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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Fall (2)

FALL.—The various questions suggested in regard to the relation of the Fall to Jesus Christ may be treated under the following heads:

i. The Messianic element in the story of the Fall.

ii. The Fall in its bearing on the work of Christ in (1) the Incarnation, (2) its redemptive aspects.

iii. The Fall in its bearing on the Person of Christ.

iv. Our Lord’s own teaching (or that of the Gospels) on the Fall.

i. The Messianic element in the story of the fall.—It is not within the scope of this Dictionary to discuss the general character of the OT narrative of the Fall. We may here simply assume as accepted the view that in Genesis 3 we have an account, cast in the pictorial form characteristic of the period to which it belongs, of the beginning of human sin, with its attendant evils of suffering and death. Whatever opinion may be held as to the literary materials and composition of the narrative, it commends itself as in all essential features a unique and authoritative record of great fundamental facts of human life and history; and its Divine inspiration is sufficiently attested by the profound truthfulness and significance of its moral and religious teaching.

In the midst of this story of sin and judgment we find the first promise of restoration, and thus the Divine purpose of redemption is brought into association with the very beginnings of human evil. ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’ (Genesis 3:15). That this utterance contains the germ of Messianic prophecy cannot be doubted; but care must be taken to make neither too much nor too little of this element in it, and to interpret the passage in accordance with sound principles of historical exegesis, with due reference to the context, and to the general characteristics of OT prophecy. The embodiment of this Protevangelium in the primitive religious tradition, and in the inspired record of it, is a testimony to the fact that the Divine purpose of redemption is coeval with the existence of human sin. From the time when the consciousness of guilt and corruption first dawned in the human heart, there was also present the hope of restoration, and of man’s ultimate triumph over those powers of evil by which he had been temporarily vanquished. This is the germ of which all the redemptive promise and prophecy of the OT are the development. Three progressive ideas may be traced in the teaching of the passage. (1) Under the symbolism of the repulsion with which the serpent species is regarded, there is conveyed the truth that there would be continual and deadly conflict between the human race and the powers of evil, each seeking to destroy the other. (2) The hopeful element in the struggle is indicated, and man’s final victory suggested, by the specific way in which the conflict is described—‘It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.’ (3) There underlies the statement with regard to mankind in general the remoter and deeper significance applicable to the representative Man, in and through whom the warfare was to be brought to a crisis and a victorious issue.

The order of these points may also be taken as indicating the line along which the full meaning of the saying would unfold itself. It is one of those pregnant utterances of revelation whose content is gradually realized and defined by the progress of events. The Messianic ideas contained in it are as yet vague and general, yet real; rudimentary, but fundamental; implicit rather than explicit; yet enough to keep a spark of hope alive, and to inspire faith and effort till clearer light came in the providential unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.

ii. The Fall in relation to the work of Christ.—The fact of man’s fallen condition, of which the narrative of Genesis 3 is the historical explanation, is the raison d’être of redemption, and thus the Fall is very closely related to the whole work of Christ at every point. But it is with the effects rather than with the manner or history of the Fall that the gospel is supremely concerned, and after the story has once for all been given at the beginning of revelation, it is thereafter but little referred to in Scripture, and is scarcely ever brought into direct relation with redemption, except in two classical passages in the writings of St. Paul, viz. in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Our attention will here be confined to those points in which the Fall comes into more direct relation with the work of Christ, or in which the fall of man in Adam and his restoration in Christ serve to illuminate each other.

1. The relation of the Fall to the Incarnation.—The question here raised is between the two views expressed respectively by the words of Augustine, ‘Si homo non pecasset, filius Dei non esset incarnatus,’ and of Andreas Osiander, ‘Etiamsi homo non pecasset, Deus tamen incarnatus esset licet non crucifixus.’ The common belief has hitherto been that the whole mission and work of Christ were solely conditioned by the Fall. But the other view with regard to the Incarnation, maintained by the Scotists in the Middle Ages and by other distinguished thinkers, has of late gained fresh currency, especially in connexion with modern evolutionary philosophy. The relation of the Fall to the Incarnation determines the place of the latter in the plan of redemption, and opens up the question whether the Incarnation was subsidiary to the Atonement, or the Atonement a development and modification of the Incarnation.

(i.) The view that an Incarnation was, independently of sin, the consummation of God’s purpose in relation to mankind, has been supported by arguments which can here only be briefly mentioned.

