A STUDY ON SALVATION, PART II

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COPYRIGHT 2010 JESSE MULLINS

Greetings!  In accessing this posting you have located a portion of my just-completed and yet-unpublished second book, entitled Original Reason. (Specifically, Chapters 3-6, on this particular pageview.) I am posting this here in the summer of 2010 as an experiment. I will be shopping the manuscript around to some publishers, but for the time being I will "host" the manuscript on my site, and if anyone doing a Web search happens to land here, as a result of a search, then perhaps the searcher will find something helpful or instructive or interesting here. I will probably arrange the various postings so that the book cannot be read in its entirety, though I might provide a means whereby a visitor can link from one section to another and read a sizeable portion of the book. As I insert these sections right now, I will probably divide the entire manuscript into six postings, each of about three chapters. Anyone wishing a bound copy of this study can obtain one by contacting me directly.  I have printed and put together some comb-bound, Kinko's style copies, and can make them available at cost (mainly shipping and handling, but with a little bit of materials cost thrown in - say $12.00 postpaid - if you email me with a request at jesse.mullins at juno.com). I am calling these "review copies," and I am making them available mainly because doing so could give me valuable feedback before I commit to publication, even if it is only self-publication. I am thinking about doing something similar with my first book, Rightly Divided, but I have paperback copies of that one available at $16.95 postpaid. Thanks! Jesse Mullins  469.371.7323.

COPYRIGHT 2010 JESSE MULLINS

CHAPTER 4:

LAW ENTERED IN ALONGSIDE

If the law had not “entered in alongside” the disobedience—which is to say, it entered in alongside the opening of their eyes—then Adam and Eve would have been able to go on blamelessly committing sins just as they had before, despite the fact that Adam and Eve now had the awareness to see, better, how those sins affected God and how they affected one another. Our hearts and our consciences tell us that such a state of affairs would be unjust. It was a necessary step, in some kind of cosmic sense, that law enter in alongside.

There are some things God cannot do. God cannot lie. God cannot be evil. God cannot tempt. And if we understand the principle here, we also understand that God cannot and would not prohibit the entering in of law at the moment when human beings increase in mental faculties and in the power that accompanies those—power to do greater good and power to do greater evil. Blameworthiness must increase in proportion as potential for conscious evil increases. For God to oppose or ignore that would be for God to be complicit in evil.

We recognize those impulses (toward the fitness and justness of law) within ourselves. We apply those expectations to everyone around us. It is not exclusively God who feels that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Human beings also think and act in accordance with that principle, with regard to one another. It is in our judicial systems. It is part of the fabric of human life. We are aware that law—accountability—has to rise up proportionally as human capability rises up, or else the world we inhabit would be a sordid, even an anarchical, place.

We know that God forbid Adam to eat from the tree. Our minds are naturally inclined to think of that prohibition from God as the moment at which law “entered in.” God’s “Thou shalt not” certainly sounds like law. But accepting that would be to ignore scripture, because scripture told us exactly when law began, and that was “alongside” the disobedience. So how do we account for God’s direct prohibition? We can compare it to a prohibition that a parent gives a child today. Children disobey parents, but they are not killed for doing so. In the Bible, “law” is correctly called “law” if the penalty entails death. A direct command from God, therefore, can be something less than a life-or-death law.

With this interpretation in place, we can understand, now, why God would want “sin to abound” (Rom. 5:20: “And law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly”).

Some commentators take that verse to mean that God wanted sins to multiply, so He made more laws, which in turn “illegalized” more activities, causing more human behaviors to be deemed sinful. This was all done, they suggest, so that there might be a more striking contrast between the deplorableness of the sinful state that existed in the world prior to grace, versus the positive and uplifting appeal that grace, when it came, would radiate forth.

But that seems to put God in the activity of promoting sin, even if for a “good” reason.

The verse does not say such a thing. The “law” that is referred to in the verse is not a multitude of statutes, each one forbidding a different thing—the sort of thing we see in the Law of Moses, for instance. We have not suddenly switched context from Adam to Moses. No, the “law,” as cited here, is a reference to the change in accountability that affected Adam, just as it would, and has, affected all of Adam’s offspring. That “law” is an overall condition of accountability—an onset of responsibility and not a multitude of ordinances nor even a single basic maxim or tenet.

The entering in of that law, that accountability, caused Adam’s sins to abound—without a single fresh ordinance being issued. Adam was already a sinner. His sins went from being unimputed to being imputed. This is what created the “abundance.” It is an action that is replicated with each of Adam’s offspring, in due time.

