Original Sin and the Fall of Man

Paul King Jewett  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 19 - Fall 1976


The Bible begins with the account of creation: God speaks, and heaven and earth and all that in them is, including man, comes into being. But man is not simply a part of creation as are the other creatures. While he is made of the same dust as they, he is uniquely endowed as the only creature who is in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). In the second creation narrative and in the immediate sequel to this narra­tive, we are made aware of the peculiar privileges and respon­sibilities which such an endowment entails. Man is so created as male and female that he not only receives his being from God but also determines his being by a free and responsible choice. Unlike all other creatures who are what they are by divine fiat, man not only is what he is, but also has the possi­bility of becoming other than he is.

We have the first inklings of the vast implications of this freedom in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Placed in the Garden, our first parents are told by their Maker that they may eat of all the trees of the Garden save one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Of the tree of the knowl­edge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day you eat thereof, you shall die” (Gen. 2: 17). And so for the first time in Scripture the familiar words occur: “you shall,” and “you shall not.” Man’s glory then, as the only creature in the image of God and, therefore, in conversation with him, is a mutable glory. It is a glory which involves a choice, and the choice implies the awful possibility of failure and misery. Man is created, in other words, able not to sin (posse non peccare), as Augustine long ago observed. If he proves obedient, he will be confirmed in righteousness, not able to sin (non posse peccare), a state of beatitude symbolized by the tree of life in the midst of the Garden (Gen. 2:9). But if he fails the pro­bation, if he is disobedient, he will be confirmed in sin, not able not to sin (non posse non peccare). This loss, in other words, will be irrevocable; it will mark him for death (Gen. 2:17).

As everyone knows, Scripture tells us that our first parents failed the test and, as a result, they and we, their offspring, are confirmed in sin, a fate from which only the grace of God can deliver us. It is our purpose in this article to summarize and comment on the biblical doctrine of sin with particular attention to the origin of sin, that is, the fall of man.


The Occasion of the Fall

According to the Bible, not only was man originally re­quired to render obedience to God in terms of a specific pro­bation, but also under the circumstance of temptation. The test, or probation, was God’s doing. He prepared the Garden with its tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he used the tree as an instrument to test man’s obedience. Created up­ right, man was to learn, as it were, obedience through the right use of the tree in order that he might be confirmed in the righteousness with which he was created.

The temptation, by contrast, was the serpent’s work. Temp­tation may be defined as any suggestion or solicitation to do evil. Unlike probation, its aim is to weaken, degrade, and destroy man by seducing him from the righteousness with which he was created. We use the word seduction because man’s initial encounter with the tempter involves a suggestion to do evil which is subtle in its seeming plausibility. Its mali­cious intent is hidden behind a professed insight into man’s best interests. Yet, the art of the tempter, subtle, deceitful, and malicious as it may be, is not the causal explanation of man’s sin. We cannot find, as Eve tried lamely to do, the excuse for man’s sin in his temptation. Of course man was capable – be­ cause a free and responsible agent – of being tempted. But to be tempted to sin was one thing; to yield, another. It was not temptation, but man’s yielding to temptation that con­stituted his sin and downfall.[1]This point becomes indubitably clear when one remembers that our Lord as the second Adam, was also tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin ( Heb. 2:17-18). Unlike the first Adam, he rebuffed the tempter -“Get behind me, Satan” ( Matt. 4: 10) -and thus remained unscathed, indeed, the stronger for the experience, having learned obedience by the things which he suffered.

So far from constituting a causal explanation of sin, tempta­tion, according to the fall narrative, teaches us rather that we cannot finally illumine the cause of moral evil in the universe. It is simply there, mysteriously, in the person of the tempter when man comes on the scene. Sin, in other words, is not man’s invention; such a nefarious achievement against heaven. But in hearkening to the tempter’s voice, man becomes implicated in this larger conspiracy before the eyes of his Maker. While his undoing is not altogether his own doing, once he is ruined he can do nothing that will alter the situation. His bondage to the demonic is sealed.[2]Hence the early church fathers understood the atonement as victory over Satan. Cf. Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor (New York: Macmillan, 1940). To use orthodox theological language, fal­len man is confirmed in sin and can never hope to regain for himself the paradise he has lost.[3]Reading the fall narrative in the light of the whole of Scriptural revelation, theologians have drawn the inference that Satan (and his angels) a) were created upright; b) fell apart from temptation and therefore; c) are beyond the reach of redeeming grace. As Milton says, The first sort of their own suggestion fell, Self-tempted, self-depraved. Man falls by the other first; Man therefore shall find grace, the other none. Paradise Lost, 3, 30ff.

