Man’s Creation and Fall (1)

“We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being a honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light, which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not: where St. John calleth men darkness. Therefore we reject all that is taught repugnant to this, concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin; and has nothing of himself, unless it is given from heaven. For who may presume to boast, that he of himself can do any good, since Christ saith, No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him? Who will glory in his own will, who understands, that to be carnally minded is enmity against God? Who can speak of his knowledge, since the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit. of God? In short, who dare suggest any thought, since he knows that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but that our sufficiency is of God? And therefore what the apostle saith ought justly to be held sure and firm, that. God worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. For there is no will nor understanding, conformable to the divine will and understanding, but what Christ hath wrought in man; which he teaches us, when he saith, Without me ye can do nothing.”

Article XV, The Belgic Confession

One continues to marvel at the beauty of this gem among the creeds of the church. In relatively few words this article sets forth some of the deepest truths of God’s Word in clear and unequivocal language. The doctrines outlined here are certainly among the most important of the Scriptures. Man’s original excellence as well as his present sinful and depraved state are described. Only in the way of a clear understanding of these are we able to understand the depth into which we are fallen. And, it is only when we realize that depth that we can begin to appreciate the power and beauty of God’s mercies by which we are saved. These truths, therefore, have profound significance for the Christian doctrine and life. 

Here, too, we find in sharp focus THE battle which the church has had to rage all through the centuries, the battle between Jesus and the Pharisees (salvation by works, no depravity), Pelagius (denial of total depravity) and Augustine, Erasmus (free will) and Luther, Roman Catholicism (meritorious good works) and Protestantism, Arminianism and the Reformed truth. Because the truth is one beautiful harmony our views concerning man’s creation and fall and the consequences of that fall radically affect our views of the grace of God in Christ. Hence, we had better have a proper understanding of these first principles. We can only thank God for the beautiful summary of the Scripture’s teaching on these matters presented in Article XIV. 

The Confession really speaks of two subjects in this article: the creation of man by God and his fall into sin and the consequences of that fall. We shall devote, therefore three articles to the exposition of Article XIV. We limit ourselves in this issue to the relatively brief statement of what we believe concerning man’s creation out of the dust of the earth. Even here we shall have to be brief. For a much more detailed discussion of these rich doctrines the reader may consult Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 197, ff. 

The creation account refers to the creation of man in two passages. The first is found in Genesis 1:26, 27 and reads:

“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 air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Genesis 2:7 tells us how God created man in these words:

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This latter verse has often been misinterpreted to mean that God created man by two separate creative acts so that man is made up of two separate parts: a body and a soul. According to this view man is really two distinct entities or beings: a spirit or soul within a body. Now, it is certainly true that Scripture distinguishes between soul and body. No one disputes this. But what must be understood is that man is not made up of two beings; man is one. The body is not a meaningless shell or abode for the soul. Man is one. This is plain from the fact that in the resurrection our bodies shall be raised to newness of life. But this is also evident from the text in Genesis 2. By the one act of God with its two aspects (the forming of man from the dust of the ground and the breathing into his nostrils of the breath of life) God created the whole man. And that whole man thus created is one personal, thinking, willing, moral creature. Note well that Genesis 2 does not tell us how God created first a body and then a soul. Rather it speaks of the forming of the whole man. God formed man, the whole man, out of the dust of the ground and He breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life and the whole man became a living soul. Man, therefore, is one being. 

By virtue of this twofold creative act man stands in a twofold relationship. He is created “out of the dust of the earth” as the creed emphasizes, and this means he is of the “earth earthy.” This is literally stated in that interesting comparison Scripture makes between the first and last Adams in I Corinthians 15:45-47:

“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.”

Notice, man as a living soul, according to this passage, is “natural” and “of the earth, earthy.” This means that man as a living soul is earth bound. In fact from this point of view he is no different from the animals. The animals too, are called “living souls” (cf.Gen. 1:24 and Gen. 2:7. While the King James translates “living creatures” with reference to the animals and “living soul” with reference to man, the Hebrew terms in both instances are precisely the same.) The fish and fowl were produced from the waters by the creative Word of God and they are earthy. The animals were produced by that creative Word from the earth and they are earthy. Likewise God formed man from the dust of the ground and he is earthy. He is bound to the earth; completely dependent upon it for all his earthly existence. Man cannot escape from it. Dust he is and to the dust he must return. H. Hoeksema puts it nicely when he writes:

“He has earthly sensations and perceptions; an earthly eye, with which he perceives earthly things; an earthly ear, that can hear earthly sounds; an earthly sense of taste and touch and smell, that can bring him into contact with earthly objects. He is bound by ties of earthly love and friendship. Even his thinking and willing assume earthly forms. There are things which eye cannot see, and ear cannot hear, and which cannot arise in the heart of man, which only the Spirit of God can reveal to him. And this, finally, also implies that man is mortal, although as he came forth from the hands of his Creator death had no dominion over him. Yet he was not beyond the reach of death. And therefore he was not created in the state of immortality. It was possible for him to fall and to die. Thus man was made a living soul.” 

(Reformed Dogmatics, p. 200)

Yet even from an earthly and natural point of view the Bible speaks of the excellency of man. Even the earthly aspect of man contains something which makes him a creature higher and more excellent than all other creatures. This is evident from man’s very appearance. His upright stance, his face which reveals intelligence and understanding, and his ability to look upward to heaven all indicate that even from an earthly point of view he was created as king. Man is not merely the highest form of animal life. He is something much more than the animal. This excellency is also clearly evident from the creation narrative itself. There is that significant pause and divine soliloquy (cf. Genesis 1:26) before God creates man. God speaks with Himself: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .”; and then follows in vs. 27 the statement of the actual creation of man. The form of the creation narrative itself indicates the excellency of man before God and in relationship with the rest of creation. Man is made a friend-servant of Jehovah. As such he is to be lord of the creation: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27) In man the whole creation finds its focus and meaning. Through man the whole creation “declares the glory of God.” The creation serves man in order that man may serve His Creator. This factor makes all claims of evolution nonsense. Even the form of the creation narrative precludes any evolutionary conception of things. 

Man’s excellency is evident from another fact of the creation narrative. In Genesis 1 we read that by the power of the creative Word of God the waters brought forth the fish and fowl and the earth brought forth the animals, but of man we read that God formed him out of the dust of the ground. (cf. Gen. 1:20-25Gen. 2:7) Man as well as the animals was created out of the dust of the earth, but only man was formed as it were by the very fingers of the Almighty. Thus while man remains of the earth, earthy he is far above the rest of the earthly creation. This factor, too, will not allow any form of evolution. There is obvious distinction between the animals and man. Man cannot be explained as coming from the animals, neither is there a gradual transition from animals to man. “The missing link is indeed missing.” (Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 201) God did not merely call man from the earth, He formed him and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. 

But there is still another dimension to man’s being. He is a spiritual, moral, personal being for God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” God did not do this with the animals. They are merely of the earth, earthy. They are simply called forth from the earth and nothing more can be said of them. While man, too, is of the earth, earthy he is more; for when God formed him from the dust of the ground God also infused man with the breath of life. Thus man was created with a mind and a will. And thus, too, man was created capable of knowing His Creator, loving Him and serving Him. Man was enabled to serve His God by exercising lordship over the creation. He could stand in covenant relationship with the Most High. Truly in his original state man stood in the image and after the likeness of Him that created him This is his excellency, his nobility. Well may we exclaim with the Psalmist: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalm 139:14) On the basis, therefore, of the clear and powerful testimony of the Scriptures: “We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will, agreeably to the will of God.”