Chapter 11: The Nature of Man’s Creation and the Consequence of the Fall
The Nature of Man’s Creation
‘Therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden …’
(Genesis 3:22-23, NKJ)
In a Bible study of the atonement, it is important to examine views expressed by leading figures of the early Church. In this regard, therefore, the nature of man’s creation, being relevant to our understanding of the fall of man and the subsequent incarnation of God’s Son for our salvation, should not be overlooked.
At Carthage in 419 AD, a synod of 217 bishops of North African provinces convened under the leadership of Archbishop Aurelius of that city to sanction and to ratify 138 Canons of what has come to be known as ‘The Code of Canons of the African Church’. Such was the high repute of these African Canons, they were inserted into the Ancient Code of both the Eastern and Western Churches. Canon CIX was worded to address the unorthodox teaching of Pelagius on the topic of man’s creation:
That whosoever says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he had sinned or not, he would have died in body—that is, he would have gone forth of the body, not because his sin merited this, but by natural necessity, let him be anathema.’
(The Seven Ecumenical Councils: ‘The Code of Canons of the African Church, CIX’ ; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, P. Schaff, Henry R. Percival, 1899)
Highlighted in bold above is a very important distinction. These clauses were included to avoid error. It was anathema to teach that Adam was created mortal so as to die in body even if he had not sinned. Indeed, it was a teaching of the Church that Adam need not have died if he had remained without sin, by reason of the tree of life that God had placed within the garden of Eden of which Adam could eat. ( On the creation of man, see: Creation and Evolution – In the beginning …)
Adam’s ability to live forever was dependent upon eating from the tree of life. God’s grace allowed for this as long as Adam did not sin. As we read in Genesis, Adam, on being expelled from the garden, could no longer eat of the tree:
‘Then the Lord God said, “…And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden …So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Gen.3:22-24, NKJ).
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (modern Annana in Algeria) c. 396 – 430 AD, was one of the leading and most influential figures attending at Carthage and other preceding African Councils that met to define orthodoxy of belief in the Church. How he understood the nature of the body of Adam in the garden is clear from the following:
‘And he [Adam], as I suppose, was supplied with sustenance against decay from the fruit of the various trees, and from the tree of life with security against old age.’
(Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, c.420 AD, Book I, ch.3; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers; P. Schaff, Holmes, Wallis, Warfield, 1887)
He believed that Adam was created with a body that was capable of death, which was dependent upon the fruit of the trees of the garden in general for sustenance and upon the tree of life in particular to prevent physical decay. This understanding is clear from other passages also:
‘Still, although it was by reason of his body that he was dust, and although he bare about the natural body in which he was created, he would, if he had not sinned, have been changed into a spiritual body, and would have passed into the incorruptible state, which is promised to the faithful and the saints, without the peril of death.’
(Augustine: ibid., Bk.1, ch 2)
Here, Augustine explains his belief that Adam was not created ‘incorruptible’, but had a natural body just as ours. In his commentary in twelve books on the first three chapters of Genesis, entitled ‘De Genesi ad literam’, i.e. ‘The Literal Meaning of Genesis’, we find the following:
Adam’s body before he sinned could be said to be mortal in one respect and immortal in another: mortal because he was able to die, immortal because he was able not to die. For it is one thing to be unable to die, as is the case with certain immortal beings so created by God; but it is another thing to be able not to die in the sense in which the first man was created immortal. This immortality was given to him from the tree of life, not from his nature. When he sinned, he was separated from this tree, with the result that he was able to die, although if he had not sinned, he would be able not to die.
He was mortal, therefore, by the constitution of his natural body, and he was immortal by the gift of his Creator. For if it was a natural body he had, it was certainly mortal because it was able to die, although at the same time immortal by reason of the fact that it was able not to die. Only a spiritual being is immortal by virtue of the fact that it cannot possibly die; and this condition is promised to us in the resurrection. Consequently, Adam’s body, a natural and therefore mortal body, which by justification would become spiritual and therefore truly immortal, in reality by sin was made not mortal (because it was that already) but rather a dead thing, which it would have been able not to be if Adam had not sinned.
(Augustine: De Gen. ad Lit., vi:25; The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. 1, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Newman Press, N.Y., 1982)
That this was the common teaching of the early Church also finds support from other writers of that period, such as Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293-373 AD).
Athanasius is one of the key figures of Church history due to his efforts in defending the faith against heresy in the fourth century and in helping to articulate the Nicene Creed (the most widely accepted in Christendom). He wrote:
‘For He brought them into His own garden, and gave them a law: so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but that if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature: no longer to live in paradise, but cast out of it from that time forth to die and to abide in death and in corruption.’
