Adam, Original Sinner not Origin of Sin (RJS)

Adam, Original Sinner not Origin of Sin (RJS) September 18, 2012

Peter Bouteneff, in the second chapter of his book Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives, discusses the uses of the creation narrative in the New Testament. The most important New Testament references are in the Pauline literature – which Bouteneff takes to include Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, as well as the more commonly accepted Pauline canon, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon (more commonly accepted within within biblical scholarship that is). Bouteneff considers the Pastoral epistles separately.

Paul was an educated Jew of his day and he uses the scriptures in a method entirely consistent with Second Temple Judaism – although his conclusions are distinctively Christian.  Paul has been transformed and now reads the scriptures through the lens of his Damascus Road experience and the corporate experience of the early Christians.  Bouteneff notes:

To Paul – the first Christian interpreter of the OT – the Scriptures speak of, anticipate, typologize, reveal,  Christ, and him crucified. In effect, Paul takes the spectrum of Jewish hermeneutical methods – literal, allegorical, midrashic – and uses these instruments in a completely new way. In so doing, he says things that are revolutionary to the Jews, but in a language and framework very much their own. (p. 36)

First century Jews took scripture very seriously as revelation from God and the story of the mission of God in the world in and through Israel. However, they did not use scripture in the fashion common in 20th and 21st century evangelicalism. Examples of creative rereadings and appropriations of scripture abound in the pages of the New Testament. Out of Egypt I called my son is, for example, a creative appropriation of Hosea by Matthew as he sought to portray the depth of theological significance in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Messiah. Matthew was not bound by the authorial intent of Hosea. We’ve discussed the way Paul uses scripture in a number of posts, most recently Paul’s (First Century) Use of Scripture. Paul too was not bound by authorial intent – as his play with the word seed (Gal. 3) and creative use of Isaiah (Rom. 11) demonstrate.

One of the revolutionary developments in Paul deals with sin and redemption.  It is suggested by some that  a more traditional Jewish reading sees “sin as an act that can be repented of but Paul sees it as a condition from which we are freed and redeemed in Christ.”  Paul uses the creation narratives to tell this Christ-centered story of redemption.

In Him All Things Hold Together. Bouteneff emphasizes that Paul’s use of the creation narratives in general and of Adam in particular is  first and foremost Christ-centered.  Paul did not start with a problem (sin) and look for a solution (Christ). He started with Christ and looked for ways to express the glory of the gospel of Christ in his day, age, and context. Col. 1:15-17, 1 Cor. 8:6 are key here – Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, all things have been created through Him, by Him, and for Him, in Him all things hold together, and we exist through Him. This theme is not limited to Paul, and is also seen in Hebrews 1:2 and John 1:3.  This Christ-centered focus in Paul must be recalled when reading both Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15.

For his starting point and focus are not finally sin (which is old news) but rather that which was new: Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.  Paul does nothing less than define the direction and the sequence, as it were, of Christian reflection on Christ. This direction is not the one commonly associated with Christianity, namely, a kind of chronological sequence from a perfect pre-fallen state, to a one-event calamitous fall, and then to salvation that comes in 33 CE. It is a sequence that begins with Christ himself: rather than Adam being a model or image for humanity or even the first human being, it is Christ who is both. Christ is the first true human being, and Christ is the image of God and the model for Adam. (p. 45)

When Paul focuses on Adam it is as an individual, but this is because he is developing a biblically based understanding of Christ. Adam is the primordial individual from whom all descend.  He is the only suitable figure for describing the universal nature of redemption through Christ of Jew and Gentile alike.  As man of dust he is the contrast to Christ, the life-giving spirit. But, for Paul, Adam was made for Christ – not Christ for Adam.

The universalizing impact of Paul’s use of Adam should not be minimized. The key passages in Romans and 1 Corinthians were most likely directed primarily toward Gentile Christians in Rome and Corinth. In discussing Romans 5 Bouteneff emphasizing this universal aspect of both sin and the redemption through Christ.

Making the first sinner and the first-made human being one and the same person has the effect of opening out the genealogy, the effects of sin, and therefore the scope of salvation, which now incorporates the Gentiles. The dividing line is no longer between Jew and Gentile, but between the old dispensation (or old Adam) and the new dispensation in Christ. (p. 40)

It seems clear that Paul’s view of the OT is centered in Christ. Adam is not the significant figure – Christ is the significant figure and the central figure in a Christian reading of history and a Christian reading of the Jewish scripture.

The Western church however has read Romans 5 with Adam responsible for original sin, corrupting the nature of all who follow. There are aspects of this reading that tend to make Adam the central figure. Christ is a response to Adam, not the central figure of history in whom all things have their being.