(a) The metaphysical argument that a possibility of becoming man must have existed eternally in the being of God, otherwise no incarnation could have taken place. In other words, there was in God a ‘self-disposition’ for incarnation, a necessity (ethical, not metaphysical) for God, who is love, to make a perfect self-communication to His moral and spiritual creatures.

(b) The very conception of the Mediator in redemption implies a necessary and eternal relation both to God and to man, which, even apart from sin, would have found its issue in incarnation. The Mediator is necessary for the perfecting of the world no less than for its redemption, and has a cosmical significance wider and deeper than His work as Redeemer.

(c) As Christ is necessary for the world’s perfection, the incarnation may be held to be involved in the ‘eternal idea of the world.’ This is the counterpart of the preceding arguments, and is as old as Irenaeus. It means that man has in his very nature a need and a capacity for Christ, corresponding to God’s self-communicating love, and this quite apart from sin.

(d) To base the incarnation solely on the need of redemption, is to make Christ a means and not an end in Himself, or, in more modern language, to reduce the most glorious manifestation of God for the perfecting of humanity to an expedient contingent upon the untoward incident of sin. In Christ alone, as the centre and end, is the highest possible for man realized; if this were dependent on the Fall, then sin would be a ‘felix culpa’ in the most emphatic sense.

(e) These somewhat speculative lines of reasoning are not without Scripture warrant. In such passages as Colossians 1:15 ff. and Ephesians 1:9-10 f. we have at least a suggestion of a grand Christo-centric plan for the universe, antecedent to, and occupying a plane quite above, the contingency of human sin. Christ is here presented in relation to the Universe as ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ in whom and unto whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together, and who becomes also the ‘head of the body, the Church,’ and ‘the firstborn from the dead.’ It was God’s eternal purpose ‘to sum up all things in Christ,’ ‘in whom also we were made a heritage’ (cf. also John 1:3, Hebrews 1:2, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Revelation 3:14 etc.). Redemption is here presented as something which forms a harmonious part of a larger plan. Christ is at once the Alpha and the Omega, the medium and the end of creation, the beginning and the consummation of God’s eternal purpose.

(ii.) The commonly received view that the Incarnation is simply a necessary part of the work of redemption, is supported by the prima facie teaching of Scripture. ‘The Son of man came to seek and to save’ (Luke 19:10); ‘God sent forth his Son … that he might redeem’ (Galatians 4:4 f.). These are examples of innumerable passages which represent the mission of Christ in this light. But to this it may be answered that, though historically and actually the Incarnation has taken this redemptive aspect, and is naturally and properly so presented in the Gospel, another view of it, under different conditions, is not excluded, of which, as we have seen, we are in fact permitted brief glimpses in a wider field of vision.

(iii.) Both the foregoing views may be united and harmonized in what is really the truest and deepest conception, viz. that God’s purpose is an eternal and unchangeable unity, and every part of it, as wrought out in history, must be regarded as having its proper place in relation to the whole. It is by a misunderstanding of the absolute being and counsels of God that we discuss at all questions as to what might have been done under other conditions. The view of the question before us which is most worthy of a true conception of God, and which at the same time agrees with the broad teaching of Scripture, is that in the infinite counsels of Him who sees the end from the beginning, Redemption is wrought into the very fabric of God’s eternal purpose, all parts of which—Creation, Redemption, Incarnation, Atonement, the Final Consummation,—hang together harmoniously as integral and correlated elements in one homogeneous, perfect, and unchangeable unity. The question as to the relation of the Fall to the Incarnation thus resolves itself into that of the place of the Fall in God’s plan of the world; and we need not hold with hyper-Calvinists that sin was foreordained, in order to believe that the Fall, foreseen and permitted, enters into an intimate and essential relation to the whole of the Divine plan. In this plan Incarnation holds a central place, and its redemptive significance is one aspect of a wider relation to the world, as the means for perfecting as well as for redeeming the human race. This view preserves the place of Redemption in the foreground of God’s revealed plan, avoids the necessity of conceiving any change in the Divine purpose contingent upon sin, and at the same time gives the Incarnation that cosmical significance worthy of its transcendent character. Thus Christ is central and supreme, and the whole scheme of Redemption is presented in a true perspective, more in harmony with the requirements of modern thought.

2. The relation of the Fall to the redemptive work of Christ.—In the distinctively soteriological aspects of Christ’s work, we are brought at once into close relation to the Fall. We have here to consider (i.) the reality and general nature of the Fall, as seen in the light of Redemption; and (ii.) the main points of detail in which the Fall and the redeeming work of Christ explain and illustrate each other.