(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 3:4; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)
‘For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt…’
(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 4:6; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)
‘For God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God. But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death, being, as I said before, by nature corruptible, but destined, by the grace following from partaking of the Word, to have escaped their natural state, had they remained good.’
(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 5:1; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)
The above statements express a view that was considered ‘orthodox’ and fully in keeping with Scripture. Man was given the freewill to make moral choices and was created with a body capable of death, such as is natural to all.
In the Genesis account, man was first formed from the earth and then placed in the garden of Eden that God had made. It was then that Adam was given the right to eat of the tree of life. Although we can reason that this was God’s intention from the beginning, we can see from the order of events that man was first created with a body that was of itself mortal, but capable of being kept from corruption and death by reason of God’s provision in the garden where man was afterward placed.
Theophilus of Antioch (bishop from c.169-181 AD), reasoned that Adam was created neither wholly mortal nor immortal, but was formed with a ‘middle nature’ – capable of becoming either:
‘And God transferred him from the earth, out of which he had been produced, into Paradise, giving him means of advancement, in order that, maturing and becoming perfect, and being even declared a god, he might thus ascend into heaven in possession of immortality. For man had been made a middle nature, neither wholly mortal, nor altogether immortal, but capable of either…’
(Theophilus of Antioch: Ad Autolycum, Book 2, ch. 24, trans. Marcus Dodds; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers; P. Schaff, 1885)
However, in stating that Adam was not made ‘wholly mortal’, he was simply saying that Adam was not created subject to death. God had given Adam the tree of life from which to eat and live forever, but as a grace dependent upon faithful obedience. Of himself, without this grace, he was mortal. Moreover, Theophilus also believed that Adam could have advanced to immortality if he had remained faithful to God. In reasoning this way, Theophilus plainly affirmed that God was not the cause of Adam becoming subject to death:
‘…if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself.’
(Theophilus of Antioch: Ad Autolycum, Book 2, ch. 26, trans. Marcus Dodds; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers; P. Schaff, 1885)
If God had made Adam subject to death, irrespective of whether he had sinned or not, then clearly God would have been the cause of bringing death upon mankind. Such an assertion was pronounced against at the Council of Carthage in 419 AD, as stated above, and is foreign to Scripture.
Similarly, Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons in southern France, c.178-202 AD), viewed Adam’s ‘immortality’ as contingent:
‘He set him certain limitations, so that, if he should keep the commandment of God, he should ever remain such as he was, that is to say, immortal; but, if he should not keep it, he should become mortal and be dissolved to earth from whence his formation had been taken.’
(Irenaeus: The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 15; trans. J. Armitage Robinson, 1920)
Certainly, Irenaeus did not suggest that Adam was created with an immortal nature. Indeed, he wrote in another place:
‘How, again, can he be immortal, who in his mortal nature did not obey his Maker? For it must be that thou, at the outset, shouldest hold the rank of a man, and then afterwards partake of the glory of God. For thou dost not make God, but God thee. If, then, thou art God’s workmanship, await the hand of thy Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as thou art concerned, whose creation is being carried out.’
(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book IV, 39:2, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)
Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.
(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III, 23:6, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)
If, therefore, Adam were to have continued faithful, everlasting life would have been assured. By failing to live in righteousness, Adam was driven away from the tree of life – that he should not continue as a sinner forever. Again, in his work ‘Against Heresies’, Irenaeus described ‘immortality’ as something by God’s grace to be acquired, towards which created man must advance:
‘Man has first to come into being, then to progress, and by progressing come to manhood, and having reached manhood to increase, and thus increasing to persevere, and by persevering be glorified, and thus see his Lord. For it is God’s intention that He should be seen: and the vision of God is the acquisition of immortality; and immortality brings man near to God.’
(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, IV, 38:2-3; The Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, 1956)
Although Church fathers such as Augustine, Athanasius, Theophilus and Irenaeus may have spoken of the biblical account of man’s creation with a different emphasis, all understood that without the tree of life from which Adam could eat, Adam’s created body was subject to death.
The second century Christian apologist known as Justin Martyr (c.100 – 165 AD), killed in Rome during a persecution of Emperor Aurelius, gives weight to this view. He was widely influential with his writings and receives mention in the works of other early Church writers, including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and – the Church historian and bishop – Eusebius of Caesarea, who listed Justin’s books. In Justin’s ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, he wrote of a debate he once had with a Christian evangelist at the time of his conversion from Platonism to Christianity. – Part of the discussion focused on the matter of whether or not ‘the soul’ is immortal. Of course, if man was created with a mortal soul, then his body was created mortal also. The evangelist reasoned against the Platonic notion:
Evangelist: ‘These philosophers know nothing, then, about these things; for they cannot tell what a soul is.’
