Christ universally believes we are hopelessly lost in sin until we accept the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Scripture, in fact, tells us we are lost in sin in countless passages.

    So I don’t know what you are trying to say here. Scripture says that sin alienates us from God, not some vague lost connection with Him. The Genesis story makes that clear.

    I guess I am not sure at all what you mean. The “old nature” that Paul mentions seems to indicate such is indeed a sin nature.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Being “dead in trespasses and sin,” certainly seems “inherent” in all who do not accept the atoning death of Christ, our Creator, Savior, and coming King.

  • Anyone have any idea why Al had a need to pick this fight? As Christians in America, we continue to look dumber and dumber to people who understand science. Perhaps we should again fight for a flat earth too.

    It is no wonder that people are evacuating churches… when we hold a very literal interpretation of the biblical text as the rock upon which we build our salvation, we are in trouble. Perhaps we should live in the shadow of the missio dei instead.

  • phil_style

    Reading through the comments there are a couple of things that have popped up wchih have got me a little confused. I’m hoping I can spell them out briefly;

    1. There is an assumption that we need to justify the “need” for the death and resurrection, and that solving the problem of sin=death must be the driver for this need. I think this articulation is so closely tied to certain prior theological and philosophical commitments that it’s almost impossible to shake. What if the Christ death was our doing, not Gods? Maybe God never commanded the death of Christ. It’s interesting to note that Jesus never blames God for this, he only questions why God had forsaken him. The resurrection is simply God rising above our attempt to kill Christ – death cannot hold him down.
    2. Aside from the above why do we have to have a reason for the death and resurrection anyway? Why is it that, when it comes to so many other aspect of divine nature we will simply retreat behind the “god’s ways are not our ways”, yet we think that somehow the C&R is exempt from this.
    3. There is a consistent resistance to allow for God to have created a world where death was present. The “very good” Genesis reference is cited over and over again to this effect. However I must admit that it does get my knickers in a twist when the same people who claim that God (in creation) must conform to our understanding of the words “very good” with respect to “pre-fall” creation, yet when it comes to justice or “love” (hell etc) we are required to simply believe that “god’s ways are not our ways”. It seems a double standard to me. If we are going to judge God’s “very good” by our own standards of what constitutes very good (i.e. that there MUT have been no death) then why do we not apply the same judgements to him with respect to other supposedly divine actions (torment in hell, fate of “innocents”, inherited guilt).

    This is not an attack on individuals, just an expression of some angst at the way these ideas are played out – as I see it.

  • phil_style

    @Randy, #97; As Christians in America, we continue to look dumber and dumber to people who understand science.

    I recall a famous quote from Billy Graham: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyles”

    Unfortunately I have to disagree with Graham on this. I would re-phrase the statement thus: The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who believe in things that seem very weird to most people.

  • rjs


    I don’t think that Dr. Mohler is picking a fight – I think he has some legitimate concerns with some expressions by Christians thinking about these issues and is deeply concerned to defend both scripture and the faith. But I think he is wrong in his emphasis on Adam and his insistence that Gen 1-3 and Paul’s use of Adam must mean a unique pair.

    The precise understanding of Adam is a secondary issue.

    We need to be able to have these conversations.

  • phil_style,

    The cross and the resurrection are presented to us in the Scriptures as the saving event(s) for mankind. What do they save us from? How or in what way do they save us? They are not incidental, nor are they arbitrary events. They are God’s response to something, His solution to a terrible problem. Jesus came to deliver us from sin and death, and the solution to that was the cross and resurrection.

    God the Father never commanded, never demanded the death of Christ. God the Son willingly chose to become flesh and dwell among, to take on sin and death and everything that stood against us, to nail it to the cross in His own body. And God raised Him from the dead.

    I am the one who introduced the “very good,” from Genesis 1, into this thread, and I am the one who has spoken about it the most here — but I reject your charge of having a double standard. Your knickers are of your own twisting.

    It seems very unlikely to me that God, who knows the end from the beginning, would include death as part of the “very good” of creation in Genesis 1 when in the New Testament it is called “the last enemy” which Jesus came to overcome on our behalf. So, for a coherent view of Genesis 1 and 1 Corinthians 15, and other passages, I reject the notion that God thought of death as “very good.” If death were a good thing, the resurrection would be superfluous, even contradictory to what is “very good.”

