Revisiting Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

I originally posted the following article four years ago, here, and with the current discussion of Planned Parenthood and the renewed cultural debate on abortion this is a particularly relevant post to revisit. What follows is an unedited reposting of my 2011 article followed by a brief addendum to clarify the original conclusion.


Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

This Sunday’s cover story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, for The New York Times Magazine is nothing new. I wrote several years ago, in “When the Fertility Clinic Meets the Abortion Clinic: A Modern Paradox,” about a similar article in the Los Angeles Times. In fact the only thing that has changed in these four years are the numbers. The reasons and the response are the same things that have been around since the first abortion and if we were to go back further to the origins of infanticide. When reading these articles, or the responses to them, they are so predictable that they almost appear to be scripted. With that I hope to take a departure from the typical response and argue that the real issue here is not life, it is not choice, and it is not even murder. The real issue is sovereignty.

Let me explain what I mean. In her June article, “Yes, Abortion is Killing. But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior explains how having a child changed her perspective regarding abortion. After explaining the lack of a consensus regarding a scientific or philosophical definition of life she concludes,

What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. My daughter was formed at conception, and all the barely understood alchemy that turned the happy accident of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg into my darling, personality-packed toddler took place at that moment. She is so unmistakably herself, her own person — forged in my womb, not by my mothering.

Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life

She then explains that such conclusions have resulted in a movement aimed at separating feminism from “fertility control.” However, she views this as entirely incompatible with the central aim of feminism exclaiming, “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” The freedom of women then depends upon one thing the unencumbered exercise of the will.

With a shocking candor she concludes,

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

For Antonia Senior, and I would argue for all of us, the principal issue is sovereignty, a woman’s ultimate right to impose her will upon herself and upon others.

Sovereignty occurs vertically in the form of worship, we could use other words but the concept remains the same. We either rejoice in the sovereignty of the God in whose image we are made or we deny it by worshipping any number of god’s made in our image. Horizontally human interaction exists upon a continuum of two extremes; escape and conflict. Both extremes end in death and both are false exercises of sovereignty. At the extreme end of escape is suicide where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over the self by taking one’s life. At the extreme end of conflict lies murder where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over another by taking another’s life.

The first two articles mentioned, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” and “The abortion debate brought home,” regarding reduction, which let’s be honest is a clever play on words to sanitize something far more grisly and sinister, bring another exercise of sovereignty into the question, namely in vitro fertilization and the creation of life. Imposing one’s will upon one’s own biology may require medical assistance and donated eggs which is where our current discussion often begins. With in vitro fertilization, when multiple embryos are transferred, there is always the possibility of multiple embryos implanting and when multiple babies are not wanted or the mother is unable to give birth to multiple children then one or more of them must be put to death. In 1988 Dr. Mark Evans penned guidelines for this procedure stating that “most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.” Things have changed over the past 23 years; the medical community has rethought its ethics and is now willing and able to reduce your pregnancy to one. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” ends with a counterintuitive conclusion. After choosing to reduce their pregnancy to one child the author asks the women what would happen if they miscarried to which one of them replied, “I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.”

After all this talk of a woman’s complete control of her own fertility comes the tragic conclusion that “there’s only so much we can control.” Ultimately you cannot impose your will upon your biology because ultimately you are not sovereign. Your sovereignty is an illusion.

How are we to respond to this? Should we call our senator or state representative? Should we start building picket signs and begin protesting abortion clinics? No, we must respond with the Gospel, in word and deed. We must respond in the same way that God responds to humanity’s first act of false sovereignty in the garden, with grace and the promise that in Christ we will be liberated not unto self but from self and sin and set free to worship the one true Sovereign. Any other response is incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.


Addendum 2015-08-05

The church is a global reality and when I address issues, such as this one, my primary concern is how the global church should respond. And our primary response and concern must be proclaiming and incarnating the Gospel (Ephesians 6:10-20). After all abortions do not occur simply because they are legal or because of Planned Parenthood. No, they occur because of our insatiable desire for control, for sovereignty; they occur because humans, both as individuals and as humanity, a global culture, are unflinchingly committed to our rebellion against the true Sovereign. That must be our first and primary response. Any other primary response is, as I said four years ago, incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

Now, I still have little patience for evangelical political activism. As Ed Stetzer lamented in Breaking the Missional Code, ” For many, evangelicals have become a voting block rather than a spiritual force” (2006:9). Political activism alone, defunding Planned Parenthood for example, would only be as beneficial as God bringing the Jews out of Egypt without also bringing them to Himself. But in 2011 I was unbalanced and failed to recognize the uniqueness of the American situation. The global church must respond with the Gospel, as in many places political change is not possible in the same way that it is in the United States. The church mush make the gospel our primary concern, we must make the truth known, we must seek to see men and women reconciled to the God whose image their born and unborn children bear.