Justin: ‘It does not appear so.’
Evangelist: ‘Nor ought it to be called immortal; for if it is immortal, it is plainly unbegotten.
(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 5; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)
According to the evangelist, whose words Justin presented as an exposition of the true understanding, the souls of the just receive life, while the souls of the wicked await God’s judgment – to be punished for as long as God wills them to exist:
Evangelist: ‘…But I do not say, indeed, that all souls die; for that were truly a piece of good fortune to the evil. What then? The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment. Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished.’
(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 5; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)
Here, it is taught that not only is the soul not immortal, but that there will also be a time when the souls of the wicked will cease to exist:
Evangelist: ‘For to live is not its attribute, as it is God’s; but as a man does not live always, and the soul is not for ever conjoined with the body, since, whenever this harmony must be broken up, the soul leaves the body, and the man exists no longer; even so, whenever the soul must cease to exist, the spirit of life is removed from it, and there is no more soul, but it goes back to the place from whence it was taken.’
(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 6; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)
Plainly, therefore, if the soul is not immortal and can ‘die’ – ceasing to exist, then man was not immortal of himself in the beginning. Tatian (c. 110-172 AD), who had been a disciple of Justin, in his ‘Address to the Greeks’ said this:
The soul is not in itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die.
(Tatian: Address to the Greeks, chapter 13; trans. J. E. Ryland, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1886)
Although in later life, after Justin’s death, he took up certain Gnostic heretical views and extreme asceticism, his understanding of the soul as expressed above is in keeping with the teaching we find in Justin’s ‘Dialogue’, and contradicts the views of philosophers such as Plato or the Roman Cicero concerning the soul’s supposed ‘immortality’. Moreover, we find that it is also in agreement with the word of Scripture. Jesus Himself stated as much when he said that the souls of the wicked when cast into Gehenna would ultimately perish:
‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].’ (Mat.10:28, NKJ)
It is a testimony that we find in the early Church, therefore, that man was created without inherent immortality, but was given the grace to live forever through continuance in well-doing and faith toward God, as can be determined from Genesis.
This is important because it helps us to comprehend the penalty imposed by God upon mankind for sin more clearly. The body of man is ‘mortal’ of itself. Conditional ‘immortality’ was the free gift of God in the beginning.
“It is appointed for men to die once …”
In the Genesis account of creation, Adam was able to live forever by reason of the tree of life of which he could eat (Gen.3:22-24). Nevertheless, Adam’s ‘immortality’, was contingent on his obedience. The moment he sinned, the provision of the tree of life was taken away. Thus, the first man through sin became subject to death, as God had warned. Adam’s punishment, therefore, when he was removed from the garden and the vital food that could have sustained him, was that he lost the grace to live forever. He was thereafter destined to die according to that mortal nature with which he was created. That man should suffer death – according to his mortality – became the lot of all because of man’s choice to sin. Nevertheless, even though all men are appointed to die in body as a result of the judgment on Adam because of sin, God did not leave man without hope. Instead of the former tree of life in the garden, man is now invited to receive of Jesus – the ‘true vine’ (John 15:1), and His children are those who abide in Him, bearing fruit of righteousness in obedience to His commands.
As a result of Adam’s sin, therefore, all mankind became subject to death, under the same judgment (Rom.5:18). Mortal death of the body became man’s lot, just as it is the lot of all earthly creatures. Man was created to live if he chose to obey (the law of God) or die if he chose to sin. In the beginning, man chose death. In symbolic terms, Adam’s removal from the garden was also symbolic of his being removed from God’s presence. Through sin, therefore, man was condemned to suffer mortal death. – A second and final death will occur when God will judge the wicked. These are condemned already, but their penalty is reserved for the Day of Judgment, as we can read in Scripture (Jn.5:28-29; Mt.10:28; 2 Thess.1:8-9; 2 Pet.3:7; Rev.20:13-15) – it will be a sentence that will destroy and consume all who oppose the will and goodness of God. For the present time, the unsaved are called to believe and repent – for only in Christ is all condemnation for sin taken away (Rom.8:1). Now is the time to hear His voice (Heb.4:7). ‘Now is the day of salvation’ (2 Cor.6:2, NKJ). Even so, as Christians, we must await ‘the redemption of the body’ (Rom8:23) – to occur at the ‘resurrection of life’ (Jn.5:29): for ‘…this mortal must put on immortality’ (1 Cor.15:53).