Bouteneff, coming from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, suggests that the traditional Western view of original sin is a distortion – “The idea of “original sin” as a causal factor lies not with Paul but with Jerome and, on the basis of Jerome’s translation, with Augustine.” (p. 41)

What matters to Paul is that Adam … sins and comes to stand for the one through whom sin – and therefore death – came into the world. … To see Adam as the original sinner was to establish him as the foil for Christ, the deliverer from sin and death. Christ could be seen as the new Adam. We know this story well but must recognize Paul’s genius in conceiving it. We must also know where to stop attributing theology to Paul: he did not say, for example, that all mortals sin “in Adam” or are born guilty of Adam’s sin. Nor, in fact, did he say anything about “pre-fallen” Adam or his immortality or perfection, for Adam was but “the man of dust.” Christ alone, for Paul, is the icon of God (Col. 1:15). (p. 54)

Paul’s use of Adam is significant because Adam universalizes the need for redemption back to the very beginning – not because Adam caused a problem in God’s perfect creation. Adam is the original sinner, not the origin of sin.

More from Colossians 1. As Bouteneff emphasizes, Paul sees Christ as having accomplished something of profound significance through his death and resurrection – he is the deliverer from sin and death. I started this discussion with the great Christological hymn Paul quotes in Col. 1:15-18. But in the focus on Col. 1:15-17 we can’t forget what comes in 19-23. We were alienated but have been reconciled. We have been freed and redeemed by God through Christ.

Regardless of where one comes down on the historicity of Adam, we ought to align ourselves with the Christ-centered focus of Paul. The linear sequence Creation-Fall-(Israel)-Redemption-(Church)-Consummation brings Christ into the middle of the story as a response to the first three acts.  Adam’s act, according to this view, took things off course and requires Christ’s sacrifice as a corrective – a “plan B” to get us back on track. We need, perhaps, a more robust Christology and a view of the mission of God with Christ clearly at beginning in creation, at the center in reconciliation, and at the end in consummation.

How does our vision of creation mesh with a Christo-centric reading of scripture?

Is Christ a response to Adam?

If not, what impact does this have on our view of the mission of God?

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

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

"And in patriarchal times you could send off a servant to find a wife for ..."

Dear John (Piper), by Ruth Tucker
""Christianity is not other than Judaism: it is the fulfillment of Judaism."Sounds familiar. I've heard ..."

How New Is The New Testament? ..."
"It is interesting how you insist no one can show you a 'right' way... ...because ..."

What Evangelicals Need Most To Read ..."
"That's like saying: "hey Scot, bathwater is so gross. Can we throw the baby out, ..."

What Evangelicals Need Most To Read ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • phil_style

    “Adam’s act, according to this view, took things off course and requires Christ’s sacrifice as a corrective – a “plan B” to get us back on track. “

    The first writer to alert me to this is George Murphy who notes that under this formulation “humanity earned an Incarnation which otherwise would not have happened”… It’s interesting to explore the implications of that observation.

  • Norman

    RJS, very good and helpful post; I believe Bouteneff is pointing us toward good insights yet I would nuance the Adam/sin story just a tad. By the way it is good to see his exploration of Christ being the Image of God as “the first true human being” something I’ve argued for theologically and not biologically for years now.

    It seems from my reading of Paul in Romans 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 that Adam was selected out of mortal humanity and placed in something new there which was a walk with the one true God. The Garden story provides an idealist environment to describe that relational walk with God. Paul’s concept of Adam’s sin appears built upon a perfect relationship that was lost due to Adam’s mortal nature not holding up and allowing him to remain in the Garden through his own inept efforts. The “sin” that Paul is attributing to Adam is a specific sin concerned with human effort toward law Keeping and is not your general run of the mill sin. Indeed Paul says that general run of the mill “sin” was in the world but in the Garden environment that Adam was placed this kind of sin is not attributed to those walking in Garden life . (Rom 5:13 & 7:9) Thus the rest of the OT story according to Paul until messiah is the futility of not being able to get back into Garden life until Christ restores us back into the Garden (again not attributing our sins to us) through His death and resurrection. That is what Romans and 1 Cor 15 are pointing out, which is Christ the last Adam has modeled for us what the first Adam could not do because of his humanity. “He was from the earth, dust and mortal which exemplify all humanity unless they put on the spiritual from above and not depend upon the mortal effort.

    1Co 15:47-49 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have BORNE THE IMAGE OF THE MAN OF DUST, we shall ALSO BEAR THE IMAGE OF THE MAN OF HEAVEN.

    Again I would remind that Paul is not necessarily speaking about biological death in much of Romans and 1 Cor 15 but is speaking of relational death which is the far more concerning issue at hand confronting the faithful.

    Eph 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins … even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

  • NateW

    Thanks for sharing this RJS. I believe that we, in large part, have failed to understand ever tying that is meant by “Christ” in Colossians 1. We think that his life manifests god, but that his death was an anomaly. But what if his death wasn’t an interruption of his manifestation of the eternal character of god, but an essential pert of it? If we inject EVERY moment/action/word of christ into his name, rather than his life and resurrection only, then we are left with a much richer understanding of god as one who has ALWAYS been defined by self-death for the love of another. The trinity becomes three not just “co-existing” as one, but as three eternally dying (giving up their own self existence) for each other and being eternally sustained by the love of the others. It is an eternal and “stingless” death that allows all to co-exist with in the enfolding love of the others.

