Did God know that Adam would sin before He created him?
This week’s feedback is from ‘Andrew’ of South Australia, who did not agree with most of the points in a sermon by Russell Grigg which encapsulated many of the things Russell has written in various articles for Creation magazine. Andrew’s feedback is indented and in red. Russell’s comments are interspersed, in email fashion. Note that we don't regard ourselves as specialist theologians and would welcome reader comments re this complex area.
Dear Mr Grigg:
I listened today to a tape of your sermon ‘The Manuscript from Outer Space’. I gather that you hold the following to be true:
These statements do not add up.
- In Christ’s death and resurrection we see God doing what he’d planned from before the foundation of the Earth.
- By His death on the cross Christ paid in full for Man’s sin and rebellion against God.
- Sin came into the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit that was forbidden them.
You will recall that I said, ‘We will begin with the premise that God is the author of the Bible’ and the whole aim of the sermon was to discover what the Bible says on these topics. So first let me establish that the Bible does support these precepts. Consider:
1. In Christ’s death and resurrection we see God doing what He’d planned from before the foundation of the Earth.
‘ … you were not redeemed with corruptible things … but with the precious blood of Christ … He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world’. (1 Peter 1:18–20)
‘ … in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began’. (Titus 1:2)
‘ … according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’. (Ephesians 3:11)
‘ … the book of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’. (Revelation 13:8)
According to the principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture, these verses all point to the truth that Christ’s death and resurrection was eternally planned in the mind of God (by which I mean the Triune God, i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
J.L. Houlden (lecturer in New Testament Studies at King’s College, London) in his commentary on Ephesians points out that ‘from before the foundation of the Earth’ was a common Jewish religious idiom. He writes: ‘Contemporary Judaism [i.e. contemporary with the writing of Ephesians] commonly asserted the importance of vital elements in religion by speaking of their existence from all eternity (e.g. the law, God’s glorious throne, the name of the Messiah: they had been made before the world itself. Included in their number is not only Christ, who had been seen as pre-existent from the Church’s early days, but also the identity of the Church’s members. They as a community are one with Christ and equally part of God’s eternal purpose for the world.’
In other words, the expression ‘He was chosen from before the creation of the world’, which you make so much of may simply be an assertion of the vital importance of Christ and the Church in God’s purpose. Your assertion that ‘In Christ’s death and resurrection we see God doing what he’d planned from before the beginning of the world’ may be based entirely on a misunderstanding of a characteristically Jewish/Early Christian mode of expression.
As for ‘pointing to the truth that Christ’s death and resurrection were eternally planned’ it does nothing of the sort. These verses point to the truth that God has a saving purpose for the world which is achieved through Christ. That is all.
Let me ask you three questions.
- Did God know anything before He created the earth? I think your answer to this would be Yes. Mine too.
- What was it that God knew before He created the earth? It is true that Revelation 13:8 in the Greek can be read as referring to ‘the book written before the foundation of the world’, rather than as referring to the Lamb. However, this reading still means that God knew whose names would be in His book (or possibly whose names would not be in His book, which by difference amounts to the same result). That is, that God knew before the foundation of the world who would be saved.
- If God knew who was going to be saved and wrote their names in a book before the creation of the earth, did He know how they were going to be saved? Or did He just hope that something would turn up? I suggest that if God did not know how people were going to be saved, He did not know very much at all, which, of course, would be contrary to the doctrine of God’s omniscience.
2. By His death on the Cross Christ paid in full for man’s sin and rebellion against God.
‘And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.’ (1 John 2:2)
‘Christ also suffered for us … Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree’. (1 Peter 2:21–24)
‘God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.’ (Romans 5:8–10)
You disagree with my exegesis that mankind’s salvation, as comprised in the verses just quoted, was eternally in the mind of God. So what do you believe in place of this? When, in your opinion, did God decide that His son should die on the Cross to effect mankind’s redemption? And what gave Him the idea? Furthermore what evidence do you offer to support your opinion on this?
Oscar Wilde said of Wordsworth that ‘when he went to the Lakes District he found in brooks and stones the sermons he had already placed there.’ [An] example of you being Wordsworthian with the Bible is your use of Genesis 3:15. The verse reads (NIV): ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will bite his heel.’ You claimed that this was a promise from God about the coming of Christ and the breaking of Satan’s power at Calvary. Maybe so—but only if it can be shown that the serpent is actually Satan. If the serpent is just a serpent then the verse becomes a sort of ‘Just So Story’ explaining why people don’t like snakes. Unfortunately the very thing that the text doesn’t say about the snake is that it is really Satan in a cunning disguise. All the text says is: ‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made.’ Which is hardly ‘unequivocable’ evidence that the serpent was Old Nick himself. Of course, if you choose to read into the text what you want the text to mean then all well and good. But as you said to me in another letter: ‘If the Bible doesn’t mean what it says then who’s to say what it does mean?’