Had law not made those sins imputable, they essentially would have been dismissible, and they definitely would not have been “sins unto death.” They still would have been unimputed sins, but unimputed sins do not condemn anyone.

So the law “made sin abound” simply by making those sins imputable. The difference between imputed sin and unimputed sin is explained by individual intellect, not by outward lawgiving. The law came in when the intellect increased. All we are seeing here is an application of accountability.

It was vital and necessary that those sins be made to abound, or else something is wrong with the universe. So by this we understand that God did nothing to promote sin, nor did He do anything to make sin activity increase, nor did He do anything to make sinfulness contrast more sharply with grace. Grace alone does enough to contrast dramatically with sin.

It’s a general miscomprehension of what imputation means that causes so much confusion over these scriptures. Almost every point we have dealt with has been a miscomprehension traceable to an erroneous view of imputation.

The question of imputation is critical to understanding Romans. Earlier, we pondered whether there could be sin before there was law. We took a roundabout route in answering that question, because our roundabout route took us through some helpful considerations. We could have taken a shortcut to our answer then, had we just returned to our starting point: the two kinds of sin. If we stop to realize that there is such a thing as unimputed sin, then we realize that, yes, sin can be in the world before there is law. That is what unimputed sin is. It is sin committed by an individual before law has “entered in” for that individual. There is yet another verse in Romans that states the same thing. (Rom. 4:15: “… where there is no law, neither is there violation.”)

This doctrine of imputation might bring a blessing to some Bible students for the sidelight that it casts on another matter that we will briefly touch upon. Most such students probably already understand that Christ was able to save us because He went to the cross as a “perfect” offering (Heb. 9:14). We can read about the earthly ministry of Christ in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and there is ample evidence given there that His earthly career was indeed perfect. What might trouble some is the scarcity of information about His earlier years. On the one hand, it is probably not difficult for someone to imagine that Christ was as virtuous in His young adulthood (up to age 30, which was His age when He began His ministry) as He was during His ministry. On the other hand, the challenge for some comes in imagining Christ as having been perfect in His childhood. Or even in His infancy. But the doctrine of imputation shows us that any infantile behavior, however “imperfect” it might be, would have had no bearing on His perfection as it related to His mission of salvation. We need not worry ourselves about the moral stature of Christ anytime before He (or any other Jewish child) reached, say, adolescence—or whatever chronological age marked a particular child’s “coming of age.” Such determinations probably cannot be standardized and universalized, because each person grows intellectually at a different rate. Still, the Jewish people did show good faith in exercising solicitude as regards a young person’s approaching onset of accountability, just as do Christians today. We know that age 13 has been the traditional age for observing a Jewish “bar mitzvah” or “bat mitzvah” (age 12 for a girl in the orthodox movement). We can see from the scriptures that by that age Jesus was behaving (spiritually at least) as an adult.

Incidentally, it might be a comfort for some to realize that when we get old, and (perhaps) lose our ability to clearly discern between right and wrong, we correspondingly lose our ability to sin—at least to sin contrarily enough to lose one’s spiritual life. Why? Because we are no longer under that law of sin and death. Why? Because, as the book says, “We know that the law speaks only to those who are under the law,” and for law to apply to an individual, that individual’s eyes must be opened—the individual must have adequate comprehension. It’s conceivable that an older person could have slipped back into a state that is more like that of a pre-adolescent, or like Adam and Eve before the tree. One can’t violate a spiritual law that is not present to one’s faculties.

This insight has value beyond its immediate application. Christians sometimes ponder the spiritual plight of individuals who lack sufficient awareness or intelligence to grasp the barest essentials of salvation, or to grasp what might be their spiritual predicaments. Can such people be saved, or otherwise restored to faithfulness, without taking adequate steps to answer for themselves? In such cases it might be better to ask if such people are actually in such dire spiritual straits as we imagine them to be. To be “lost” means having violated law. But law exists only for those who can grasp law. Law does not “enter in” for those whose eyes are not open. Our study suggests that such people might not be at risk spiritually, at least not in the same sense as those who exist mentally in a state of full moral accountability.

But when Christians do not see these circumstances in this light, they can be prone to shrug off the matter as one in which God ought disregard His stated will for mankind, and simply extend mercy to the disadvantaged or afflicted individual. The expression, “It’s the mercy of God,” which is sometimes heard in those situations, elicits images of God overriding His will as declared in His Word. Such a claim shows respect for God’s merciful side but does not show equal respect to His righteousness and justice. Poorly understood Bible doctrine adds fuel to such thinking. Overall, our predispositions toward deciding when and where God will ignore His own instructions cause us to err in other areas, too, and cause us to take a lax attitude toward the Word. God dispensed His wisdom to man more astutely than perhaps we realize.