    If we allow Christ’s death to be an integral part of the character of god for eternity then we can see how radical gods act of creation is. In creating god has opened up a space within the Trinidadian cycle of love for an other, us, to participate. In all it’s temporarily and finitude, creation itself is an act of god essentially crucifying his divine being to open a hole in himself for an other to step in. Like an eternal, swirling, waltz where god steps off the dance floor and extends his hand to us inviting us to join in. Until we do, death is the last dance step performed. Sin is not a fence between us and the dance floor, it is our fear to join in. It is that first step back into death that terrifies us because we do not have faith that the next swirl into love will consume it.

    Adam did not “fall” or introduce death. He was blissfully ignorant until he attained knowledge that showed him, not how far he has fallen, but how far above him (or even how seemingly distant) God is. He responded to that felt distance with shame, as we all do, grasping tenaciously to self-preservation, rather than with faith that Gods love crosses the expanse. Like a peasant with no sense of rhythm being invited to a princely dance we step back into the shadows because our shame and fear deter us from stepping into the dance.

  • SCP

    Love this stuff. Thanks for the post rjs.
    “It seems from my reading of Paul in Romans 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 that Adam was selected out of mortal humanity and placed in something new there which was a walk with the one true God.”
    This seems to be identical to my reading as well. I guess the typical syllogism that represents the relationship between Adam and the rest of humanity is something like this:
    A. Adam was the first human (and he sinned)
    B. Everyone else came after him
    C. All of humanity is born in sin

    Seems closer to say something like:
    A. God covenanted(?) w/his specially created people to live w/him in his garden
    B. God’s specially created people broke the marriage covenant and entered into covenant w/the serpent
    C. God’s specially created people were exiled from God’s garden w/the rest of humanity which was in covenant w/the serpent(?)

    As a result, all are born in exile. –I’m sure that has its holes and could be nuanced much better than I just did, but maybe the point is made.

    It seems like some type of reading like that stays true to Revelation as well. We read about the two mysterious trees in Genesis and get very little specific information about them, but then they appear in Revelation 22 and we discover that both trees have become trees of life (?) and that their fruit brings about the healing of the nations outside God’s Garden City. God’s people are inside the city gates crying out to those outside, “Come. Come and live in this city and eat of the tree of life.” Nothing will separate God from his people ever again (no more exile). Everything that caused division in the first heaven and earth are done away with–no darkness to divide from light, no night to divide from day, no death or exile to separate God from his humanity, and the other biggy, “there is no sea there.” There is nothing that threatens to spoil God’s good creation purposes for his people and his world. God finally lives with his specially created humans and they are living in the Garden and effectively administering the fruit of the tree of life to the nations outside, adding to the population of the Garden City and bringing more in from exile (??)–(Definitely open to others’ input on all that)

  • “We need, perhaps, a more robust Christology and a view of the mission of God with Christ clearly at beginning in creation, at the center in reconciliation, and at the end in consummation.”


  • RJS –

    Today, I was reminded of the video that Highway Media recently produced, From the Dust. You particularly made us aware of the film here. I was looking at their Vimeo channel today and re-watched the sessions on a) Paul’s Adam and b) the Fall. I thought they were excellent. I especially appreciated Michael Lloyd’s thoughts on ‘the Fall’ and how the text seems to suggest that disorder and disharmony were present even before Genesis 3.

    For those interested, the two videos are:
    1) Paul’s Adam –
    2) The Fall – (Michael Lloyd’s great thoughts are found at minutes 1:23 to 2:32 in this video)

  • Jerry Sather

    We are back to the hermeneutical points raised in the Out of Egypt post. Unfortunately, a historical-grammatical approach doesn’t get us there and, surprisingly perhaps, ends with PIP. When we begin with Christology (something we weren’t suppossed to do in seminary) we come to some different conclusions about the Old Testament story.

  • MG

    Could you (or someone) expound on this statement: “Paul’s use of Adam is significant because Adam universalizes the need for redemption back to the very beginning – not because Adam caused a problem in God’s perfect creation. Adam is the original sinner, not the origin of sin.”

  • Percival

    Good post, RJS.

    I wonder why there is not more discussion of Jesus using the “Son of man” title and how it relates to Adam? We discuss the title’s use in Daniel and Ez. and Psalms, but expositors neglect to explore or even mention that it is a direct translation of the Hebrew “Son of Adam.” I’d like to see that connection explored a bit.

  • Jon G

    Percival…you’ve just given me A LOT to think through! Thank you!

    And RJS…I can’t tell you how much this post and the rest of your posts mean to my theological journey. From the bottom of my heart – THANK YOU!