Now, Jesus did not make of Himself an exception with respect to the mortal flesh of Adam. In being born of Mary, the body of Jesus was just as capable of death, as any other. However, as the Anointed One, being free of the corruption of sin, it was prophesied that even His body would not suffer corruption (Acts 2:27; Ps.16:8-11).
All men are allowed to die in body. The Lord’s death made no change to the condition of man in this regard. We can read: ‘…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment’ (Heb.9:27, NKJ). Jesus was indeed offered ‘to bear the sins of many’ (Heb.9:28), but in what manner and for what purpose did He choose to bear our sins? As both Man and God, He bore the full brunt of man’s unrighteousness and cruelty. Having so done, He is able to bear away the sins of all who repent; for as the One against whom all have sinned, He is the One able to forgive all sin. His life, poured out on the cross, can cover the lives of all who place their trust in Him, as His disciples. His holy, righteous life and offering can be accounted for us, if we are His. He chose to accomplish all victory over death for us as the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Over Him, death has no power. In Him, we can take our comfort, with the full assurance of faith. His death fulfilled not the penalty of God for sin, but the completion of all righteousness, through which He offered up the perfect sacrifice for all who place their trust in Him.
Is the sinful nature in man inheritable?
Medical research affirms that we affect not only the mental state of ourselves through our own behaviour, but also the personality development of our children, with whom we have genetic and personal affinity. Studies have indicated that traits of temperament, character and personality though inheritable, are influenced by parents and those closest. – However, before considering the biblical position regarding this, it is well to examine relevant and important medical evidence:
A study conducted by the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology casts light upon the likelihood that criminal behaviour might be passed on from one generation to the next , as reported by The Independent on Sunday, UK (27 Feb., 1996):
A Professor Farrington, who carried out the research, followed 397 men, randomly selected from those born in London in 1953, and their families: The report concluded: “A convicted family member influenced a boy’s likelihood of delinquency independently of other important factors such as poor housing, overcrowding and low school attainment.”
More than 150 of the men ended up with convictions for offences ranging from burglary to drug abuse. Seven in ten convicted fathers and a slightly higher number of convicted mothers ended up with a convicted child.
When the study began in 1961, the boys were aged eight or nine and lived mainly in conventional two-parent families. But two-thirds of the families had a convicted member. Such circumstances were a strong indicator that the boys would be wife-beaters by the age of 32 and that they would have a conviction by that age, the study found.
Prof. Farrington told ‘The Independent on Sunday’: “If the parental influence isn’t countered, their children will become criminals.”
(Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, Prof. David Farrington, research pub. 1996, the Journal of Legal and Criminal Psychology)
Findings of a study published in the journal Child Development, show that there is indeed a relationship between human behaviour and genetics. K. Paige Harden, lead author, and Dr. Robert E. Emery, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, studied 1,045 adult twins and their children. The study was reported on by the Reuters news agency (7th Feb., 2007):
‘Marital conflict doesn’t appear, in this study, to cause stable patterns of conduct disorder,” explained Harden. “Rather, marital conflict is influenced by parents’ own characteristics – including their genes – and these genes are passed on to children.’
Harden and her colleagues arrived at their conclusions by studying 1,045 adult twins and their children. Some of the twin pairs were identical, which means they shared all of their genes; the rest were fraternal, meaning they shared only some of their genes.
Such studies allow researchers to tease out the effects of genes and environment on a given behavior.
In this case, Harden’s team found that genetic influences were important in parents’ marital conflicts, and genes, in turn, explained the link between marital discord and children’s conduct problems.’
Writing about psychopaths in his book: ‘Without Conscience’, the eminent psychologist Dr. Robert D. Hare, PhD (Guilford Press, NY, 1999), suggests that, according to his research these ‘human predators’ (as he describes them) make up about 1% of the population and are ‘to be found in every segment of human society’ (p.207). A psychopath will show no feelings of empathy, guilt or remorse. They are utterly egocentric and display no sign of conscience. As a result, they become prone to anti-social and criminal behaviour, if not violent crime. Although they can often appear charming, their charm is calculated, as it suits self-interest. To Hare, therapy programmes that attempt to teach psychopaths how to ‘really feel’ remorse or empathy are ‘doomed to failure’ (p.197). He states: ‘When we ask psychopaths to modify their behaviour so that it conforms to our expectations and norms, we may be asking them to do something that is against their “nature”. They may agree to our request, but only if it is in their best interests to do so’ (p.203). Chillingly, he writes that ‘clinical and empirical research clearly indicate that the raw materials of the disorder can and do exist in children. Psychopathy does not suddenly spring, unannounced, into existence in adulthood’ (p.157).