A few years ago I saw a network television news report that documented the success of one of the nation’s most popular ministers. This Texas-based preacher and author welcomed a crowd of 16,000 worshippers into his congregation’s new facilities—an edifice that formerly had been a professional sports arena. ABC News reported his comment that “Today people are not looking so much for doctrine—they’re looking for how to live their everyday life.” According to ABC News, “his church… offers advice on everything from substance abuse to financial planning.”

I would have to agree with that minister about what people are looking for—less doctrine and more focus on everyday life. That trend has affected not just that minister’s fellowship but probably most others. The exodus from doctrine began decades ago. Doctrine has come to be regarded as divisive. Indeed, there have been disputes and divisions over Christian doctrine for 2,000 years. There might be contention over it for 2,000 more. But choosing to avoid matters of doctrine simply because such avoidances foster more harmonious internal relations is a problematical “solution.” Doing so is not curing the problem. It is simply to trade one undesirable state of affairs for another. It creates a world in which some other problem exists—the Bible is transformed into a guidebook that cannot be consulted freely on all questions (lots of doctrine there, and “people are not looking for doctrine”), and cannot be examined on all its topics equally. It creates a world in which the faithful are tiptoeing around God’s will without ever acknowledging to themselves that that is what is going on. The notion takes hold that some doctrinal matters will never be agreed upon. If diplomacy is the key, if being “high-minded” and rising above the doctrinal fray is the answer, then why hasn’t that attitude grown the church during these same recent decades? Why is Christianity in decline in the United States, among other nations?

I cannot avow that we will reach doctrinal harmony in our own age, but based on what I have seen in studies being shared online in recent years, I am of the opinion that we stand on the threshold of breakthroughs in doctrinal disputations. This study is not the place for an examination of such matters. But I do believe that coming years can bring greater agreement than ever was thought possible on Biblical doctrine—if we persevere and stay committed to the Word.

Yes, there is unity to think about. But when the best that unity can bring is a flock that has strayed from the Word, the value even of that kind of “unity” comes into question. Is it unity if the body itself is compromised? Sheer numbers of members are not the same thing as unity. Sheer outreach itself is not the same thing as unity, if the message is diluted to such degree that the body becomes something that is the church more in name than in spirit and in knowledge.

The Bible is full of examples—and nowhere more plentiful than within Christ’s own public ministry—wherein lack of faith in the revealed message caused a splintering and a diminishment (numerically) of the following, and this was acknowledged by Our Lord Himself as necessary.

When we choose to disregard or explain away difficult Biblical teachings simply because we might “think better” of God, we do not honor God. Such conclusions eat away at the fabric of Biblical doctrine and undermine its authority. In the example we have considered, it was not necessary that we treat such anomalous cases as requiring “the mercy of God” or some such divine expedient. God foresaw and made provision for such cases. And when we let such cases cause us to ignore scripture, we weaken such doctrine as already exists. Not just doctrine pertaining to these individual matters, but all doctrine in general. Doctrine already is weakened, and the church suffers for it.

But we have strayed from our main subject, which has been imputation of sin. And on that subject, I can imagine that some might have a lingering question. They might be thinking, “Well, yes, I can accept that law would have to ‘enter in’ for an individual who has been elevated in knowledge and wisdom, whether by maturation or by whatever means. But I cannot accept that God should be justified in bringing spiritual death upon someone simply because he or she sinned one sin after attaining a sufficiently advanced degree of mental function.”

It’s a worthwhile question, and in answering it we delve a bit deeper into the “why” of this Biblical episode. The reason why the penalty is so severe will be more understandable when we get a better grasp of what the “opening of the eyes” truly means.

THE OPENING OF THE EYES

The full meaning of what is meant by the “opening of the eyes” is perhaps open to some interpretation, because the Bible does not give many particulars, but in general the idea is not something that would be foreign to our own experiences today. That’s because we deal in such matters regularly. When we talk about anyone being “lost,” we are implicitly saying that that person passed a point when his or her eyes were opened, and we are thereby indicating that we consider ourselves adequate judges of that fact.

From the time of Adam and Eve until today, the step that is known as the “opening of the eyes” has come by ordinary human maturation. Consider this passage from Deuteronomy:

Deut. 1:39: “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there: to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [1]

Here God spoke of the children of the Israelites, and he described them as having “no knowledge of good and evil.” We can understand why they didn’t—it is simply because they are too young. Their eyes have not yet opened. So from this we can deduce—if custom or observation has not already told us these things—that after the time of Adam and Eve, the step of attaining knowledge of good and evil was natural and unstoppable—a biological inevitability, at least for those who did not suffer from some kind of mental impairment. It was and is simply part of growing up. One might think of it as having entered into the genetic code of mankind. It is “with” us in a way it was never with Adam and Eve.