(i.) The doctrine of the Fall is vital to the Christian system; the reality and general nature of the Fall, as a great downward and retrograde step in the history of mankind, are confirmed and illustrated by the redemptive work of Christ. This aspect of Christ’s work, which occupies in Scripture the foremost place, is everywhere represented as rendered necessary by something grievously abnormal in the condition of the human race. The Scripture doctrine of sin as absolute evil; man’s universal sinfulness, helplessness, and state of spiritual death, which form the very basis of Redemption; the representation of mankind as ‘lost,’ ‘alienated’ from God, and yet capable and worthy of being redeemed and restored;—all this, as so abundantly presented and emphasized in connexion with the atoning work of Christ, affords the strongest confirmation of the doctrine that man has fallen from a higher condition. Whatever may be said as to the Incarnation (see 1, above), it is clear that the great outstanding fact of the Atonement, with all the suffering and sacrifice which it involved, can only be accounted for at once by the dignity and the degradation of man,—in other words, by the Fall.

(ii.) This is borne out by the more specific teaching in regard to the Fall in its relation to the work of Christ in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49. The general and clear line of argument in the former passage brings out the following points:

Adam’s act of disobedience involved all men in (a) Sin, and (b) Death. By sin is here meant both actual sinfulness (‘for that all sinned,’ Romans 5:12), and a condition of liability to penalty even apart from personal transgression (Romans 5:14). This latter, however, is not to be held in any sense as personal participation in or responsibility for Adam’s offence, though it is the transmitted effect of it (see below). Death here apparently means physical death in the first place (as in Romans 5:14), but most probably includes also spiritual death. On the other hand, though the analogy is not fully expressed, it is clearly implied that in the same way Christ’s act of obedience brings (a) Justification and (b) Life; and in view of the emphatic reiteration, in various forms, of the surpassing fulness of Redemption in Romans 5:15-17, we may include under these terms: negatively, deliverance from guilt, from sin itself, and from death; and positively, the bestowment of judicial and actual righteousness, and of spiritual and eternal life.

Another question raised in this connexion is concerned with the precise moral relationship between Adam and his posterity on the one hand, and between Christ and His people on the other. Adam and Christ (‘the second Adam’) are represented as standing in an analogous relation to mankind, forming the basis in the one case of universal sin and death, and in the other of restoration for believers. In regard to Adam it has been variously held (1) that the relation between him and his posterity was virtually one of identity; mankind sinned in him and therefore share his guilt; (2) that the relation is representative or federal, Adam acting on behalf of his descendants; and (3) that the relation is natural, the evil effects of Adam’s fall being communicated to the race through the ordinary channels of heredity. The third view preserves any elements of truth in the other two, while it best explains the facts in harmony with true ethical principles. The transmitted effect of Adam’s sin consists mainly of the loss of moral balance, an inborn tendency of heart and will towards evil, a disability, though not a total inability, for goodness. Though men are not personally implicated in the guilt of Adam’s transgression, their condition involves demerit and necessitates redemption.* [Note: Note ἁμαρτωλοί in Romans 5:19 and ταράττωμα, ταράβασις in vv. 14, 15, 18; see Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology, p. 312.] Turning to the other side, though we are not warranted in carrying the analogy too far, we find on the part of Christ (1) a relation of identity with the race through the Incarnation; (2) a representative or covenant relation with His people (see 2 Corinthians 5:21 etc.), based on the one side on God’s free grace, and on the other on believers’ voluntary acceptance of it (Romans 5:17); and (3) a vital union between Christ and believers by which new life is imparted and the evil effects of the Fall counteracted (John 15:1-6 etc.).

Christ is thus a new beginning for the fallen race, a fountain of life and righteousness, as Adam was of death and sin. Adam was a true ‘figure of him that was to come,’ a type based not on mere analogy, but on deep and real correspondences between his relation as ‘psychical’ parent to his natural descendants, and Christ’s relation to His people as the ‘second Adam,’ the ‘spiritual’ originator of a regenerated race. [Note: See full and suggestive drawing out of the analogy in Fairbairn’s Christ in Modern Theology, pp. 311–313.]

iii. The Fall in relation to the Person of Christ.—The Fall of Adam, as we have seen, introduced into the nature of all descended from him a fatal taint of sin, an insuperable moral disability. The question now before us is, How did Jesus Christ, the new Adam, as a true member of the fallen race, escape this evil influence? That Christ in His nature and Person was absolutely free from sin, is one of the clearest and most generally admitted as well as most vital facts of the gospel. Born into the world in the line of human descent, sharing human nature otherwise in its fulness, how was Jesus alone unaffected by the common heritage of sin?

