How Did Man Change When Adam Fell?

The Expulsion from Eden by Ford Madox Brown (Public Domain)

The Expulsion from Eden by Ford Madox Brown (Public Domain)

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.

Philip Melancthon (Public Domain)

Philip Melancthon (Public Domain)

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.).

The Fall of Man by Paul Hughes

“The Fall of Man” by Paul Hughes from “Christ within You!” ©1993, 2008

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

"Spiritually Dead" by Paul Hughes from "Christ within You!" ©1993, 2008

“Spiritually Dead” by Paul Hughes from “Christ within You!” ©1993, 2008

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.


  1. See Dr. John Taylor, quoted in Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, ed. Clyde A. Holbrook (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 189.
  2.  See Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, rev. by Vernon D. Doerksen (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 114.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Edwards, Original Sin, p. 192.
  6. Ibid., p. viii.
  7. Manschreck, Melanchthon, p. 45.
  8. Calvin, Genesis, p. 127.
  9. See Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), pp. 239, 257.
  10. Nichols, Arminius, p. 524.
  11. See Edwards, Freedom, pp. 239, 257.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.


3 Comments on “How Did Man Change When Adam Fell?”

  1. Casey Ferguson says:

    Interesting read. You come to a different conclusion than I do. What changed about man in the garden, I believe, was a corruption of a will that had been free initially. Because Adam was free in his first sin, it was thereby an attempt on his part to become like God, putting him at enmity with God. The reason God’s grace is so profound is because he does the work of saving the people that actively turned against him.
    Saying there was a disconnect between man and God’s spirit does not fully explain the post-fall relationship between God and man.
    The popular way to discredit Calvinism is to compare free will to a robotic will. I think a better comparison is between free will and enslaved will. Take for example an alcoholic: I could sit at the table with someone with a drinking problem, a glass of alcohol in front of us both. If I was able to leave the glass untouched and he was not, you would not call me a person and him a robot. You would say, instead, that I have a level of control over my actions toward the glass that he does not.
    In the same way, Calvinism says that Christians have a level of control in their actions toward sin that the rest of the world does not. From where does this will come? The Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of a Christian, I would argue, restores what was lost in the garden, enabling man to make decisions that please God. Romans 8

    • biblequestion says:

      If there were not a “disconnect” between man and the Holy Spirit, there would be no need for Spirit Baptism at Pentecost and thereafter, which is the eschatological earnest of the coming fullness of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is both a restoration and a fulfillment of God’s original intent in Creation. The Spirit is that which “quickens” those previously “dead in trespasses and sins” and makes them “alive to Christ.”

      In your metaphor of the alcohol and the alcoholic, that man might have forfeited his free will through degradation, but initially he made the choice to drink the first drink, and then many choices thereafter. If he has truly reached the point of lacking self-will to abstain (with which I might quibble), then truly he needs the action and empowerment of the Holy Spirit to overcome the sins of the flesh.

    • Casey Ferguson says:

      First of all, thanks for responding. These discussions are so crucial to have in the church today.

      Now, you mention the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a means for God to fulfill his original intent with creation. I would argue that his intent for creation was and is to be glorified by his creation. Because of this, the Holy Spirit does glorify him by making himself known to his children and expressing his holiness to the world. Concerning the eschatology, I believe that Adam was perfect, had free will, and therefore needed no grace from God, and therefore did not rely on the holy spirit in order to live righteously. Adam’s sin was therefore a deliberate mutiny against God, pitting him and all his children against God. For millennia after, God established the law as a guardian for his people as a means of guiding righteous living, but salvation did not happen without faith in God’s promise to Abraham of the messiah, the seed of Adam that would redeem mankind. Jesus came and established his kingdom through his crucifixion, coming back to his disciples and telling them all things were in subjection to him so they should preach the gospel, or announce the changing of rulers mentioned in Daniel (Mt. 28:17, Dan. 2:44-45). Therefore, I interpret the Holy Spirit as the means by which God makes clear that the creation is being put into subjection by its established and rightful king. I don’t see it as a return, as if Adam was plan a and Christ was plan b, but instead an ultimate glorification of God as sovereign creator.

      How do you interpret Romans 8:1-8?
      1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
      2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
      3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
      4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
      5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
      6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
      7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
      8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:1-8

      To me, it seems clear that there is a clear distinction between those who have the spirit, the purpose of which is that they may fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, not restoring the creation to its former glory but instead redeeming it and surpassing its former glory (Rom. 8:18-23).

      And I’d like to reiterate that in Romans 8:8, we read that anyone living in the flesh, not of the spirit, is not able to act in a manner that pleases God.

      In summary, I believe that scripture makes clear that the purpose of creation is and always has been the glorification of God through the redemption of his creation which exhibits his great unbelievable and unmerited grace. That being the case, we’re closer historically to this glorious end now than we ever have been, and this includes the age of Adam, when grace was not needed and therefore not present, and the days of the law before the reconciliation between man and God had been accomplished on the cross.

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