Seeing that you disagree with my exegesis of Genesis 3 as to the origin of human sin through the temptation of Satan, how, in your view, did sin enter the world? And on what do you base your view? Concerning who the serpent was, have you noticed the names of ‘Old Nick’ given in Revelation 12:9, ‘And the dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan … ’? Also Revelation 20:2, ‘ … the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan … ’. Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 11:3, as elsewhere, that he takes the accounts in the Garden as literal history. He links the serpent’s beguiling of Eve with the corrupting of our minds from the simplicity that is in Christ. If it is just a story about people not liking snakes (which don’t talk anyway), then Paul’s comparison becomes absurd. In fact, the identification of the Edenic serpent with Satan is so theologically self-evident, and has been through the centuries, that it is almost embarrassing to have to defend the connection.
3. Sin came into the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit that was forbidden them.
‘ … through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’. (Romans 5:12)
‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:19)
The creation model, as given in Genesis chapters 1–3, is a very compact account of the origin of sin and also of God’s judgment, which is the basis for Christ’s death on the Cross. But in the God-used-evolution model, at what stage did the killing of one apelike creature by another cease to be the mechanism whereby God ‘created’ mankind and become the murder of one human being by another and therefore sin? And seeing that death is an integral part of your evolutionary model, how does the fact that Christ died on the Cross make any difference to anything?
If Christ’s death and resurrection were a part of The Plan—laid down ‘before the creation of the world’—then Adam’s sin must have been a part of The Plan as well. Let me put it another way. Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished the reconciliation of Mankind with God—a reconciliation made necessary because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. Therefore, if the cross had been planned by God since before the creation, then the Fall must have been pre-ordained too. Which opens a whole new tin of worms.
The short answer to these points is that because God is omniscient He knew that Adam would sin, but such fore-knowing should not be translated as being causative. One illustration to explain this is as follows (remembering that all illustrations about God must fall short—a symptom of the finite trying to explain the infinite).
Photo Elise Bosse
Imagine a man in a car driving along a narrow country road. He passes a cow and is approaching a bend. On the other side of the bend is a large semi-trailer travelling at high speed on the wrong side of the road. A crash is inevitable. To the driver, approaching the bend, the cow is now in the past, he is experiencing the present, and his hitting the semi-trailer is in the future. Now imagine a pilot in a helicopter above the scene. The pilot can see the cow, the car, and the semi-trailer all at once, so in a sense, what is past, present and future to the driver is all one to the pilot. Furthermore the pilot can see that a crash is inevitable, even though the driver does not know it is going to happen. Does the pilot cause the crash just because he knows it is going to happen? Assuredly not!
Our problem in understanding these matters of God’s eternal perspective is encapsulated in Ecclessiastes 3:11:
‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.’
If God knew from before creation that Mankind would rebel then why did he go through with the creation?
Good question! The short answer is that God created all things for His own glory. First and primarily to display His glory, e.g. ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1). And secondly in order for Him to receive glory, e.g. ‘Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 29:2).
As well as the above, there are a number of Bible verses that hint at the reason why God created people. Unlike the animals and plants we are created ‘in the image of God.’
‘And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creepers creeping on the earth. And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him. He created them male and female’ (Genesis 1:26–27).
We can love others and appreciate beauty. We enjoy making things. But one of the most satisfying things of all is to have good friendships with others. Since we are in the image of God we can infer that God, like us, appreciates friends, good friends. The Godhead has three persons—God the Father, the Word (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Creating people was part of God’s plan to expand this circle of fellowship.
‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.’ (Revelation 4:11)
People were created for God’s own pleasure, so that He could enjoy having fellowship with us. Not that God needed this—being God he is self-sufficient and perfect.
‘And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God in the middle of the trees of the garden’ (Genesis 3:8).
Creationist scholars think that the Fall occurred within a few days of Creation. During that brief period, God enjoyed walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden, enjoying fellowship with His creatures in the beautiful world that He had created just for them. In the same way, we try to create the best possible environment for our children, and enjoy just spending time pleasantly with those we love. Just as we take delight in making our children happy with presents and things, so too God took delight in providing a wonderful garden home for Adam and Eve.
If all this is unsatisfactory (as it no doubt is to many people), it should not cause people to overlook what the Bible does tell us, or to deny what the Bible does tell us. The Bible tells us that God does know the end from the beginning and that God did go ahead with creating mankind, even though he knew that man would rebel. To this must be added the fact that before creation God made provision for the remedy, in the Lamb (i.e. God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ) that in the mind or thinking of God ‘was slain before the creation of the world’. So we must never divorce the two—in the mind of God before He began Creation, there was both the fact of man’s rebellion and the Cross. Knowing that both would happen, God still went ahead. This is the clear teaching of the Bible.