  • Joe Canner

    Phil #98 and Jeff #101: I was going to comment on “very good” yesterday, but missed my chance….I wonder if it is significant that Genesis says “very good” instead of “perfect”. The latter is the way we usually interpret it, but perhaps the former is meant to convey the idea that creation is as good as it gets under the circumstances.

    Moreover, unless we are taking a strictly literal understanding of Genesis 1 (something which few here seem to be advocating) I’m not sure we should be reading too much into what “very good” means vis-a-vis the death and suffering that preceded the Fall.

  • Robin

    Maybe the conversation has moved on, but I wanted to post one last thought. The people on here backing RJS’ view seem to be saying, “it doesn’t matter “who” fell, or what kind of fall it was, or whether it was an original pair or one pair among thousands, or one community among thousands, and it doesn’t even matter that the fall was from a state of “inherently good” to “something inherently less than good”. All of these things don’t matter because we can tell from the state of the world today that we are broken, and that is all the proof we need to know that we needed a savior.

    To quote Nathan, our subjective experience defines an objective reality, and therefore historical objective facts are irrelevant.

    My main problem with this is that, historicity of the OT notwithstanding, the people in Paul’s day had plenty of evidence of the brokenness of their religious leaders, themselves, and the entire gentile world. But Paul didn’t just say, look how everything around you is cracked and sinful and in need of redemption. He took great pains to tie their need for a savior into a historical fall. If Paul thought these answers were important in our understanding of a need for a savior, I don’t think we can just wave our hands and say “details don’t matter, we can just SEE that we need a savior, that should be enough.”

  • Joe Canner #102,

    I think death would not be included under “very good” when elsewhere in Scripture it is called an enemy, the last enemy, and something to be conquered. It seems rather incoherent to think that God, who knows the end from the beginning (e.g, the resurrection as well as the creation) would think an enemy to be a “very good” thing. Especially when it would require the death of the Son to overcome it. Even closer in context, in Genesis 3, death is not presented as a positive reinforcement for Adam’s rebellion but as a negative consequence. IOW, it does not appear that God, in Genesis 3, thinks death a good thing. So, it strains credulity to suppose that He would think it a “very good” thing in Genesis 1.

  • Amos Paul


    I might point out that, in your arguments, you both claim that we don’t *need* a reason for the cross and that Christians drive people away by believing weird things. I humbly submit that being a Christian and believing that Jesus and rose again for you for no real reason that you can tell IS a weird belief. I’m not saying we are capable of ‘putting reality on trial’ or whatever so that it conforms to God, but theology and science are acts of God-given reason which each, insofar as our faith is concerned, should sync up in the end.

    In any case, I’d also point out that while Jesus may have felt for forsaken on the cross–his cry was more than just a cry of forsakenness. It was, indeed, a prophetic act calling upon a well-known Psalm to the Jewish people which foretold that happening (

    Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

    22:17 I can count all my bones– they stare and gloat over me;
    22:18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

    22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
    22:24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.

    22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
    22:28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

    22:31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

    Seriously, pretty much everything Jesus said and did on the Cross was a prophetic act echoing the Scriptures. Even the, ‘commit my spirit’ bit.

    Psalm 31:3-5

    For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

  • phil_style

    Jeff: Thanks for engaging me, but your argument does not follow: ” I reject the notion that God thought of death as “very good.” If death were a good thing, the resurrection would be superfluous, even contradictory to what is “very good.””

    It seem to me that we’re just doing the same thing here of proposing what we perceive as very-good and demanding that God meet that standard. Perhaps God is perfectly justified in decreeing that finite creatures can exist in a very good universe. Potters and clay and all that.

    “God the Son willingly chose to become flesh and dwell among, to take on sin and death and everything that stood against us”

    It seems you suggest that Jesus had a choice in the matter.Could Jesus have refused? If he had, would that mean that God would have been thereafter impotent to save – did God take a massive risk here?
    I think however, that Jesus was completely at the mercy of humanity. In the belly of the whale, with no options available to him.