At the same time when there is opportunity seek political change we must do so humbly, with a knowledge that political change is important but not ultimate. God is redeeming the whole of creation from the cancerous cells growing in your body and the raging of the seas to the political and cultural structures of man. He is, and ultimately will, set those things right, their rebellion will be brought to an end, and the earth will be renewed and inhabited by the new humanity. But the renewal of creation is inextricably tied to the reconciliation of God and man (Romans 8:18ff.). So feel free to contact the political powers that be and seek to persuade those who make those decisions but do so knowing that what your neighbor who is considering an abortion needs most is not legislation but reconciliation.

I hope this was a beneficial read and I hope that this addendum has clarified what was lacking in my previous conclusion.

8. God’s Covenant Faithfulness to the Patriarchs

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Looking back to the fall and the spread of human rebellion we continually saw that God’s response was to initiate and provide for reconciliation. We saw that in the garden he sought out rebellious man and paired with judgment issued a gracious promise. When Cain murdered his brother Abel we saw God’s gracious response to Cain and we also saw His gracious response to Adam and Eve with the provision of another son Seth, through whose line the promised deliverer of Genesis 3:15 would come. In the story of Noah God gracious provided the means by which Noah and his family could escape the impending judgment and after this deliverance God echoed the commands of Genesis 1:28 by saying, “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). Again we saw God’s grace at the Tower of Babel as humanity gathered to make a name for themselves the Lord confused their languages and dispersed them over the face of the earth, which again echoes the mandate of Genesis 1:28. Again God is gracious in judgment as he calls Abram and establishes a covenant for Abram. With this,

“Abraham is asked to give up all the symbols of security and autonomy with which the builders of Babel sought to shore up their own identity . . . [and yet in an amazing contrast] The trophies that the people of Babel attempted to take for themselves―fame, security, and a heritage for the future―are God’s free gift to Abraham.”[54]

While studying the Abrahamic Covenant we noted four distinct promises made to Abram. These promises are reaffirmed to Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. These promises profoundly shaped the lives of the patriarchs as they struggle to trust God for their fulfillment.

I. The Narrative of the Patriarchs

There is much that cannot be covered due to time constraints; because of this the passages covering each of the patriarch’s narratives are listed on the outline.

A. Abraham―Genesis 11:27-25:11

Would someone read Genesis 12:1-4?

This begins the story of Abram. God has established His covenant and Abram has left his country to follow the Lord. The story of Abraham highlights his struggle concerning God’s fulfillment of the promise concerning his offspring. There are two places where this struggle reaches a climax.

Would someone read Genesis 16:1-11 and 17:15-21? What does this story teach us about Abram? What does it teach us about God?
Would someone read Genesis 22:1-14? Read verse 6 what can we learn about Isaac according to the description found here? What do you think that tells us about Isaac’s attitude in verse 9? What picture are we given by the “ram, caught in a thicket?” Isaac’s life also gives us a picture, what might this be?

Isaac is carrying enough wood for a burnt sacrifice this is not the description of a small child. Furthermore, we learn of Isaac’s submissiveness as he allows his father to bind him. I think many of us would note the similarities between the “ram, caught in a thicket” and Christ but I have never thought of Isaac as a pattern of the resurrection. But is that not one of the central points of substitution? A substitute died in his place and because of that substitute he lives.

B. Isaac―Genesis 21:1-35:29

The Genesis text emphasizes the lives of Abraham and Jacob with Isaac playing a transitional role between these two narratives.[55] Because of this you can read the account of his life in the Genesis text and we will focus our study on the two characters given literary emphasis. It is important to note that the fourfold promise made to Abraham his father is repeated to him in Genesis 26:3-4.

C. Jacob―Genesis 25:21-50:14

Certainly Abraham had his struggles but the story of Jacob’s “reprehensible features are rather strongly brought out. This is done in order to show that divine grace is not the reward for, but the source of noble traits.”[56]

Would someone read Genesis 25:21-34? How is Jacob described in these verses?