But if temptation is only the occasion not the cause of man’s fall, what is the cause? Why did man fall? We cannot say. We know what the fall is: a free and responsible decision on man’s part to disobey his Maker. But why he should have made such a fateful decision we do not know. Yet man never tires of the effort. Like Adam who blamed Eve -and by im­plication, God, who gave her to him, man seeks to find some causal explanation for his sin. The reason he does this is that he understands well enough that if he could explain moral evil, especially his own involvement in it, he could exonerate himself and palliate his guilt. Modern man is especially adept in this conceit. He consults the psychiatrist to find reasons for his sinful behavior in his past experience. He consults the soci­ologist to find reasons for his sinful behavior in his environ­ment. But sin, by definition is without causal explanation be­ cause it is not determined. Rather it is a free and responsible act of disobedience.

Therefore, according to the Bible, its solution is repent­ance, not analysis, whether it be the rational analysis of the social philosopher or the psychoanalysis of the therapist. And every Christian, even though he may know nothing of the the­oretical debate between theologians   and   philosophers   about the nature of sin, knows in his own experience the truth of the biblical witness that sin is his fault, not his fate. As Karl Barth once said, “Man is never a sinner as a fox is a fox.” Try, then, as he may to “understand” his sin, to “explain” it, he cannot; he can only confess it and repent of it.[4]This is not to deny that heredity and environment have much to do with our behavior, including our moral behavior. But this is just to admit that to the degree one’s behavior is determined and therefore susceptible of causal explanation, it is really illness. And such emotional illness can sometimes be cured or at least understood and coped with. But in any event, one is no more responsible for an emotional illness than a physical illness. Undoubtedly the church in the past has made the mistake of calling such illnesses sin. But in our day, the reverse is true. We are constantly making the mistake of reducing all sin to illness. See Carl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? ( New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1973).


The Nature of the Fall

But if theologians have wisely left to philosophers and scientists the vain effort to explain man’s sinful behavior in terms of the vestigial remains of evolutionary progress, the debilitating effects of hereditary illness, and the like, they have had much to say, as does the Bible itself , about the nature of the fall. They have not wanted words to describe what hap­pened when man fell, even if they have not been able to say why it happened. To put it very simply, man fell by an act of disobedience. As the apostle Paul says, “By one man’s dis­ obedience the many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19).

Traditionally, the fall narrative has been ridiculed at this point because of the inconsequential character of the event. What could be more naive, more childish, it is alleged, than the notion that “eating an apple” ruined the whole human race?”[5]When Milton’s Satan reports to the denizens of his realm how he accom­plished the ruin of our first parents by the mere eating of an apple, hilarious laughter fills the chambers of Pandemonium. Then follows the great surprise scene in which the luscious fruit the demons craved turns to burning ashes in their mouths (Paradise Lost, 3: 30ff). But this is to read the narrative in a very shallow way. In this detail we have illustrated the principle, so important in understanding sin, that there is great significance in the seem­ing insignificant. It is the “little foxes that spoil the vines.” Part of the subtlety and deceitfulness of sin is that it has great consequences – eternal consequences – though in its begin­nings it appears inconsequential enough. This basic issue in the fall narrative is not the innocuous act of eating an apple, but the violation of God’s sovereign authority. The fall was an act of revolt against God whose will for man was enshrined in the prohibition of the fruit of the tree.

And this overt act of revolt expressed a fundamental inner crisis in the human spirit – a doubting of the divine goodness, a disputing of the divine wisdom, a disbelief of the divine word, a desiring of the divine prerogatives. To put matters this way shifts the perspective from outward act to inner motivation, so crucial to the question of the nature of the fall. To probe the question of motivation for man’s “original sin” is to ask, “What is the ultimate root of sin in the human psyche?” Theologians have seen their conclusions at this juncture as relevant not only to the original disobedience of our first par­ents but also to the continued disobedience of their offspring who are born sinners.[6]In this regard it should be noted that the phrase “original sin” has been used to describe both the first sin of our first parents and also the sinful dispo­sition with which all their offspring are born, a disposition which is the “origin” of particular sins in the individual life. For the majority of thinkers in the Western church, the root of sin, since Augustine’s day, has been deemed to be pride.[7]In the Eastern church, especially among the early Greek Fathers, sensu­ality was of ten accused as the root of all sin, a theory which implied a deep suspicion of human sexuality. See Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of  Man, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner’s, 1941), 1:228. Others, especially in the Reformed tradition, have regarded unbelief as the root of all sin. This theme is powerfully (and eloquently) developed in a sermon by Charles Spurgeon, delivered early in his distinguished career as a Baptist preacher.