Recent research on the origins of antisocial behaviour, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggests that early-onset antisocial behaviour in children with psychopathic tendencies is largely inherited (article, Medical News Today, 25 May, 2005).
The findings are the result of an extensive study carried out by Dr. Essi Viding of the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, within the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. Dr Viding’s research looked into the factors that contribute to antisocial behaviour in children with and without psychopathic tendencies. By studying a sample of 3687 twin pairs of 7-year-old twins, Dr. Viding and her colleagues were able to pinpoint to what extent antisocial behaviour was caused by genetic and/or environmental risk factors:
‘Following analysis, the results showed that, in children with psychopathic tendencies, antisocial behaviour was strongly inherited. In contrast, the antisocial behaviour of children who did not have psychopathic tendencies was mainly influenced by environmental factors.
Our research has important implications. The discovery that psychopathic tendencies are strongly heritable suggests that we need to get help for these youngsters early on. Any behaviour is influenced by multiple genes and an unlucky combination of genes may increase vulnerability to a disorder’ (Medical News Today, 25 May, 2005).
In everyone, there are inherited traits of personality and temperament that can predispose a person towards certain modes of behaviour. As a person matures, these traits can be modified and developed for good or ill according to one’s own personal choices in life, influenced by parents, family, education and social interaction. Choices we make and the influences upon us can either suppress or enhance these natural tendencies and help to define the course of one’s own personal development. Should there be a strong personal desire to overcome bad traits of behaviour, deemed morally and socially unacceptable, then it is possible to suppress such propensities, allowing room for opposite characteristics to flourish. In the psychopath, this would seem ordinarily impossible. A psychopath will not relate to feelings of empathy or remorse.
In infancy and childhood, innate psychopathic tendencies will impair a child’s natural development of the conscience – such as will allow one to experience empathy and feelings of love for others. If these tendencies are unsuppressed and allowed to dominate, the outcome is a psychopath – a ‘human predator’. It is unnerving for the normal person to contemplate; it is unnerving also to read of case histories. From one generation to the next, poor and damaging levels of parenting exacerbate the situation. Hare quotes psychologist Rolf Loeber as saying: ‘Impaired child rearing practices is one of the factors that influence how antisocial the next generation will be’ (p.164, Without Conscience). Loeber and David Farrington, in their book Child delinquents: development, intervention and service needs (Sage Publications, 2001), state: ‘…a variety of issues commonly appearing in the families of children at high risk for early-onset antisocial behaviour (eg. family criminality, parental psychopathology and substance use, family violence, lack of household organization) also make these families very difficult to manage in treatment’ (p.188). They add: ‘Risks for child delinquency arise from many sources, both within the family and in the other systems where children live and learn’ (p.189). In the view of Hare, this is a growing problem in schools and in society in general.
Regarding psychopaths, we should not merely think of them as high profile violent offenders, Hare explains:
‘Psychopaths make up a significant portion of the people the media describe – serial killers, rapists, thieves, swindlers, con men, wife beaters, white-collar criminals, hype-prone stock promoters, …child abusers, gang members, disbarred lawyers, drug barons, professional gamblers, members of organized crime, doctors who’ve lost their licences, terrorists, cult leaders, mercenaries, unscrupulous business people’ (p.3, Without Conscience – the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us, Dr. Robert D. Hare, PhD, Guilford Press, NY, 1999).
One could reasonably argue that the impact and recognizable signs of psychopathic behaviour in our midst should be brought to the awareness of all, and not just to those who may be professionally involved with children or criminals, such as teachers, social workers, members of the legal profession, police and prison officers. Those engaged in prison ministry, for example, need to understand that psychopaths will attempt to manipulate situations and individuals for their own personal gain. Christian ministers, commended for such work, must retain a realistic approach in their ministry at all times (such a ministry is not for the naive).
Now, how does the foregoing help our understanding of Scripture?
Missing from the scientific research (not surprisingly) is any mention of the human soul. Yet, this non-physical dimension of man’s being should be considered. Traits of temperament and physical appearance can be passed on through the human genes, just as inherited traits exist in the breeding of animals (as is well known to dog breeders), but man is more than an animal. We are set apart from the animal kingdom by our knowledge of good and evil – with which comes the ability to choose. Animals are unable to contemplate this.
By degree, we are separated from animals in other respects also – such as in our ability to love and care for the well-being of others, our ability to appreciate beauty in music and the visible arts, our ability to reason and invent, etc.. But, it is our ability to discern and choose between right and wrong, justice and injustice, good and evil, that makes us truly different. We have an innate knowing of right and wrong behaviour – animals do not. This becomes apparent as we grow mentally. With this knowledge comes accountability: we become responsible for our actions and thoughts, right or wrong. Animals respond to fear and reward, and basic instincts. Man has the power to choose between good and evil. As such, man is like God, ‘created after His image and in His likeness’ (Gen.1:26).
