As considered in some detail in chapter two of my book, God’s munificent providence has been obscured by a foundational error in traditional western biblical theology – the failure to distinguish between fallen Adam and his psychopathic eldest son. The latter’s relationship with God radically altered AFTER his extraordinary act of defiance towards His creator and the murder of his brother (vv11-14), the theological consequences of which have been quite eluded.
The following verse from Genesis is unquestionably covenantal in form, though most theologians for the last two thousand years have chosen not to regard it as such:
“IF THOU (CAIN) DOEST WELL, SHALT THOU NOT BE ACCEPTED? AND IF THOU DOEST NOT WELL, SIN LIETH AT THE DOOR. AND UNTO THEE SHALL BE HIS DESIRE, AND THOU SHALT RULE OVER HIM” (GEN4:7KJV )
The translation of this verse from the Hebrew is admittedly problematical: “Will you not be accepted?” (Heb: seeth) could equally be “will your countenance not be lifted?” which is utilised by some versions of the Bible. The KJV quoted above recognises “sin” to be a person (the Sinful One), which makes sense since it or he is lying or crouching (Heb: rabats) at the door and “desires” to control Cain. Sin per se could hardly be “at the door” in Cain’s case, it’s already in Cain’s heart and about to wreak havoc. Cain is described elsewhere as “OF the evil one”, confirming that the Sinful One was indeed at the door and was able to master Cain and thereby control and own him (1Jn3:12). From the human perspective, that would not have been so if Cain had responded differently to the challenge Yahweh presented to him in Gen4:7, so the verse effectively reflects a Universal Covenant for fallen humanity; for Abel was fallen but he was accepted. The purpose of the Cain and Abel story, however literally one might choose to take it, is drawn upon in the New Testament, and it is not to show how Abel “got saved” but how Cain became reprobate (rejected), indicated by the vital yet typically glossed references to “this day” and “now” with regard to the elder brother’s fate. The day he killed his brother he was cursed and entirely alienated from God and NOT BEFORE THAT DAY. When God told Cain to “do well”, He was not seeking perfection but to do what the young man intuitively knew to be right: offer like Abel the first-fruits of his crop and preferably not go on to slaughter his innocent brother in cold blood. For no one is born devoid of at least one “talent” (the light of conscience) but some choose to bury it in the ground and they will be condemned (cf. Mt25:14-29; Jn1:9). Cain, an agricultural farmer (4:2) was not expected to steal from his livestock farmer brother Abel in order to sacrifice an animal in offering for his sin, as some would dissemble (e.g. the YLT translators). Comparing scripture with scripture we see that Cain and his sacrifice were not accepted because his works were evil whilst his brother’s works were righteous (1Jn3:12). That was because the one exercised faith/fathfulness and the other didn’t, for one was a child of God, the other as confirmed in later scripture was or had become satanic (1Jn3:12 Greek i/l). As third century Irenaeus had expressed the matter precisely in this context: “It is the conscience of the offerer that sanctifies the sacrifice when (the conscience) is pure and thus God is moved to accept the sacrifice as from a friend”. Abel showed by his works and a good conscience that he had “faith” so was justified by that faith with reference to his works (offering the best of his flock), not by achieving a standard of worked merit (justification by works). Why was perfection not required by either of them? – It was in view of the Sacrifice of atonement effectual throughout human history (Rom3:25 Greek). Through the faithfulness of Christ (ek pisteos christou), which more theologians and the more recent bible translators are recognising needs to be distinguished from cognisant faith in Christ (pisteos en Christo), expiation has been provided for the faults arising from human weakness for those who themselves seek to be faithful to God, i.e. to the light He provides to them through their conscience, by which in Paul’s language (when rightly translated) they become a law FOR themselves and do by nature the things contained within the Law; indeed fulfil the heart of it which is to exercise compassion towards their fellow man – cf. Rom2:14; Gal5:14).
