How Did Man Change When Adam Fell?Posted: June 14, 2011
On the sixth day of Creation, God created man. When He had created both man and woman, had given them dominion over all the animals and provided all plant life to be their food, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
If this wording is significant, then “it was very good” implies that God created man perfect—without any fault, weakness, or evil tendency. God, who is all-powerful, omnipresent, and all-knowing, is also of perfect intelligence and ability, and utterly holy in thought and intention. Then how could his Creation, generated from the very nature of his being, be anything less than perfect?
Still, Adam fell. How could this perfect creature, possessed with great intelligence and a yet unduplicated knowledge of God and intimacy of relationship with Him, act in willful and deliberate disobedience to Him? Was he, as has been conjectured, unaware of the magnitude of his crime and its effect upon the future of his race?1 (But a sin of ignorance would have been forgiven.) Or was his sin due to some inherent fault or oversight on the part of his Creator? If man was thereafter in need of redemption—as he is now—in what way did man, in falling from grace, change?
Two theologians have shaped the theology of the Fall of Man more profoundly than any others. John Calvin (1509-1564) upheld the sovereignty of God in an absolute foreknowledge of future events. Man’s actions, likewise, were absolutely predestined. Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), however, while maintaining God’s foreknowledge, nevertheless emphasized man’s free will. The opinions of these distinguished theological rivals, along with other influential scholars, will be considered in this discussion.
Adam’s Initial State
In the Genesis account, the creation of man is said to have taken place on the sixth day (or “day-age”)2 of Creation—which, along with God’s formal bestowal upon man of authoritative (or intellectual) dominion over the animal kingdom, was the crowning glory of God’s handiwork. Since God, as if in formal celebration, “rested” on the seventh day, it would seem that man represented the completion, even the acme, of his Creation. And since God placed all the earth under man, one might assume that man was created both spiritually and functionally superior to all other terrestrial beings.
God created man, says Scripture, in his image (Genesis 1:26). It is generally agreed among scholars that this does not refer to man’s physical endowments, for God is not physical, but spiritual (see John 4:24).
Calvin discusses this in his commentary on Genesis: Aristotle pictured an intellectual man (“three faculties of the soul . . . the intellect, the memory, and the will”); Augustine had speculated on a spiritual trinity in man corresponding, perhaps in type, to the Trinity. Still, Calvin goes on to suggest a moral likeness in which “perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and molded for due obedience to reason.”3
That man was created in God’s image implies an ideal initial moral state. Calvin upholds this ideal state of Adam.4 On the other hand, Jonathan Edwards—an 18th-century American Puritan in many ways “more Calvinistic” than Calvin—considered that from the beginning, man had an “internal fixed propensity” to sin.5 Man’s tendency is to “sin immediately, as soon as [he is] capable of it, and to sin continually and progressively.”6 Man is inherently evil, and it was only a matter of time before Adam sinned. In this initial state, however, Adam was able to stand in the presence of God (Genesis 2:19; 3:8f.), evidently without need of justification. The very fact that he had not yet eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil implies his innocent nature. Unaware of the difference between good and evil, he literally did not know how to sin!
The Question of the Will
Herein lies the paradox. Adam sinned; but how could he, were he perfect? It must come down to a question of free will. Would God be glorified had He created a race of robots, creatures who worshipped and served Him, without interruption or error, by design and by necessity? Certainly not, for as one can see in this present world, true worship takes place when willful and self-concerned man, in an act of recognition of God’s total sovereignty and his own utter dependence on God—as well as his great inferiority and unholiness before Him—subordinates his human will to the Divine. Even the angels were given a free will, to obey God or to rebel with Satan. Man was created with such a free will and given but one area in which to make a choice: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Did God, when He created Adam, know he would make the wrong choice? Martin Luther’s literary colleague, Philip Melanchthon, considered that God would in no way tempt man.7 Calvin, on the other hand, went so far as to say that the Fall was engineered by God “in order that [man] might perceive the life of man without God to be wretched and lost, and therefore differing nothing from death.”8 Edwards would support the idea of a predetermined Fall, saying that God knows with certainty what any individual will do in any given situation, at any given time.9 The Fall, then, was planned ahead of time, and God knew that man would fall.
