August 16, 2017

THE LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF GENESIS 3 (Part 2)

John Mincy

Part 1 ♦ This is Part 2 ♦ Part 3

Part 1 deals with the literal interpretation of Genesis 3 based on data from the text itself and from cross references in the Old Testament.

GENESIS 3 AND THE NEW TESTAMENT

Conservative scholars consider the confirmation of the New Testament to be the strongest evidence for the literal interpretation of Genesis 3. The testimony of the Son of God, “Adam in reverse,” to the historicity of the Fall narrative is recorded in John 8:44 where Jesus is speaking in reference to a real historical spiritual condition. These Pharisees were actually children of the Devil. They were so because of an act which took place in the ancient Garden. The Master Teacher here uses two real events of the Garden, the lie and God’s sentence of death, as points in His judgment of the Pharisees. In the context (8:56) Jesus uses the events of Abraham’s life just as he does the events of the life of Adam, and He give no hint that Genesis 3 should be interpreted any other way than literally.

The Lord used the veracity of early events to establish proper doctrine. In Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8, He bases His attitude about the question of divorce upon the original intention of the Creator. Jesus, like the prophets, also used the actuality of early Genesis events to warn of actual future events (Matt. 24:37). Jesus treated the early narratives as history, not because He was a child of His time, but because that is the way the Old Testament interpreted them. He was more a student of the Old Testament than one of contemporary theology.

The Apostle Paul was saturated with the content of the Old Testament, especially early Genesis. He bases his doctrine of womanhood upon the Creation and Fall narratives of Moses. In the first place God created the woman from the man and for the man (I Cor. 11:8-9). Second, woman herself added to her subjection by misusing her position and thus being deceived by Satan (I Tim. 2:11-15). Paul’s doctrine of womanhood necessitates that God created an actual man and woman at the beginning and that the woman was deceived and fell into transgression.

Alexander Whyte writes, “Adam and Jesus Christ, to Paul’s heaven-soaring eye, stand out before God with all other men ‘hanging at their girdles’” (Bible Characters, p. 19). In Romans 5:1-11 Paul teaches that salvation for sinners is accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ, “through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (5:11b). A question that naturally comes to mind is, “How can it be that one Man’s work can do so much?” Paul answers in verse 13, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” Paul does not here finish the comparison. It is obvious, however, that he is saying that just as through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, so also through one Man (Christ) the many receive the reconciliation. It is not until verse 18 that Paul finishes his comparison. Verses 13-17 are parenthetical and are designed to enforce the comparison.

In most modern commentaries the favorite explanation for Paul’s use of the Fall of Adam is that Paul recognizes that Adam is a picture of every man. The important matter is not that the first man let sin in but that each of us does the same thing that “Adam” did. No one has applied the Adamic symbol more literally to each man than does Reinhold Niebuhr (see The Nature and Destiny of Man). This spokesman for the existential new orthodoxy takes the symbols of the Bible too seriously, so seriously, in fact, that there is no room for anything but symbolism. Only symbolism, in his system, can teach the relation between the finite and infinite. To Niebuhr the Garden constitutes a literal picture of everyone at any given historical moment of his life. Man has therefore original righteousness. Man has the freedom to choose the good. He is not dead in trespasses and sin. Since man is not by nature a sinner nor is he in a state of sin, he has no need of a blood atonement. Niebuhr has no need or room in his theology for the blood-stained cross of Jesus nor for the bodily resurrection of the Son of the Virgin. Existential man needs only the heart impression that the infinite One has broken through to the finite by the symbol of the Cross. Niebuhr, as any theologian who denies the Fall, makes a complete break with the Biblical doctrine of evil. It is clear, then, that such a theologian is more concerned about preserving his philosophic presuppositions than about preserving the integrity of Jesus and the Bible.

Assuming that Paul is writing infallible Scripture, the literal interpreter finds three points in Paul’s argument of Romans 5:12-21 which demand a literal Fall. First, he teaches a causal relationship between Adam’s sin and man’s sin. The emphasis throughout this paragraph is that “one” has done something which affects “the many” or “all.” In verse 12 the point is that all die because all sinned. In verses 13-14 the point is that all die because one sinned. Paul is not contradicting himself, but, to the contrary, is demonstrating the solidarity of the race and Adam. Somehow when Adam sinned, all sinned. Paul does not explain all the details, but he makes it very clear that there is a causal relationship between Adam’s sin and the sin of the race.

Second, Paul teaches a causal relationship between Adam’s sin and man’s death. He says in verse 12 that sin entered into the race through Adam and that death came in by that sin. In verse 14 he says that death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned against Law. They died, in other words, because of the sin of the one man in the Garden. In verse 15 he states that through the one offense the many died (aorist). In verse 16 he writes that the judgment (of all) unto condemnation is a result of one (offense). In verse 17 he writes that by the one offense death reigned (upon all). And likewise in verse 18, condemnation rests upon all men because of the offense. The emphasis in these verses is not that the first man was a sinner and thus all who come after are sinners and therefore die, but that there was one offense by the one man Adam which caused all to be under the reign of death. The sin of the Garden, according to Paul, is an adequate explanation for the phenomenon of death, and is in fact the only explanation in some cases.

Paul’s third point which demands a literal Adam is the close relationship between Adam and Jesus Christ: Adam is “the figure [type] of Him [Christ] that was to come” (5:14c). That the type requires the historicity of the person, event, or institution, is agreed by all men who regard the Bible as an objective revelation of God. For the Apostle Paul, then, the first man Adam who transgressed in the Garden of Genesis 3 was a historical person who corresponded in some way to the Second Man, Jesus Christ. For Paul, Adam was a historical person “who was first created” and who was not deceived (I Tim. 2:14), for whom the woman was created (I Cor. 11:9), and in whom all sinned (Rom. 5:12), as well as a type of Jesus Christ.

It is fitting that the last Book of the Bible should bring together the beginning and the ending. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John the Apostle declares that the prophecy of the ancient Garden shall surely come to pass. In Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 John identifies the “dragon” as “the serpent of old who is called the Devil and Satan” The deceiver and slanderer of Genesis 3 is the same wicked personality who is the enemy of God and His people throughout the Bible. The deceiver in the Garden was just as real as the one who is deceiving men today and who will continue to deceive until his time of doom.

The final doom of the dragon is a major theme of the Apocalypse. He shall be “thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” and “be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10). This is the completion of the gracious curse that God spoke in the Garden of Genesis 3. John recognized his foe to be the ancient serpent, but he counted him a defeated foe on the basis of the historical curse of Genesis 3. In the midst of describing the final battle, he recalls the beginning of the battle in the Garden of old. The beloved Apostle goes on to reveal the Paradise of God in the vocabulary of the lost paradise of Genesis 3.


John Mincy holds an MA and PhD from Bob Jones University. He served as a missionary pastor in Singapore and is now pastor emeritus of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, California.

This article is an abstract of a significant dissertation of a doctoral candidate in the graduate school of Bob Jones University. First published in Biblical Viewpoint, Vol. VIII, No. 2, November 1974, pp. 145-153, by Bob Jones University. Used by permission.

Upon completion of Part 3, Proclaim & Defend plans to make the entire article available in pdf format for your reference.


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