Jacob is conniving and cold as he uses his brother’s weakness to purchase his brother’s birthright from him. In the same way we see his deceptiveness in Genesis 27 as he disguises himself as Esau to receive a blessing from his dying father Isaac.

How are we to understand these stories? What moral lessons are we to take away from them? What do these stories teach us about God? What do they teach us about how we are to read His Word?

These storied teach us that God rescues those who do not deserve it. No one merits God’s favor; neither Adam, nor Cain, nor Noah, nor Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob has in any way merited God’s favor. His covenants and promises are wholly and act of His redeeming grace. Furthermore, we cannot use God’s Word as simply a moral handbook because if you do then this passage will lead you to prize deception. Rather you must read God’s Word as a metanarrative. The greater redemptive context provides a clearer understanding of this text and that is to show, as we read earlier, “that divine grace is not the reward for, but the source of noble traits.”[57] We continue to see this divine grace even as God reaffirms his covenant to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15.

Would someone please read Genesis 35:22b-36? What is the significance of Jacob’s offspring? How has God kept His promise to Abraham?

These are the twelve tribes of Israel; God is beginning to make of Abraham a great nation.

II. Common Themes in the Patriarchal Narratives

A. Covenant Promises in Crisis

During each of the patriarch’s lives different promises are the source of struggle and possible failure. With Abraham the possibility of a seed is the source of much tension. With Jacob God’s blessing and protection is a source of struggle. The promise of land is far removed from the patriarchs; they wonder in it but in no sense has God given them this land, so in a way while God has fulfilled aspects of the promise other aspects are left unfulfilled at this point.

B. Election

One of the central themes of this section, which will be heavily emphasized later on, is that of election. How does the narrative bring this out?

This can be clearly seen in God’s calling of Abraham but it is emphasized the most in the story of Jacob.

III. The Patriarchal Narratives as Eschatology

Just like Noah before him Abraham is another Adamic figure who points towards recreation. With Noah we were pointed to a renewed creation. With Abraham we are pointed to a renewed people, a particular people, and a people through whom all peoples will be blessed. “Salvation meant blessing on a particular people (Israel) and blessing through that particular people (for all nations).”[58] God is not just creating a particular people He is creating a missional people for a particular mission, His mission. With this progression we are reminded of past progressions all of us which pointed to something greater and indeed with this small nation, consisting of twelve sons, we are left to anticipate the day when they are indeed a great nation and the nations are blessed through them


How have we seen God’s covenant faithfulness through the lives through the patriarchs and what are these stories teaching us?

[54]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 53-54.

[55]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 103.

[56]Vos, Biblical Theology, 108.

[57]Ibid., 108.

[58]Christopher J. H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story, Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 60.

7. God Calls Abram from the Nations and for the Nations

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As we have surveyed the history of redemption we have taken care to note how the fall explains why, in light of God’s good creation, Israel experienced 400 years of death and slavery. We have seen how it reinforced their solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. As we began our study of redemption we saw that we are not without hope, what was lost will be restored and relationships will be reconciled. Yet as we ended with God confusing man’s language at the Tower of Babel and dispersing humanity over the face of the earth. While this was an act of grace it still leaves us with many unanswered questions and raises new ones. With Moses writing the Pentateuch sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death Israel must certainly be wondering about their origins both generally as a people and specifically as God’s people.

I. The Abrahamic Covenant in Context

After the account of Babel Genesis 11 records the generations of Noah’s son Shem, after which the text focuses upon his descendant Terah by recording his genealogy as well.

Would someone read Genesis 11:27-32 for us?

With that the story of Abram, soon to be Abraham, comes to the people of Israel not with pomp and circumstance, he is not lavishly described, he is simply a son a Terah who settled with his father in Haran.

II. The Abrahamic Covenant

Like Noah before him and the people of God after him there is nothing that would hint at Abram’s meriting God’s favor and yet God, in His grace, speaks to Abram and establishes a covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-22; 18; and 22:1-18). Prior to looking at the content of the covenant we need to look at its ratification to discern whether it is a conditional or unconditional covenant.

Will someone please read Genesis 15:7-19?