    “to nail it to the cross in His own body”
    Now obviously Jesus did not actually “nail” any sin to a cross – this is some kind of metaphor you’re employing. May parents used to say things like that to me also, but I never really understand exactly what’s going on what’s actually happened here? Even in a “substitutionary atonement” scenario was this event necessary? I presume that a substitution/satisfaction type philosophy is behind this. But to me, it makes no sense. If God wants to forgive, he should be able to do so without need for a sacrificial ritual, no?

    I’m increasingly with Girard when it comes to atonement. An atonement that exposes the sacrificial and scapegoating system, not one that endorses and replicates it. An atonement that exposes violence. An atonement that vindicates the weak and the innocent and exposes our part in their victimisation. And a resurrection that shows that even in spite of our own deaths, God has the power to renew.

  • phil_style

    Amos Paul “I might point out that, in your arguments, you both claim that we don’t *need* a reason for the cross and that Christians drive people away by believing weird things.”
    I may have claimed we don’t need a reason for the “cross” – but I don;t recall doing so. I would normally be more careful not to use that kind of blanket terminology. I might have said there was divine need for the death of Christ.. or something similar, but that I think can be distinguished from what it appears you think I might have claimed.

    “I humbly submit that being a Christian and believing that Jesus and rose again for you for no real reason that you can tell IS a weird belief”
    You’re right. And my previous reply notwithstanding, believing in a divinely connected Jesus, an active God, angels, sacred texts, demons, supernatural healings and miracles – none of which I have ever observed puts me in a vary intellectually precarious position, and one that I am incredibly aware of. And that is precisely my point – believing in all this stuff is not easy or self evident. Most people I know think all that stuff is pre-scientific and that we should no better now – hence the term “wierd”.

  • phil_style,

    I do not agree that I am forcing my perception of “very good” upon God. I was not the one who called death the last “enemy.” That was Paul doing that in the Scriptures, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is incoherent, then, to suppose that death would be considered “very good” in Genesis 1 but then called “the last enemy,” and something to be destroyed in 1 Corinthians 15:26. And indeed, Genesis 1 does not state that death was “very good” — that is something you are trying to squeeze into the text. OTOH, 1 Corinthians 15 DOES indeed call death an enemy and tells us that it will be destroyed.

    The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have always been in perfect agreement. The Son was never forced to do anything by the Father. Jesus came to humanity — indeed, became one with humanity — knowing how that would end up. However, no man took His life from Him; He laid it down willingly for us. At Gethsemane, He told Peter to put away his sword, saying, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?”

    Yes, I was speaking metaphorically when I said that Jesus nailed sin and death to the cross in His own body. The point of the metaphor is what I said above — He gave His life for our sakes. No one could have taken it from Him if He had not been willing to lay it down for us. He did not resist those who crucified but went “as a lamb to slaughter,” though He could very well have resisted if He had so desired. I think twelve legions of angels would have been more than enough to get Him out of that.

    Regarding atonement, I lean more heavily toward Christus Victor: Jesus took on sin and death and all the works of the devil — everything that stood against us — and defeated them at the cross.

  • phil_style

    Thanks Jeff, your clarifications seem sounds. Although I have not gone so far as to cal death itself “very good”, I do think it can exist in a creation that is “very good”. But that, perhaps is the sticking point here.

    I apologies if I mistakenly assumed you were proposing Sub-Atonement, I too think Christus Victor has a great deal of merit in so far as it overcomes some of the apparent arbitrary-ness of SA.

    I think, over time, I’m slowly finding my feet in a Girardian understanding of atonement. This does not require a literal/historical Adam and Eve pair, but does lean very heavily on the revelations provided in that story and the continual unfolding of that theme throughout Judeo-Christian history.

    Thanks again for the conversation.

  • phil_style,

    “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, italics mine). However, death (as well as sin and all the works of the devil) are presented to us in Scripture as enemies and destined for destruction. So it is no more coherent to suppose death was part of the “everything God made,” which was called “very good,” than to suppose that sin or the works of the devil were. Such suppositions run counter to the reason Jesus came: to defeat sin, overcome death and destroy all the works of the devil. If God thought death was very good, then why did Jesus come to destroy it? That would make the Godhead seem to be rather dysfuntional — the Son destroying something that the Father really liked about His creation.