    Jon G

  • Norman


    I’ll point out some light research I have performed in the past concerning the OT and how translators have not done us any favors by using “man” extensively in their translations of multiple Hebrew words. We lose the contextual connotation without some examination.

    It’s important to recognize OT language most often deals exclusively with Adam as a covenant word designating the Jews through the Seed lineage begun in Genesis 2 & 3. It starts with the recognition that the word adam or aw-dawm has two differing applications in scripture. You will typically find that word applied 541 times in the OT designating plural mankind. You will find the singular usage of that word used 22 times and almost entirely from Gen 2:19 through Gen 5:5 describing usually a specific individual Adam. The plural application of Adam as man starts in Gen 1:26 where we note that if is often translated as generic man or mankind.

    The translation as man in the OT in the KJV is found 1829 times with 541 of those times being aw-dawm. That leaves nearly 1300 times that other Hebrew words especially the Hebrew “ish” are translated as man. If I’m correct and “adam” bears a covenant connotation when the term “son or children of Adam” is applied then we should consider this has a special covenant relationship that originated with Adam’s story.

    This has distinct bearing upon passages such as Ecc 3:18-21 which I quote by changing the genric translated term man to the word adam used there. Notice the difference and how this lamentation references back to Genesis 2 & 3. It contrasts the plight of faith seeking fallen covenant man (Israel) to the beast which is a classic term of the Jews to describe pagan gentiles outside of Gods providential covenant.

    Ecc 3:18 I said to myself concerning the sons of (adam/men), “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts (mortal in nature).” For the fate of the sons of (adam/men) and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for (adams/man) over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. ALL CAME FROM THE DUST AND ALL RETURN TO THE DUST. Who knows that the breath of (adam/man) ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

    Here is the Orthodox Jewish Bible translation.

    Ecc 3: 18 I said in mine lev, As for bnei haAdam, HaElohim tests them, that they might see that they themselves are like beheimah. 19 For bnei haAdam and beheimah share one and same mikreh (fortune);

    So in my opinion declaring Jesus as the “son of adam” projects the fulfillment of the Adamic garden story and its covenant implication. We so often want to read biology and philosophy into these stories when first we need to examine the Hebrew roots and meaning first. Then we can see how those concepts measure up with Greek or modern philosophy and biological ideas and see if there is much traction there. Usually not much in my opinion. 🙂

  • Dana Ames

    Norman, I would be interested in knowing where you find the phrase “spiritual death” in the text of scripture. Thank you.

    MG, I’ll take a stab at it, from an EO standpoint. Paul wants to show that all of humanity needs redemption because we humans have been in this predicament – the condition of mortality – from the beginning. “Adam” is not the origin of sin as sin, but the one who existentially turned from, “dropped the ball,” let it go missing (etymology of hamartia, sin) what humans were created to be – capable of remaining in union with God as the only source of our life.

    The EO view is not that the first humans were morally perfect/sinless, but that they were immature. N.T. Wright makes the point that for the 1st century Jews, to say that “sins had been forgiven” was the same as saying “the exile is ended” – not that God had taken some sort of eraser and wiped out every record of our moral failings. The question is, of what does that exile consist?

    Hope that helps.


  • Norman

    Dana Ames,

    I’ll use Eph 2 and Col 2 to begin with outlining Paul’s application of what I call “spiritual death” or the equivalent to being separated from God’s gift of eternal life which occurred to Adam. According to Paul those he was addressing were physical alive but “spiritually dead” not biologically dead. I use “spiritual death” to describe the condition of unredeemed man. What words would you use to describe those that Paul is speaking to below that had been made alive through Christ but were previously “dead”?

    Eph 2: And YOU WERE DEAD in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even WHEN WE WERE DEAD in our trespasses, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

    Col 2: 13 And YOU, WHO WERE DEAD in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, GOD MADE ALIVE together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands

  • There’s a lot I agree with in this article, but I have to admit I have difficulty with the statement that Christ’s sacrifice was “plan B”.

    What about “The Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world”? Rev 13:8

    I don’t want to delve into calvinism/arminianism arguments here, but to say that Redemption/Restoration in Christ’s sacrifice was an afterthought seems… I don’t know – harsh?

    Any thoughts?

  • Dana Ames

    Norman, the word I would use is “dead”.

    A human being consists of both a body and a living soul/spirit. Ya can’t have one without the other and call the resultant being “human”. The hope of the resurrection is that the material and the immaterial aspects of a human being get back together and we are at last truly all that we were created to be – body and soul/spirit, and all that goes along with both. See N.T. Wright’s “Resurrection” book.

    All I’m saying is that your understanding of “spiritual death” is an interpretation/interpolation, not necessarily wrong, but open to question, because if St Paul had wanted to use the adjective “spiritual” there, he would have done so. Not trying to incite an argument, only saying that we are trying to figure out meaning we have to begin by dealing with the text as it is. The NT writers were very careful with the words they used.


