The Fall of Humanity

by Michael Horton

From The Christ Faith: A Systematic Theollogy of Pilgrims on the Way

Solidarity of the human race under Adamic headship is the source both of the grandeur and of the tragedy of our existence. If the world is a theater or a stage, as Calvin and Shakespeare among other notables have told us, then the play is a courtroom drama. Like Hamlet’s play-within-a-play, the story of Israel can be read as a condensed version of the original covenant with our race in Adam. We are set before a great trial in which we ourselves are actors and not just audience. This sets the stage for the final recapitulation of all of covenantal history in Jesus Christ, the Last Adam and the true and faithful Israel.


Of course, the courtroom analogy is not the only one that is employed. The parent-child relationship is just as obvious, and therefore we should not play the relational and the legal off of each other but recognize that they are both integral to a covenantal account. The New Testament builds on the Old Testament interpretation of history as the story of a covenant made and a covenant broken.1 Returning to the categories employed in the last chapter for identifying the image of God, we will see how sin — rather than abolishing these indelible marks of our office—perverts and misuses them for selfish ends.


As we have encountered above, the Holy Spirit is the divine witness who surveys the creation and pronounces his benediction. It is this same Spirit who walked in the garden in judgment, flushing Adam and Eve out of the bushes, and who led the Israelites in pillar and cloud, witnessing to the world that Israel belonged to Yahweh the Liberator (Ex 33:14 – 16). Taking us under his wing, as it were, this same Spirit makes us witnesses.

But there is also a false witness: the one who would be identified in relation to his persecution of God’s people, the one who “accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev 12:10). He is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). Once the chief magistrate under God in heaven, he has become the archetype and ruler of false witnesses on earth. This is seen clearly in the familiar story of the fall in Genesis. Against the Creator’s clear instruction, which put the entire garden at the disposal of humanity except for the fruit of one tree, the serpent first misinterprets God’s stipulation (“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [3:1]). When this fails, he asserts directly that Eve and Adam will not die but will in fact be like God, autonomous and self-sufficient to determine good and evil for themselves (vv. 4 – 5). In his deceptive speech, Lucifer makes himself sound like he is more interested in their welfare than God, but his ultimate aim is to make them his image-bearers rather than God’s.

“The decisive point,” notes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “is that this question suggests to man that he should go behind the Word of God and establish what it is by himself, out of his understanding of the being of God …Beyond this given Word of God the serpent pretends somehow to know something about the profundity of the true God who is so badly misrepresented in this human word.” The serpent claims a path to the knowledge of the real God behind the Word.2 It is not atheism that is introduced by the serpent but idolatrous religion, says Bonhoeffer.3 “The wolf in sheep’s clothing, Satan in an angel’s form of light: this is the shape appropriate to evil.” This will be the doubt that Satan will introduce through false religion through the ages:

“Did God say?”, that plainly is the godless question. “Did God say,” that he is love, that he wishes to forgive our sins, that we need only believe him, that we need no works, that Christ has died and has been raised for us, that we shall have eternal life in his kingdom, that we are no longer alone but upheld by God’s grace, that one day all sorrow and wailing shall have an end? “Did God say,” thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness … did he really say it to me? Perhaps it does not apply in my particular case? “Did God say,” that he is a God who is wrathful towards those who do not keep his commandments? Did he demand the sacrifice of Christ? I know better that he is the infinitely good, the all-loving father. This is the question that appears innocuous but through it evil wins power in us, through it we become disobedient to God … Man is expected to be judge of God’s word instead of simply hearing and doing it.4

Imitating the father of lies, the creature brought into being as God’s star witness begins to interpret reality with himself rather than God at the center. “When man proceeds against the concrete Word of God with the weapons of a principle, with an idea of God, he is in the right from the first, he becomes God’s master, he has left the path of obedience, he has withdrawn from God’s addressing him.”5

Indeed, the “I” in the “Here I am” that puts the covenant servant at the disposal of the suzerain becomes turned in on itself. Instead of hearing God’s Word, the first humans sought to see, control, master, and determine it for themselves (Gen 3:3 — 6). “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (v. 7). “I heard the sound [qôl, voice] of you in the garden,” Adam answered God, “and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (vv. 9 — 10). This will now be the tragic response of the human conscience in the presence of God.

In every subplot of the Bible we discover echoes of this trial of the covenant servant in the cosmic courtroom. The Israelites who gathered at the foot of Sinai, filled with terror by the divine words, entreated Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex 20:19). Moses even replies by calling this a trial (Ex 20:20). Even Isaiah, caught up in a vision of God in holy splendor, could only reply, “Woe is me, for I am lost” (Isa 6:5). It was this same terror that gripped Peter’s conscience when after Jesus calmed the storm, he could bring forth only the words, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).

Adam’s first sin was not in eating the forbidden fruit but in allowing the false witness to become a resident of the garden in the first place. The commission given to Adam and Eve above all else was to “work” and “keep” the sanctuary (Ge 2:15; the same verbs used in the commission given to the priests in the Jerusalem temple). Instead of cleansing God’s temple-garden as God’s faithful servant and son, Adam entertained Satan himself and failed to protect Eve from his influence. This story will be repeated in many variations, as God’s people show themselves unwilling to uproot idolatry and violence (including child sacrifice) entirely from the land and then fall under the spell of foreign beliefs and practices themselves.

The covenantal structure of creation and the probationary trial that ensues underscore the ethical character of this situation. Rather than serving as God’s witness, adding verbal testimony to the witness of the whole creation, Adam took the witness stand against God. Against the witness of the Spirit, the testimony of the whole creation, and even the glory, beauty, and integrity of his own high office, Adam perjured himself. Evil is not a principle in creation itself, but the willful distortion of good gifts into an arsenal deployed against God’s reign.6 This perversity corrupts that which is noble, suppresses that which is righteous, smears that which is beautiful, and smothers the light of truth.

Adam’s role as false witness bears relation not only to God but to the whole creation, since he represents all human beings and humankind collectively as the chief of the rulers over the other creaturely realms. The creation had been placed at the disposal of Adam in a state of integrity, with a commission to be a steward. But now this power, too, is twisted by a perversity of will. Royal stewardship is twisted into tyranny. Every sign of human oppression, violence, idolatry, and immorality in the world can be seen as the perversion of an original good. The commission to be fruitful and to multiply, to work in, guard, protect, and subdue God’s garden so that its peace and righteousness extend to the ends of the earth is twisted into empires of oppression in order to secure a consummation without God.

Although pain in childbirth is dreaded in any circumstance, part of God’s judgment in the curse is directed to Eve: “‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Ge 3:16a). This increased pain undoubtedly included the emotional stress of bringing children into a world that was now fallen and that would be increasingly filled with violence, deprivation, and depravity. Furthermore, God adds, “‘Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you’” (v. 16b). Enmity with God will draw into its wake enmity between fellow human beings, including husband and wife. As male and female, humanity was the image of God (Ge 1:27), but now they are at enmity not only with God but with each other.

The whole covenantal fabric of human life will become brittle and, in fact, broken. Childbirth and marriage are also joyful, to be sure, because God has not abandoned humanity to its own devices. Creation remains upheld by God’s hand. And yet these common gifts are a mixed blessing. They involve pain not only at the beginning, but in the middle and at the end. Similarly, the curse imposed on Adam and the ground is commensurate with the fruitlessness and “vanity” that life now wears for human experience. Every person is now born into the world spiritually “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent blamed God. At the end of the day, everybody blamed God, and ever since, we follow this course of vanity. In ancient as in modern dualism, the problem of evil is identified with created nature in an effort to externalize sin by attributing it to the “other” — “the woman whom you gave to be with me,” the physical environment, our family, society, or other circumstances beyond our control, but ultimately God. We look for scapegoats. Shifting the focus from our own sin to God (ontology and metaphysics) is one of the sources of dualism, ancient and modern. However, the biblical narrative directs us away from ontological fault and back to covenantal transgression. It is this emphasis on unbelief interpreted as covenant-breaking that links soteriology (salvation) and epistemology (knowing), with Romans 1 — 3 as the locus classicus. In Adam we have all become false witnesses. As Merold Westphal observes, the “hermeneutics of suspicion” was not invented by Marx and Nietzsche but finds “its true home in the Pauline teaching about the noetic effects of sin, the idea that in wickedness we ‘suppress the truth’ (Ro 1:18).”7


This courtroom trial presents the accused in the most radical relation to justice — not to abstract justice but to the personal righteousness in which humanity was created and by which it was to enjoy unbroken communion with God in a consummated Sabbath. The accused are discovered fleeing the scene of the crime, covering up the evidence. After this, all human beings will be born into the world “dead in … trespasses and sins” and “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:1, 3). Instead of representing the interests of the Great King in the world, the ambassador has defected to the enemy.

The ambassador driven deeper into the brush, ever more determined to suppress the truth, “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.’” In fact, Paul adds in his litany, drawn especially from the Psalms,

“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
  no one does good,
  not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
  they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
  in their paths are ruin and misery,
  and the way of peace they have not known.”
  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Ro 3:10 — 18)

Through the law that was once given as the way to everlasting life there is now because of sin only the expectation of death and judgment. The law announces this to everyone who is under it, whether in its written form or as it has been inscribed on the conscience, “so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom 3:19 NRSV).

Because of this original covenantal relation and revelation, there is, as in Aldo Gargani’s vivid expression, “the nostalgia for God of every living person.”8 And this nostalgia drives us to idolatry and suppression of the truth — a theology of glory that judges by appearances — rather than to the arms of God through the revelation of his Son, a theology of the cross that judges reality by God’s promise. Together with this natural nostalgia for God, converted into idolatry, is the nostalgia for leading creation triumphantly into God’s everlasting rest, converted now into self-will and tyranny.

The accusation pronounced by God’s law, however it is rebuffed, rationalized, therapeutically suppressed or ignored through distraction, rings in the conscience and, as psychologist Robert Jay Lifton observes, drives our sense of guilt for a fault whose source seems forever ambiguous.9 Thinking that their problem was merely shame rather than guilt, Adam and Eve covered themselves with loincloths, and ever since we have found ourselves incapable — or rather, unwilling — to accept the radical diagnosis of our own depravity. We can talk about evil outside of us — the “others,” whoever they may be; evil places, structures, forces, and principles. But, like the religious leaders whom Jesus challenged, we refuse to locate evil within ourselves (Mt 12:33 – 37; 15:10 – 20; 23:25 – 28).