The human soul is the seat of this awareness and describes the inner self. It is this that is separate from the body. It is that spiritual entity in the mind of man that has awareness of being. The soul is the very essence of a person and exists beyond the grave – in a state of soul-sleep. When raised from the dead, Jesus became ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.15:20, NKJ). The dead in Christ are now said to ‘sleep’. Only the body dies. This is our faith. Jesus is alive! – His body died, but not His soul. We are more than just a body.
Nevertheless, as the medical evidence shows, we are born with certain inherited traits that predispose us in our temperament and personality, in different ways for good or ill. We owe much to our ancestry for our genetic condition, but to our biological parents and their parents and grandparents most of all. Family influences during early childhood and adolescence help shape us as people as we grow to adulthood, either reinforcing or counteracting these innate tendencies. But, we also have choice. The outcome of our development is not by any means wholly determined by outside forces. Yet, should a person be born into a family where psychopathic and criminal behaviour goes unchecked, then the strong likelihood is that the child will grow displaying the same characteristics. The evidence is overwhelming. Evil really does appear to beget evil. Without intervention to stimulate a different course of development, a child in such circumstances will have little to no chance of breaking out of the mould.
From a Christian point of view, these inherited traits that predispose a person to adverse behaviour relate to man’s sinful nature. The soul must be affected also. Man can develop an evil nature with a strong proclivity to all the traits of sinfulness, as outlined by the Apostle Paul (Gal.5:19-21). Just as ‘evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived’ (2 Tim.3:13, KJV), so shall societies in which such persons are allowed to flourish. In broad terms, we can speak of the criminal society – as one in which persons and families are characterized by criminal behaviour. The Italian Mafia is notorious for its adhesion to crime of all kinds and shows no regard for its victims. Should such human predators, of a psychopathic nature, inter-breed to form a tight tribal community, the prevalence of psychopathy in that group would be bound to grow with each successive generation - and would be apparent from an early age. Psychopathic criminal families and gangs are the Amalekites in our midst.
Amalek, according to Scripture, was a grandson of Esau (Gen.36:12). Soon after Israel had left Egypt, the Amalekites rose up to attack. In Deut.25:17 is written:
‘Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.’
The fledgling nation of Israel was not viewed as a threat, but as vulnerable and ripe for plunder. They saw the weak and defenceless of them as easy prey. Soon they engaged Israel in full battle and would have had victory – were it not for divine intervention (Ex.17:8-16). The psychopathic characteristics of this tribe, related here, are all too apparent. Many years later, this predatory tribe attacked David’s southern base at Ziklag, when David and his soldiers were absent. Poorly defended, the inhabitants of the city (mainly women and children) could put up little resistance. Ziklag was set on fire and the people taken captive (1 Sam.30:1-2). David caught up with the Amalekites after finding one of their Egyptian slaves whom they had abandoned in the desert to die, because he had become ill. The Egytian directed David and his men to where the Amalekites were heading. They found the Amalekites encamped and rejoicing because of all their spoil, taken in raids. David and his four hundred soldiers attacked and all the women and children were saved. The Amalekites were killed, except for about four hundred young men who escaped on camels (1 Sam.30:3-19).
On another occasion, not long after, an Amalekite is recorded as hoping to ingratiate himself to David with news that he had killed King Saul, after finding Saul dying of wounds. David was not deceived. He reasoned wisely that the Amalekite had not acted out of mercy, but out of cold, self interest, without any fear of God.
The Amalekites, by the time of Saul, had become a nation whose sins had reached full measure. Divine judgment was declared and none to be spared – not even the women and children (1 Sam.15:1-3). No spoil was to be taken – presumably to make clear that this action was was not to be taken for the sake of material gain. None were to be shown mercy. Such was the command of God given to Saul through the prophet Samuel against the Amalekites. This nation had moved beyond any form of rehabilitation. If allowed to remain, the evil would have continued unabated and the cost in terms of human suffering would have been immeasurable.
The other tribes occupying the land of Canaan at the time of the Israelite invasion were likewise judged of God. The sins of the Amorites (sometimes used as a general term regarding them) had become complete, as was foretold:
‘…But in the fourth generation they shall return here [the chosen descendents of Abraham], for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’ (Gen.15:16, NKJ).
As with the Amalekites, not one was to be spared:
‘But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive’ (Deut.20:16, NKJ).
They had become utterly corrupt in worship and life (see Chapter 5: The sin of the Amorites).