  • AHH

    Aaron @14, I think RJS is agreeing with you in disliking “Plan B” approaches.

    It is the traditional linear approach that starts with a perfect creation, which is then ruined by Adam who creates a problem, and then Jesus comes in as a Plan B to fix the problem.

    In the approach RJS is describing, taking Christ as a starting point, one no longer has the Plan B problem as we get a view of the mission of God with Christ clearly at beginning in creation, at the center in reconciliation, and at the end in consummation.

  • Dana Ames

    that the Godhead knew before creation that the whole bloomin’ plan would involve God being involved with death, and that the way things were gonna work, life would have to ultimately be birthed from death. See J. Behr, “The Mystery of Christ – Life in Death.” Also, that all is “present” to God – time and everything else.

    Our problem is not juridical – it is existential.


  • Norman


    There is a possibility you may be over complicating something that is actually a very simple concept to grasp. You seem to be avoiding the context of Paul’s use of “dead” to sin and “alive” with Christ.

    I’ll let the simplicity of the scriptures speak. 🙂

  • DRT
  • RJS

    AHH, Thanks. I think the “plan B” issue is one of the bigger flaws in the traditional approach to Adam common in much of the church. Christ and incarnation were part of the plan from the beginning.

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear Aaron.

  • DRT

    Norman#18, FWIW, you gave me a pretty good laugh by saying Dana is complicating things by assuming a single body/spirit while you are the one imposing complexity by choosing to make the tow separate and somehow independent.

    Paul is, imo, saying that we are dead, not fully human, but are alive, fully human, in Christ.

    I find parallels with your line of thinking in many who continue to say that being in Christ is hard work and difficult. Being in Christ is joyful and wonderful, it is being fully human. But, you need to continue to DIE to the old self and be born again in the new. And, others will make life difficult on you and that part is indeed difficult, but his yoke is not heavy, and in it we can be alive.

    The whole spiritual vs. physical death is a red herring and that is what over complicates things.

  • Norman


    I don’t think you have a clue to what I believe and I mean that respectfully. My point toward Dana was that I believe he was over complicating Paul’s simple theology of redemption as he never really addressed what the context of Paul’s dead meant theologically. It’s really not as complicated as perhaps we want to make it. If one was dead and Christ made him alive then you really have to expound upon what that dead status meant which appears to be that you don’t yet have eternal life ala Adam and his/Israels loss (exile). You can speculate what you want but I’m going to try my best to stay in the 2T Hebrew mindset instead of gravitating toward a Greek Philosophical early church model that still permeates the church.

  • Dana Ames


    what DRT said in his first 2 paragraphs;


    if the scriptures were all that simple and clear, we wouldn’t be disagreeing, and Scot wouldn’t have to be pointing out soterianism, and… and…

    2Pet 3.15-16a

    Best regards from a warm but autumnal northern California-


  • Dana Ames

    By the way, like RJS I am a “she” not a “he” 🙂


  • Dana Ames

    I encourage you to read the Apostolic Fathers (most before 100 AD, all before 150 AD). They spoke and wrote in Greek but were not trained in the Athens Academy, so have no possibility of “Greek philosophical early church model”. They have remarkable coherence with the Syriac fathers Ephrem and Isaac (300-500 AD), who did not write in Greek. They are all congruent with the Cappadocians, arguably the greatest Christian thinkers ever, who, even though trained in the Academy, strongly resisted Platonic dualism and “baptized” the Greek language, which is at once more “supple” and more precise than Hebrew, enabling us to have vocabulary to talk not only about the Hebrew ideas, but those ideas for which Hebrew has no vocabulary. The “Greek philosophy” that came into the church, with its strict dualism and hyper-conceptualization actually crept into western philosophy during the early Renaissance by way of the Islamic world, bypassing the “Christian filter” the Cappadocians wove.

    (Sorry if this is a duplicate post.)

    a female

  • Norman


    I apologize for assuming the wrong gender for you.

    With all due respect I have years of studies regarding second temple and early first century Christian literature and thinking and I also concentrate extensively on Pauline theology. You know you don’t have to be seminary trained today to have extensive background knowledge. Although I attended a Christian University 40 years ago my biblical studies were basically a minor in bible at that time but fortunately for several years I had the opportunity to perform extensive studies and myriads of interactions and dialogue upon this subject.

    And seriously Dana, you and DRT really are speculating and generalizing a bit much about what you think I believe about “spiritual death”. Perhaps you should realize that “being separated” from God and in need of redemption is kind of a classic understanding of that concept. Don’t assume I understand it the way you want to paint it nor should you assume you have heard intelligently and extensively discussed the full spectrum of Hebrew investigation on these subjects. It’s a big field and we all should keep our eyes and ears open.

    By the way whom do you consider the apostolic fathers before 100 to 150 AD?