The accused, after offering countersuits, blaming each other for the fault, now face their sentence (Ge 3:15 – 19). In all of these sanctions, the generous giving and receiving embedded in God’s natural order will yield to strife, control, exploitation, and manipulation at every level. And finally, instead of being confirmed in righteousness and everlasting life, Adam and his posterity will return to the dust (v. 19). This is a description of the fall, not, as in the pagan cosmogenic myths, of creation itself.

Guilt, strife, and vanity seem to be the dominant terms in this sentence. Instead of being eschatologically oriented toward Sabbath life with God, each other, and the whole creation, we grow increasingly aware that we are “being toward death” (Heidegger). But this is not natural. This play was not intended to be a tragedy. There is no tragedy in God — no “dark side,” since only good comes from God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17), but only unmixed blessing and fulfillment that God longed to share with creatures.

Even some of the church fathers, still too much in the grip of Platonism, located guilt, strife, and vanity not in ethical fault but in some ontological aspect of creaturely existence. If it is not “the woman that you gave me,” it can be our own bodies and their passions that become the “other” to which we deflect our burden of guilt.10

As the interpretation of sin unfolds in redemptive revelation, we encounter again an ethical-covenantal rather than ontological concept: meeting a stranger rather than overcoming estrangement. It is not from the human condition as such—finitude, for example — but from the human condition “under the law,” in bondage to sin, death, and condemnation, that we begin to meet the stranger who strikes fear. We hear his approach in the distance, although he is “not far from each one of us” (Ac 17:27). In short, the human race in Adam is now the false prophet, who misrepresents God’s Word in its futile and treasonous demand for autonomy; the false priest, who corrupts God’s sanctuary instead of guarding, keeping, and extending it; and the false king, who is no longer the medium of God’s loving reign but now exercises a cruel tyranny over the earth and his fellow vice-regents.


Trying to avoid our guilt, we focus on the symptoms of sin. We complain of the boredom of life — which the preacher calls “vanity.” In Ecclesiastes the preacher concludes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13 — 14). There is no note of the gospel struck in his conclusion of the matter, but what is clear is that the “eternity” that God has set in the heart of humanity is his law, the covenant of creation. Transgression of that covenant is the root of all human woe. Every person is now born estranged from the good Father, living in the far country in poverty and degradation. Unwilling to be a faithful son, humanity became a slave of sin and death.


Even in Genesis 1 — 3 we recognize the features of a covenant that we have delineated: a historical prologue setting the stage (Ge 1 — 2), stipulations (2:16 — 17) and the sanctions (2:17b) over which Eve and the serpent argue (3:1 — 5) and which are finally carried out in the form of judgment (3:8 — 19). It is only after this fateful decision that an entirely new and unexpected basis is set forth for human destiny (3:21 — 24). These elements are present, albeit implicitly, in the creation narrative, with the Tree of Life as the prize awaiting the successful outcome of a trial. Just as Yahweh the Great King endured the “trial” of creation and came out at the other end pronouncing victory and entering his Sabbath enthronement, his earthly ectype-vassal was to follow the same course. Genesis 1 — 3, and their canonical Christian interpretation, have an eschatological rather than simply existential orientation.

As further confirmation, the presence of the Sabbath at the end of the “six-day” work-week-trial holds out the promise of everlasting confirmation in blessedness. This pattern is not the imposition of an arbitrary law, but the image-bearer’s reflection of God’s own journey from creation to consummation. If Adam should default in this covenantal relationship, he would “surely die,” and we learn from the subsequent failure of Adam that this curse brought in its wake not only spiritual but physical, interrelational, and indeed environmental disaster.

Interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture, Adam’s covenantal role entailed that he was the representative for his whole posterity. In fact, every person is judged guilty in Adam, and the effects of this curse extend even to the rest of creation (Ge 3:17 — 18; Ro 8:20). It is with this simultaneously legal and relational background in mind that Paul makes his well-known statements on the imputation of Adam’s guilt and corruption as the corollary of the imputation and impartation of the Second Adam’s righteousness (esp. Ro 5) in justification and sanctification.11

The theme of covenant solidarity, otherwise regarded as congenial to relational and communal views of the self, is nevertheless put to the test when it involves collective human guilt: the tragic aspect of human solidarity and relationality. “The intersubjective matrix which forms individual, related persons,” notes Francis Watson, “also simultaneously deforms them.”12 Together we stand or fall. The legal and relational basis for this solidarity is the covenant of creation. As John Zizioulas observes,

The drive of the human being towards otherness is rooted in the divine call to Adam. The call simultaneously implies three things: relationship, freedom, and otherness, all of them being interdependent…. Through the call, Adam is constituted, therefore, as being other than God and the rest of creation. This otherness is not the result of self-affirmation; it is an otherness granted and is not self-existent, but a particularity which is a gift of the Other.13

Human identity therefore originates in being addressed: “the human being is singled out, not merely as a species, but as a particular partner in a relationship, as a respondent to a call.”14 It is precisely this call that humanity, in Adam, refuses, because we wish to be the speaker, not the addressee, in the covenant.

Contrary to the assumptions of Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann, and others, Paul’s polemic against the law and works of the law is not an abstract opposition. Humanity was created for love, which means for law, since law simply stipulates loving actions. Because of the fall, there is no longer any possibility of being justified by “works of the law.” All of humanity, including Israel, is now “in Adam,” condemned as a transgressor of the law. Thus, the covenant of creation (also called the covenant of works, law, or nature) is the legal context for God’s judgment. This original covenant of creation may be defended by appealing to non-Christian as well as Christian sources.


Along with its creation story (Enuma Elish), ancient Babylonian civilization produced the Code of Hammurabi, which bears striking resemblance to the Ten Commandments delivered to Moses centuries later. In fact, it was probably under King Hammurabi (1792 – 1750 BC) that the Enuma Elish poem was commissioned. The historical prologue to the Code begins,

When the exalted Anu…, the lord of heaven and earth … committed the sovereignty over all the people to Marduk … and in its midst established for him an everlasting kingdom whose foundations are firm as heaven and earth; at that time Anu and Enlil called me, Hammurabi, the reverent prince, the worshipper of the gods, by name, to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, to go forth like the sun over the human race, to enlighten the land and to further the welfare of the people.15

Thus, even pagan cultures grounded their laws in a narrative of original creation that was taken to be universally normative. Judaism grounds human moral solidarity in an original covenant of creation, renewed in the covenant with Noah. In that covenant, David Novak argues, basic precepts of the moral law are made binding on all people, although the specific laws governing Israel’s life in the land are not. A covenantal approach to rights, Novak argues, avoids Greek philosophical theories of natural law on one side and modern autonomy on the other. It is, after all, a personal God and not an abstract concept of the Good that ultimately grounds a biblical sense of justice (equity). God establishes by his command the rights and duties that are reciprocally related in all human relationships.16 Novak remarks, “How fundamentally different all this is from seeing natural law as some sort of translation of a higher nature down to the actual affairs of human beings. In that view, there is no primary voice, but only a vision of a polity that might conform to a higher paradigm in the heavens. It is duty without an originating right/claim, for such a right/claim cannot be imagined, but only heard (emphasis added).”17 God is the original rights-holder, but he condescends to enter into an asymmetrical yet real relationship in which he accepts claims as well as makes them, which in turn becomes the reciprocal relationship between human beings.18

The Mosaic covenant institutes the “clean-unclean” separation, with its specific laws governing the theocracy. Novak continues, “Nevertheless, that separation from the world does not entail a separation from the justice that God requires of the human world, a requirement that is voiced through natural rights, which are the just claims of human persons and communities. The general claims on that world, which the rabbinic tradition sees going back to Noah, even to Adam and Eve, are not overcome by the [Mosaic] covenant; instead, they are subsumed into the covenant intact.”19 Thus, human solidarity is always more basic than national, racial, or cultural solidarity. It is not based on a social contract, but on a divine covenant.20

Novak demonstrates from the Jewish sources that this natural justice is grounded in an original covenant given to humanity in Adam.

Even in Islam, according to Osman bin Bakar, shari’ah includes both particular laws governing Muslims and laws that are regarded as universally binding as a result of a common Adamic origin.21 We find the same consensus in Buddhism and Hinduism, with this universal law identified as Dharma (the Right Way) and the Tao (Path). Whether it is called the Tao, Dharma, Karma, Torah, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or “the little voice within,” the most ineradicable report of general revelation is our moral accountability before a holy God for how we treat each other. This is the law above all positive laws of nations and international bodies. No matter how we try to suppress, distort, and deny it, our sense of being personally responsible for our sin is universal and natural. Confucius is reported to have said, “There may be someone who has perfectly followed the way [i.e., the Tao]: but I never heard of one.”22 Even if Scripture did not teach it, experience would require something like the covenant of creation to account for this moral sensibility.


One cannot account for this covenantal understanding by reference to a dominance of legal (Western) categories to be contrasted with those of relational (Eastern) theology. The same emphases may be found in Irenaeus, where he not only affirms an Adamic covenant but distinguishes between an “economy of law” or “law of works” (which he associates with Adam in the prelapsarian situation and then again with Israel in the “Mosaic economy” or “legal dispensation”) and a “Gospel covenant.”23 John of Damascus adds, “It was necessary, therefore, that man should first be put to the test (for man untried and unproved would be worth nothing), and being made perfect by the trial through the observance of the command should thus receive incorruption as the prize of his virtue.”24 In the West, Augustine also clearly anticipates the covenant of works/covenant of grace scheme, as, for example, in his comment that “the first covenant was this, unto Adam: ‘Whensoever thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death,’” and this is why all of his children “are breakers of God’s covenant made with Adam in paradise” (emphasis added).25

Is there then some commonly shared site of revelation not only for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but for all human beings? Reformation theology emphasizes that while the gospel is revealed only in the proclamation of Christ (verbum externum), the law is the native property of all human beings (verbum internum), the very law of their being which, though suppressed in unrighteousness, cannot entirely be purged from the conscience. While interreligious agreement on the content of the supernaturally revealed gospel is impossible, we should expect and work toward greater understanding of our common life together in the light of the original creation covenant, whose remnants are kept alive by the continual speaking of the Father in the Son through the Spirit according to common grace.