In this ceremony “God signifies that if he does not keep his promise, he will be torn limb from limb like these animals (cf. Jeremiah 34:18-20).”[48] The Abrahamic Covenant “emphasizes most strongly, both in word and act, the absolute monergism of the divine power in accomplishing the things promised.”[49] This covenant is in no way synergistic like we saw described in conditional bilateral covenants where two parties enter into an agreement. Rather the Abrahamic Covenant is clearly a unilateral covenant, or unconditional covenant. Which we defined as “an arrangement imposed by a superior on subordinates . . . It usually designates an agreement made to or for, not with, the subordinate, depicting a legally binding promise which one party makes toward another.”[50] God is entering into a covenant for Abram, his descendants, and as we will soon see for the nations as well.

Would someone please read Genesis 12:1-9? In this text there are four specific promises that are made to Abram. What are they?

  • Offspring/Seed: “I will make of you a great nation.”
  • Personal Blessing: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.”
  • Blessing to the Nations: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
  • Land: “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Now let us take each one of these and examine them in detail. What is the significance of this promised offspring or seed? Why is it significant that God promises to make a great nation of Abram?

The immediate significance is that it answers the question Israel’s origin. This narrative explains “to the infant nation how they have a place within Yahweh’s magnificent plan to renew earth and its peoples and to effect a glorious recreation and fulfillment of his original intentions.”[51] This reaffirms God’s command to Adam and later to Noah to be fruitful and multiply as well.

What is the significance of the personal blessing?

While God’s blessing can be seen throughout the life of Abram this is important in that it also signifies God’s presence and His protection.[52] Another important point to note is that God’s blessing is further elaborated with the purpose clause “so that you will be a blessing.” God intends to bless Abram but even more He intends to bless others through him.

Building off of our discussion on personal blessing what is significant about God blessing the nations through Abram?

This has clear eschatological implications, which will be noted later, but this expresses God’s continued commitment to the whole of His creation. God is not abandoning the nations for the sake of Israel. He is not blessing Israel at the expense of the nations. He is blessing Israel for the sake of the nations.

What about the promise of land?

This points us both back towards creation where God dwelled with man in Eden and forward to a place where God will be present among His people.

III. The Abrahamic Covenant as Eschatology

“At Babel mankind sought to build a temple, rising to the heavens, to unite all people. Instead, God scattered the peoples. In the midst of this hopeless confusion, however, he was at work singling out the family that would bring redemption to the earth.”[53] The Abrahamic Covenant gives specificity to our eschatological expectation that was not previously present. The offspring/seed of Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpent and overcome the curse will be a descendant of Abraham and it is by through His victory that the nations will ultimately be blessed.


Abram like Adam and Noah before him did nothing to merit God’s grace. He was wholly undeserving of any blessing bestowed upon him, just as we are, God is gracious. In his gracious blessing of Abram He also made him a blessing to the nations, while we see this ultimately fulfilled in Christ it is a task which has been handed to us as well.

In what ways can we “be a blessing” and see the nations blessed?

[48]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 56.

[49]Vos, Biblical Theology, 94.

[50]Ibid., 176.

[51]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 115.

[52]Ibid., 106-7.

[53]Ibid., 127.

6. The Missional God

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Last session we examined the fall and its horrific effects upon man’s relationship with God, man’s relationship with his fellow man, man’s relationship with himself, and man’s relationship with creation. After seeing this and learning of the relentless spread of sin and human rebellion and the subsequent judgments that followed one should begin immediately asking “Can it be fixed?” Is there any way that we can recover what was lost? Can these relationships ever be set right? Will man’s inherent nature always be marked by rebellion? Is there any source of hope?

I. The God who Initiates and Provides for Redemption

To truly grasp and appreciate this topic we need to be reminded of man’s corrupt nature and its rebellious inclinations. Would someone read Genesis 3:6-13? What do the man and the woman do when their eyes are opened? How did Adam react when he heard God in the garden?

Man did not seek out God in repentance; he did not attempt to atone for his sins. No, man hid from God in the garden. This is still man’s tendency (Romans 3:9-18). From this narrative it is clear that man is both unwilling and unable to turn to God in repentance on his own accord. God must intervene and intervene He does. “God comes into the Garden from without, seeks out Adam, and both judges and shares the redemptive promise with him . . . God was on a mission to Adam. He had no other man to send, so he sent himself.”[40] God is a missional God. He seeks out rebellious man to redeem him. God promises and provides for redemption. By the shedding of blood God covers their shame (Genesis 3:21). And it is God who provides a means by which rebellious humanity may enter into relationship with him (Genesis 4:1-5).