The final sin that keeps men from Christ is unbelief and when unbelief takes off its mask, it becomes infidelity and rails against the Christ. O sirs, believe me, could you roll all sins into one mass – could you take murder, blas­phemy, adultery, fornication, and everything vile and unite them all in a vast globe of dark corruption, they would not equal even then the sin of unbelief . Unbelief is the monarch sin, the quintessence of guilt, the masterpiece of Satan, the chiefest work of the devil. It is the parent iniquity. The fall of man was owing to it. The devil tempted Eve with the suggestion she should not believe God, insinuating that what God had said was not true. Unbelief hardened the heart of Pharaoh. Unbelief murdered Jesus. It is the Beelze­bub of sin. It is said of Jeroboam not only that he sinned but that he made Israel to sin. And it may be said of unbelief that it not only sins itself but makes other sins. It is the egg of all crime, the seed of every offense. Everything that is evil and vile lies couched in that one word: unbelief .

Unbelief makes the heart cold unto the thunderings of Sinai and the wooings of Calvary. The rocks rent at Calvary when they saw Jesus die but unbelieving men will not re­pent, their stony hearts are not moved by that death. With­ out faith it is impossible to please God. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Virtues without faith are whitewashed vices· obedience without faith is disobedience. The lips of unbelief can never frighten the devil. The Christian life is a walking on water. The moment you cease to believe, you go down. Unbelief strangles prayer, stifles praise, blights enter­prise. Make a giant unbelieving and he becomes a dwarf. Faith is the Samsonian lock of the Christian; cut it off and you may put his eyes out; he can do nothing.[8]C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sin of Unbelief,” New Park Street Pulpit Contain­ing Sermons, 35 vols. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1856-1907 ), 1:1-19.

Actually there is no need to choose between these two, pride and unbelief ; for original sin, like the god Janis, is two­ faced. One face is unbelief, the 0ther pride. Not to believe God betrays man into believing in himself which is what pride is: overweening, unwarranted self-confidence. It is noteworthy that these twin evils are both prominent in the biblical account of the fall. The serpent suggests (Gen. 3:1ff) that God has not told our first parents the truth (unbelief) and that if they would listen rather to him and do his bidding they should become as God (pride). Thus the biblical narrative uncovers some very elemental levels in the mystery of original sin. As the philoso­pher Nietzsche is reputed to have said, “If there were gods, who could endure not being one?”

To construe the fall as hubris, the proud revolt of man against God his Maker is, of course, to construe it as a moral aberration, not as a metaphysical defect. In Protestant theology, the fall is not looked upon as the loss of some superadded gift (donum superad ditum) as in classic Roman Catholic thought. It is not the throwing off of the golden bridle of concupiscence so that the lower animal passions override the higher, spiritual aspirations of the soul.[9]We have rejected above all efforts to “explain” sin in terms of the con­stitutional defects of heredity. Furthermore, the traditional Roman Catholic view, in our judgment, rests on a doubtful exegetical base. The affirmation that man was created in the “image and likeness of God” is a piece of Hebrew parallelism. The terms “image” and “likeness” are, for all theological purposes, synonymous. To speak of man’s “likeness” to God, then, is not to imply that something was added to the image at creation and later lost by the fall.

But when we insist on construing the fall in terms of moral rather than metaphysical categories, this is not to suggest with Pelagius, that all men come on the scene morally neutral (innocent) and that they acquire a sinful character only be­ cause they emulate the bad example of our first parents.[10]In its contemporary form, of course, this Pelagian view would not speak of humanity’s “first parents,” but of the influence of human society as, the milieu into which one is born. We have rejected above the effort on the part of contemporary man to explain sin in terms of one’s environment. We all, indeed, confirm the fatal choice of our first parents by our own sinful behavior. But unlike them, the possibility is behind us that we should do the good, that is, that we should love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves. This possibility is lost to us because we all fell in Adam and as a result are born sinners.[11]This is not to accuse the popular usage whereby we speak of the “inno­cence” of childhood. But this relative innocence will never mature, apart from the renewing grace of God, into an adult whose life is adorned with love, joy, peace, and the like virtues. Our self-centered pride is endemic; it vitiates human life in both its corporate and its individual expressions. Not that all men descending from Adam are as bad as they could be, but none are as good as they should be.[12]The above, in our judgment, is the way to understand the doctrine of total depravity. The adjective “total” in the phrase “total depravity” should be construed extensively, not intensively, the thought being that the whole man is a sinner; all his faculties inwardly and all his acts outwardly are tainted by sin. Total depravity, as a statement of the doctrine of original sin, does not mean that the natural man is wholly sinful, so as to be incapable of any rela­tive good.