Although refined by later Reformed theologians, the seeds of the covenantal approach can be easily discerned in the likes of Philipp Melanchthon, Heinrich Bullinger, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin.26 Parallel to the Jewish view of the Noahide laws summarized by Novak, Calvin writes, “Now that inward law [lex interior], which we have … described as written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the two Tables.”27 In contrast to Stoicism (and much of medieval natural law thinking), then, the law of nature is not the product of our participation in Being, but of our being in every moment summoned as covenant creatures. Of Romans 2:14 — 15, Calvin says, “There is nothing more common than for a man to be sufficiently instructed in a right standard of conduct by natural law (of which the apostle is here speaking).”28 ‘If the Gentiles by nature have law righteousness engraved upon their minds, we surely cannot say they are utterly blind as to the conduct of life.”29 In fact, Calvin praises “the sagacity” of the great scientists, philosophers, and jurists “in things earthly,” scolding sectarians for insulting the Holy Spirit, who gives such common gifts to humanity.30

Once this original covenant is recognized, a host of passages come to mind. The late seventeenth-century theologian Peter van Mastricht, for example, appeals to Hosea 6:7, where it is said of Israel, “Like Adam, they have transgressed the covenant” (cf. Job 31:33, where “as Adam did” is the most likely translation).31 Since Israel was a theocracy typological of the eschatological Paradise of God, its national existence was a repetition of the covenant of creation—hence, the comparisons drawn by the biblical writers to Adam and the original creation.32 Israel was called to see itself as a new theocratic garden of God’s presence and as a new creation in the sense of representing humanity before God — all of this typological of the true Israel, the faithful Adam, who is also the true heavenly temple and everlasting Sabbath of God. As with Adam, the Sinaitic covenant is conditional. If Israel is faithful, the people’s days “may be long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (e.g., Ex 20:12; cf. Dt 11:9). Thus, Israel’s tenure in the land, like Adam’s, is conditional — although in the earlier case God’s goodness was presupposed, while in the later, God’s grace (Dt 7:7 — 11). Precisely the same terms and sanctions apply: Do this and you will live long in the land and enter into the Sabbath rest. As with his appeal to the two Adams for double imputation, Paul draws on the analogy of two mountains, two mothers, and two cities to contrast the covenant of works (law) and the covenant of grace (promise) (Gal 3 and 4). As Peter van Mastricht pointed out in the seventeenth century, Christ’s role as the “fulfiller of all righteousness” is without any legal basis apart from a covenant that demands it as the condition of reward.33

More recently, however, some Reformed theologians have questioned or even rejected the idea that this original relationship of humanity to God, in Adam, was a covenant. For example, John Murray insisted that biblical covenants are inherently gracious; the very idea, then, of a covenant founded in love but based on pure law or works he regarded as untenable.34 However, this fails to appreciate sufficiently the integrity of humanity in the state of rectitude. Adam was not created merely in a state of innocence, but in a state of positive righteousness—with all of the requisite natural and moral abilities to fulfill the commission entrusted to him. To some, a covenantal relationship based on law seems to exclude love. However, God’s law is nothing more than a stipulation of the proper exercise of love toward God and neighbor (Mt 22:37 – 40). Law and love are typically contrasted in contemporary theology and in popular thought. But the theology of covenant brings these together. Ancient Near Eastern scholar Delbert Hillers points out that in the relationship established by the covenant-treaty, law and love are synonymous. Law prescribes the dictates of love.35 Love is simultaneously legal and emotional language, and it is the legal that shapes the emotional expression: “To love is to set one’s sincere affections on the covenant Lord and to give this affection its expression in loyal service.”36 Who are we, the violators of love, to determine for ourselves its proper exercise when the God who is love has clearly revealed its demands in his law?

It is in the context of a covenant that law is seen as the concrete specification of the duties of love. If Adam obeyed, out of covenant love (hesed) for his Creator and his fellow creatures, he would win the right to eat from the Tree of Life, confirmed in everlasting peace and righteousness. And as our covenantal head, he would win this right not only for himself but for all of his posterity. In the words of the Formula Consensus Helvetica, “the promise annexed to the covenant of works was not just the continuation of earthly life and felicity,” but a confirmation in righteousness and everlasting heavenly joy.37

A final argument in favor of the covenant of creation is supplied by Cocceius, in terms of conscience (Ro 2:15), a point that Calvin had repeatedly emphasized in relation to the law. Created in God’s image, humanity was capable of this relationship to which it was bound and in which God had bound himself as well.


I have already defended the point that creation had its own integrity prior to the fall. The original relationship in which humanity was created is best characterized by “voluntary condescension” (Westminster Confession 7.1) rather than by grace.

According to the Roman Catholic view, creation not only possessed the potentiality for corruption (which, of course, we would affirm), but was suspended between higher and lower realms, concentrated in the dualism between the intellectual contemplation of the eternal and unchanging Good and the indulgence of the temporal and fluctuating passions. Adam’s sustenance — and therefore that of the created order—depended at every moment not on the integrity of freedom in created righteousness, but on a donum superadditum — a gift of grace added to nature, elevating it toward the supernatural. Related to this idea is the notion of concupiscence (from the Latin, meaning desire for worldly things). According to this teaching, the grace that God added to nature in the beginning gave Adam and Eve an inclination toward transcending their body and its desires by rational ascent.38 Thus, concupiscence is the inclination toward the ostensibly inferior realm of nature, which was indulged when God withdrew his superadded grace.

In the view of the Reformers, this undermined the integrity of nature as created. If humanity was created in an original justice, as the medieval church affirmed, why did it require a gift of grace to orient it toward God? The Reformers challenged the traditional view also because of its inherent spirit-matter dualism, its liability to making God the cause of Adam’s sin, and its identification of the origin of sin in nature itself rather than in a perverse transgression against that natural integrity in which God had created human beings. It is not difficult to conclude that human and, more generally, creaturely integrity was therefore lost when this donum was removed, as Augustine himself implies.39

By contrast, the Reformers taught that both the integrity of human nature and its depravity after the fall were total, encompassing the mind as well as the body, the soul as well as its passions, the intellect and senses alike. The fall cannot be attributed to humanity’s having been “ensnared by the inferior appetites,” says Calvin, “but abominable impiety has seized the very citadel of his mind, and pride has penetrated into the inmost recesses of his heart; so that it is weak and foolish to restrict the corruption which has proceeded thence to what are called the sensual appetites.” Calvin accuses medieval theologian Peter Lombard of “the grossest ignorance” for identifying “the flesh” in Paul (especially Ro 7:18) with the body and sensual appetites, “as though Paul designated only a part of the soul and not the whole of our nature which is opposed to supernatural grace.” In Ephesians 4:17 — 18, for example, Paul does not merely locate sin in “the inordinate motions of the appetites, but principally insists on the blindness of the mind and the depravity of the heart.”40

In Roman Catholic theology, concupiscence is not yet the act of sin but a propensity (habitus or disposition) for sin, and this propensity is due to the lower self. However, Reformation theology denied that there was any propensity toward sin or weakness in human nature prior to the fall. In this view, the fall was due to the turning of the whole self away from God and his good gifts in an act of treason. We may summarize this point by saying that it is premature to insert into the creation covenant an element of divine graciousness, strictly speaking. Grace is not the same as goodness; mercy is not the same as love. Scripture speaks lavishly of God’s goodness, kindness, generosity, and love toward his unfallen creation, but there is not a single verse that refers to God’s grace and mercy toward creatures prior to the fall. Grace is synonymous with mercy: not merely unmerited favor, but the kind of loving-kindness that God shows to those who actually deserve the very opposite.

The terms of the covenant of creation cannot be set aside, nor their sanctions simply abandoned. Yet because of his extravagant love, God himself became human and fulfilled in the place of his elect the righteousness required in this original covenant. This is what Reformed theology understands as the active obedience of Christ.41


“Original sin” is the term that the Western church has employed to refer to our collective human guilt and corruption. No doctrine is more crucial to our anthropology and soteriology, and yet no doctrine has been more relentlessly criticized ever since it was articulated. Protestant liberalism has always had an optimistic view of human morality. Adolf von Harnack called original sin “an impious and foolish dogma.”42 That, however, was before two world wars, to which Harnack’s own contribution should not be forgotten.43

Not surprisingly, the postwar years allowed a fresh reappraisal of the classical doctrine of original sin. Reinhold Niebuhr correctly surmised, “The Christian doctrine of sin in its classical form offends both rationalists and moralists by maintaining the seemingly absurd position that man sins inevitably and by a fateful necessity but that he is nevertheless to be held responsible for actions which are prompted by an ineluctable fate.”44 As the natural theology par excellence, Pelagianism was the anthropological assumption of Kant’s thought.45 No one has to be taught this heresy; it is our native tongue. Repeated attempts to dismiss the doctrine of original sin as a peculiarity of Calvin or Luther, Augustine or Paul fail to take seriously the fact that the same assumptions are articulated in the Psalms (Pss 51:5, 10; 143:2), the prophets (Isa 64:6; Jer 17:9) and in the Gospels (Jn 1:13; 3:6; 5:42; 6:44; 8:34; 15:4 — 5) and catholic epistles (Jas 3:2; 1Jn 1:8, 10; 5:12). The doctrine of original sin may be seen to arise as a result of two principal sources: the covenant itself as the biblical paradigm for relating divine-human relations and the narrative of the fall from an original state of integrity.

Citing examples from Second Temple Judaism, Childs concludes, “Judaism shared the view that human sin derived from Adam (IV Ezra 3.7; Sifre Deut. 323).”46 In fact, one of the clearest examples of early Jewish belief in original sin is 2 Esdras:

The same fate befell all of them: just as death came upon Adam, so the flood upon them [of Noah’s generation]…. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained … in everything doing just as Adam and all his descendants had done, for they also had the evil heart (2 Esdras 3:10, 21 — 22, 26 NRSV).