What does “knowledge of good and evil” entail? We recall that scripture used terms like “opening of the eyes” and “you will be like God” and “make one wise.” Some of these traits were iterated by the serpent, but even so God Himself did not refute the idea of them, and in Gen. 3:22 we see God confirming even “God-likeness”: “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil…’ ”

Incidentally, it casts a different light on things to stop and realize that it was two sinful and sin-prone human beings, rather than two innocent beings, who ate the fruit and became “like God.”

We have used words such as “higher faculties,” “enlightenment,” and “intellectual development” to describe the change in Adam and Eve. There would probably not be much argument that the idea of an “increase in powers of reasoning” comes as close as anything to defining the difference. And for the remainder of this book, the word “reason” will be used sometimes as a sort of shorthand for the change that happened to them, and that happens to us. But for the moment we will examine just one other dimension of the “higher faculties,” for the insight that this exercise might bring.

That dimension is imagination, which in turn equips us for feeling empathy. The scriptures do not tell us that imagination was something Adam and Eve attained at the tree. But if we stop to realize that imagination is a function of the intellect, we can see that their imaginations surely were enhanced by the tasting of the fruit. As for the connection between imagination and empathy: we empathize because we possess the power to imagine how someone else feels—whether that someone else is God or some human being. Further, it takes considerable intellectual power for someone to have sufficient imagination to be able not just to empathize, but to universalize the experience. Empathy is universalized when we see that our actions can have effects (one such effect could be hurts or distresses) that can be impacting the world around us in ways we perhaps never realized before. With that realization comes responsibility.

And this is perhaps best expressed by example.

As an adoptive parent of three children and as a (former) foster parent of several more (the latter in succession, not all at once), I have spent hundreds of hours in training sessions and in the company of other foster parents, hearing their stories and sharing experiences. One such experience gave me an insight into the truth that powers of empathy, as they develop in an individual, bring with them some change in the individual’s moral accountability.

The story involved two people, whom I will simply refer to as the parent and the child. The child was developmentally disabled. Earlier in life the child had been removed from birth parents’ care and taken into the custody of the state. From there the child came to be placed in the care of the (new) parent. Their early years together were marked by affection. But as the child advanced into the middle teen years, some long-smoldering personal issues, combined with the developmental disability that inhibited the child’s ability to process complex emotional and intellectual issues, caused the child to engage in oppositional and defiant behaviors and to invent crises and otherwise cause distresses and hardships for the parent. Just shy of 18 years of age, the child, a high school sophomore, ran away from home after getting encouragement from a group of drop-out, runaway teenagers whose acceptance the child craved. State law held that a 17-year-old could do that—that the parent could not enlist the help of the police in compelling the child to come home and stay home. The episode caused great anxiety and distress for the parent, particularly given the disability of the child. After more than a week on the streets, the child returned to the parent, though still showing considerable defiance and opposition, as well as making threats to run away again—threats that caused the parent more dismay.

Taking the advice of social services professionals, the parent got the child into a hospital for a week of psychiatric observation. Things calmed down, though no “answers” were suggested. Late in the week, one of the case managers shared a prognosis with the parent. He said what the parent had long suspected: counseling, as a tool, wasn’t likely to be a viable answer to the problem. Since counseling was the main treatment the hospital offered, the child would be dismissed. The reason for the hospital’s inability to help, the case manager said, was that the child was just not of sufficient intellectual capacity or maturity to able to empathize, and being able to empathize is critical if one is to benefit from the counseling process.

The case manager said that that was not so uncommon with children who had developmental disabilities. Though the child was nearing 18, the child’s mental and emotional age was something less than that. But the case manager offered some hope. Perhaps, he said, when the child reached, say, 28 years of age, the child would have the mental function of an average 18-year-old. He said he had seen that kind of thing happen before. And maybe then, possessing that greater level of maturity, the child would have what it takes to empathize—to be better able to see how one’s actions truly affect others, and to shape behaviors and interactions accordingly.

Those were the circumstances. Now let us apply a hypothetical to the story.

Imagine if the child did not have to mature ten years to attain those powers of  empathy. Imagine, instead, the medical professionals being able to “magically” advance things overnight—by administering a pill or giving some kind of seemingly miraculous treatment.

