Was Adam a son of God? (Gen. 1)

Published on Sunday, 08 October 2017 11:23
The question, ‘Was Adam a son of God?’, usually is not asking whether Adam became a believer in God through his grace after falling into a state of sin. Instead, the question usually concerns the status of Adam before he fell into sin when he was tempted by the devil to disobey God’s revealed will concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam after his fall could have become a member of God’s family through faith, although one cannot be certain about that because the Bible does not say one way or the other.

The matter of whether Adam was a son of God by nature arises from several biblical verses that use terminology connected to such a relationship. Luke, the author of one of the Gospels, says in his genealogy of Jesus that Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:38). The apostle Paul, when explaining his message to the council in Athens (Acts 17:28-29), cited statements from pagan sources when stating that humans were the offspring of God (Paul was not saying that the sources had a full biblical understanding of anthropology, but he was acknowledging that their opinion at that point was correct). Those verses from Luke in his Gospel and in the Acts indicate that in some way Adam, before he fell into a state of sin, and humans in general have a relationship with God that is one of children to a father.

This does not mean that the status enjoyed by Adam before he fell was the same as the sonship that is given to those who believe in Jesus. Nevertheless, it must be the case that the relationship he enjoyed was part of the dignity that he was given and which we need to understand in order to appreciate the significance of humans as creatures of God. After all, the relationship with God would have been different if there had not been a paternal aspect to it.

The privileges that Adam enjoyed

The accounts of Adam’s creation in Genesis 1 and 2 do not describe him by the specific words ‘son of God’. Yet since Luke says that Adam was a son of God, there must be signs of that status in what is said about Adam. There are three pointers to this status that indicate he was a son of God.

The first pointer comes from asking if other creatures are described as sons of God. There are, and they are the angels who are so described in the Book of Job. They appear before God at a gathering in which reports are given (Job 1:6; 2:1). So we can deduce that part of the dignity of their sonship is that they served God in specified roles.

Moreover, angels are later described in the same book as involved in divine praise that is marked by understanding, wonder and joy: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 33:4-7). The angels understood to some extent what God was doing, his capabilities filled them with wonder, and the response was marked by exceeding joy. While that response happened at the time of the creation of the universe, we can note that the same features appeared in the angels who were sent to inform the shepherds about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2:13-14).

So far we have seen that angelic sonship involved intelligent service of God and intelligent, joyful praise of God. Both the service and the praise given by the angels was corporate. It would not be difficult to deduce that the community of angelic servants, as creatures of God with the status of sons, should be regarded as a family. And it would not be difficult to deduce that Adam was also a son because the same features of service and worship marked his relationship with God.

The obvious difference between Adam and angels was that Adam initially was not part of a community, but since it was intended by God that Adam and Eve and their descendants should produce children it meant that it would not be long before Adam was part of a community, that of the human race. This method of producing a community also points to another distinction between humans and angels. Adam was regarded by God as the head of the human race and its representative in the sense that whatever he did in the role assigned him by God would affect his descendants. This role is explained by Paul in his exposition in Romans 5:12-21 when he explains why Adam’s sin affected every one of the human race as well as himself. There was not a similar relationship with the angels. Instead, when some of them participated in the rebellion of Satan, the entire angelic community did not fall.

Another pointer to Adam’s status comes from another group who are called sons of God in the Old Testament and they are rulers or kings. It is possible that it is rulers who are described in Genesis 6:2-4 as abusing their power in forms of sexual oppression, although that interpretation is disputed, with some arguing that sons of God there refer to the descendants of Seth, and others that they describe fallen angels. Whatever the interpretation of that verse, there are other biblical passages such as Psalm 82 that describe human rulers as sons of God. It should not surprise us to see dominion and sonship linked together because that is what Adam received at his creation. In Genesis 1, he is given authority over all the lower creatures as God’s chosen ruler. This authority was later shown in the way Adam decided names for other creatures (Gen. 2). Adam, if he had remained unfallen, would have been king of the world under the authority of God.

One other feature of the various statements made about Adam and Eve by God at their creation that we can consider is the significance of them being made in the image of God.  Whatever the image includes, it points to humans being like the God who created them. While the aspect of infinity would not have been given to a creature, man was like God in that he could communicate, in that he could love God’s requirements, in that he could express holy affections, in that he could make wise decisions, and in that that he could assess situations.

The concept of likeness is usually regarded as part of the meaning of sonship. Paul reminds us that the notion of fatherhood that exists everywhere comes from God. In everyday life, a father or a parent gives an inheritance to his children. There in Genesis 1, at the beginning of history, God gave an inheritance to his human creatures, made in his image, which would have been theirs for as long as they remained in a right relationship with him as their Father.