These statements are in the context of explaining God’s ways with Israel in her exile: the point is that Israel herself is “in Adam,” and the first disobedience is lodged deep within the history of God’s own people. The similarities to Paul’s treatment, especially in Romans 1 — 3 and 5, are striking.

The concept of solidarity — human solidarity in Adam and Israel’s in Abraham and Moses, is basic to the biblical worldview, however alien to our own. Paul simply elaborates this covenantal outlook when he explains that “sin came into the world through one man,” in whom all people became henceforth sinners, condemned by the law and inwardly corrupt (Ro 5:12 — 21). It follows, then, that if Adam has failed to carry out his commission as the servant-king of Yahweh, all who are “in Adam” are implicated as well, just as the people represented by the vassal in the Hittite treaties would share in the threatened sanctions in the case of a breach.

At this point, everything turns on what kind of credit we give to the historical narrative and whether we are willing to speak, as not only Genesis 3 but subsequent Scripture does, of the human condition before and after the fall. Whatever one’s conclusions concerning the process of human origins, Christian theology stands or falls with a historical Adam and a historical fall. On this point, Roman Catholic and Reformation theologies are at one.47 Against liberal theology, Barth and Brunner affirm that humanity is “in Adam,” sharing in original sin, but, denying the historical fall, they can lodge this fact only in God’s eternal predestination. In fact, Barth insists, “The guilt and punishment we incur in Adam have no independent reality of their own but are only the dark shadows of the grace and life we find in Christ.” For Barth, it appears that “Adam” represents a mere copy, appearance, or shadow of the eternal Form (Christ), the latter swallowing the former.48 However, if one does not take Adam (i.e., the human as human) seriously, two serious problems ensue: first, sin must be attributed to creation itself (and therefore ultimately to the Creator); second, there is no longer any historical basis for Christ’s work as the Last Adam, undoing the curse and fulfilling the terms of the covenant of creation.

In Augustine’s formulation, the doctrine of original sin concentrates on the metaphysics of nature, the superadded gift of grace, and sin’s transmission from the soul of our first parents. Grounding original sin in idealist metaphysics, Jonathan Edwards speculated that we are all sinners because there is no such thing as an individual agent. In his view, the identity between Adam and all human beings is real (in the metaphysical sense): numerical sameness, dependent in every moment on a fresh ex nihilo act of God.49 Hodge provides a suitable rebuttal to this theory. 50 A covenantal account of original sin focuses on the representative, federal, covenantal structure of human existence before God. Like a nation represented by the decrees and actions of its head of state, the human race is one-in-many and many-in-one. As goes the king, so goes the kingdom. To be sure, there are metaphysical and ontological consequences of covenant transgression, such as human death as the judicial sentence, but the essence of sin itself is legal, forensic, and ethical: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1Co 15:56).

Obviously, we are once again “meeting a stranger” rather than “overcoming estrangement” in this approach. Just as the image of God consists in a covenantal commission for which God created humanity rather than in a particular substance or faculty, original sin is to be understood within the same context, according to the same principle. Therefore, the emphasis should fall not on a faculty or principle that we all share in common, but on the sheer fact that we are in common; that is, we are in covenant.

Although Jenson does not appeal to this covenantal category, he makes essentially the same point:

Humanity is finally one diachronically extended community, and that community and we in it are idolatrous, lustful, unjust and despairing. Moreover, we just so are compelled to posit a “fall” of humankind, occurring within created time … The story told in the third chapter of Genesis is not a myth; it does not describe what always and ever happens. It describes the historical first happening of what thereafter always happens; moreover, had it not happened with the first humans it could not have happened at all, since then the first humans would have been omitted from an ‘encompassing deed of the human race.’51

The fall in which we all participate is “the presence of the past.”52 Our present is the “effective history” (Wirkungsgeschichte) of an original transgression that defines our ethical condition and actions. In fact, solidarity in Adam illustrates the fact that covenant is not simply a metaphor for a relationship but is the relationship between God and creation. No one is an island. The past is present not only among us but within us. The covenant consciousness that we all share by virtue of our humanity carries with it ever since the fall the ineradicable consciousness of our existence as breach, alienation, and transgression. We are not only guilty for Adam’s sin; we are guilty as sinners in Adam. Although this way of thinking (namely, corporate solidarity) is difficult to understand for those of us reared in liberal democracies, it is basic to Israel’s faith. In Joshua 7, Achan steals from the spoils of holy war, and Yahweh commands Joshua, “Get up! … Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant …” Although Achan is stoned, the guilt belongs to the people as a whole (vv. 10 – 26). In Israel’s Passover liturgy, contemporary generations are to regard themselves as having been brought up out of Egypt with their forebears. These, and many more examples, exhibit the covenantal solidarity in the biblical approach to the question of guilt. In Paul’s treatment in Romans 5, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (v. 12). In other words, every human being was present representatively, federally, and covenantally in Adam. Our own personal acts of sin flow from this corrupt nature and add to our original guilt.

Especially in highly developed nations today, an implicitly Pelagian anthropology is often combined with an individualistic theory of the self and a therapeutic understanding of human rights, criminal justice, and social relations that challenges the traditional understanding of sin. In this context, it is inconceivable that one could be held responsible for participation in collective guilt. Furthermore, in the context of changing concepts of jurisprudence there has emerged a sentimental theology in which there is no place for any form of justice that is not exclusively ameliorative and healing. In fact, law professor Jean Bethke Elshtain has argued that the weakening sense of a holy God and human sinfulness even in churches is partially responsible for undermining the very notion of human justice as well.53

Moltmann concedes, “The Fathers of the church consistently followed the rabbinic and Pauline doctrine: suffering and death are the divinely appointed punishment for human sin. ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Ro 6:23).” However, he rejects this view: “This reduction of suffering and death to sin means that the beginning of salvation is seen as being the forgiveness of sins. Human redemption then takes place in two steps: sin is overcome through grace, in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross; the consequences of sin — suffering and death — are overcome by power, through the future resurrection of the dead.” Moltmann prefers the path taken by Origen; namely, “that death belonged together with the creation of man as finite being.” “It is therefore not a consequence of sin, and not a divine punishment either … Augustine and the Latin Fathers, on the other hand, traced all forms of suffering and death back to sin, reducing the doctrine of redemption to juridical form into the doctrine of grace.”54 Sin brings its own misery, Moltmann concludes; it hardly needs any further punishment.55 Once again we discern the natural tendency to identify sin merely with its symptoms rather than with its deeper heinousness as a criminal state and stance in relation to a holy God.

The tendency of fundamentalism is to reduce sin to sinful acts and behaviors, while liberalism reduces sin to evil social structures that impede the realization of the ethical kingdom. In contrast to both forms of reductionism, the biblical understanding of sin is far deeper in its analysis. Sin is first of all a condition that is simultaneously judicial and moral, legal and relational. Accordingly, we sin because we are sinners rather than vice versa. Standing before God as transgressors in Adam, we exhibit our guilt and corruption in actual thoughts and actions. If we cut off one diseased branch, another one—pregnant with the fruit of unrighteousness — grows in its place.

Furthermore, we are both victims and perpetrators. There is no human being since the fall who is only a victim; yet it is also true that every sinner is also sinned against. Such is the solidarity of humanity under the curse of the violated covenant of creation. A particular act of sin may be (or include) the fault of someone else, but the sinful condition and the web of sinful actions and relationships that flow from it implicate us as well. It is true that we do not simply choose our vices, but are conditioned by the sinful structures to which our particular socio-cultural or familial contexts tend. Yet it is also true that we yield ourselves to these vices and are responsible for our own actions. Simplistic theories of sin easily identify the “righteous” (us) and the “wicked” (them), but as the biblical drama unfolds we recognize with increasing clarity that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Ro 3:9 — 12).

There is no doubt that an exclusively juridical concept of the fall cannot account for a host of passages, particularly those that emphasize the reality of systematic and institutional violence. But the covenant — simultaneously legal and relational, individual and collective, ethical and ontological, personal and social-institutional — brings these aspects together.

It is our definition of sin that generates such radically different construals of redemption. As Robert Jenson notes, “The only possible definition of sin is that it is what God does not want done. Thus if we do not reckon with God, we will not be able to handle the concept; without acknowledging God, we can — though perhaps not for long—speak meaningfully of fault and even of crime but not of sin.”56 Sin is a crime committed against a person, not just a principle; yet the law that is transgressed is the will of the personal Lord who institutes the relationship. The weight of the law is measured by the character of the one who gives it. Only when we are confronted with God in his holiness do we really understand something of the weight of sin (Isa 6:1 — 7). When reduced to the horizontal dimension (intrahuman relationships), sin becomes negative behaviors that can be easily managed or a failure to live up to one’s potential and expectations. Apart from its vertical reference, sin can produce shame but never guilt. The only judgment that matters in such a scheme is that of society or our own, rather than God’s.

The role of God in this perspective is merely to serve the sovereign self in its striving after perfection. Religion can become the chief means by which we suppress our participation in human guilt, as Barth so forcefully argued: “Our self-respect demands, on top of everything else, … access to a superworld. Our deeds want deeper foundations, transcendent recognition and reward. Our lust for life covets also pious moments and prolongation into eternity.”57 Barth feels the force of Feuerbach’s critique of religion, and, contrasting religion with the revelation of Christ, uses that critique to define religion as idolatrous projection:

We come to our own rescue and build the tower of Babel. In what haste we are to soothe within us the stormy desire for the righteousness of God! And to soothe means, unfortunately, to cover up, to bring to silence…. The longing for a new world has lost all its bitterness, sharpness, and restlessness, has become the joy of development, and now blossoms sweetly and surely in orations, donor’s tablets, committee meetings, reviews, annual reports, twenty-five-year anniversaries, and countless mutual bows. The righteousness of God itself has slowly changed from being the surest of facts into being the highest among various ideals, and is now at all events our very own affair…. You may act as if you were God, you may with ease take his righteousness under your own management. This is certainly pride.58

Religion is one of the chief ways we cover up our shame without actually dealing with the guilt that gives rise to it. And we project a god who will satisfy our suppression of the truth about ourselves. “Idolatry is not an accident,” Jenson notes, “as if some of us just happened to hit on wrong candidates for deity.”59 It is the result of a willful suppression of the truth in unrighteousness (Ro 1:18). Not only in our immorality and lying but even in our proud moral striving, self-confident religious devotion, and sincere pretensions, we are storing up God’s wrath against us.