The understanding of some that Cain and Abel were expected to anticipate a future Sacrifice for sin by sacrificing an animal is unsustainable; cultic sacrifices were not clearly established as a religious system until the Law of Moses. Paul, James and the writer to the Hebrews make it quite clear why Abraham was counted as righteous, being a belief in the God he had encountered evidenced by obedience, in his case that he would be rewarded with a great family (cf. Gen15:1). Abraham, nor indeed anyone in the Old Testament is declared to be justified by means of offering an animal sacrifice. As will be demonstrated from scripture, Old Testament folk and indeed all “people of good will” were and still are accepted by God through the merits of the Atonement achieved through Christ’s faith/faithfulness being applied to those who are deemed to fear God through their positive response to the divine enlightenment they have received (cf. Jn1:9KJV), resulting in humane behaviour towards their fellow man in need (a.k.a. Christ Mt25:40).
[These posts are intended to complement my book by identifying “glosses” in OT narrative which have impacted upon traditional Christian perspectives on divine providence].
I pointed out in earlier posts that Adam and Eve were not cursed by God (cf. Gen3:14,17). That divine pronouncement was given to the arch-instigator of mankind’s downfall represented by the serpent (the devil) and later at an individual level to Cain. Fortunately for humanity, Adam is man’s federal head, not Cain, nevertheless all his offspring were condemned to a life of arduous toil, aging, decay and death, for the SOIL was cursed for man’s sake (Gen3:17-19), whilst woman-kind would additionally endure male domination and great pain in childbirth, for in Paul’s assessment it was Eve who had been deceived and so bore the weight of guilt (1Tim2:14,15 cf. Gen3:13). Through Satan’s victory, he was granted control of the world order (archon tou kosmou Jn12:31), yet as we shall see it was all for the greater good. Amidst the apparent debacle, a ray of hope appears: God tells the snake (representing the Evil One): “I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between YOUR OFFSPRING and hers; it (or He) will bruise your head and you will strike its heel” (Gen3:15).
So as early as Genesis chapter three we have a shadowy glimpse of the Good News concerning a coming Messiah (the woman’s offspring), for our omniscient God had already envisaged His plan of salvation for humankind, the central event of which would be the sending of His Son to be the Saviour of the world (1John4:14). Satan would strike the Christ’s heal through his apparent victory at Calvary, but the death and resurrection of Jesus would prove to be the bruising of the snake’s head; assuring Satan’s ultimate defeat. It is not just Satan but HIS OFFSPRING who are to be at enmity with the woman’s offspring; nor is the latter referring exclusively to Jesus (Rom16:20). Satan’s seed pertains both to the outcome of Gen6:1-2 (considered shortly) and also the human seed adopted by Satan, who following their own free choice to amortize the innate light and Law of Christ we know of as conscience (cf. Jn1:9KJV; Rom 2:15; 1Tim4:2) is permitted to gain their mastery (cf. Gen4:7 Hebrew Masoretic). This could only be by divine decree; it is a providential arrangement with, not any obligation to Satan, being a corrupted creature not a rival God. As such he could have no inherent rights over God’s property (i.e. everything). Such arrangements on a smaller scale are indicated elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Job1:6-12; 2Cor12:7). It is an ingenious contrivance on the Creator’s part (for He is sovereign) but one will not discern any positivity to it until one has understood the mystery of evil and the purpose of suffering within God’s wondrous plan for humanity, covered in the final two chapters of my book
The “death” referred to in God’s warning to Adam (Gen2:17) was clearly not physical death, he continued for centuries; nor did God say (as my Catholic NJB translation inaccurately infers) that Adam was “doomed to die”. The “death” he would experience would occur the very day he ate the forbidden fruit and is the “death” that every man and woman experiences as a consequence of the Fall: that is the disruption of their vital relationship with God – the very purpose for which they were made but cannot experience whilst “in the flesh”. This is the death Paul is generally referring to in his writings where at one point he asks “who will deliver me from the body of THIS death? (somatos tou thanatou toutou – Rom7:24). “This death” is referring to the condition that the unregenerate man he was depicting in that passage was currently experiencing such that he desired to do good but constantly gave in to the desires of the flesh (“the law of sin that is in my members” – previous verse). It is that absence of “Life” that Jesus spoke of when He said “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood you have no life in you” (Jn6:53). He means “eternal life” (lit: age life) being the present-day experience of “knowing God” (Jn17:3), which by its nature will also be everlasting (i.e. Jn10:28 is not tautological). Paul’s reference to death in this context neither refers to a person’s mortality nor that he is “damned” but the loss of the vital communion which our first parents brought about the day they ate the forbidden fruit. But thankfully “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”. Cain, though is another kettle of fish… (to follow).