  • Amos Paul

    Just thinking out loud here, but Jeff–your discussion of death, indeed, being an enemy reminded me of one of a couple of my favorite passages when people say, “Why Jesus? Why evil? Why death?”

    For one, John gives us a very simple reason why Jesus appeared. 1 John 3:8 – “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

    This reminds us that there is, indeed, objectively corrupt forces that must be opposed for Christ and good to reign victorious.

    But, even more, I was reminded of Paul’s talk about Creation being subjected to futility and pain.

    Romans 8:20-22 – “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

    This makes me wonder, again, about the biological story of evolution fitting with the original plan of Creation. I wonder if it’s possible for spiritual realities to *cause* physical realities–such as the tendency of death and decay. And is Adam’s historical fall really more important than the ‘spiritual’ fall of a more powerful entity that entered into the world to rule and corrupt things?

    More specifically, I am reminded of Tolkien’s Silmarillion. In his mythical history, God sings a song that spawns Creation. In that song is also birth the higher beings who see, in general, the outline of the music. Many of those beings then go into that song to help guide it towards its beautiful destination(s), but Melkor, a celestial cration that ‘falls’, enters to accomplish his own ends.

    Melkor breaks the world by corrupting various parts of it and making what was once ‘very good’ into full of evil and conflict. Indeed, Melkor himself is defeated–but his minions, corruptions, and works live on without him as he crafted a ‘seat’ of evil or corruption which fights against the tendency towards good in the creation. Yet Tolkien’s story is that the song is still being sung–the destination is still being aimed for. Except ‘now’ it is filled with pain, suffering, and conflict to accomplish those ends.

  • AHH

    Robin @103 said:
    But Paul didn’t just say, look how everything around you is cracked and sinful and in need of redemption. He took great pains to tie their need for a savior into a historical fall.

    I think this mischaracterizes the totality of Paul’s writing. In a couple of passages, Paul does indeed reference (in a brief way that I would hardly call “taking great pains”) the story of Genesis 3 in talking about human sin and its defeat in Jesus. But in the majority of Paul’s writing, he does simply talk about sin as a universal human malady, without any apparent concern as to exactly how that condition came about.

  • Amos Paul,

    First John 3:8 and Romans 8:20ff are touchstone passage for me in telling the big story. I’ve never read the Silmarillion (waiting for the movie 🙂 but your description is intriguing.

    I believe very much that the physical realm is very much affected by the spiritual realm — indeed, dependent upon the spiritual for its existence. For God, who is Spirit, is the creator of the physical realm.

  • Adam

    Since the Fall has been such a hot topic on this let’s look at that idea a little bit closer.

    An absolute literal interpretation of the Fall says that all of us humans are sinful upon birth and guilty upon birth and not one of us is innocent. Therefore, every single one of us is guilty of eternal punishment, including newborns.

    Why then, do we say newborns are innocent and should a newborn die, they are not held accountable for their sin?

    Why do we regularly practice a belief that says people are not held accountable until a certain age?

    It seems to me that sin is a willful act and not a state of being. So, do people here really believe in The Fall of Adam which condemns everyone regardless of what they have done? Or are we judged for what we do regardless of who Adam was?

    Revelation 20:12 The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

  • Robin


    Surely you must ask yourself why, in writing to the church in Rome especially, he would bring the discussion of the need for a savior back to a Jewish creation myth. If it wasn’t important, why muddy the waters with it. These were believers who lived in the center of non-Christian culture, and it certainly would have strengthened their apologetic to tie the need for a savior back to common ground they held with the gentiles, or common, observable, depravity, or really anything else besides a Jewish creation myth.

    It would be one thing to use that as a basis for argument to the church in Jerusalem, or a body consisting solely of Jewish believers surrounded by Jewish culture. But to use that as a foundation in a letter to believers in Rome just puts an unnecessary stumbling block in front of them, if indeed it wasn’t important to his understanding.

  • Adam #114,

    You have not rendered a literal interpretation of the Fall but a theological one, and one that no everyone who believes in an actual fall holds to.