Why is there sin in the world?
Because mankind, not only Adam and Eve, but also me and you and all mankind everywhere chooses to disobey God. If God had created us like robots, with no choice but to do what is right and good, we would not have been able to truly love Him, since we would have had no choice. God did not create us with a propensity for violence so much as with the capacity to reject Him if we choose. What we think of as ‘evil’ is basically an absence of God and God’s standards. God gave us sufficient brainpower to recognize His existence (Romans 1:20) but originally He also gave us free will, and people have consistently chosen to exclude God to a greater or lesser extent from their lives and from society.
According to this interpretation, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. But if God knew they were going to do so anyway why did it happen?
Because God gave them free choice. If this seems hard to understand, apply it to ourselves. When you and I have 'free choice', what do we do?
Because he allowed it to? Or because he was powerless to stop it?
God allowed it to the point that He gave Adam and Eve free choice. But God also warned them of the consequences: ‘You must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:17).
We can apply the same two questions to the world today or to yourself and myself. Does God allow you and me to do what we do, even when it may be sin? Yes, but He warns us of the consequences. Could He stop a person from doing something wrong? Sometimes He does by sending angels to protect an intended victim, for example. However, once God had given mankind free choice as part of His original plan that people should love Him willingly and obey Him willingly, there is a sense in which God could not stop man disobeying him without negating the whole basis of God’s relationship with man and man’s relationship with God. Willing love is what people can do because of the way God made us. Servile obedience is what a robot does. A robot can be programmed to obey; it cannot be programmed to love. God could have gone either way when he created man. He chose to create people rather than robots.
If the Fall was a necessary part of God’s plan, then why were Adam and Eve punished for it?
Image by Linda Bucklin, www.istockphoto.com
It was not necessary for Adam and Eve to disobey God. They chose to do so. The same applies to you and me. Is it necessary for you and me to disobey God? No, when we have done so, we have chosen to do so. As to punishment, that’s the ground rule that God lays down: ‘The soul who sins will die’ (Ezekiel 18:4).
According to this interpretation, who was responsible for the Fall of mankind? Not Adam, not Eve, but God Himself—God who had pre-ordained Man’s rebellion, created Man knowing that they were going to bring sin into the world and then allowed it to happen. Where was God’s justice then in punishing humanity for something He himself had done? According to this interpretation—which is, after all, the natural conclusion of your interpretation—the death and resurrection of Christ were not so much God’s expiatory act for our sins, but God covering up His own mistakes. Perhaps Christ wouldn’t have needed to die on the cross if God had done his job properly in the first place.
Of course, I hold none of these statements to be even close to the truth and I’m sure that you don’t either. But the fact is that they are the upshot of the interpretation of Scripture that you put before the congregation last Sunday. Where that interpretation leads is somewhere no Christian would want to be.
Such questions can arise only from arguing from an incorrect premise. It is very similar to the view of many evolutionist theologians that the Fall was a necessary incident in man’s moral development. They speak of it as ‘a fall upward’, a step forward from the animal state to the practical knowledge of good and evil, through the experience of sin to a developed moral purity. However, this view ignores the essential evil of sin. It makes sin a disguised good.
On looking back through this letter I see that I’ve been rather negative—knocking down (or trying to) your interpretation and offering little of my own. But these are problems I have been attempting to deal with for some years now and the conclusions I have reached are, obviously, different to yours.
Differing conclusions per se are not necessarily a problem. It is not uncommon to find theological issues (e.g. eschatology, baptism, Day of Rest) on which different Christians, each equally devoted to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, can come to different exegetical conclusions. However, that is not the situation with differing interpretations of Genesis and the Days of Creation, in which those holding to long-age and evolutionary interpretations hold extra-Biblical sources, such as current scientific opinion, as authoritative over the Bible, and reinterpret Bible passages to conform to those views. See End-times and Early-times.
But then, there are no conclusions. Ultimately we Christians deal with mysteries. Our answers are at best tentative.
On the contrary, much of the Bible consists of straightforward propositional truth, e.g. plain statements about historical events such as the origin of the world and the beginning of human sin. There is no mystery, unless one chooses to disbelieve the Bible in favour of fallible human ideas about e.g. millions of years and evolution. Only then does a ‘mystery’ arise.
So I hope that you will respond to this letter and I am looking forward to learning from your response. We have differences, true, but we have Christ in common.
Thank you for writing. I look forward to our future correspondence.