[These posts are intended to complement my book by identifying “glosses” in the interpretation of OT narrative which have impacted upon traditional Christian perspectives on divine providence]. /
Having acknowledged in my previous post that the Genesis account would not be expected to incorporate a scientific account of creative processes, moving on to chapter 3 and the “Fall”, I personally am content to take references to trees of knowledge and a garrulous snake literally. Those who regard the whole account as allegorical or symbolic must nevertheless take stock of the events and what they are intended to symbolise, given that all the key players in the saga are frequently referred to in New Testament writing. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, but that is only a third of the story, and the smallest third at that, once understood from a more enlightened Christian perspective such as that possessed by the apostle Paul (cf. Rom8:20,21NIV). In those two verses Paul identifies Whom he regards as ultimately taking responsibility for the Fall – it is certainly not man, he is third in the pecking order, which is not to say he is not culpable and deserving of the punishment which he has received. But the consequences outlined for man in Genesis are temporal, not eternal in nature, and (believe it or not) the punishment devised is ultimately beneficial for the recipients. By temporal I do not mean merely physical in nature; the “death” referred to in God’s warning to Adam pertained to his vital relationship with God which would be broken (cf. Jn17:3). Damnation will be a reality for some, but that is not what this “death” (or indeed Pauline “death”) is referring to. Hell has been prepared for the devil and his messengers/agents (Greek: aggelos), many of whom are human (Mt25:41) – we will shortly encounter their archetype in Genesis 4. The chief culprit at Eden was the snake representing Satan, whom it should be noted alone was cursed by God in the post-incidental exchanges (as later was Cain). Nevertheless, man’s Adversary would appear on the surface to have achieved a mighty victory, gaining control of the world order and seemingly ruining God’s plans for the elevation of its human inhabitants so that they may come to share in the divine nature – the cause of Satan & his minions’ rebellion in the first place. But the Adversary had played right into God’s hands and has actually facilitated the process! I will say no more about that here, merely offer a textual clue, which taken in the context of the above offers a solution to the mystery of evil. It explains why a sovereign God described by the apostle John as Love personified (1Jn4:8) permitted events to take the course they did at Eden; also why this will ultimately be beneficial for mankind, whilst at the same time immensely costly to the Godhead: it is Heb2:10, and it is Love beyond human imagining.
Very few if any Christians these days will regard the opening chapters of Genesis as a scientific account of the creative processes. Even fifth century Augustine was unsure about the six days of creation, siting the deuterocanonical book of Sirach which referred to creation being made in an instant (Creavit omni simul – Big Bang?!); apart from which a “day” is of course a measurement derived from the heavens which were deemed to have been created on “day” #4. But what must not be regarded as purely figurative or symbolic in the Genesis account is the fact that man was made in God’s image (Gen1:26,27). Yet as Paul affirms God is invisible (Col1:15; 1Tim1:17), so that “image” must relate at least in part to God’s Character or Nature. Even fallen man is to be regarded in such a way according to Genesis (9:6). Of course, that image has been besmirched by the Fall but not obliterated. And for the Christian, potentially he/she may attain the mind of Christ (1Cor2:16) and become “like God in the world” (1Jn4:17). God’s nature then cannot be entirely unfathomable to human reason for faithful Christians already partake of the divine nature (2Pet1:4) – it’s God’s ways and methods that the Bible indicates are inclined to be incomprehensible, and so they have been according to this disclosure. But returning to the divine Nature, if man has been made in God’s image, and that is being restored in the Christian such that he/she may have the mind of Christ, it follows that such noble qualities that mankind at his best can possess must mirror, in measure, those same qualities possessed by God as they are delineated in Scripture (my earlier post), and have also been acted out in the earthly ministry and Passion of the incarnated Word. God’s love, compassion and forgiving nature combined with His hatred of injustice, debauchery and cruelty may be different in degree but cannot be different in nature from how man understands such qualities, contrary to the teaching of certain influential theologians of the past in order to justify their paradoxical conceptions of God’s “love” within their theology and the dire cosmic outcomes that derive from it. When on the other hand Nature and outcome are seen to tally, regardless of the means to attain it (in view of Is55:8,9), and Scripture finally coheres such that the teaching of Yahweh, His Son and each apostle coalesce, then shall not the mystery of God have been completed?