    I do not believe in “original sin” as original guilt. Rather, I believe that what happened in the fall is that humanity became corrupted, by which I mean, subject to sin and death. So when, say, a newborn dies, though he is not guilty of sin, he is still subject to death. Death is just as much something we need to be delivered from as sin is. That is why the cross is followed by the resurrection.

    A person is usually thought not to be accountable for his actions unless he has the mental capacity to know and choose right from wrong.

    The fall is “hot topic” because it is an important part of the Bible story: It is what the Gospel remedies, what Jesus came to deliver us from. The Bible locates it in the first chapters of Genesis, in the account of Adam and Eve.

  • Amos Paul


    You’re presuming an Augustinian interpretation of ‘Fall’ and ‘original sin’. Eastern Orthodox belief, for example, has often accepted a Fall story, but not original sin or guilt inherent. They see sin as more of a disease. We’re sick with it. That’s the consequences they see of history. However, it’s not sin *for us* until we consciously enacted a rebellious estrangement from God’s healing grace.

    James 4:17 – “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

  • phil_style

    “Surely you must ask yoursel why, in writing to the church in Rome especially, he would bring the discussion of the need for a savior back to a Jewish creation myth”

    Well, given that Claudius had just died and the expulsion of the jews had just been overturned, it seems pretty clear that Paul was trying very deliberately to locate the salvation story within a context that made specific use of judaic tradition, in order to smooth over the argumentative state that had existed 5 years previously. I don’t think the implications for, or on, local apologetic needs to those outside the church had anything to do with what Paul is saying in Romans.

  • Ann

    Can we really say there was no death before the fall? What kind of death are we talking about? Is there a distinction between human death and the death of animals/plants? It seems to me that the cycle of life and death is part of nature. And God affirmed that it was “good” from the beginning. A&E would have had to eat something… even if they were vegetarians, they would be killing plants in order to sustain themselves.
    I don’t disagree that death is the enemy, but I wonder what kind of death is the enemy.

  • Adam

    Jeff and Amos,

    Ok, the Fall is the cause of Death. Yet, the Gospel didn’t get rid of Death. We all still die. So, the Gospel doesn’t seem to have remedied the Fall.

    So we have to ask ourselves what it means to die? Is the Death in Genesis only a physical death? Adam and Eve would have physically lived forever but they Fell so now only their spirits live forever? And now it’s a question of where your spirit goes after death. And that seems to be solely based on what you do and don’t do compared to what you know and don’t know.

    In this scenario, babies don’t need the Gospel.

    The thought that RJS presents, shows a way that even babies need a Gospel. The thought is that no thing exists except through Christ. Jesus becoming human makes humans like God and therefore eternal.

    In less abstract terms, the Incarnation is MORE important than the Reconciliation. Yes, Reconciliation is important but is secondary to Incarnation.

  • Ann #119,

    My understanding is that in Hebrew thought, death was a term applicable to humans and animals, because they were said to be living souls; however, death was not a term not applicable to plants because they were not said to be living souls.

    For discussion of whether death was part of what God considered to be “very good,” see earlier posts in this thread (which you can do by using the “find” function of your browser set on “very good”).

    The death that is called “the last enemy that will be destroyed” in 1 Corinthians 15:26 is physical, bodily death, because that chapter is about the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead and what it means for us.

  • Amos Paul

    To continue the Romans 8 passage:

    23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

    I read that we have been sealed, for now, *with the Spirit*. We have been spiritually born anew–but God promises a total redemption and re-birth for us. His plans for us are so good we can’t possibly imagine them–but that is the Christian hope, enacted by Christ’s death & resurrection, sealed and guarunteed by the Spirit.

    Moreover, your assumption that Babies “don’t need” this hope/Gospel is an implicit rejection of Pre-Venient Grace. According to Christ’s work, we are *all* redeemed by his power. Grace is the light of God by which we know Him from birth. Ultimately, free will may deny that grace–but that’s heading into ultimate destiny territory and views concering torment vs annihlation vs universal salvation.

    Indeed, this is my own (personal) interpretation of one of Jesus’s often debated sayings:

    Mat 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

    I think that we are all, already, covered in grace. But we are living lives which will, ultimately and dynamically, have to either accept or deny the work of the Spirit in us for redemption and healing.