Other cities beyond the land of invasion were judged less severely – presumably because they had not reached the same depths of depravity – and were to be offered terms of peace; but they had to show subjection, without opposition. If a city desired war, then Israel was to put it to siege and kill all the men (Deut.20:10-15, NKJ). The Israelites were thus able to spare the women and children from going the way of those Amorites whom they had to destroy – and were able to receive them into their own families and society. Such actions would be judged as genocidal murder today, but they need to be understood in terms of the historical context. – It should be remembered that Israel was a theocracy, ruled by God through His prophets and judges. The nations of Canaan were fighting against God, and were under the sway of Satan and demonic forces. The inhabitants of this land had fallen into gross wickedness and had become worthy, like Sodom and Gomorrah, of God’s judgment. These measures, though severe, gave Israel much needed regional peace and freedom from corrupting evil practices. The Israelites were called out from this world and chosen to be a holy nation – ready to do God’s will, even if that meant destroying all opposition. They had to trust in God to survive.
One could hypothesise that our behaviour in life can affect the genetic code we might pass on to our offspring, inclining them to certain modes of behaviour. Although this might sound like evolution, one can also believe that this is how God made us – and why it is imperative that we follow the law of the conscience within us. To do otherwise may adversely affect our very nature – and the nature of our offspring (perhaps …’to the third and fourth generation’ Ex.20:5). There are a number of biblical passages indicating that the soul in man is inherently affected by the sinfulness of our forebears:
‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom5:19, NKJ).
This verse would appear to support the view that man inherits a sinful nature – a nature corrupted by and tending to sin. As a Christian, one should realize that man was not created this way, but acquired a corrupted nature as a result of acting sinfully – against God and against his innate conscience. David, in one of his psalms, wrote: ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me’ (Ps.51:5, NKJ). As a prayer of repentance, ‘hyperbole’ here would seem out of place. The obvious reading implies a confession of sinfulness of nature from birth. In another psalm, we find: ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth’ (Ps.58:3, NASV). Now, of course, although one might indeed claim the use of hyperbole in this verse – babies can’t speak lies from birth – the wickedness of nature implied would seem affirmed by medical research concluding that psychopaths are born with a nature inclining them to this disposition (see above).
Biblically, however, as can be deduced from Hebrews, it would seem that we have more than mere genetic affinity with our forefathers:
‘Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him’ (Heb.7:8-9, NKJ).
Belief that our souls are derived through our forefathers finds support in the above passage. – Levi, the father of the priestly nation, is envisaged as present in the body of Abraham. So, likewise, by this same reasoning, all of Abraham’s physical progeny were ‘present’ in him and paid tithes. However, it should not be overlooked that here is the belief, it would seem, that the personal nature or essence of the soul is passed on with the genes - perhaps contained within the basic genetic code of the father as a tiny invisible dormant signature of spiritual energy that is uniquely brought into being after life is formed in the womb. This could be why biblical genealogy shows only the male lineage – because that is just how it is. When one dies, one’s spiritual essence of being, the soul, is received by God, who formed man as a spiritual being in the first place: ‘Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’ (Eccl.12:7, NKJ). This might also help to explain why the judgment fell upon mankind because of Adam’s sin and not that of Eve, which came first – and why it is said that we are ‘made sinners’ as a result of Adam’s disobedience (Rom.5:19). It might not be that Adam was so judged only because he was the federal head. The nature of the soul in man became affected by Adam’s sin – and the consequences felt by his progeny right up to the present, from one forefather to the next. Certainly, the idea expressed in the above passage concerning Levi who ‘paid tithes through Abraham’ does not suggest that we, as individuals, receive our soul separately direct from God. This view might be termed Paternal Generationism.
The Church at the time of Augustin and Jerome had mixed views about how the soul of each person originates. Jerome expressed an uncertain leaning towards a Creationist view (that souls are created separately by God in each individual), but admitted that ‘most western writers … hold that soul is derived from soul as body is from body’. Amongst these writers, he notes Tertullian and Apollinaris (Jerome: Letter CXXVI. To Marcellinus and Anapsychia; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.vi.; Philip Schaff, H. Wace and W. H. Fremantle, trans., 1892). This view is known as Generationism – the belief that the soul of the offspring originates from the soul of the parents (ref.: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, N.Y., 1912).
Nevertheless, we can be sure that when the soul of Jesus entered the womb of Mary there was no conflict with the soul of man. There was no inherited corruption of His soul. Jesus lived His life on Earth ‘without sin’ (Heb.4:15). The genealogy of Mary is traced through her male ancestors back through King David (Luke 3:23-38), so it can be said that Jesus was of David’s ‘seed’, i.e. Mary – though He Himself was the Son of God: ‘Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel’ (2 Tim.2:8, NKJ). Jesus came only in ‘the likeness’ of sinful flesh (Rom.8:3), though fully human and tempted as all men. Were it possible for Mary’s body to have been corrupted through sin, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can be certain that Mary was indeed made holy and blessed of God for her faith.
