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.
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A new (third) edition of “The Fellowship of the Secret” has just been released. In the event it has been only slightly modified, yet in the spirit of my previous penitent blog I would have liked to have been more conciliatory, but I’ve had to remain faithful to what I believe has been revealed to me by the Spirit. That includes the more contentious aspects relating to the nature of the sixteenth century Reformation and the need to dismantle key aspects of Augustinian and “Reformed” theology that has influenced so many for so long. Only then can the joyful prospect of God’s broader benign providence – what my adoptive Church refers to as God’s Plan of Loving Goodness – be discerned. And just as importantly, particularly from the perspective of the many outside the Catholic Church, it has to be solidly underpinned from Scripture. Theologically speaking, that has been the primary purpose of the book, although its author has still broader aspirations, to set out a possible path to church unity. That would especially be needed in the context of the end-time script, so that a coherent witness to the Good News of the Kingdom can be provided to the world before the current arrangements upon it are concluded at our Lord’s return (cf. Mt24:14).
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