II. The God who Initiates and Keeps His Covenant

A. Introducing the Covenants

Throughout our study of redemption we will be studying several covenants that God establishes with His people.

“Covenants play a prominent role in OT life—socially, politically, and religiously. The covenant idea itself, first mentioned in Genesis 6 during the days of Noah, is intricately woven into the fabric of the biblical account all the way through to Revelation 11 where the ‘ark of His covenant’ reappears in the temple. The word itself occurs in 27 of 39 OT books and in 11 of 27 NT books.”[41]

What we need to recognize at the outset is that, “there are covenants between equals, of course, but when the Lord entered into covenants, he did so as one who ruled over a people. For their part, they received his covenant with its blessings, curses, stipulations and signs, and so became bound to him as to a lord.”[42] We will be primarily focusing on covenant as an expression of God’s redemption but they are also an expression of God’s right to rule, He is the supreme redeemer-judge.

B. Types of Covenants

A bilateral covenant, or conditional covenant, “represents an agreement between two parties in which there is a basic party. Both sides enter into the treaty, voluntarily, resulting in a partnership relationship.”[43] Failure to carry out the covenant stipulations by either party renders a bilateral covenant null and void.

A unilateral covenant, or unconditional covenant, is “an arrangement imposed by a superior on subordinates . . . It usually designates an agreement made to or for, not with, the subordinate, depicting a legally binding promise which one party makes toward another.”[44] Unilateral covenant depends solely upon God’s covenant-keeping faithfulness for fulfillment.

III. The God who Guides Redemption

A. God’s Covenant with Adam―The Adamic Covenant

In Genesis 3:14-19, in typical covenant language the reader is presented with a series of curses and a blessing.

Will someone read that for us? What stands out to you as the focal point of this promise?

In Genesis 3:15 we are given the protevangelium, the first gospel. God promises, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Genesis 3:15, author’s translation and emphasis).

There are two distinct promises made here. What are they and how would you explain them?

First, we see that God establishes gracious hostility. As an expression of His grace God places enmity between the serpent and the woman, between her seed and the serpent’s seed. Because of this man will never be as evil as he could be. Yes, man’s nature is corrupt and he flees God and is hostile towards God but at the same time man, in some way, is also hostile towards evil, towards the serpent. This is God’s restraining grace in that He allows man to become corrupt and yet He establishes hostility between man and the evil with which he has corrupted himself.

Second, while the first promise was to the plural seed/offspring of the woman the second refers to a singular offspring who will conqueror the serpent.[45] We are not given specifics pertaining to the fulfillment of this promise but it, and the entire Old Testament, points forward to a messianic figure through who God will realize His purposes.

B. Cain and Abel

Last week as we saw the spread of sin and the effects of the fall as Cain slays his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-8) would someone read Genesis 4:9-22? How do you see God’s grace in His dealing with Cain and his offspring?

C. God’s Covenant with Noah – The Noaic Covenant

In the Genesis 5 genealogy of the generations of Adam verses 28-31 both tell of the birth of Noah and hold massive redemptive significance. Would someone read those verses? What is the significance of this passage?

In light of this curse, Lamech is anticipating his son to be the singular Messiah who would crush the serpents head and bring about a Sabbath rest. While this is not the case it is extremely important because we see that 1,000 years after the promises and curses of the garden man is still anticipating a singular messiah who would overcome the serpent and deliver the people of God. This is not a foreign concept to the people of God. We are not reading Christ into these texts. He is there and His people are eagerly anticipating His arrival.

Would someone read Genesis 6:5-8? How is humanity described there? How is Noah described?

The descriptions of sinful humanity found in verses 5-7 are descriptive of Noah as well there is nothing there that would lead us to exclude him from that description. In verse 8 “Noah’s righteousness is simply stated alongside God’s grace without any comment about whether it is the cause or effect of God’s attitude toward him. Later it will be much clearer that God’s grace is the cause of sinful people becoming righteous.”[46] God spares Noah and His family because He is a gracious God, not because they deserve salvation. God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:17-22; 8:20-22; 9:8-17), like His covenant with Adam, is established as a unilateral promise to all of humanity as God will never destroy the earth and all its life with water again. While the flood represents death and judgment it also represents a new beginning and we see a continuity with the first creation as God commands Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7).