Now the child is lifted, cerebrally, to a more nearly adult intellect and perspective. Imagine a conversation now between parent and child. The child might proceed thus:

“I am so glad that this has happened for me. I never realized, before, what I was doing—to you and to myself. I understand, now. It’s hard to describe, this difference. It is as though I can actually put myself in your place. It’s as though I can ‘be’ you and see things through your eyes, and feel things through your feelings. And not just that. While I am being ‘in your place,’ I can look out and see myself. I can view my own actions through someone else’s eyes. I am seeing myself as you see me.”

The parent smiles, appreciating the moment and the breakthrough, and the child continues:

“And when I am seeing myself as you see me, I can see how you had to hurt when I was being rebellious and living on the street. There had to be so much worry, especially given the innocence I had and the lack of understanding that was there. I don’t see how you could have endured it. It is truly remarkable.

“I am a different person. And I just wanted you to know, now that I am more conscious of our relationship, how I intend to behave toward you from this moment forward. And so my feeling is… (Pause) …Nothing changes. I wasn’t taking your wishes into consideration then and I am not going to now. ”

That, in effect, is what happened in Eden between man and God. That was the real sin, the spiritually killing sin, not the action of tasting the fruit. Man was already sinful. The tree made man all the more aware of his condition, and, more importantly, aware of the larger implications of his sins’ impacts on his Maker. And with all that illumination on his life and condition, man still sinned at the next available opportunity, with greater awareness than ever before.

It’s a stronger rejection, this rejection by a more knowing creature. The “fully empathic” rejection of God is a harsher thing than any naïve, childlike dismissal or neglect of God. And are we to say that God struck the person dead? Or did the person bring death upon himself/herself? Did the parent separate himself from the child or did the child separate from the parent?

But if we don’t treat the incident in Eden in the manner described above, if we treat it as it has traditionally been treated, then we fail to arrive at this revelation. For in the traditional interpretation, it was the “innocent” Adam and Eve who lost their spiritual lives. Their state of enlightenment, of heightened awareness, had nothing to do with the spiritual death that followed. Their enlightenment was nothing more than a step that happened to coincide with their spiritual deaths.

But that is not right. And if we have not understood this greater rejection and this greater degree of separation—a more pronounced move by them away from God—then we have not understood the dynamic of the disobedience at the garden of Eden.

Moreover, the issue of “greater harshness” on their part is something that is recapitulated today anytime someone arrives at the age of accountability and then commits a sin. It’s a more “knowing” sin that that person commits.

Meanwhile, we now are equipped to see an exact correspondence between the way Adam and Eve arrived at spiritual death and the way that someone today arrives at spiritual death. Here is our earlier list of steps—the first six, anyway—with some slight abbreviation:

1.  Arrival in the world in a condition of spiritual aliveness.

2.  Early life in the world as a sinner who is not held accountable to a law of sin and death.

3.  Arrival at a state of higher intellect/wisdom/reason.

4.  Arrival (simultaneously) at a corresponding accountability to the law of sin and death.

5.  Continued sinning, but now while under a law whereby sins are imputed, and hence deadly, to the lifelong sinner.

6.  Spiritual death.

This is simple and straightforward. It “saves the appearances” (to employ a term from philosophy) in that it accounts for Adam and Eve’s spiritual deaths, and our own spiritual deaths, with a single explanation. It is not complicated by any extraneous conditions or qualifications that have no scriptural basis. God did not say that Adam and Eve were “innocent.” He did not say they were sinless—in fact the Bible says the opposite. The Bible does not say that their sin-unto-death was the eating of the fruit.

PULLING WEEDS FROM THE GARDEN STORY

Two misfortunes affected Adam and Eve. One was their spiritual death and the other was the curse. They were different things. Spiritual death was a spiritual matter. The curse, on the other hand, was directed at the natural, earthly, physical, biological lives of the two. We should remember that when the curse was pronounced, it was pronounced upon two people who had already lost their spiritual lives. They were dead, and it is understandable if we should determine that their death was for them punishment enough, on the spiritual side of things, anyway. It is likely impossible to punish a dead thing. But even when one is spiritually dead, one goes on living a biological life—a life of the flesh and even of the mind. The only things affected by the curse were these. 


One thing that confuses some people over the statement “you shall surely die” is a lingering notion that the death—even if they understand it to be a spiritual death, not a physical one—is something that occurs in the future, not at the moment of the sin. It is important to see that it came at the moment of the sin. This is clearer to us when we (again) draw a comparison from our Christian lives today. When it comes to our young would-be converts today, we don’t suggest to them that they have come of age and have sinned, and therefore, on some faraway day, they will be spiritually dead. No, we say they are dead, lost, right then, and that they have been so since the moment they sinned after their eyes were opened. If the convert-to-be is not dead, there is no point in having a conversion. Life—spiritual life—cannot be conferred upon the (then-still) living.