Arminius would beg to differ. He saw man as a free moral agent with “freedom from the control or jurisdiction of one who commands, and from an obligation to render obedience,” and “from necessity, whether this proceeds from an external cause compelling, or from a nature inwardly determining absolutely to one thing.”10 By his formulation, Adam could have continued forever in innocence, had he continually chosen to obey. Then the Fall must have been an act of willful disobedience, not necessarily due to an inherent fault or a predetermined Fall. This view agrees most readily with the tenor of Scripture and the character of the God revealed therein.
The Change in Man
Once man had sinned, his nature somehow changed, for Adam and Eve suddenly saw shame in their nakedness (Genesis 3:7), and God saw the necessity of driving them from the Garden, “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live for ever” in his reprobate condition (Genesis 3:22ff.).
So what is it in man that changed? Edwards would succinctly state that nothing had changed; man’s Fall was a matter of course, predetermined, and a product of man’s nature as created.11 But Calvin recognized that man, having sinned, was cursed with spiritual death. He was cut off from God’s presence; which before had engendered, by its overwhelming qualities of goodness, holiness, and purity, corresponding qualities in the human nature.12
But it is Melanchthon who cuts to the heart of the matter:
In the creation God placed a light in man, through which we might and should acknowledge him. With it we may still clearly know that he particularly loves us, and that we should be his eternal Church, that he desires particularly to be active in us in a way in which he is not active in irrational animals. . . .
In the Fall man’s powers were all impaired. The understanding was greatly weakened, and became full of doubt about God and unable to know things as Adam knew them before the Fall.
And just as the Holy Spirit before the Fall activated a burning love and joy toward God in the will and heart . . . when the Holy Spirit was removed, false flames and pernicious sores grew in the will and heart.”13
It was the Holy Spirit, Melanchthon maintained, that made the difference. It was the indwelling Spirit that kept him in touch with his God and enabled him to attain to holiness. When he rebelled, the Spirit was withdrawn, and mankind was laid bare before the basest part of his human nature and made helpless to the wiles of Satan.
But with Christ has come “the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19). Those who have received the gift of the Spirit have been restored to fellowship with God. Their spirits have been quickened, made alive again, by God’s Spirit (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13, 1 Peter 3:18). The Holy Spirit bears them witness that they are sons of God (Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6). He helps their infirmities, expressing their prayers “with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26)—and so much more.
We no longer enjoy the comforts and carelessness of Edenic existence. In many ways we remain “fallen man.” But through the Holy Spirit we gain back some of what we have lost; and best of all, we are restored to loving fellowship with God, the Father of all.
- See Dr. John Taylor, quoted in Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, ed. Clyde A. Holbrook (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 189.
- See Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, rev. by Vernon D. Doerksen (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 114.
- See John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), pp. 93-95; see also C. I. Scofield et al., The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), Genesis 1:26, note; and Thiessen, p. 154; cf. Clyde L. Manschreck, ed., Melanchthon on Christian Doctrine: Loci Communes 1555 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), pp. 71,72.
- See Calvin, Genesis, p. 127; see also James Nichols, ed., The Writings of James Arminius, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 525.
- Edwards, Original Sin, p. 192.
- Ibid., p. viii.
- Manschreck, Melanchthon, p. 45.
- Calvin, Genesis, p. 127.
- See Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), pp. 239, 257.
- Nichols, Arminius, p. 524.
- See Edwards, Freedom, pp. 239, 257.
- See Calvin, Genesis, p. 127; and Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), pp. 67-83.
- Manschreck, pp. 73,74.
© 2010 Paul A. Hughes. Originally submitted to Dr. J. Dalton Utsey, Southwestern Assemblies of God University. Previously published in Paraclete 23 (Fall 1989):20-23.