The Consequences of the Fall

As we have observed above, part of the deceitfulness of sin is that in its conception it appears inconsequential, but in its final issue, big with consequences that are tragic beyond all thought. The biblical narrative of the fall leaves no doubt about this matter. The first and most obvious consequence of the fall is the radical change in man’s attitude toward God. Over­ whelmed with a sense of guilt and shame, Adam and Eve hide themselves from the face of their Maker. Made in and for fellowship with God, they now flee from him who is the source of their highest good. Their eyes, we read, were opened and they were naked and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God in the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:7).[13]Shame is the consciousness of guilt. Man as sinner, conscious of his guilt, dreads to stand before God. Hence he makes aprons of fig leaves (Gen. 3:7) and calls on the rocks and mountains to fall on him and hide him from the face of him who sits on the throne (Rev. 6: 16). Given this interpretation, the awareness of exposure which our first parents felt at the bodily level in the presence of each other, becomes a parable, as it were, of the fundamental ex­posure which we feel in the inner man, as sinners before an angry God. It is curious that this sense of exposure should focus on the sex organs -unless one espouses the Eastern view of original sin as sensuality. The suggestion has been made that this is due to the fact that in the sex act man spawns a sinful progeny. In this regard note the Old Testament ritual of cleansing of a mother who gives birth, with a sin offering (Lev. 12:6-8), which may be the cultic equivalent of the psalmist’s confession, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

A second consequence of the fall is a change in God’s atti­tude toward man. We see God’s other face, as Luther would say.[14]This change in the relationship of God to man when man becomes a sin­ner does not impune the divine immutability. The change of being is in man, not God. Precisely because God is the God that he is (I am who I am, Ex. 3: 14) and because he remains the holy God that he is, he cannot relate to fallen man as he originally related to unfallen man.

Where there had been harmony, now the note of rebuke is struck. Man hears the reproving questions: Who told you, you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree? (Gen. 3:11). Here we perceive the divine character in a new aspect – anger, expressing itself in condemnation and a curse, a curse which does not remove the privileges and responsibilities with which man is created but rather embitters them. Motherhood is now fraught with pain; work with toil and perspiration; and the relationship of man and woman marred by   tyranny, on the one hand, and abject submission, on the other (Gen. 3: 16-20).

In the third place, man’s entire environment is perverted by his sin. The very ground is affected adversely for man’s sake (cursed is the ground for your sake, Gen. 3:17). As Paul says, in writing to the Romans, the whole creation groans and travails together until now (Rom. 8:22).

Finally, as a result of the fall man is marked for death. The threat that he should suffer the wage of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23) is now carried out. The warning that should they defy the divine prohibition and eat the forbidden fruit, they would die, becomes a reality for our first parents. Banished from the Garden with its tree of life, they -and we their off­ spring -face the fearful prospect of returning to the ground whence we were taken. The phrase, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3: 19), is no mere descrip­tion of a natural process. Death in the Bible is anything but a “natural” phenomenon, much less a gentle nurse that takes us in the   arms of eternal sleep. Who wants death for a nursemaid? It is that grim reaper, that last enemy who, thank God, has been and shall be destroyed by him who rose from the dead.

But from the perspective of the primal history of the race, this final victory over our final enemy is a long way off. The sequel of the fall narrative underscores this fact with its mel­ancholy chronicle of jealousy, murder, polygamy, and arrogant vengeance till finally the whole earth was corrupt before the Lord who repents that he has made man on the earth and destroys him with a flood. And so we see that man is not only fallen in the inner privacy of his individual spirit, but all history is marked by the twin tragedies of sin and death. Indeed, the very theater in which history is played out, the realm of nature itself, so far from being a delightsome garden, is a realm “red in tooth and claw,” constraining the Christian even when he sings, to say:

Change and decay is all around me I see,
O thou who changest not, abide with me.[15]The Scripture doctrine that death is the curse of man’s sin might seem to be refuted by the fact that physical death was present in the universe long before man appeared on the scene. But it must be remembered that Scripture does not say, nor do Christians believe, that sin and death are related as cause and effect – except in certain obvious instances of sins of intemperance (chain smoking causes lung cancer which causes death, etc.). Rather sin is the reason man dies. Presumably, therefore, God created a universe in which dinosaurs (et al.) died as a fit stage for (subsequent) fallen human history.