Returning to the subject of Adam and Eve, we should recall again—because it is important—that the scripture said, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Not sometime later—rather, in that very day. Moreover, this understanding marks one more point of consistency between Adam and Eve’s spiritual life “cycle” and our own.

Is it just possible that the transgression that caused them to be cursed was the tasting of the fruit, whereas the sin that caused them to lose their spiritual lives was whatever sin they next committed when they had the knowledge of good and evil? A child can be disciplined for doing something wrong, just as Adam and Eve could be cursed for doing something wrong, but a child ought not lose its spiritual life for doing something wrong, any more than Adam and Eve, who in approaching the tree did not even have the knowledge of good and evil, ought lose their spiritual lives for an act whose consequences and ramifications were beyond their comprehension.

It is an easy thing to slip into a pattern of thought that treats the curse as the loss of not just earthly comforts but their spiritual lives as well. The curse comes right on the heels of the disobedience. Moreover, we do not find scripture saying explicitly, in the aftermath of the disobedience, “And so Adam and Eve thereupon lost their spiritual lives.” We do, on the other hand, find God pronouncing the curse upon them. And given the sequence of things, we can easily neglect the differences between flesh and spirit and simply assign both the “losses” to the action of the curse.

But there is also an additional, subtler reason that probably explains why many tend to look upon the curse as God’s willful “terminating” (for lack of a better word) the spiritual lives of Adam and Eve. The reason has to do with the fact that many look upon the curse as God’s act of “terminating” something else—namely, a biological immortality that (many people presume) the human couple had. For there is a widespread notion that Adam and Eve were biologically imperishable until they ate of the fruit.

But we have no scriptural indication that that was true. Yes, scripture does tell us, right in the midst of the curse, that Adam shall “return to the ground, because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Purely on the face of it, that could be interpreted as meaning that Adam previously had been biologically immortal, and that he was stricken with physical mortality only at this point—not before.

We will take the position that Adam did not have physical immortality at any time. But before we proceed, let’s pause to reflect on where we’ve come thus far. In this study we have followed a line of thought. That line of thought was about spiritual life. We arrived at some new conclusions, and did so by not making any assumptions. We followed scripture and refused to give credence to ideas that amounted to a “needless multiplying of hypotheses,” as logicians sometimes call it.

Now we are looking at a similar issue. Before we plunge into that question, it’s worth sharing that we are going to pursue it the same way we pursued the other one. These methods we are employing will work as we move forward through this study, regardless of what our issues may be.

And while we are still “paused,” let us consider something else. If at times this discussion seems to progress by inches, or to be absorbed in small matters, that can be because we are building toward bigger things, and some stepping stones need more careful placement than others.

We are not finished with the spadework we can do within the Adam and Eve story. Nor with the correlations we can establish between that story and our own, contemporary spiritual situations. These are not the ultimate focus of this inquiry. That comes later. But meanwhile we are trying to establish some patterns of thought, and some ways of absorbing scripture, that will serve us well when we leave this context and proceed to another, weightier one.

So, to recap: our earlier question was about Adam and Eve’s spiritual life-and-death circumstances—could these be the same as ours or not? We saw that they could. Now the question turns to their biological circumstances. Could those also have been the same for them as for us? Could Adam and Eve have been created with fleshly mortality, just as we, ourselves, are biologically mortal from birth?

If someone is going to deny that idea and contend that Adam and Eve, prior to their banishment from Eden, had biological immortality, then we are going to have to conclude that the tree of life was no different than any other tree. A biologically immortal person would not need a tree of life. But God blocked Adam and Eve from eating of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22), for if He had not, then “[Adam] might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

From this we can deduce that Adam and Eve were biologically mortal beings just like us, with the only difference for them being a circumstantial one. It was the circumstance that they could eat from the tree of life and thereby forestall their biological deaths indefinitely.

God did say, in the curse, that Adam would “return to the ground.” But that was not God saying, “I am going to strip you of physical immortality and leave you physically mortal.” No, we can instead see from later scripture exactly how God saw to it that Adam would “return to the ground.” He did it by barring Adam and Eve’s access to the tree of life. And I’m not the first to assert that Adam and Eve were already biologically mortal, and had always been so.

But in exploring this matter, we have also recognized that it is easy for anyone to make assumptions from scripture. It certainly could seem as though God is imposing physical mortality upon the human couple at the moment He curses them. And if we could mistakenly think that biological mortality came from the curse, it’s a short step from there to think that spiritual mortality was delivered in the same pronouncement.