With its doctrine of original sin, biblical faith comes to grips with the reality of human tragedy only to enter into the joyful comedy of which pagan revelry is only a pale parody. Deep despair and deep joy belong to those who have encountered God in his law and gospel. By contrast, denial of this doctrine gives to pagan thought a superficial happiness that hides a deeper and final despair.

Writing in the face of the most obvious examples of human sin in the twentieth century, Reinhold Niebuhr reflected deeply on this complexity in The Nature and Destiny of Man. Niebuhr’s experience especially of two world wars radically challenged his liberal theology and Marxist ideology, and although he never entirely abandoned his earlier convictions, he was increasingly drawn to the realism of a biblical understanding of human nature. One of the important insights of the classical Augustinian and Reformation heritage was its refusal to simplify the problem of sin as something that can be overcome by proper moral instruction and personal or social engineering. Liberalism (including the social gospel) radicalized the medieval tendency to identify sin and grace with the “lower” and “higher” realms of the self. “This remains true even when, as in the thought of men like Schleiermacher and in the theology of the social gospel, this sloth is attributed to the institutions and traditions of history rather than purely to sensual passion or to the finiteness of the mind.”60 According to Walter Rauschenbusch, sin is transmitted primarily through institutions, Niebuhr notes. “The argument by which this is done has not varied from the day of Augustine’s critics.”61 Schleiermacher simply repeats the Pelagian reduction of sin to deliberate and conscious malice.62

However, only in the robust, if tragic, doctrine of original sin is there a recognition that sin is also a condition from which we cannot extricate or exonerate ourselves. One need not have actively sent Jews to gas chambers in order to be guilty of failing to act on their behalf. It is this insight that is expressed in the Book of Common Prayer, when worshipers confess their sin as consisting both in “what we have done and what we have left undone,” or when the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 35) defines sin not only as an explicit violation but as “a lack of conformity to” God’s law. “The truth is that, absurd as the classical Pauline doctrine of original sin may seem to be at first blush,” says Niebuhr, “its prestige as a part of the Christian truth is preserved, and perennially reestablished, against the attacks of rationalists and simple moralists by its ability to throw light upon complex factors in human behaviour which constantly escape the moralists.”63

More recently, but also out of deep firsthand experience with human corruption, Miroslav Volf speaks of a “contrived innocence” in affluent modern societies, giving rise to “a glaring incongruity: in a world so manifestly drenched with evil everybody is innocent in their own eyes.”64 Like Niebuhr in his appeal to Calvin’s analysis of sin as involving both intentional violation and victimization, Volf says, “In The Fall to Violence Marjorie Suchocki argues that there is ‘an intertwining of victim and violator through the very nature of violation.’”65 “The violence ensnares the psyche of the victim, propels its action in the form of defensive reaction, and — robs it of innocence. She writes, ‘To break the world cleanly into victims and violators ignores the depths of each person’s participation in cultural sin. There simply are no innocents.’”66 But this is the point that the doctrine of original sin has tried to make, and its demise leaves us trapped within the cycle of blame that perpetuates exclusion and violence.

In the wake of modernity’s belief in progress, the doctrine was progressively dismantled. As Bernhard-Henri Levy rightly argued in Dangerous Purity…, the stubborn shadows of modernity, produced in part precisely by modernity’s blind optimism, call for a judicious retrieval of the doctrine of original sin…. Solidarity in sin underscores that no salvation can be expected from an approach that rests fundamentally on the moral assignment of blame and innocence. The question cannot be how to locate ‘innocence’ either on the intellectual or social map and work our way toward it.67

This doctrine should undermine our tendency to deflect our own sin to others: “A particular evil not only ‘inhabits’ us so that we do what we hate (Ro 7:15); it has colonized us to such a thoroughgoing extent that there seems to be no moral space left within the self in which it could occur to us to hate what we want because it is evil. We are ensnared by evil not only with full consent, but without a thought of dissent and without a sigh for deliverance.”68 Volf concludes, “And behind the tumult of ‘making’ and ‘breaking’ lies an anthropological constant: human beings are always already in the covenant as those who have always already broken the covenant.”69


All of humanity is guilty together “in Adam,” and the sentence is passed onto the entire human race. Yet experience yields many examples of goodness, kindness, and even heroic acts of justice, kindness, and compassion. To address this query, we must retrieve two distinctions that were important especially since the Reformation: (1) between righteousness in things heavenly (coram deo, before God) and in things earthly (coram hominibus, or before fellow humans) and (2) between natural and moral ability.

First, human beings — including unbelievers — are credited in Scripture with good actions, just as they are credited with knowledge and wisdom in human affairs. Nevertheless, it is with respect to the righteousness of God’s own character, which he has revealed in his law, that God judges all mortals. While we have abundant evidence of knowledge and wisdom in ordinary human affairs, the gospel — identified by the apostle Paul as the heavenly wisdom that confounds us — is a mystery apart from the Spirit’s regenerating work.

Second, related to the first, human beings have a natural ability to fulfill God’s commands, but lack the moral ability to love God and neighbor so as to fulfill those commands. Human beings have all of the requisite faculties and abilities with which God endowed them in creation. The fall did not destroy these characteristics of covenantal identity, but twisted and deformed them. Therefore, all human beings are by definition covenantal creatures and image-bearers; being a human person is not dependent on being related to God in rectitude.70 The problem is that the human will is in moral bondage to sin.

The distinction between natural and moral ability arose especially within the Reformed tradition as a way of guarding against two extremes: on the one end, a Manichaean identification of sin with God’s creation itself and, on the other end, the Pelagian denial of total depravity. In fact, this distinction that is prominent in the Reformed systems is the very thing that Niebuhr seems to have in mind with his own distinction between the self-as-subject (acknowledging right and wrong) and the self-as-agent in action (justifying oneself while blaming others).

One of the interesting paradoxes of Calvin’s thought is that he simultaneously affirmed the total integrity of humanity as created and the total depravity of humanity as fallen.71 “For the depravity and malice both of man and of the devil, or the sins that arise therefrom, do not spring from nature, but rather from the corruption of nature.”72 Sin is accidental rather than essential to human nature, he insists. This he distinguishes from the Manichaean error: “For if any defect were proved to inhere in nature, this would bring reproach upon [God].”73

Nature as nature is in no need of supplemental grace for its perfection but is already oriented toward the perfection that is within Adam’s power to attain. Rejecting the medieval doctrine of concupiscence, the Reformers located sin not in the weakness of any faculty (namely, sensuality), but in the total corruption of humanity that proceeds not from nature but from malice.

The remarkable power of the Christian interpretation of creation and the fall to transform our secular presuppositions is evident in the fact that C. S. Lewis, though a Platonist in philosophical tendency, recognized the dissonance between the biblical narrative and this perspective. In an essay, he composed the following dialogue between the body and the soul:

“You are always dragging me down,” said I to my Body. “Dragging you down!” replied my Body…. “Who put an end to all those angry and revengeful thoughts last night? Me, of course, by insisting on going to sleep. Who does his best to keep you from talking too much and eating too much by giving you dry throats and headaches and indigestion? Eh?” “And what about sex?” said I. “Yes, what about it?” retorted the Body. “If you and your wretched imagination would leave me alone I’d give you no trouble. That’s Soul all over; you give me orders and then blame me for carrying them out.”74

The biblical view is constantly challenging our attempts to exonerate ourselves by fixing the blame on something outside of ourselves. If we cannot deflect sin to society, we will press charges against our family; if this is inadequate, we will indict our own body as if it were exterior to our real self. The soul flees the approaching footsteps of divine judgment by withdrawing within, protesting its divinity and purity.

Yet God’s judgment draws us out, summoning us to account for the fact that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind,” and the verdict is never encouraging (Jer 17:9 – 10). Even more pointedly, Jesus excoriated the religious leaders for imagining that there was some innocent citadel of righteousness in the mind or heart, countering that it is from this seat that sin exercises its dominion (Mt 12:34 – 35; 15:10 – 11; 23:25). The inner self is not the innocent spark of divinity or island of purity, but is the fountain from which every act of violence, deceit, immorality, and idolatry flows out through the body and into the world.

Total depravity therefore means not that we are incapable of any justice or good before fellow humans (civil righteousness), but that there is no Archimedean point within us that is left unfallen, from which we might begin to bargain or to restore our condition (righteousness before God). As Berkhof points out, total depravity does not mean

(1) that every man is as thoroughly depraved as he can possibly become; (2) that the sinner has no innate knowledge of the will of God, nor a conscience that discriminates between good and evil; (3) that sinful man does not often admire virtuous character and actions in others, or is incapable of disinterested affections and actions in his relations with his fellow-men; nor (4) that every unregenerate man will, in virtue of his inherent sinfulness, indulge in every form of sin….

What is meant by “total” is that the whole nature of humanity, not only the body and its desires but the soul, mind, heart, and will, is corrupt.75

Therefore, when Pelagius, Kant, Charles Finney, and innumerable philosophers, ethicists, and theologians of modernity have insisted that it would be unjust for God to require something of which we are not capable, they confuse natural and moral ability. It is not that we do not freely will that which our mind and heart desire, but that our mind has been darkened and our heart is selfish. Everyone has the natural ability to render God faithful obedience, but after the fall, we are “sold [into slavery] under sin” (Ro 7:14), our moral ability held captive not to a foreign army but to our own selfishness, idolatry, greed, and deceit. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God” (Ro 3:10 – 11). This is not simply hyperbole: even when we pretend to be seeking God, we are in fact running from the God who is actually there. If the self-help sections of the average bookstore are any indication, we are, like Paul’s Athenian audience, “in every way … very religious” (Ac 17:22). But God is not worshiped; he is used. “Spirituality” no less than atheism suppresses the specificity of the God revealed in Scripture.