  • Adam #120,

    I believe the death in Genesis is both a spiritual and physical death. Because death is the last enemy to be destroyed, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:26, and in context, he is speaking of physical death. The gospel does remedy the effects of the fall, including both spiritual and physical death. But physical death is called the last enemy that will be destroyed. There is coming a future resurrection for all who are in Christ, in which we will be raised bodily from the dead, and it has already begun with the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The gospel is also for those who die in infancy, I believe, because through it they receive victory over death. Obviously we cannot “evangelize” them, but what I mean is that the benefit of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus is for them as well.

    I have not considered which, if any, is more important than the other, but I believe that without the Incarnation, reconciliation with God would not have been possible.

  • Edward Vos

    This is one of the best posts I have read. Our whole dilemma seems to focus on what our faith is anchored in. All science is anchored in tests, trials, and conclusions based on factual evidence and repeated testing. We don’t however, have a way to test faith for accuracy and strength, to prove once and for all that our truth / interpretations are what God wants us to uphold for our faith to be real.

    If God gave us science to understand that the earth rotates around the sun why would we then discredit science when we learn that there may not be a historic Adam & Eve. Why would we want to disprove the age of the universe when science has clearly proved that it is well over 10 billion years old?

    Science is not a replacement for God. Nor is it a tool that is out to disprove the Bible. It is a gift God gave us, like our eyes, to see His creation better. We can’t fathom the mind of God yet we feel that God won’t accept us unless we do! Theology is not an exact science it is as series of hypotheses based on ancient scripture with the sole purpose of showing us a way back home to our Father who created us.

    We accept the Chronicles of Narnia for having truth that that transcends the literal story why can’t we accept that Genesis and much of the Bible paints a broad brush overview of God’s history of salvation for His children? We are not saved because we believe in Scripture, we are saved because we believe in the Christ who was resurrected to shows us the way home. I can’t believe we would have an entrance exam for heaven that test whether or not we accepted a real Adam & Eve or a 6,000 year old universe! If we did then it is not by faith that we are saved but by a blind adherence to literal interpretations of the Bible read outside the realm of true spiritual context.

    The context being that in the beginning was the word and the word was God, period. You can’t argue with that! I fear we have broken the Bible down into a prescription manual for getting to heaven with pastors as the theological cops to prevent us from breaking the speed limit if our interpretations match up with scientific revelations. Whatever happened to having the faith of a child? To simply believe that Adam represents mankind, that Eve represents life, or that a 10 billion year old earth is still under God’s control, and there is nothing we can do about it.

  • Dana Ames


    When I write capital O Orthodox I mean Eastern Orthodox. What I have found in EOrthodoxy is agreement with most of your first paragraph. The only exception is that in Orthodoxy the emphasis is that we are hopelessly lost to *death*.

    It’s not that sin isn’t a problem; it most definitely is, and we need to be redeemed from it. But the bigger problem is lack of trust in God for the sustenance of our life. That’s not a “vague connection”. That’s what “behind” sin: fear that we won’t really get to live. Heb 2.14-15. We disobey because we don’t trust God’s love to keep us truly alive. Once that lack of trust took hold, we were *already* alienated, and the eating of the tree was the fruit, the “natural outcome” of that inner reality. So the loss of connection with God was not “vague”; it was worked out in a very tragically concrete way and continues to be worked out in what we call “sin”. Sin and death are most definitely bound up together. It’s at least theoretically possible to live a completely moral life having accepting Jesus’ atonement as dealing with our sin, and yet if God doesn’t do something about *death* and restoring that supposedly “vague” connection, we are still *dead*.

    Doing a quick search in an online KJV, I find no passages including the phrase “old nature”. There are passages about the “old man”; in context, these are juxtaposed to and contrasted with baptism or other expressions of what it means to participate in the *life* of the new humanity (which is how anthropos could also be rendered) and what that means, by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is also “nature”, variants of the stem phys- , which in my lexicon means “the properties that make something what it is” (this is how the EOrthodox understand the term “nature”). Sin ain’t one of those properties. We sin, and we are sinners, but sin is not a property that makes humans human. That’s why the EO believe that when we sin, we are sinning *against our nature*!