The truth is that neither came from the curse. And we could ask ourselves, does God ever "kill” anyone? If spiritual death is separation from God, then that is something we can bring on ourselves. Now as for biological death, let’s examine a parallel from our lives today. Imagine that we hear news about the death of someone we know. That person died a biological death. A fleshly death. Do we think of it as an act of God? No. We are free to look at the situation of Adam in the same way. We do not have to look upon God’s curse as the taking, or even as the foreshortening, of Adam’s already mortal life. We do have to think of it as Adam’s banishment from Eden, and hence from the tree of life.

What purpose would it have served to have made Adam and Eve physically immortal when they had the tree of life to sustain them? To posit such a theory is to unnecessarily multiply hypotheses. And to posit such a theory is to attempt to add something to scripture. If God had wanted us to understand that they were immortal—and that would have seemed to have been an important detail—He  could have told us they were. He didn’t. We shouldn’t assume it. While we are still on this topic, it’s worth adding that scripture does not tell us that Adam and Eve were biologically or genetically perfect, or physically superior to us.

Our larger point here was to see that we don’t have any special reason for thinking that the curse had anything to do with the loss of Adam and Eve’s spiritual lives. Here again we can draw a useful comparison from our lives today. We talk about people becoming spiritually dead today. But does anyone say that God struck those people spiritually dead? If not, then we have no grounds for thinking that God struck Adam and Eve spiritually dead in the garden. They died spiritually there, but we do not need to think of it as an act of God. We have already established that Adam and Eve incurred spiritual death the same way that anyone today incurs spiritual death. There is no more need for us to attribute their spiritual death to a direct act of God than there is for us to attribute any spiritual death today to a direct act of God.

Now for another hypothetical. A fairly common perception of Christian conversion is that, by the completion of that process, a person has been forgiven of all of his or her previous sins, going back even as far as one’s earliest days. But is that true? We established earlier that one did not lose one’s spiritual life until one sinned an imputed sin—a sin committed after one has reached a state of higher mental function. The sins committed prior to that time did not separate someone from God. Why would those sins need forgiveness?

When we as Christians look at our own beliefs and practices, we can see how we have come to terms with this issue. Consider how we view new converts. Let’s use our own children as examples (assuming we have children who became Christians). We don’t suggest, nor do we think, that our children came of age and acknowledged their state of accountability and then looked back on some wrongs they did at, say, age 6 and said to themselves, “I can see now what I was then… I did not realize it then but I do now. It’s time I sought forgiveness for those deeds.” No, that is not something we say or believe. We realize that our children come of age and it is only sometime after that point that they commit the sins that cost them their spiritual lives—the sins that necessitate salvation. The earlier sins did not necessitate salvation. The later one did. That is an important distinction. These children’s sins-unto-death were not deeds the same children did years before coming of age. Accordingly, the forgiveness that comes with salvation need not, does not, forgive those earlier, unimputed sins. We can test this by asking ourselves a hypothetical. Had one of our children died young—at age 7—should we have worried about that child’s eternal destiny? The answer is no—the child would have been Heaven-bound.[2]

So let us apply this thinking to Adam. The act of eating the fruit—was this a sin that could have separated him from God? Not by the logic we have established thus far. Eating the fruit would have been a sin committed by the earlier Adam, the Adam who had not yet gained knowledge and wisdom. If we are going to say that Adam needed forgiveness for that sin, then we have to say that a person today needs salvation for any sin the person ever committed, even in earliest childhood. Accordingly, that would mean that even those people who have not reached a state of accountability are spiritually dead and in need of salvation, regardless even of any extreme youthfulness or any (possible) mental incapacitation. That would mean that unsaved children who die physically are children who do not go to Heaven.

But we know that is not so. Our reason instinctively rejects this view, and for good cause. This matter was raised only to doubly establish the real moment when Adam and Eve lost their spiritual lives. It happened after they gained their higher reasoning.

Having established our position with regard to the Edenic account, we can see that this position casts God in a fairer light than does the traditional, prevailing view of the Eden story. The prevailing view portrays God as a deity who permits death to befall individuals who are by definition not “wise” and not in possession of “knowledge of good or evil.”

It makes no sense, nor could it be fair, that one action—tasting the fruit—could be both the enlightenment of the minds of Adam and Eve, and also their first transgression while in their enlightened state. It would not have been the enlightened Adam and Eve who tasted the fruit. Only the unenlightened Adam and Eve could have tasted the fruit, and that Adam and Eve could not have committed a sin-unto-death, because they were not under the law. (Rom. 3:19: “…whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law…”)

No, Adam and Eve lost their spiritual lives for the first sin committed after their eyes were open. And their eyes were not open at the exact moment when they sank their teeth into the fruit. If someone were to say, “Yes, they did lose their spiritual lives at the moment they ate the fruit,” then that person is saying their eyes were open before they tasted the fruit, and that cannot be. If the two actions were simultaneous—the opening of their eyes and the sin that now is too late to stop—then we have a situation that defies all our God-given sense of reason and justice. No, it was not simultaneous.