What happens after the fall?

Sadly, the relationship that existed between humans and God was affected when Adam and Eve sinned. Instead of living in an environment of blessing, a divine curse was placed over the activities of man. Death, pain, disappointment and other problems would mark life everywhere. Yet some traces of the pre-existing situation remain after the fall and here are some of them.

First, everyone receives their existence from God. Each person is a divine creation. It is true that each is connected in various ways to their parents, yet each person is also an individual formed by the hand and care of God, as the psalmist mentions in Psalm 139 when he considers the significance of having come into existence because of God’s plan.

Second, everyone retains aspects of the image of God. This reality is mentioned in the Bible as reasons for not engaging in sin, whether it be the serious sin of murder or lesser sins such as those mentioned by James in his letter. It is because humans retain those aspects that we know the difference between right and wrong (conscience), that we show kindness to others and express sympathy for others, and we can learn and use that knowledge for the betterment of life (as the descendants of Cain did in Genesis 4).

Third, everyone enjoys the bountiful provision of God. How much care does God expend on the world each day? Who looks after the crops as they grow? Who sends the rain and caused the sun to shine? Of course, the world is not now what it could have been, but this shortfall is not the fault of God. In his common grace he provides abundantly for his rebellious creatures who have estranged themselves from him.

Fourth, everyone is outside the immediate family of God. This is the devastating consequence of the sin of Adam. With one bite he moved from the family of God and became detached from it. No longer did he love God as the Father, no longer did he trust in divine protection but immediately became afraid of divine power, no longer did he want to communicate with God. A sign could be placed inside Eden beside where Adam fell which read ‘Unimaginable Disaster.’

What does the gospel offer?

Many different blessings are offered in the gospel and here are some of them. We can think of forgiveness of all our sins, the reception of a new heart that now loves God, the promise of interaction with God through prayer as we bring our concerns to him, the reality of belonging to a community with shared interests under God’s guidance, the promise of going to heaven when we die, and the prospect of being with God forever in the world of glory. What holds all those features together? It is membership of God’s family. Those who are forgiven join the family of God, all who are in the family of God have new hearts, prayer to the heavenly Father is engaged in by all his family members, the invisible church is composed of those who belong to the family of God, and the new heavens and new earth is the eternal inheritance of the family members.

One of the parables of Jesus that is well-known is called the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It is possible that this parable is miscalled because there were two rebellious sons in the parable and they depict self-righteous people (the elder brother) and unrighteous people (the runaway brother). A stronger reason for having another name for the parable is connected to the fact that the message of the parable is actually about the father who depicts God. What does Jesus say about the father that reminds us of the heavenly Father?

Here are five thoughts to observe. First, God allows people to choose the path of their rebellion, as indicated in the choices of the two sons. Second, God looks for the return of those who wander far away from him. Third, God rushes to embrace those who do return to him. Fourth, God provides freely to those who do return. Fifth, God and those who are penitent are happy for ever. What an amazing insight into the heart of the heavenly Father! I wonder who he is rushing to embrace just now. He will be doing so all over the world today. Have we known his glad embrace, or are we like the returning prodigal so focussed on our defects that we don’t fully listen to what the Father says when he restores the wayward son to family privileges and status?

How do sinners estranged from God become his children? There is a divine side to the process and there is a human side as well. From the divine side, sinners need to be made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit – this is termed regeneration and must occur before a spiritually-dead sinner will respond positively to the gospel. This activity of the Spirit involves enlightenment regarding themselves as sinners and of Jesus as the Saviour. How do we know that we have been enlightened in a manner that is connected to being regenerated by the Holy Spirit? The answer to that question is given by John in his Gospel when he says that those who know the answer are those who have received Jesus by faith (John 1:12). To receive something means to take what is offered by someone. Jesus in his grace offers himself to sinners and once they have received him they discover that they are also full members of the family of God by a new birth (they have the right to be so-called, says John).

Responding to the gospel brings us back into the family of God. We don’t come back into a relationship that is the same as Adam had. The one that Adam had was for sinless people, the one that we have is for changed sinners. The one that Adam had could be lost, the one that changed sinners have can never be lost. The one that Adam had did not involve the presence of the Elder Brother (Jesus) with his people whereas all those in the new family connection are united to Jesus is a personal and powerful way by the Holy Spirit.

It is good to be restored to the family. Earlier, we mentioned that for Adam, he could serve and praise God like the angels did, that he could rule on behalf of God, and that he was like God. Those who come into the family through divine grace also serve and praise God, they reign with Jesus forever, and they are renewed in the image of the One who created them.

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