Regarding the very young: Although, babes and infants are conveyed as ‘innocent’ in Scripture (eg. Mat.18:3), they are so for as long as they do not have the awareness to be held responsible for doing wrong. As such, they are not guilty of sin – but this does not mean that their nature is pure, without corruption. It is possible, in extreme cases, that a child’s nature is very corrupt (due to inherited psychopathic traits) – as will become apparent later, when the child grows. Nevertheless, in that a very young child when just an infant cannot know sin, it is innocent and blameless. This is how we are to be in life.
Immortality – a gift to the righteous
In Scripture, only God alone can be described as fully and truly immortal:
I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things …who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power. Amen.
(1 Tim. 6:13-16, NKJ)
God alone has power over immortality and to bestow it. Jesus said the just will receive immortality in the resurrection – never to die again – and will be equal to the angels of God:
‘…nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection’ (Lk.20:36, NKJ).
Although the body may be destroyed, the soul continues to exist, unless God wills it to be destroyed also. Using modern terminology: one might say that the soul is like a computer hard drive, which stores all the data. A computer might be destroyed, except for the hard drive. By installing it into another computer, all the saved data can be recovered. The hard drive cannot function on its own, just as the soul in man has need of a body. However, the hard drive can be wiped clean of all data that is stored or it can easily be destroyed itself. Without a body, the soul in man cannot function:
‘For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing’ (Ecclesiastes 9:5, NKJ).
‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going’ (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NKJ).
Although one might consider these words – found in the ‘wisdom’ literature of the Bible – as the product of human reason and not necessarily inspired truth, there are other biblical statements to the effect that persons who have died in body enter a form of ‘sleep’ until the resurrection. This is said both of the just and the unjust, for example:
‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Dan.12:2, NKJ)
‘For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus’ (1 Thess.4:14, NKJ).
‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up. …Lazarus is dead’ (John 11:11-14, NKJ).
Now if the soul exists beyond the grave in a state of sleep, that is in keeping with the comments found in Ecclesiastes. Sleep renders one unconscious and incapable of rational thought. One becomes oblivious to time, space and reality. In sleep, the mind can simply ‘shut down’ and go blank. When one awakens, the period of sleep might seem like a moment, when in reality sleep might have lasted hours. It is a mistake to take a wholly literal reading of a poetic passage of prophecy that speaks of hell, such as Isa.14:9-11; or to take a literal interpretation of a parable, such as Luke 16:19-31 (discussed in chapter 7).
The belief that the soul receives conscious awareness after death finds support, not so much in Scripture as in philosophical speculation, such as that of the renowned pagan author Cicero (c. 106-43 BC), who wrote that, after death:
‘…when we shall be nothing but soul, then nothing will interfere to prevent our seeing everything in its real substance and in its true character.’
(Cicero: The Tusculan Disputations, ch. 20; trans. C.D. Yonge, Harper’s New Classical Library, 1877)
In the pagan world, this was a widely accepted view. Somewhat controversially, therefore, the apostles (and some early Church fathers) taught that after death the soul enters a form of ‘sleep’, as mentioned in Daniel 12:2, 13. The dead are to be awakened at a future resurrection:
Therefore those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are more miserable than all men. But now Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those that sleep; for as by man [came] death, by man also [came] the resurrection of the dead.
(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, 13:4, cf. 1 Cor.15:18, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)
Now, Jesus is called the ‘firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.15v20, NKJ). The phrase is not ‘the firstfruits of those who slept’ - as though they are now awake. The souls of the many who have died are said to be reserved in a state of unconscious existence – awaiting resurrection.
Jesus spoke of two general resurrections, one ‘of life’ and one ‘of condemnation’ (or judgment; John 5:29). Paul also wrote: ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible’ (1 Cor.15:51-52, NKJ). To the Thessalonians, he wrote:
‘But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.’ (1 Thess. 4:13-17, NKJ).
Evidently, therefore, Paul taught that the soul in man enters a state of soul-sleep at death and not that the souls of the departed in Christ continue in some state of conscious existence. Rather, he looked forward with prophetic vision to the resurrection of life to occur at the time of the Lord’s return: ‘For the Lord Himself will descend with a shout …and the dead in Christ will rise first.‘ – Maran atha! ‘The Lord cometh!‘ Amen.