Now we’ve reached a stage wherefrom we can assess another matter as well. That matter is the translators’ conscious, deliberate mistranslation of the word “law” in the book of Romans. I believe that the translators did so because they lacked sufficient understanding of the doctrines that the apostle Paul was speaking about in that book. Not grasping the difference, for instance, between imputed sin and unimputed sin, as treated in Romans, forced them into some wayward views, as they tried to make the best sense they could of the scriptures.

There is more to the business of translation than simply knowing the meaning of Greek words and converting them into their English equivalents. Having a correct understanding of the context of the Greek passages is essential. Many words, phrases, or passages can be grasped only if the overriding context is correctly grasped. These translators’ faulty understanding of the context here led them to conform the meaning to their own mistaken notions of what the passage was about.

So they overruled the literal meaning of the Greek manuscripts. They took the Greek words that signified the “law of sin and death” and altered the wording to read, “the Law of Moses.”

To those translators, law, as discussed there, had to be Mosaical Law. None else could, for them, fit the context. But their context was wrong. The context of Romans 5 is not Moses, nor is it Mosaical Law, nor is it the timeframe of the Exodus or the establishment of the Israelite nation. None of those topics have any bearing whatsoever on the discussion that is unfolding in Romans 5. The context is entirely the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ, and how the two relate to one another.

And as we proceed into that discussion, as we will, more will unfold that will uphold the arguments brought thus far. In saying this I am not trying to suggest that we still lack any necessary proof or demonstration. I do believe that the reasoning supplied thus far has been clearer, more logical, and more faithful to the scriptures than the prevailing explanations. But we have ahead of us the added benefits of being able to plug our fresh interpretation into larger contexts and seeing how it conforms with, and adds sensibility to, those contexts.

C.S. Lewis wrote something in his book Miracles that may have application here. His subject matter, in the quotation I will share below, was the doctrine of the incarnation. He wanted to argue for its fitness as a unifying doctrine within the larger context that is the entire Bible. He knew that if he could establish that the doctrine of the incarnation, by its very nature, casts illuminating light on the scripture that comes before it and that follows after it, then he would have built a case for the truth of that doctrine. And by extension he would have made a case for the historicity of the incarnation itself. He uses the metaphor of finding a missing piece. In our own arguments here we are not dealing with a missing piece but rather with a doctrine that needed re-interpretation. But I feel that the analogy Lewis provides has application for us nonetheless:

“Let us suppose we possess parts of a novel or a symphony,” Lewis wrote. “Someone now brings us a newly discovered piece of manuscript and says, ‘This is the missing part of the work. This is the chapter on which the whole plot of the novel really turned. This is the main theme of the symphony.’ Our business would be to see whether the new passage, if admitted to the central place which the discoverer claimed for it, did actually illuminate all the parts we had already seen and ‘pull them together.’ Nor should we be likely to go very wrong. The new passage, if spurious, however attractive it looked at the first glance, would become harder and harder to reconcile with the rest of the work the longer we considered the matter. But if it were genuine, then at every fresh hearing of the music or every fresh reading of the book, we should find it settling down, making itself more at home, and eliciting significance from all sorts of details in the whole work which we had hitherto neglected. Even though the new central chapter or main theme contained great difficulties in itself, we should still think it genuine provided that it continually removed difficulties elsewhere.” [3]

As we proceed, in our own study, to consider other aspects of scripture, the understandings we have established thus far should shed fresh light on those aspects, provided that our conclusions thus far have been sound.

There remains more groundwork for us to lay, but already we have opened a door that had not previously been opened. We pass through that door into a larger room, doctrinally speaking, than we previously occupied. As we pass into that room, we carry with us tools that those before us did not carry. Our tools are our fresh understandings. We will apply those tools but first we must stop and take stock of one way in which our “novel” or “symphony” is already accommodating our formerly “missing” parts.

FOR PART III, CLICK HERE. FOR A MENU TO OTHER ARTICLES ON THIS SITE, CLICK HERE.

[1] New King James Version

[2] Jesus said, “For of such are the kingdom of Heaven.” I offer this not as proof of this point, but as comment.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, first paperback edition 1978, copyright 1947 and 1960), p. 109.

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