    The idea of a “sin nature” can be traced back to Augustine. The EOrthodox love his devotional writings, but all their theologians rejected his views of “original sin” and what became variants of “total depravity”. Our freedom may be limited, but we still have it, because it’s one of those properties that make us human.


  • Amos Paul


    The EO do, in fact, believe that through Christ we become partakers of the Divine nature and, thus, enter into a process of complete transformation which frees us from our flawed, sinful natures…

  • Dutch Rikkers

    A helpful reminder from Dorothy Sayers in her insightful essay “Creative Mind”:

    “To make a precise scientific description of reality out of words is like trying to build a rigid structure out of pure quicksilver; it is using language for a purpose that defies the very nature of its being.”

  • Dana Ames

    Dutch, indeed.

    Amos, yes, “the EO do, in fact, believe that through Christ we become partakers of the Divine nature and, thus, enter into a process of complete transformation which frees us…” NOT from our natures, but from our slavery to sin and our descent into self-protecting un-love and death. We can’t be free from our nature; in EO terminology, our nature/essence is simply what we are as humans, shared by all humans, created good by God, but, if the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection were never to have occurred, without a connection to and participation in the source of Life.

    Read what you quoted to me more carefully. Skip everything in the first article except the introductory section on patristic thought and the EO Theology section. I could find nothing about being “freed from our flawed, sinful natures”. If you want a thorough and readable overview source for what Orthodox Christians believe, I think this is the best out there:

    I’m Orthodox. It’s possible that I could be mis-stating something, and I’d be fine with being corrected, but I spent a lot of time investigating all of this before I “swam the Bosporus”. I resonate with this quote I heard from an interview of an Orthodox priest, Fr Barnabas Powell (former Pentecostal pastor, educated at Toccoa Falls, worked for Charles Stanley): “I finally found a theology that is worthy of the dignity of the human soul.”


  • Amos Paul


    I think we’re disagreeing over what we mean by human nature. When I and other people I know say, ‘human nature’–we mean the state of properties which makeup the basics of humanity as we see and exprience it. This includes sinful inclinations or the ‘sickness’ that the EO believe in (not personally EO–but I do argue on behalf of this pradigm). Since this corrupted state of slavery to sin is existent in all humans that we know, most of us see it as a part of earthly human nature upon empirical grounds–it’s part of the natural state of affairs that we experience.

    What I believe you mean by human nature, however, is that nature which God originally crafted which is definitive of humanity. This definition is un-corrupted, and thus our slavery is not a part of that ‘human’ nature. It’s ‘humanity’–objectively defined in a right-minded divine way. However, I take it that you still accept that humans on Earth, empirically speaking, are sick with sin which degrades or enslaves their inherent ‘human’ nature.

    So I think we should both be able to see now that we’re saying basically the same things, but defining our terminology differerently. When you say human nature–you mean that which objectively defines human nature apart from the sickness of sin in our lives. When I’ve said human nature in this thread of comments–I’ve meant that which objectively defines humanity as well as the sinful sickness which we all share.

    So when we look at the EO language of ‘transformation’, I believe that you see it as release from the sickness of slavery to sin. I, similarly, see that–but describe it as a transformation into a brand new nature upon empirical grounds. I’ve said this because, in my experience, sinful inclinations are and always have been a part of the state of affairs in my life. If the natural state of affairs within me were not to include that anymore via theosis, it would seem as though I were born into a totally new and different nature than the one I had before. Granted, it’s still me. I’m still human–but the sin sickness is gone.

    Same idea, I think, but with different descriptions.

    [Addendum: Although I believe that theosis is probably more than just release from the sickness of sin–I’m under the impression that the process does, in fact, include this step]

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Dana, I fear that our traditions are so different that the problem of words and their definitions will make it virtually impossible to find agreement. But the idea of having a sin nature, or sinful nature did not come from our tradition; it comes from the Bible. While you may not have found sin as an aspect of our “nature” in the King James, it is there in the newer and more accurate translations like the NIV. Paul’s well-known chapter on coping with it is Romans 7:

    14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

  • Edward Vos

    The curious question I have about death is if death was part of nature prior to our being created how do we handle that theologically? If dinosaurs existed before mankind, then death or physical death was part of nature just as hurricanes that destroy have always been part of nature.

