[Fair warning: In the next several posts, I’ll be well off the beaten path, trying to fit some elements of the last several years of Bible study together. Several answers will be unconventional and are offered for your consideration and comment. But the fact is that, as you re-arrange the dispensations and move a few other things around just a bit, well, several vases fall off the shelves. And so we need new, better vases. In fact, we may need new shelves … maybe even a whole new room of furniture.]
As I said at the end of the last post of this series, most of the steps in our A-B-C-B’-A’ scheme are not about God presenting laws to be obeyed. They’re about God presenting himself. The sole exception is the Law of Moses. Not a single other self-revelatory act is primarily about law.
Adam and Eve
For example, God only needed to give Adam and Eve one law — don’t eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Why? Well, did Adam and Eve become pornographers and pedophiles in the absence of direct revelation of God’s will? It seems unlikely.
Rather, God made them in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26,27). Therefore, by nature, they did not sin. God did not need to instruct them on loving each other or on loving God — the two greatest commands — because it was in their natures — just as God himself needs no such instruction.
We like to imagine that they were sinless because they were innocent — unaware of the rules. But two year olds are innocent, and yet they do bad things. They have to be taught right from wrong. An adult couple with only the moral knowledge of infants would be terrible company and worse company for each other. They would not stay married for long. I have four children. I have two grandchildren. I know.
Adam and Original Sin
Paul deals with this question in Rom 5.
(Rom 5:12-14 ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
First, everyone dies a physical death, even those who are saved from eternal death through Jesus. Therefore, by “death” Paul is surely referring to spiritual death or what John in Revelation calls “the second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Let’s say “eternal death.”
Second, “law” means the specially revealed commands of God, primarily the Law of Moses but any law of God specially revealed by God. Hence, v. 13 can speak of sin before “the law was given” or a time when “there is no law.”
“Those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” means “those who did not violate the specially revealed law of God.” Most commentators take this view, although many Calvinists interpret “not like the transgression of Adam” to mean “did not commit a sin personally at all.” But the narratives of Cain, Noah, and the Tower of Babel plainly show that Moses considered people to sin against the will of God between Adam and Abraham. There’s no need to bring in Augustine’s inherited original sin for those between Adam and Abraham to be fairly charged with sin.
Hence, we translate —
(Rom 5:12-14 ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and [eternal] death through sin, and so [eternal] death spread to all men because all sinned — 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the [Law of Moses] was given, but sin is not counted where there is no [special revelation from God]. 14 Yet [eternal] death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam [who violated special revelation], who was a type of the one who was to come.
In short, man is not specifically accountable in the absence of special revelation, but he does suffer eternal death because of his sins against general revelation. He dies the second death and does not enter into eternal life — but he does not suffer punishment in gehenna. He dies a painless second death.
(It helps, of course, if you understand the afterlife as I present it in this blog and as N. T. Wright presents it in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. It helps even more if the reader understands hell as taught by Edward Fudge in The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. Fudge frees us from the Platonic teaching that the soul is inherently immortal and so must survive forever — making a second or eternal death a real possibility and making eternal life, not an inherent aspect of having a soul, but a free gift from God.)
So how is it fair that those without special revelation suffer the second death? Well, this is the point of Rom cc. 1 – 3, in which Paul argues that the Jews and the Gentiles both are fairly accountable for God’s law because all have seen enough of God’s creation and have enough native moral insight to know some of God’s will — and we’ve all violated that portion of God’s will that we know, even if we’ve never heard of God or his laws.
(Rom 5:17 ESV) For if, because of one man’s trespass, [eternal] death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in [eternal] life through the one man Jesus Christ.
The word we often overlook is “reign.” This means “rule as a king rules.” It’s a reference to the dominion God gave mankind in Gen 1:26-28. It’s a return to mankind’s original purpose to be in the image and likeness of God the King, for mankind to rule with God. Again, it’s about becoming like God. It’s about theosis.
If Adam and Eve were in the likeness and image of God pre-Fall, serving as priests of God in the Creation-Temple, sinlessly, then they weren’t entirely unaware of God’s will. How can you show the nature of God without knowing God’s will?
Just so, how can you get along with your spouse if don’t know how to act? I mean, spouses who act like two-year olds get divorced. They aren’t suitable to reign in God’s Creation.
Genesis and Paul both make a point of the special revelation that Adam and Eve received regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but we assume that Adam and Eve had no knowledge good and evil at all before then — and yet managed to get along with each other and with God and to be in the image and likeness of God. That doesn’t really make sense.
Why Adam and Even didn’t sin — until they did
I offer for consideration this theory: Adam and Eve had general revelation, just as is true of all mankind. They saw God is his Creation, perhaps better than anyone else —
(Rom 1:19-20 ESV) 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Just so, it was surely true of a married couple that —
(Rom 2:1-3 ESV) Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man — you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself — that you will escape the judgment of God?
Even a two-year old knows that it’s wrong for another child to take his truck — and even a two-year takes the trucks of other children.
So they had no special revelation other than regarding the one special command — but not a book of rules or how to’s from God’s lips. But they were present with God in the Garden. They saw his generous, gracious nature, and so they were generous and gracious to each other. They saw his love for each of them, and so they loved each other. They were shaped into God’s likeness and image by being with God.
I earlier said they were able to be sinless because they were made in God’s image. It’s true both ways. Their created natures and the presence of God was enough for them to be obedient to the portion of God’s will they knew from general revelation. That is, their nature as created in God’s image and the presence of God himself with them allowed them to be enough like God that they did not violate God’s general revelation.
And so they did not sin because they knew no other way to be. It’s not that they couldn’t sin but that they were better instructed by watching God than the rest of us are by reading his word. God’s general revelation was enough. (And there was a limit to what sin they might be guilty of in a Garden. No Internet. No friends who might be bad influences. No dumpster to smoke behind. And no cigarettes.)
But this led to a certain naivete and so they succumbed to temptation, and you’ve read the book and the rest of the story.
So that’s my theory, and I think it’ll make better sense than our traditional reading when we consider how things will be after the Second Coming.