D. Babel

When looking at the narrative of Babel it is important that we look to what precedes it so a not to overstate the effects of God’s judgment. In Genesis 10 presents a genealogy of the sons of Noah and the nations that descended from them. The nations are not the result of God’s judgment in Genesis 11 rather they are the result of His provision and grace in Genesis 10 as we see God continuing to bless Noah and his offspring. From the tower of Babel it is also important to note why God confuses their language. Like God’s restraining grace in Genesis 3 we see that this prevents humanity from unifying in their rebellion against God and this confusion disperses rebellious humanity.

IV. God’s Mission as Eschatology

“The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation. The Bible is the drama of this God of purpose engaged in the mission of achieving that purpose universally, embracing past, present and future, Israel and the nations, ‘life, the universe and everything,’ and with its center, focus, climax, and completion in Jesus Christ.”[47]

The missio Dei, mission of God, is inextricably tied to the imago Dei, the image of God, because we have been made in the image of the missional God: the God who sent Himself, who sent His Son, and who has sent us His Spirit. Sending and being sent is fundamental to understanding the character of God and it is fundamental to our bearing His image as well. This points us forward to a day when through the proclamation of the gospel and at the fulfillment of all of God’s divine sendings “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10b-11).


The texts we studied tonight are charged with potential. We must learn to read these stories in a fresh light and to see how profoundly they speak to the redeeming grace of our God and how that redeeming grace continues to give shape and meaning to our lives today. These are not mere stories of the past; this is our story.

Rather than ask the application “how should you apply what we have learned?” I want to ask “how are you applying what we learned tonight?” Are you really living this story or are you living out a rival story? What do you need to do to bring your narrative in line with the narrative of God?

[40]Francis M. DuBose, God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1983), 57.

[41]Irvin A. Busenitz, “Introduction to the Biblical Covenants; The Noaic Covenant and the Priestly Covenant,” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 10 (1999): 173.

[42]Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 74.

[43]Busenitz, “Introduction to the Biblical Covenants,” 175.

[44]Ibid., 176.

[48]T. Desmond Alexander, “Genealogies, Seed and the Compositional Unity of Genesis,” in Tyndale Bulletin 44 (1993): 255-270. See also T. Desmond Alexander, “Further Observations on the Term ‘Seed’ in Genesis,” in Tyndale Bulletin 48 (1997): 363-367. and Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, New Studies in Biblical Theology 11 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 27-28.

[46]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 114.

[47]Wright, The Mission of God, 22.

5. Autonomy and Alienation

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As we have studied the account of Creation and the imago Dei it should become clear that what is described there does not totally correspond to our present experience of reality. Indeed this disparity is the reason for our second worldview question, “What went wrong?” Answering this question is critical to making sense of the world in which we live and understanding how God will fulfill His creational purposes. This is the question we aim to answer as we examine the fall of man, the spread of sin, and God’s subsequent judgment.

I. The Fall in Context

Again we come to this text with the realization that it was written by Moses sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death. This narrative is just as important for ancient Israel as it is for us. It explains why, in light of God’s good creation, they experienced 400 years of death and slavery. It reinforces their solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. We noted earlier that the creation narrative allowed Israel to understand that the “God who rescues Israel from slavery is the God who has made all things, the creator of heaven and earth.”[33] In the same way this narrative connects us and Israel before us, to Adam and Eve in a way that we are subjected to the curse and plagued by the same fallen nature just as they were. With this as the intent of the text we must realize that this text does not address all of our questions concerning the origin of evil and the serpent.

II. The Account of the Fall

In Genesis 2:16-17 we read, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” Here we see that man “was to learn the good in its clear opposition to evil, and the evil in its clear opposition to the good. Thus it will become plain how he could attain to this by taking either fork of the probation-choice.”[34] Ultimately, we find that man chose to know good and evil and by becoming evil. They rebelled against God and His Word “not by consciously making Satan their new final authority, but by taking that function to themselves.”[35]

Would someone read Genesis 3:1-13?

Because of the role of the Word of God in creation, it is not surprising then that the fall of man is a result of the questioning and doubting of this word.

In what ways is the encounter between the woman and the Serpent an assault upon the Word of God?

There is a brief addendum at the end of this chapter which discusses this dialogue in slightly more detail.

Would someone read Genesis 3:14-24? In what ways does God curse the Serpent, the woman, Adam, and creation?