    Our bodies were created to decay it is our spirit that requires salvation and the rational for why we need new bodies. It is our spirit that has denied God relationship with us and caused God to send His Son so that the relationship may be repaired and that we may become one with Him.

  • Dana Ames

    Amos, yes, we are understanding “nature” differently, and you have sketched out the differences well. What I am asking is, if you are going to speak about what Orthodox believe, then its terminology and definitions should be employed, just as when speaking about any other topic with people who understand things differently. If you don’t agree with those definitions, that’s fine. I’m sorry if I made things more difficult for you to understand.

    Your observation that “sinful inclinations are and always have been a part of the state of affairs in my life” would certainly be acknowledged in Orthodox theology. The healing/deliverance/salvation of humans in Orthodoxy is not really a matter of seeming “as though I were born into a totally new and different nature than the one I had before”. We’re saying a lot that is the same, but it is precisely because of the different definitions of terms that some things are actually not the same. Thanks for your thoughts on teasing this out.

    Dutch, I know that we won’t agree. Your realization that it is so different is part of the point, and is actually a positive thing, showing that you understand the crux of the matter. A lot of people don’t get that far, so thanks. What I’m trying to do is show that there’s a different yet fully Christian way to view and think about these things.

    One of the things that I came to understand while I was still a (theologically conservative) Protestant, long before I ever considered becoming Orthodox, was something that gets discussed here at JC from time to time: When we read any text, we interpret. That goes for the bible, too. We may come up with our own interpretation, or we may adopt an interpretation which, because of many factors, makes the best sense to us. But we all of us read scripture wearing interpretive “glasses”, so to speak. So to say that anything “comes from the Bible” is to skip over the important question, “Which interpretation of the Bible?” To quote scripture with the assumption (forgive me if this is not your assumption, but it is for a lot of people) that simply reading it will make things clear, does not advance understanding and probably won’t convince. The portion of scripture you quoted is actually a good example of this.

    If you’ve ever done any kind of translating, as I have between German and English, you’ll appreciate how difficult it is and how much interpretation is involved, given the parameters of semantic range. The NIV translators made interpretive decisions. They translated the word sarx as “sin nature”. First of all, that’s not what the text says; the word is “flesh”. Second of all, we have to discover what Paul meant when he used that word. Did he mean “sin nature”? If he meant that, why didn’t he say that? He had the vocabulary. Did he mean the stuff that covers our bodies? Did he mean that stuff as a pointer to something else which may or may not include that stuff? Or was he making some other point? I’ll tell you up front that the interpretation I think makes the best sense is that of N.T. Wright, who knows the text and Paul’s times far better than I do. Wright says that one of the three ways Paul uses sarx/flesh is to indicate that about humans or the world which is subject to death and decay. So, this interpretation understands Paul having death and decay in view when he cries out, “Who shall rescue me from the body of this death (somatos tou thanatou toutou)?” Whether this is purely physical death or includes some kind of “spiritual” death as well is yet another matter of interpretation.

    Dutch, you are kind in your disagreement, and I appreciate that. I’ve followed Scot’s blog since about three weeks after he started it, and some people show up and are not kind. I consider you my brother in Christ. I became Orthodox because the Orthodox interpretation of the meaning of who God is, what God is up to, why humans exist and what it all means makes the best sense to me. Scot is gracious to let me articulate that, even when I get long-winded.


  • Dutch Rikkers

    Fair enough, Dana!

  • Jonathan Martinez

    poor reading of scriptures. Christ showed to the disciples in Emaus from the Law Psalms and Prophets where it spoke about him. That meant Genesis definitely.

  • omnikether

    I think the story of the gospel needs the story of Adam and Eve. If we are to be reconciled to God, we need to know why. What did we do to require this reconciliation? If it turned out that Adam and Eve did not sin, then why do we require reconciliation?
    The gospel, inasmuch as you say it should begin with Jesus, in my opinion is the last chapter. The introduction must be the reason why Jesus came in the first place.

  • vel

    Absolutely…people can study and become masters in theology no matter what understanding and knowledge they have but if they don’t have a genuine relationship with Lord Jesus Christ all of their knowledge is in vain.
    And joy is in my heart that there are still true Christians ready to defend the Gospel and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.