Concluding Observations

No summary of the Christian doctrine of original sin would be satisfying to the critical mind that did not address itself, at least in a cursory fashion, to those problems which modern thought have raised concerning the traditional form of the doc­trine. Here we do not have in mind problems raised by those who reject the Christian view of man. The whole dispute as to whether man is a sinner; as to whether he needs salvation or is quite capable of being his own Messiah as he is buoyed along by the upward thrust of revolutionary progress, must be the subject of another essay. Here we are thinking rather of those problems which confront the Christian thinker when he seeks to think as a Christian in this particular area. We shall deal with two such problems which seem to us most signifi­cant and worthy of consideration.

First of all, there is the matter of solidarity in sin and its consequences and the ethical implications of such a notion. While it would be wrong – unbiblical, unchristian – to press the doctrine of solidarity in sin fatalistically ( “the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”), according to Christian doctrine it would also be wrong – un­biblical, unchristian – to suppose that each individual is free to shape and determine his own destiny as pleasing to God. Not only is there none good, no not one (Rom. 3:10, 12) but, our Lord excepted, there is no possibility that one will ever be born who is truly good. Even with the help of psychiatric counseling and social planning no one will mature into a man or woman whose life fulfills the counsel of perfection. According to Christian doctrine this pessimistic appraisal of human potential rests, in the last analysis, on the fact that Adam and Eve, our first parents, sinned. As Paul reiterates in Romans 5:12ff.: “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin;” “many died through one man’s trespass;” “the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation;” “be­ cause of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man;” ” one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men;” “for by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (RSV).

It is. impossible to escape the force of this language, how­ ever we may interpret it precisely. But just how should we interpret it? For most of us, the Augustinian doctrine of “in­herited sin” can hardly he the meaning of the language in Romans 5, if we understand   inherited   sin   to mean that sin is passed along like skin. Surely sin is not a matter of defec­tive blood, chromosomal aberrations,   or bent   genes. Since it is essentially in the moral sphere that we speak of sin, we must understand original sin in personal, not physiological, cate­gories. A more fruitful theory than inheritance, therefore, is one which follows the analogy that Paul himself draws in Romans 5 between Christ and Adam. In Paul’s thought, Christ is our Representative who by his life of obedience and sacri­ ficial death in our place and stead redeems us from sin. Thus Christ becomes the second Adam. To preserve the analogy, then, the first Adam must be thought of as our representative also. He, too, acts for us; but in contrast to the second Adam, his life is one of disobedience. Hence, as those who are in Christ are made alive in him, so those who are in Adam are made sinners in him. Adam’s sin is imputed to his descendants.

The objection to this doctrine, frequently voiced since the time of Immanuel Kant, is just that it is unethical. No one can be made or constituted a sinner by another’s act of de­cision. It is immoral to teach that we are responsible for some­ one else’s (namely Adam’s) sin. Many theologians, especially those in the German liberal tradition, have considered this objection to carry the self-evident validity of a mathematical axiom. They do not even make an effort to come to terms with the teaching of Scripture at this point, but simply dismiss it out of hand. Others try by strained exegesis to make the text say what they wish it said according to widely held popular notions of individualism.

At this point the present writer can only say that the Bible compels us to face up squarely to the principle of vicarious ethical action. Either such action is truly ethical or it is not. Obviously the writers of Scripture thought it was and, indeed, it would seem, with good reason. For how else can we under­ stand the atonement than as vicarious ethical action? Jesus, the sinless lamb of God, suffered and died for us. His death was that of our representative, who stood in our place and stead. In him we are reckoned to have fulfilled the law’s requirements and to have endured its sanctions. That this is the doctrine of Scripture is abundantly clear, and our hymnody also eloquently indites this truth.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But thine the deadly pain;
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me thy grace.[16]Paul Gerhardt, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” in Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1975), stanza 2.