The fact that we are still God’s image-bearers and consequently possess all of the requisite natural ability for relating to God and others in covenant faithfulness — and the fact that this is even realized in our sense of duty to the rule of law — renders us culpable (Ro 1:18 — 2:16). The fault lies not in that we cannot but that we will not turn from our sin to the living God (Jn 8:44). Captive to sin, “in Adam,” we are nevertheless willing accomplices to our own imprisonment (Ro 5:12). Only when God seizes us and liberates our captivity are we truly free to be the human beings that we are (Jn 8:36).


In both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic theology, ecclesiology is the presupposition of anthropology rather than vice versa. There is an important truth in this observation. The community that the triune God takes into his company is ecclesia—the church in embryo, even as Adam and Eve. A court is convened with “two or three witnesses” (1Ti 5:19; cf. Dt 19:15). “‘For where two or three are gathered in my name,’” Jesus promised, “‘there am I among them’” (Mt 18:20). The image of God is properly functioning when yielding common testimony to God’s character, will, works, and ways. Furthermore, it is in the church and as the church that the new humanity is being justified and sanctified, anticipating the day when it will be glorified together with its risen head. It is in the church as the community of the covenant of grace that the powers of the age to come break in on this present evil age, beginning already to make all things new.

Nevertheless, there is a danger of simply collapsing creation into redemption and common grace into saving grace. Not only does this compromise the gospel; it makes the natural status of personhood (based on the image of God) dependent on its moral renewal in Christ. According to John Zizioulas, human beings are born into the world as biological individuals (inherently flawed simply as creatures) who only become persons at baptism. He does acknowledge the important place for protology as well as eschatology, but finally the latter seems to win out over the former. In fact, “the body tends towards the person but leads finally to the individual.”76 Does this not make fallenness somehow “natural” rather than a corruption of nature? Gunton defends Zizioulas’s position, arguing that “we are persons insofar as we are in right relationship to God. Under the conditions of sin, that means, of course, insofar as the image is reshaped, realised, in Christ.” “To be in the image of God therefore means to be conformed to the person of Christ.”78

Traditionally, Lutheran theologians have also argued that the image of God has been lost and is only renewed through regeneration. However, in this case differences rest on definitions. It is noteworthy that there does not seem to have been a major cleavage between traditions over this question at a time when differences between the Reformed and the Lutherans were readily acknowledged and emphasized. Nevertheless, there are differences. Clearly, the Lutheran view turns on the identification of the image of God with “original righteousness,” an equation that is further substantiated, for example, in Melanchthon’s Loci communes (first published in 1521), as also by his apology of the Augsburg Confession (art. 2), which is also consistent with the Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration art. 1).79

If the image is defined as moral rectitude before God, the Reformed agree that this has been lost. Both traditions insist that the law is natural to humankind, while the gospel is a foreign announcement from heaven. Both reject the Roman Catholic view of original righteousness as a supernatural gift or mere neutrality and are equally wary of Eastern Orthodoxy’s “ontological realism.” “The emphasis here, of course,” writes G. C. Berkouwer, “is quite different from that in Lutheran or Reformed theology,” which necessarily affects the extent to which one acknowledges the corruption of sin.80 “Thus the image of God,” for Eastern Orthodoxy as opposed to Lutheran and Reformed orthodoxy, “is both ontic and actual, and it is viewed in a manner which relates it closely to a semi-Pelagian view of man’s will.”81 Nevertheless, Lutheran theology teaches that the image of God was lost in the fall, while Reformed theology teaches that it remains, albeit marred, disfigured, and corrupted in every way. Or at least this is a common contrast that is drawn, usually on the Reformed side.

However, in this case differences may be more semantic than substantial. For example, the main author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, writes that “after the fall, man lost this glorious image of God.”82 Yet he hastens to add, “There were, however, some remains and sparks of the image of God still left in man, after his fall, and which even yet continue in those who are unregenerated,” which include the rational soul and will, knowledge of the arts and sciences, “traces and remains” of “civic virtue,” “the enjoyment of many temporal blessings,” and some measure of stewardship rather than tyranny over other creatures. Yet the gifts that belonged specifically to the image—namely, true knowledge of God, delight in him and his commands, a genuine stewardship over creation and the hope of everlasting life — are lost. In Christ the image is restored. “And the Holy Ghost carries forward and completes what is begun by the Word and the use of the Sacraments.”83

On the Lutheran side, J. T. Mueller explains, “Therefore we declare on the basis of Scripture that man through the Fall has entirely lost the image of God in its proper sense, that is, his concreate [created] wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, so that his intellect now is veiled in spiritual darkness, 1 Cor. 2:14 and his will is opposed to God, Rom. 8:7.”84

So what about James 3:9 and Genesis 9:6, where even unbelievers are apparently identified as image bearers?

Luther and other dogmaticians (Philippi, Hofmann) explain them as describing man as he was originally and as he should again become through faith in Christ Jesus (restoration of the divine image through regeneration). Melanchthon, Baier, Quenstedt, and others regard [these passages] as teaching a divine image in a wider sense, namely, inasmuch as man, even after the Fall, is still an intelligent, self-determining rational being, who even now, though feebly, rules over the creatures of God.85

Although Mueller prefers the narrower definition, he acknowledges that the broader is not, properly speaking, contradictory. It seems that this is precisely where the Reformed tradition stands. Berkouwer cites Johann Gerhard’s proposal: “If the image could be thought of as man’s essence, as will and intellect, then indeed it was not lost; but, he argues, if we think of it supernaturally, as righteousness and holiness, then the image is radically and totally lost: the restoration of the image in Christ presupposes that it has been lost. But Gerhard then unexpectedly adds that there are indeed ‘remnants’ (reliquiae) of the image even in fallen man.”86

Therefore, the difference in expression turns out to be semantic. Where Lutherans commonly refer to the image in the narrow sense of moral integrity (which the Reformed agree has been lost), Reformed theology commonly refers to the image in the wider sense (which Lutherans agree has not been lost). The important point is the affirmation that all human beings, even after the fall, are God’s image-bearers. Coming into the world as relational beings, they are already members of a covenant community: the covenant of creation, “in Adam.” Their status apart from being “in Christ” is not that of nonperson or nonbearer of the divine image, but that of false witness and representative. They have lost not the natural image but the moral ability to fulfill its destiny. They remain prophets, priests, and kings, but have abused their office and are born into the world in a state of high treason. It is an indelible status, commission, and office, and, unlike the elected official who is caught with his or her hand in the till, no person is relieved of that office. Instead, this office (image) witnesses against each of us, even as it also demands respect for all human life regardless of one’s relation to God in Christ. Only in Christ do we realize the salvation and the goal of our personhood by the gospel, but the law that binds us to our neighbors and cobearers of God’s image obliges us to treat them as persons.


So soon after the fall God was ready with the announcement of the merciful salvation that he had already planned in eternity. Instead of confirming Adam, Eve, and the whole human race in everlasting death, God promised the triumph of the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. Although they could not cover their guilt, God “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Ge 3:21). Already we have intimations of the “Lamb of God” who will bear our sins and clothe us in his righteousness (Jn 1:29). I have referred to Vos’s point that “eschatology antedates redemption"87. Creation was but the origin. The destination was the Tree of Life, with humanity confirmed in everlasting glory, immortality, and righteousness. “That door, however, was never opened,” notes Kline.

It was not the Fall in itself that delayed the consummation. According to the conditions of the covenant of creation the prospective consummation was either/or. It was either eternal glory by covenantal confirmation of original righteousness or eternal perdition by covenant-breaking repudiation of it. The Fall, therefore, might have been followed at once by a consummation of the curse of the covenant. The delay was due rather to the principle and purpose of divine compassion by which a new way of arriving at the consummation was introduced, the way of redemptive covenant with common grace as its historical corollary.88

Mercifully, God delayed the consummation, which would have left humanity—indeed, the whole creation — under the everlasting sentence of death and judgment. In this delay, God opened up a space for his own saving action of promise and fulfillment. And because of this stay of execution, “the promise of entering his rest still stands” (Heb 4:1).

The scene does not end there, however, nor does the great trial of the covenant. But for now in the story, we pick up with humanity barred from Paradise, tilling the soil “east of Eden.” Already in the following chapter we are introduced to Cain’s fratricide of Abel over the former’s jealousy that his brother’s animal sacrifice was accepted by God while “for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Ge 4:5). As a prelude to this story, Eve announces with Cain’s birth, “I have gotten a/the man with the help of the LORD” (v. 1). Without a definite article in the ancient text, we are especially dependent on the context. In light of the unfolding narrative, it makes sense to conclude that Eve is exclaiming that she has brought forth the offspring (“the man”) who has been promised to her—the one who will crush the serpent’s head and lift the bondage of the curse.

If Eve had assumed that she had given birth to the messiah, she would eventually learn that her firstborn son was instead the first recorded murderer in the Bible. Yet even after the crime, God protects Cain and allows him to build a city and to produce descendants who eventually distinguish themselves as leaders in various cultural endeavors. Just at the point where this genealogy of Cain and the erection of his proud city is recounted (vv. 17 – 24), we read, by contrast, that another child was born to Adam and Eve. Eve “called his name Seth [appoint], for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD” (vv. 25 – 26). From this point on, two cities rise in history: the one identified by violence, oppression, injustice, sin, and pride — as well as, let it be noted, cultural and technological advance; the other identified by that last sentence announcing Enosh’s birth: “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” The obvious covenant language of invoking the name — and not just any name, but the name, is striking, even if the specific name Yahweh was not given until much later.

The ensuing biblical narrative does not attempt to produce either a comprehensive chronology or a comprehensive genealogy but rather hits the highlights of redemptive history between Adam and Abraham. Noah is represented as a descendant of Seth, and his family, too, branches out into various nations that will figure prominently in Israel’s history. At least one of the points in the narrative is that the promise is always threatened, always hanging by a thread. Disobedience marks the human race at every turn, and just when it seems that there is no one left who will be God’s faithful covenant servant, God’s grace prevails and a new candidate appears. Intermarriage between the two “cities” threatens to weaken the line of covenant succession to the vanishing point, and the inhabitants of Babel, the successor to Cain’s proud city, raise a tower “with its top in the heavens” in order to establish a name for themselves in history by consolidating a centralized empire in the region. By decentralizing the power, wealth, population, and technology through linguistic differentiation, instead of destroying the city, God restrained the devastating potential of evil. All of this is meant to introduce us to the line of Noah, Shem, and Terah, father of Abram.