That is what my book has endeavoured to unravel. However, understanding the “fellowship of the secret” passage from Ephesians 3 alluded to in its title pertains to the final piece of the jigsaw, it is not the logical starting point for such a study of the “dark matter” of Scripture, by which I am referring to that which is poorly illuminated, not that which is sinister – quite the contrary, it is wonderful news. But there are aspects concerning broader providence that have eluded Christian theologians ever since a comprehensive biblical framework was first established, especially through the efforts and often polemically derived assertions of Augustine (Hippo), and he more than any other individual has impacted upon the subsequent course of theological thought in the West. Consequently, the Roman Catholic Church as well as those who defected from her at the Reformation have understood for much of their history that the Church and faithful Israelites before her are the exclusive grouping that God intended to reconcile to Himself, and only they were to be delivered from perdition. l show in my book that whilst Israel and the Church were indeed to be set apart from the world, that was in order that God, as it were working from within, would enlighten and bring healing to His world through His chosen people, not exclusively for them, and so reconcile all true humanity to Himself. Like Israel before her, the Church was to be His royal priesthood, but the latter would consist of individuals drawn from every nation elected on the basis of free grace into an exclusive covenant sealed with Christ’s blood. By participating in the sacred mystery (Christ in me, the hope of glory) such could be purged from sin even whilst their souls inhabited “the body of this death”, as Paul aptly described the temporary intellectual vessel inherited from our fallen first parents. The Church would serve as Christ’s mystical Body on earth in the present and its faithful adherents were destined to share in their Master’s eternal reign as His corporate Spouse. The “fellowship of the secret” being my shorthand for what Paul refers to as the fellowship/dispensation pertaining to the secret hidden in God (the Father) through the ages” was that the nation of Israel that had been foretold in earlier prophecy to fulfil such a priestly and kingly destiny was to be supplanted (or in effect augmented) by an international assembly we know of as the Church (cf. Rom11:25). Such was Paul’s gospel (to euaggelion mou– Rom16:25) which even fellow apostle Peter had scarcely grasped for it had clearly not been explained to him or any other disciples who had accompanied Jesus during His earthly ministry that the Gentile nations were not only to be enlightened by the Good News of the risen and glorified Jesus but receive an “identical spiritual gift” to that of believing Jews (Acts11:17,18) so as to share in the “inheritance of the sanctified” (Acts26:18), a fact which in itself has implications to overall providence.
That is the overall picture. I intend in subsequent posts, complementing the methodology employed in my book in which I started with Paul’s revelation regarding the role of the Gentiles and considered its past and future implications, here to go more concisely and sequentially through the Old and New Testament, identifying the various interpretative “glosses” that have led to the mystery of God’s munificent providence being sustained for so long*. This will appear subversive to conservative Christians, at least until it is recognised that such has been God’s intended journey for the Church, i.e. that the mystery I am alluding to and its final resolution is itself cryptically inferred in certain scriptural prophecy; also that an incomplete understanding of such matters has not prevented the apostolic churches in East and West from fulfilling their gospel mission throughout their history.
*Alternatively just read the e-book, its free to download from Smashwords! HERE
Once the apostle Paul’s reference to “the fellowship of the secret” is understood, the rest of the Bible fits into place. A multi-racial fellowship (the Church) has, contrary to earlier revelation (Eph3:9 Greek), been established to replace a nation (Israel) to act as God’s royal priesthood for the world (Ex19:5&6 cf. 1Pet2:9). These special or “peculiar people” (1Pet2:9KJV) are the first-fruit of God’s harvest (Jam1:18), the mystical Body of Christ on Earth; they are not the totality of “sheep” who retain the divine imprint of humanity demonstrated by their compassion towards others (Mt25:31-46); but then there are the “goats”. These are the providential mysteries and apparent biblical tensions I will be endeavouring to resolve in subsequent posts, to complement what has been set out topically in my book.
Unravelling the mystery of divine providence and the resolution of Scripture