The full answer to this question lies hidden in the mystery of the Incarnation; but an indication of the line in which the solution lies is given in the great fact of the Virgin Birth of our lord. The historical reality of this part of the Gospel narrative has been assailed by modern criticism, but the doctrine still retains its place in the best philosophy of the Incarnation, and the truth has been rather confirmed than otherwise by impartial study of the records. As a fact, the birth of Jesus in a supernatural manner commends itself as peculiarly in keeping with the whole scheme of redemption. (1) It indicates a new departure, a fresh beginning, the introduction into the human race of a new element, and marks a break in the normal and fatal continuity of spiritual helplessness and decay. (2) It suggests, though it does not fully explain, means by which Christ could become true man and yet be preserved from the hereditary effects of the Fall. ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35). Those who deny the Virgin Birth have still to explain the equally miraculous fact of the appearance of this single exception to the universal sinfulness of mankind. The manner of Christ’s birth, as recorded in the Gospels of Mt. and Lk., is so fully in harmony with His unique personality and character, that, though we cannot fully understand, we may at least be satisfied that all form parts of one Divine plan, and thus the moral miracle and the physical mutually support one another. See art. Virgin Birth.

iv. The Teaching of Christ and of the Gospels on the Fall.—Our Lord makes no reference to the story of the Fall in all His recorded teaching, His only allusion to our first parents at all being the general statement in connexion with marriage (Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6). But the doctrine of the Fall underlies the whole teaching of Christ on sin and redemption, and is particularly confirmed and illustrated in the following points:

(1) The universal sinfulness of man. This is taken for granted. ‘If ye then, being evil, know,’ etc. (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13). This truth is involved in the whole character of our Lord’s mission and teaching. See also John 1:29; John 8:7. (2) The inwardness of sin. ‘Out of the heart come forth evil thoughts,’ etc. ‘… These are the things which defile the man’ (Matthew 15:19-20 and ||). Cf. also Matthew 5:21-28, Mark 10:5, Luke 6:45. (3) The deep radical character of human evil. ‘Ye must be born anew’ (John 3:7 and John 3:3). (4) The hereditary disability of human nature. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh,’ etc. (John 3:6; cf. John 1:13). (5) Jesus everywhere indicates clearly His view as to the original dignity and value of man. ‘What shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?’ (Matthew 16:26). Cf. Luke 15:10, Matthew 12:12, etc.; and the general teaching of Jesus as to the Fatherhood of God. (6) The Fall may be said to be pictured for us more specifically in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 ff.), and the corresponding parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Piece of Money in the same chapter. (7) Generally the whole mission of Christ to ransom men (Mark 10:45), to save (Matthew 1:21, Luke 19:10 etc.), and to restore to Divine Sonship (John 1:12), is founded upon the doctrine of the Fall and the state of ruin resulting from it, combined with splendid possibilities of restoration through grace.

Literature.—On OT narrative and Messianic elements: Ryle’s Early Narratives of Genesis; all good Commentaries, such as those of Dillmann, Gunkel, and Driver.

On Fall and Incarnation: Dorner, Person of Christ, vol. iii. pp. 361–369, vol. v. pp. 236–248, also the same author’s Christian Doctrine, vol. iii. pp. 283–299; Martensen, Christian Dogmatics, pp. 258–263; Orr, Christian View of God, etc., pp. 319–327; Westcott, The Gospel of Creation.

On Adam and Christ: Relative sections of treatises on Systematic Theology, such as Dorner, Hodge; Orr’s Christian View; Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology; also Sanday-Headlam, Romans (on 5:12–21), and other good Commentaries; Beyschlag, NT Theology, vol. ii.

On Virgin Birth and Sinlessness of Christ: Sanday, Bampton Lectures; Gore, Bampton Lectures: all critical Lives of Christ: Griffith-Jones, Ascent through Christ; and for trustworthiness of Luke’s narrative, Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem?

On Christ’s teaching: all good treatises, such as Wendt’s; and works on NT Theology, as those of Weiss and Beyschlag.

J. E. M‘Ouat.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fall (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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