So decisive is the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 that it initiates the history of Israel and renders all that has preceded it a mere prologue to that story. In fact, Bavinck goes so far as to conclude that special revelation begins with the call of Abraham.89 Redemptive history begins now to move swiftly toward the Messiah, first by type and shadow and then, in the fullness of time, in reality.90 The prophets, psalmists, Jesus, and the apostles “all teach us unanimously and clearly that the content of the divine revelation does not consist primarily in the unity of God, in the moral law, in circumcision, in the Sabbath, in short, in the law, but appears primarily and principally in the promise, in the covenant of grace, and in the gospel.”

Not law, but gospel, is in the Old and the New Testament alike the core of the divine revelation, the essence of religion, the sum total of the Holy Scriptures. Every other view fails to do justice to special revelation, effaces its difference from general revelation, degrades the Old Testament, rends apart the two economies of the same covenant of grace, and even gradually changes the gospel of the New Covenant into a law, and makes of Christ a second Moses … The law thus is temporal, transitory, a means in the service of the promise, but the promise is eternal; it had its beginning in paradise, was preserved and developed by revelation in the days of the Old Covenant, received its fulfillment in Christ, and is now extended to the whole human race and all the peoples.91

We cannot find this gospel in nature, creation, reason, or conscience: “It is an historical product; the initiative came from God; he so reveals himself as, by the act of revelation, to receive a particular person and people into communion with himself.”92 The law was never confused with the promise nor did it replace it. God’s covenant with Abraham was a gracious promise, so that even the moral law that attended it “was not a law of the covenant of works, but a law of the covenant of grace, a law of the covenant, a law of gratitude.”93 Jewish scholar Jon Levenson rightly sees the theme of the sacrifice of the firstborn as the heart of the Christian message: “The story of the humiliation and exaltation of the beloved son reverberates throughout the Bible because it is the story of the people about whom and to whom it is told. It is the story of Israel the beloved son, the first-born of God “ (emphasis added).94

Although Israel inherited the land by a gracious promise that God made to Abraham, the covenant that Israel swears at Mount Sinai is the condition for remaining in the land. The Sinai covenant points forward to Christ and his saving work, but the terms of this covenant (e.g., Dt 7:12 – 14) are far from the unilateral oath that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15. Just as Israel has been brought out of the “darkness and void” of Egyptian bondage, so now she is to occupy the land as a new Adam under probation in anticipation of consummation. Israel’s history is a trial within the larger trial of humanity.

Especially in the prophets, creation language is employed for Israel, and the fall of Israel, leading to exile, draws on the imagery of Genesis 3. Streams have become a desert; flourishing fields have become a haven for jackals. The land flowing with milk and honey surrenders to thorns and weeds. Only on the basis of the promised Messiah is there hope of a new creation. Throughout Israel’s history, then, the themes of sonship and servant, God’s unilateral oath of a Messiah and Israel’s oath at Sinai (“We will do all these things!”) appear side by side. Even in times of Israel’s unfaithfulness to her oath at Sinai, Yahweh suspends judgment for the sake of the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. 2Ki 13:23). Only God’s gracious promise keeps Israel’s history alive, moving toward its climax in Christ. In the prophets, the Sinai covenant is always the basis for the terrifying judgments, while hope for the new covenant of forgiveness and grace is always held out on the basis of the promise that God made to Abraham.95

Eventually, Israel was exiled, and this tragic event is described in terms that echo Adam’s fall. In Psalm 78 we are told the whole story in a nutshell: God was loyal, in spite of Israel’s repeated acts of treachery, but finally God’s representative was evicted. “They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them” (vv. 10 – 11). Repeatedly in this psalm we read that God put Israel on trial and that she not only failed but even “tested God” (vv. 18, 41, 56). Here the language of probation and trial echoes the original covenant with humanity in Adam. “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!” (v. 40), and yet God continued to preserve Israel “because of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (2Ki 13:23). In fact, Israel’s only hope appears to be the Davidic promise that ends the psalm:

[God] rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves. He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever. He chose his servant David and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. (vv. 67 — 71)

As Adam had been cast out of the garden, Israel was exiled by none other than Yahweh himself, the suzerain whose treaty had been reduced to shattered tablets by his covenant partner. “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6:7).

Before and after the exile, the prophets take their place as prosecutors of the covenant lawsuit. Yahweh announces to Jeremiah that he will “[give] this city [Jerusalem] into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire” (Jer 34:2). While God had commanded the jubilees—liberating slaves and “proclaiming liberty [to one another],” Judah had come to ignore this stipulation and perpetuated slavery.

Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, everyone to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts … (Jer 34:17 — 18)

We have seen this “cutting” ritual before, in Abram’s vision (Ge 15), but there God alone walks through the pieces, assuming upon his own head the curse sanctions. But now the focus is on the Sinai covenant, according to which Israel’s status in the land as God’s theocratic nation is determined. Now Israel will have to pass between the pieces, bearing God’s judgment.

When King Zedekiah of Judah inquired of Jeremiah whether he had received any word from the Lord, the prophet replied, “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon” (Jer 37:17). Further testimony to Israel’s own realization that she had become the faithless servant of the covenant may be found, for example, in the Second Temple literature (e.g., Wisdom 6:3 — 7).

Yet the prophets hold out the hope of a Sabbath rest yet remaining, even for those who have thoroughly violated God’s treaty. Delbert Hillers notes,

The Sinai covenant offered little grounds for optimism, but some hope could be garnered from the promise to Abraham. “When you are in distress and all these things have overtaken you, in the latter time, then you will return to Yahweh your god and hearken to his voice, for Yahweh your god is a merciful god who will not let you down or destroy you, and who will not forget the covenant with your fathers, that which he swore to them” ([Dt] 4:31).96

This is the good news that survives amid the tragic circumstances about to be inflicted, and it is wholly rooted in the Abrahamic-Davidic promise (Jer 33:14 — 22). It is an unconditional oath, a covenant that cannot be broken, issuing in a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Jeremiah prophesies, “The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Thus says the LORD: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken….” Notice especially the echo of the Abrahamic covenant in the last verse: While the Israelites will say that God has rejected his people, Yahweh promises yet again, “If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy upon them” (vv. 23 — 26).

Jeremiah 31 is particularly explicit in founding God’s promised future for his people on the Abrahamic-Davidic promise. The “new covenant” will be firm, “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers” at Sinai — “my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.” Rather, in this covenant God will write his law on their hearts; God will be their God, and they will be his people. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (vv. 31 — 34, emphasis added). Furthermore, it is not just restoration to a former condition that is promised, but a greater future and a wider hope, with Jerusalem rebuilt and enlarged (vv. 38 — 40). It will not be Paradise regained, but the consummation that had been forfeited by Adam’s and Israel’s disobedience.

But how will God be faithful to both covenants, to the law and the gospel? How will he be “just and the justifier” (Ro 3:26)? It will be by causing his own Son, the Last Adam and True Israel, to fulfill all righteousness and yet to pass through the judgment — cut off from the land of the living — for our sins, so that his righteousness becomes definitive for the solidarity of his new creation in and with him. Our focus now turns, therefore, from the dark night of human rebellion to this sunrise of the Messiah: the one who comes as Lord and Servant of the everlasting covenant.


  1. How does the Bible place the fall in the context of a cosmic trial, and how are the positive characteristics of the image of God corrupted by Adam’s disobedience?

  2. What is the covenantal context of human solidarity in Adam?

  3. Define and evaluate the doctrine of original sin. Is it a biblical doctrine, or is it merely an abstract theory imposed on the Scriptures?

  4. What do you make of the distinction between natural and moral ability? Does this help us understand the human condition, and if so, how?

  5. Has the image of God been entirely lost in the fall?

  6. How does Israel recapitulate Adam’s trial and its outcome?


From The Christ Faith: A Systematic Theollogy of Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton



1. Sigmund Freud’s unappointed successor in the field of psychoanalysis, Jacques Lacan, has written, “That tradition alone pursues to the end the task of revealing what is involved in the primitive crime of the primordial law” (“Seminar Lecture,” in The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader [ed. Graham Ward; trans. D. Porter; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997], 41).

2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1 -3 (ed. John W. de Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 66. 3. Ibid., 67.

3. Ibid., 67.

4. Ibid., 68.

5. Ibid.

6. Augustine, Confessions 7.15.22.

7. Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2001), 105.

8. Aldo Gargani, “Religious Experience,” in Religion (ed. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo; Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996), 132. See also his great Chekhov quote on 132 - 33.

9. Robert Jay Lifton, “The Protean Style,” in The Truth about the Truth: De-Confusing and Re-Constructing the Postmodern World (ed. Walter Truett Anderson; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995), 130 – 40.

10. Typical in this respect is John of Damascus, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” in NPNF2, vol. 9. Angelic nature “is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance” (19). Paradise: “Free from passion … free from care and to have but one work to perform, to sing as do the angels, without ceasing or intermission, the praises of the Creator, and to delight in contemplation of Him and to cast all our care on Him” (29). “The tree of life, on the other hand, was a tree having the energy that is the cause of life, or to be eaten only by those who deserve to live and are not subject to death” (ibid.). A similar view may be discerned today—for example, in Jean-Luc Marion’s suggestion that vanity and boredom are intrinsic to creation as such. See Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being (trans. Thomas A. Carlson; Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991), 122 — 32. However, in Ecclesiastes the Preacher attributes such “vanity” to life on this side of Eden, under the curse of sin and death — all of which he identifies by the phrase “under the sun.”

11. This approach also rejects the stance often taken in the last half-century to set the so-called “relational” against the “legal” category of the divine-human relationship. “Covenant” is an inherently legal relationship.

12. Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh; T&T Clark, 1994), 110. See also Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination (trans. David Pellauer; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), especially ch. 20; idem, Oneself as Another (trans. Kathleen Blamey; Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992).

13. John Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 41 - 42.

14. Ibid., 42.

15. Alexander Heidel, ed. and trans., The Babylonian Genesis (2nd ed.; Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1963), 14n9, taken from R. F. Harper, ed. and trans., The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, about 2250 B.C. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1904); see Bruno Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien (Heidelberg, 1925), 2:46.