III. The Fall and the Imago Dei

“Though man is still in the image of God, in every aspect of life some parts of that image have been distorted of lost.”[36] Structurally man’s mind and heart has become darkened (Romans 1:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4) and his conscience has been seared (1 Timothy 4:2). Functionally man fails to exercise dominion and rather than mastering creation, he is mastered by it; as Geerhardus Vos explains, noting the climactic nature of the curses found in Genesis 3 he translates it as, “thy hard labor will finally slay thee.”[37] Relationally man has been alienated from and is hostile towards God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21; Hebrews 10:26-27), a hostility that not only sets man against man (Romans 1:28-31) but also sets a man against himself (James 4:1). The effects of the fall upon the imago Dei are pervasive; man does not cease to be an image bearer, and yet every aspect of that image is distorted by sin and the curse.

Profoundly affected by the fall, man is something less than human; he is something less than what he was created to be. Man is by default an image bearer and yet the image he bears is distorted and corrupt; it is an idolatrous image bearing witness to a false God.

IV. The Outworking of the Fall

Rather than simply examine Genesis 3 and the curse described there we need to recognize the narrative form of this text and continue reading to see the pervasive effects of the fall among the descendants of Adam and Eve.

A. Cain and Able

“Strangely, at first, the serpent seems to be right: Adam and eve do not immediately die. Or do they? One of the things this story should do is to make us reflect long and hard on just what ‘death’ means.”[38] This is very true and it should cause us think, yet death does come and it comes relentlessly and with great violence and horror. Immediately after the curse we read in verse 21 “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” The very animals which Adam had previously named were slaughtered to cover their shame with that death and bloodshed entered God’s creation.

Turn with me and read Genesis 4:1-8. The relational effects of the fall are clear as we see that by this point animal sacrifices are a normative way of interacting with God. Then as Cain slaughters his brother Able, as one would slaughter and animal, death comes violently upon mankind. Turning to chapter five the genealogies echo the horror of this reality:

  • “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.” (Genesis 5:5).
  • “Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:8).
  • “Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:14).
  • “And he died” verse 17.
  • “And he died” verse 20.
  • “And he died” verse 27.
  • “And he died” verse 31.

B. The Flood

Would someone read Genesis 6:11-14 and 7:17-24? Has anyone ever been in a flood?

The only thing I could liken this to would be the tsunami in 2004 or hurricane Katrina and the stories and pictures of devastation and heartache. The problem of sin grew so severe that God killed every living thing on the earth save Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. Can you imagine the horror of this? Can you imagine people who knew Noah beating on the side of the ark as the waters rose in search of salvation and finding none? Can you imagine the stench when the waters subsided and they exited the ark?

What does this teach us about sin, humanity and God?

C. The Tower of Babel

Continuing on through the Genesis text we arrive in chapter 10 we read a genealogy which describes the various clans and nations that came from the son’s of Noah and spread abroad on the earth. In chapter 11 we find that humanity has one language and has gathered together to build a tower and make a name for themselves so that they will not be scattered over the face of the earth. “Name in Scripture stands for identity. With this city and tower, the people have sought a false identity, a reputation built on human autonomy (11:4).”[39] God thwarts their rebellion again His command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the earth.


The reality of sin and God’s subsequent judgment sets the stage for man’s redemption and the restoration of the imago Dei. We will return to these same texts next week as we see how God’s mercy is mingled with His judgment as we learn to see these passages as both words of warning and words of hope.

What did this narrative teach Israel? What is it teaching us? How does this affect our understanding of creation?

Excursus A: Examining the Dialogue between Eve and the Serpent

At some point following the completion of creation the man and the woman are approached by the serpent who immediately begins to cast doubt on the word which God has spoken. He begins by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’” (Genesis 3:1)? In his initial inquiry, the serpent not only aims to bring God’s Word into question he also distorts the word which has been spoken. The woman then replies and corrects the serpent; however, she then adds to God’s prohibition against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil saying, “neither shall you touch it, lest you die” whereas God’s prohibition was only against eating its fruit. Now that the woman has both responded to the serpent’s attempt to cast doubt on God’s Word and added to that Word herself the serpent directly challenges God and His Word. He says to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food, which should not be surprising as God has declared all of His creation to be good, took and with her husband ate and their eyes were opened.

[33]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 30.

[34]Vos, Biblical Theology, 42.

[35]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 104.

[36]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 444.

[37]Vos, Biblical Theology, 48.

[38]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 43.

[39]Ibid., 53.