    I still would like to hear a forthright explanation from you about what Paul means in Eph 2 and Col 2 concerning being once dead and then alive. Your statement of being “dead” just doesn’t say much about why you think Paul is not equating being dead with “spiritual separation” from God. I will ask you plainly; could being in a state of “deadness” mean you were outside a saved relationship with God. Let me throw another Eph 2 verse at you to help your consideration.

    Eph 2: 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles … that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, HAVING NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD in the world.

    Would you not consider these Gentiles Paul is speaking to as “spiritually dead” prior? If not, then what condition should Paul have used instead of their being once “dead” and now “alive”?


  • DRT

    Norman, I am not well trained, institutionally or otherwise, but that does not stop me from having an opinion!

    When I look at Eph 2 1-11 and apply my thinking I get the following.

    I used to not be a good follower of Jesus. I did not buy in to his vision for what I should be doing and pursuing with my life. I was still blinded by the ways of this world, and thought that I could find meaning and my place in the world through the mechanisms that we have in this world. I would seek a great career, a great family, and stimulation from all sorts of things (take your pick from motorcycles, to sex, to food, to whatever). But in that cycle of desire, fulfillment and the rapid return to desire I never found true meaning in my life or my place in the world. I truly did feel dead, unfulfilled, less than what I could be.

    Finally, in my searching, I took the gift that Jesus had been offering and chose to go all in with Jesus. [as a side note, what I actually decided was that Jesus may indeed be the risen Lord, but I don’t like what Christianity is offering, so my quest was to stop making excuses because the religion seemed stupid, and I should try and figure out what we should believe, not what was being sold as what I should believe]. I keyed in on the resurrection, as Paul says God raised him as a demonstration, and that was the key for me. So I gave Jesus a chance and began to follow as best I could. And the gifts I received surpassed anything that I had in my dead life. I found fulfillment, I found my place in the world. I felt alive, as a fully alive human.

    I don’t separate this my spiritual vs. human life at all. I was quite spiritual before. But I was following the wrong spirit and in that I actually felt dead. And don’t get me wrong, by the wrong spirit I don’t mean anything bad, anything like I was a sex fiend. I was putting my life first. I was a very hard working husband and father providing well for my family. I was generous toward the poor, spent quite a bit of time meditating and trying to be nice to people and myself. But I still did not find what I was looking for, and now I realize that, as Paul says in 2:9 I was still trying to save myself through my efforts and not a surrender of myself. No one would have thought of me as a bad person or a non-spiritual person.

    But I was dead and I knew it. I now do feel alive.

  • DRT

    So, as I continue to read Eph 2 beyond 11 it resonates with me in a way that is not a “dead spiritually away from God” vs “alive spiritually and with God” sort of way. I was had a relationship with god prior to going all in with Jesus. I consider that I have been a Christian by most people’s definition my entire life and never did not believe in Jesus in the sense of most people. 2:19 ff

    So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 2:20 because you have been built 34 on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, 35 with Christ Jesus himself as 36 the cornerstone. 37 2:21 In him 38 the whole building, 39 being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 2:22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

    I did have the foundation, but I spent a lot of time in the household of our consumerist, you should be successful, you should give to the poor, you should be nice, you need to be a good father world. I have now fully joined the household of Jesus, and truly feel alive. It is this dimension of my place in the big picture that has been the difference. My place in the whole household. My prayer, every day, is for Jesus to use me for his purposes.

  • Norman


    I loved the way you framed this subject as I belive that is the essence of biblical life and death. So we do agree.:)

    My response though was framed from a technical theological point of view which doesn’t illustrate the robustness that your description does. That is the interesting aspect of doing theology as its endpoint should culminate in life stories that point toward the richness of a walk with God. There are so many ways that we can flesh this out.

  • I too think the phrase “spiritual death” is an unfortunate use of those words strung together, but as a phrase, it is just short hand term for the concept of separation from God. This isn’t that hard, and it need not be a phrase used in the Bible to be a Biblical concept, kind of like Trinity. This can go the other way too. I’d be a wealthy man if I had a dollar for every time I heard John MacArthur open a sermon with, “Dispensation is a Bible word.” Sure, but that doesn’t mean all that dispensationalism stuff that he preaches has any actual Biblical content that supports it. (sorry dispys). Those “*insert-word-or-phrase-here* is/is not in the Bible” sort of arguments are useless. We need to discuss content, not semantics, to determine whether something is or isn’t Biblical.