16. David Novak, Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2000), 20.

17. Ibid., 25.

18. Ibid., 85.

19. Ibid., 86.

20. David Novak, Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Jewish Justification (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), 27. I concur with Novak’s assessment that Judaism and Christianity share a theocentric orientation against secularism that grounds human rights not in a social contract but in an original covenant God made with humanity in creation (140). This much-misunderstood “Judeo-Christian ethic” involves the following consensus: (1) humanity is created for covenant with God; (2) it is a practical relationship, “its content being response to commandments from God"; (3) humans are created social beings in covenant with each other, not simply isolated individuals; (4) ultimate human community lies in the future, in a “redemptive act by God, one as yet on the unattainable historical horizon.” “If one calls the morality grounded in these affirmations theonomous, then it should be contrasted with the two noncovenantal moral options available in history: autonomy and heteronomy. In making this essential contrast, Judaism and Christianity can discover together the present force of the anthropological border they share” (141 — 42). “Creation itself is in essence a commandment, a speech-act establishing a reality that is to be” (142). “Speech precedes sight in the divine order of creation,” and the human is a hearer first, someone commanded, not an autonomous moral legislator” (143). Vision follows hearing, and Eve got this in reverse (143 — 44). “Holiness (qedushah) is not part of the cosmic order.” Those in covenant with God are made holy by his address to them (154).

21. Osman bin Bakar, “Pluralism and the ‘People of the Book,’” in Religion and Security: The Nexus in International Relations (ed. Robert A. Seiple and Dennis R. Hoover; Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), 105, 108. Nevertheless, unlike Novak, bin Bakar exploits this universal dimension as a unifying religious factor among the “religions of the book.” I would argue that law, whether natural or revealed, is a unifying human factor, but that the gospel is the only unifying religious factor.

22. Confucius, as quoted in C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 2:561.

23. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.25, in ANF, vol. 1; cf. 5.16.3; 4.13.1; 4.15.1; 4.16.3; cf. Ligon Duncan, “The Covenant Idea in Irenaeus of Lyons,” a paper presented at the North American Patristics Society annual meeting, May 29, 1997 (Greenville, S.C.: Reformed Academic Press, 1998); Everett Ferguson, “The Covenant Idea in the Second Century,” in Texts and Testaments: Critical Essays on the Bible and the Early Church Fathers (ed. W. E. March; San Antonio: Trinity Univ. Press, 1980).

24. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, in NPNF2, 9:43.

25. Augustine, City of God (ed. David Knowles; trans. Henry Bettenson; New York: Penguin, 1972), 16.28 (pp. 688 - 89). In fact, Augustine elaborates this point in considerable detail in these two pages, contrasting the creation covenant with the covenant of grace as we find it in the promise to Abraham.

26. For a definitive survey, see J. T. McNeill, “Natural Law in the Teaching of the Reformers,” Journal of Religion 26 (1946): 168 - 82. Cf. Philipp Melanchton, Loci communes (first pub lished in 1521), chapter 7.

27. Calvin, Institutes 2.8.1.

28. Ibid., 2.2.22.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid., 2.2.13, 15.

31. See Byron Curtis, “Hos 6:7 and Covenant-Breaking like/as Adam,” in The Law Is Not of Faith (ed. B. Estelle, J. Fesko, D. VanDrunen; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2009), 170 — 209.

32. While this parallel is drawn by a number of writers, it is given a thorough description and analysis in Herman Wit- sius (1636 -1708), The Economy of the Covenants (Escondido, Calif.: The den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990). For a more contemporary summary, see Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946): “Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant ["belongs to,” not “is equivalent to"], it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and land prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said ‘Do this and live.’ Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the covenant of works” (117 - 22).

33. Peter van Mastricht, as quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics (ed. Ernst Bizer; London: Allen & Unwin, 1950), 290: “To very many heads of the Christian religion, e.g., the propagation of original corruption, the satisfaction of Christ and his subjection to divine law Rom. 8.3 — 4 (what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit) Gal. 3:13 (Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…), we can scarcely give suitable satisfaction, if the covenant of works be denied.” For further exegetical arguments from Mastricht, see additional citations in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 289 — 90.

34. John Murray denied the covenant of works because he presupposed that a divine covenant must always be gracious. However, he did refer to “the Adamic administration.” See John Murray, “The Adamic Administration,” in The Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977). Nevertheless, Robert Reymond properly replies, “But Murray fails to make clear what the ‘Adamic administration’ is an administration of” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Nelson, 1988], 405).

35. Delbert Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1969), 153.

36. Hillers, Covenant, 153.

37. Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 295.

38. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Lig uori, Mo.: Liguori Publications, 1994), “The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self- assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason” (96). In the fall, this original justice “is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered…” (100). However, “…human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin — an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence’” (102).

39. Augustine: Confessions and Enchiridion (ed. and trans. Albert C. Outler; Philadelphia: Westminster, n.d.), 225 — 26; cf. Thomas Aquinas, Of God and His Creatures: An Annotated Translation of Summa Contra Gentiles (trans. Joseph Rickaby; Westminster, Md.: Carroll Press, 1950), 379.

40. Calvin, Institutes 2.1.9.

41. The fourth gospel once again especially underscores the “fulfilling of all righteousness” that is central to Jesus’ mission. Jesus himself uses the language of a victorious second Adam, an obedient and loyal covenant servant, who has “come … not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38), who always does what his Father says and who can say at the end of his obedient probation, “I … [have] accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4). The hauntingly familiar words from the cross, “It is finished,” take on fresh significance in its light, as does the rending of the temple curtain, through which humanity is now invited to enter into the Sabbath land and eat from the Tree of Life. In fact, the statement immediately preceding the last cry from the cross is, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst’” (Jn 19:28).

42. Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma (trans. Neil Buchanan; Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1899), 5:217.

43. Harnack helped to create Kaiser Wilhelm’s “Deutschland über alles” war policy: one of the reasons for Barth’s revulsion toward his liberal mentors.

44. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), 241.

45. Immanuel Kant, “Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason,” in Religion and Rational Theology (ed. and trans. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni; Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), 148, 150; Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred, 84 – 86.

46. Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 579.

47. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 98: “The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ. The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (emphasis original).

48. Karl Barth, Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5 (New York: Harper and Bros., 1957), 36.

49. Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, in Works of Jonathan Edwards (2 vols.; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979), 2:555.

50. Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:216 — 27.

51. Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), 2:150.

52. Ibid., 2:355.

53. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Augustine and the Limits of Politics (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1995); cf. the interview with Elshtain by Ken Myers in Mars Hill Audio Journal 64 (September/October 2003).

54. Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (trans. Margaret Kohl; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 50.

55. Ibid.

56. Jenson, Systematic Theology, 2:133.

57. Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief (2nd ed.; Munich: Chr. Kaiser,1922), 20; quoted in Jenson, Systematic Theology, 2:136.

58. Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man (trans. Douglas Horton; London: Peter Smith, 1958), 14 - 16.

59. Jenson, Systematic Theology, 2:137.

60. Ibid., 2:246.

61. Ibid., 2:247.

62. Ibid.

63. Ibid., 2:249

64. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 79.

65. Marjorie Suchocki, The Fall to Violence, as quoted in Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 147.

66. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 80.

67. Ibid., 84.

68. Ibid., 90 - 91.

69. Ibid., 153.

70 I might add to my earlier citations the following from Jenson: “We are counterparts of God as we believe in the Resurrection, and so in the homoousia of Jesus and his Father” (Systematic Theology, 2:72). As with John Zizioulas and similar suggestions along these lines, the logic here leads to restrictive, if not dangerous, anthropological conclusions. We must distinguish between the goal of humanity and its fact.

71. He concurs with Aristotle’s reference to humankind as a “microcosm” because “he is a rare example of God’s power, goodness, and wisdom, and contains within himself enoughmiracles to occupy our minds, if only we are not irked at paying attention to them” (1.5.3). He praises “the human body” as “ingenious” (1.5.2). Yet in all this, humanity is “struck blind in such a dazzling theater…” (1.5.8). When we catch a glimpse of the “burning lamps” shining for us in God’s works, including ourselves, we smother their light (1.5.14). The dialectic here moves between the exquisite character of nature and the equally unfathomable ruin of that nature to which humans are inclined.

72. Calvin, Institutes 1.14.3.

73. Ibid., 1.15.1.

74. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 216 —17.

75. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 246 - 47.

76. John Zizioulas, Being as Communion (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 51.

77. Colin Gunton, “Trinity, Ontology and Anthropology” in Persons Divine and Human (ed. Christoph Schwöbel and Colin Gunton; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 58.

78. Ibid., 58-59.

79. Philipp Melanchthon, Loci communes 1543 (trans. J. A. O. Preus; St. Louis: Concordia, 1992), 48. The Lutheran position is formally embodied in the following statement from the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration article 1: “Furthermore, that origi nal sin is the complete lack or absence of the original concreated righteousness of paradise or of the image of God according to which man was originally created in truth, holiness, and righteousness, together with a disability and ineptitude as far as the things of God are concerned” (The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959], 510). Similarly, the apology of the Augsburg Confession (art. 2) declares, “What else is this [image of God] than that a wisdom and righteousness was implanted in man that would grasp God and reflect him, that is, that man received gifts like the knowledge of God, fear of God, and trust in God?” (Book of Concord, 102).

80. G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 50.

81. Ibid.

82. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (trans. G. W. Williard; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, n.d.; reproduced from second American edition, 1852), 32.

83. Ibid., 32 - 33.

84. John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia, 1934), 207.

85. Ibid.

86. Berkouwer, Man, 46 - 47.

87. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: 88. Ibid. Eerdmans, 1961), 325.

88. Ibid.

89. Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1909; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 188.

90. Ibid., 191

91. Ibid., 192—93.

92. Ibid.

93. Ibid., 197.

94. Jon Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1993), 67; quoted in William C. Placher, “Rethinking Atonement,” Interpretation 53, no. 1 (January 1999): 11.

95. Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (trans. J. A. Baker; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 1:26 – 27.

96. Hillers, Covenant, 154 - 55. The quoted passage includes Dt 4:30 as well as v. 31.

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