But we cannot have our cake and eat it too. If we preach that by one man’s obedience many are made righteous (which is the gospel), can we deny that by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners? Liberalism, of course, and consis­tently so, will not allow for vicarious ethical action, in Jesus’ case any more than in Adam’s. How often liberal theologians have insisted that they do not want a heaven they do not de­serve; that they find the traditional view of the atonement morally offensive since it makes God a Santa Claus bestowing favors on undeserving   sinners. For them salvation is rather a matter of character. Though the heavenly Father may be lenient with our human lapses, we are all essentially divine, capable of the good and to the extent that we attain it inspired by Jesus’ example, we shall enjoy heaven’s favor. Such a posi­tion is consistent, if unscriptural; and focuses the choice before us. And it is a choice. No one can prove – or disprove – the moral worth of vicarious ethical action by philosophical analysis. We must either accept the testimony of Scripture as divine revelation or reject it in the name of autonomous reason. And Kant’s (and all philosophers’) reason is autonomous rea­son whether it be “theoretical” or “practical.” For the Christian faith, by contrast, the truth is revealed in Christ, not discov­ered “within the limits of reason alone.”

The second and last objection we shall consider with reference to the Christian doctrine of 0riginal sin is of a some­what different order. It has to do with the manner in which the findings of natural science relate to the data of biblical revelation. The account of the fall of man, as it comes to us in the Bible, speaks as of an event occurring a few thousand years ago in a geographical setting located in the ancient ear East, namely the Tigris-Euphrates river valley. But few Bibles published today show the classic chronology of Bishop Ussher which dates the creation of man 4004 B.C. Nor do we expect to find a biblical atlas today that would locate the Garden of Eden, along with Ur of the Chaldees and the city of Jerusa­lem, on a map. The time-space continuum has been vastly changed for modern men. We now know that homo sapiens first appeared somewhere nearer south central Africa than the Tigris-Euphrates valley. And this event occurred thousands of millennia ago so that races of men had spread over the entire inhabitable earth long before 4004 B.C.

In the light of these facts – and they are facts, for all the protest which the church has raised since the rise of physical anthropology – many have suggested that the Adam-Eve story is a myth, howbeit one having profound meaning for the whole human story. We all are Adam; we all have our probation; we all sin; and we all stand before God naked and exposed, guilty and condemned. Such a reading of the Genesis account is by no means completely wide of the mark. Surely the searching question, “Adam, where are you?” is the call of God to every sinner, not just to Pithecanthropus Erectus or some other fossil man of a hoary and bygone antiquity.

But the analogy between Adam and Christ shows us how impossible it is completely to existentialize the primal history of Genesis and be faithful to Scripture. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ took place in time and space. He was crucified, as the Creed says, “under Pontius Pilate,” and as Scripture says, “on a hill called Calvary.” In our effectual call­ing, to be sure, the Holy Spirit makes us “contemporary” (Kier­kegaard) with Christ. But we   become contemporaries not of a myth or idea, but of an historical event, indeed, an historical person. Man’s salvation is not only a matter of present experi­ence but of past history. So also, according to the Bible, man fell in history, not as the Greek Idealists supposed, into history.

Of course the writers of Scripture knew nothing of the vast drafts of time with which modern physical anthropologists work any more than they knew of the even more vast drafts of cosmic time involved in the creation of heaven and earth. Naturally, therefore, they thought of the creation and fall of man as occurring in the relatively recent past in the cradle of civilization, the Tigris-Euphrates valley. The authors of Scrip­ture, the human organs of   inspiration and revelation, were not simply translated out of their own times and culture. Had they been so, their message would have been meaningless to their contemporaries. Therefore the Bible story of man’s crea­tion and fall comes down to us in a form that reflects the his­torical and cultural milieu of the times in which the documents were produced.

Some might conclude that this means that the biblical story, so meaningful when first given, has become meaningless to us who are moderns. But surely this is not the case, as is shown from the way we have made use of these primal narratives in our exposition of the Christian doctrine of original sin. Of course we no longer have the precise, historical control of the incidental details of time and space as far as the first Adam is concerned, that we have with reference to the work of the second Adam. But it is the theological meaning of the his­torical event, not the details of time and place, that are im­portant to Christian faith in understanding the fall.

The same is true for the salvation event. It does not matter that we do not know the year that Jesus was born, the chrono­logical sequence of his public ministry, nor how to arrange the geographical details of the resurrection appearances. It is the theological meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, not precise information as to when and where he lived, died, and rose again that is important to Christian faith. And so it is, we suggest, with the primal history of the race, that history back of Abraham which we can no longer control as outward, criti­cal history, but which still controls us and, as we have faith to perceive its inner meaning, illumines our present and our future with a light from our distant past.


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