    Also, I am not so sure that “Greek Philosophy” (whatever that means) is the scapegoat for all the woes of theology people think it can be. I am also unconvinced that the “Hebrew versus Greek way of thinking” is a very useful way of dividing the world, especially when discussing the Bible on the whole. I mean, what Greek thinker when? Which Hebrew thinker where? Read enough ancient literature and you can find Hebrew and Greek thinkers over the various centuries when the Bible was being composed thinking some particular way about everything, at any given time frame, and in competition with each other within the same time frames. “Hebrew thought” in the 2nd Temple Judaism period was no more monolithic than anywhere else at any time else. It is like saying “American thought”. What does that even mean? Which American and when? Pilgrim thought during the colonial period? African-American thought in the 21st century? Which particular Pilgrim? Which particular African-American? In any case, “Greek Philosophy” isn’t the bogeyman of Western theology regardless of how fashionable it has become in various theological streams of thought to treat it as such.

    All that said, it is otherwise a good discussion. I pretty much agree with Peter Bouteneff on this, and despite the view, when taken comprehensively, being totally unrelated to and outside of the parameters in the Augustine-Pelagius debate, I am often called, most frequently anyways, a “Semi-Pelagian” for rejecting that all sinned in Adam or inherit Adam’s guilt at conception and think of sin and death through Adam’s sin to all of humanity in another way…but I’ve been called worse, so I don’t mind too much. 🙂

  • Bev Mitchell

    Norman, DRT, Dana,

    Wonderful discussion. How we describe things really does affect what is heard. It reminds me of what a scientific paper would look like if one actually discussed the entire process, on the ground in the lab and in the pub. But the dear editor would throw all that revealing stuff out, if it ever got by the potentially more sympathetic reviewers. In this way, the general public remains poorly informed in order that scientific communication may remain precise. But, of course, in informal ways, scientists have their own version of testimony meetings.  🙂

    DRT, thank you for sharing your wonderful testimony.

    It’s often said that good theology should lead to doxology. In the spirit of Jesus Creed, I think it would be fair to amend this truth to say, good theology should lead to doxology and relationship.

    Re Ephesians 2, it seems to me that the entire chapter cries out to be read as a single piece. There is nothing like a natural break anywhere. The last three verses form the overall summary. “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with King Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building is fitted together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You, too, are being built up together, in him, into a place where God will live by the spirit”. From “The Kingdom New Testament”, N.T. Wright.

    Speaking of the cornerstone, and the temple, the 1960 Sociedades Bíblicas Unidas version renders vv 21 and 22 like this: en quien todo el edificio, bien coordinado, va creciendo para ser un templo santo en el Señor; en quien vosostros también sois justamente edificados para morada de Dios en el Espíritu. The “well coordinated” adds an important dimension to the “fitted together”. And the temple which will become, indeed is becoming, Christ’s dwelling place (morada) – even giving the feeling of home or hearth  (hogar) – is made very personal and relational in Castellano. 

    a male,

  • Jon G

    Dana in #24 – I used to assume that you were a “she” but I seem to remember a response someone put up awhile back correcting someone for calling you a “she” and I thought, “huh, I guess I need to be careful with some of the names on here”. Now, to find out that you actually are a “she” and not a “he”, I’m going to have to go back to my old gender-biased ways. Then next thing I’m gonna here is that Scot is short for “Scotsman” and his/her real name is Chris!

    Watch out, everybody! 🙂

    Jon G (a “he” – heehee)

  • Jon G

    sorry – “hear” not “here”…hear me?

  • Jon G

    ooohh, maybe it was Bev who somebody once commented was a “he” and I’ve superimposed that to Dana. In any case, you both (Bev and Dana) are wonderful to read and proof that I’ve got gender issues. 🙂

  • Dana Ames

    Jon G,
    yes I do 🙂

    I’ve been explaining my name for 56 years – I’m used to it. It’s a long story, but the nutshell version is I was named for my father, Daniel – so give that first syllable short “a” sound, not long.

    I need to be reminded every now and again what is said about the word assume…


  • Dana Ames


    I apologize if I have assumed anything wrongly about you. From what you have written, I probably agree with most of what you believe, even if I get there by a different route. I try not to assume anything about the people here, except that most of us are probably very interested “laypeople” from a variety of backgrounds on many points of the spectrum of training, academic or otherwise. I wouldn’t doubt that you have much more in the way of study under your belt than I do. For the past few years I’ve been trying to get my local Greek “expert” to tutor me; I think I’ll be able to finally start soon. For me, that will be a very real beginning.

    My understanding is that Apostolic Fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, and the writers of the Didache, epist. of Barnabas and epist. to Diognetus, which I have read, along with Shepherd of Hermas, of which I have read only excerpts.

    As to Ephesians, I think the entire book is about union with God: ch 1-3 describing insofar as human language reaches, what God has done to effect that union, thus showing forth the “kind of god God is,” and what it means for humans to be taken into that union; and ch 4-6, on the basis of those acts and that meaning and that union, how Christfollowers live it out. Colossians has many themes in common and is structured basically the same way. I think Paul uses abundant word pictures not only to help those to whom he is writing to some kind of understanding, but because, even as brilliant as he was, there were simply no words or concepts that could circumscribe God or the fullness of the ramifications of God’s work in Christ. But we do get some sort of inkling. There is way too much in Eph 2 for a detailed exegesis, and I’m not sure it would be within my reach anyhow. I will give you a few thoughts and hopefully make sense with them.

    I don’t think that we are ultimately totally “separated” from God. “Where shall I flee from thy presence? Even if I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there…” He loves his creation and is present to it all the time, whether or not we are turned toward him. The lack of hope in Eph 2.12 has to do with being “without” Christ in the Greek – as in KJV English, “outside” or not united. It’s an aspect of the relationship, but to me that’s not the same thing as “being separated,” which implies *no* relationship. However, that union cannot be – ultimately – a disembodied, non-material “spiritual” one. It must include the body, because we are created for good works 2.10; how could one do good works, or live in the way Paul advocates in ch 3-6 without a body? How can we encounter God in such a way as to make a difference in how we actually act, as DRT has experienced, except through and with our bodies? And how is the union of Jew and Gentile, the breaking down of the wall 2.14-15, accomplished? It is through the one body – that of Jesus – through the cross. The death from which we are rescued must ultimately include physical death. My understanding is that Hebrew thought is very clear that to be truly human, a person must consist of both the physical body and the immaterial “part” of our being expressed through it. To have one without the other is to be not-human. Death is so bad because it ruptures this wholeness.

    Finding ourselves outside of union with the life of God because of the first human missing the mark of what it means to be a human being united with God (thus enabling us to act in self-giving love), we ultimately tend toward having no existence, either physically or non-physically. We came to death because Adam turned away from finding all his life in God; in this way he was the “original sinner” – he did it first, but we all do it because of the condition of mortality into which we are born because he did it. We do all the cruddy acts of un-love we do because of our fear of death, Heb 2.14-15, seeking to find our life -all of it, physical and non-physical – in our own existence, turned away from God. This is our existential problem, which is on another level entirely than morality; this is the meaning of Adam’s act – missing the mark of what it means to be human in that union. Anyone can do moral acts, but on our own we cannot be united to the life of God – the eternal *kind* of life, as Willard puts it. (I understand “eternal life” to mean not so much duration as quality – the life of the Age to Come – the life that that is truly life, really ultimately the life of God.)

    Because God is good and loves humans and all his creation, he won’t let things stay that way. Thus the Incarnation – the union of the divine life with human life in the Truly Human Being, Jesus Christ – the ripple of which reverberated down to the depths of humanity – and the Resurrection, the breaking of the chains that hold us captive to death – physical and every other kind – rippling through all creation. The plan for “the fullness of time” is to unite “all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (as in, both the immaterial and the material) Eph 1.9-10, Col 1.20. So to say that humans are in a condition of “spiritual death” simply doesn’t go far *enough* and reflects something of the dualism of Platonic “Greek philosophy” which otherwise tastes bad to you…

    As to a “saved relationship with God, I have a difficult time with the word “saved” because of its restrictive connotations in modern English. I prefer to think about the soter- words in the fullness of the meaning as I understand it in Greek: healed, rescued, delivered. I think DRT has described very well how Christ healed, rescued and delivered him. As he describes it, that was done “on the inside” in terms of what is non-material – and note the basis on which he came into it: the Resurrection.

    God wants every person to be healed, rescued, delivered in the wholeness of his/her being. Ultimately, all creation will be healed, rescued and delivered. I truly believe that the “all things” of Eph and Col really does mean All Things!


  • Norman


    Your response was very gracious and heartfelt and it’s amazing how much we all have in common concerning the ultimate attributes of the risen Christ. I don’t know of anything you have said here that I can’t agree with. However each one of us constructs our own little worldview that we use to embrace the world and so that picture may look just a little different when viewed from so many different life perspectives and angles.

    I do a lot of work from the messianic eschatological picture and that colors my perspective because I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at apocalyptic type language and its implications from Genesis, Ezekiel, Hosea, Daniel and Revelation. There is a reason that I study that arena foundationally because I believe it provides great insight and clues when we learn its love language but it’s not the end all be all of biblical theology by any means. In contrast my wife who is a more immersed student than I am spends almost all her time and energy wanting to know the fullness of Christ and how to model that spirit filled life in relationship and to teach and share its power. Both arenas of study are called for, yet God called us all to various and differing gifts. We all make up the body of Christ and when we all come together in the Spirit of Christ unity it becomes powerful and should uplift each other if we let the spirit of God have first place.

    It’s so important that we celebrate each other’s gifts from God even if we don’t always recognize them. Respecting each other is paramount toward that creative process of healing, rescuing and deliverance.

    Thank you for the time and genuine care you presented in your response, I recognize the effort that you put forward and I’m grateful to you for your spirit. 


  • Dana Ames

    Norman, thanks.

    I can only speak for myself in saying that I find much that is valuable in responses like yours at 3:36.

    Blessings to you, too.

  • DRT

    Norman, I believe we are indeed on the same page! Thanks all for this discussion.