Acts 17:26 “From one man he made every nation of men.”
“What a piece of work is a man,
how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving how express and admirable,
in action how like an angel,
in apprehension how like a god.”
So Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet. We can only know what a human being is when we know God our Maker, for men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. Knowing God and knowing man is a similar activity. Leaving the living God entirely out of the reckoning then the highest experiences of a man’s life, his affections, thoughts, opinions, self-sacrifice and self-giving, and his appreciation of music and beauty – all are to be accounted for ‘God-lessly,’ solely in terms of electrical impulses in the brain, man’s nervous system and chemical changes in his glands. He is, in short, believed to be an extremely complex organic machine, but no more. A loved one, without the living God, becomes, ultimately, proteins and electrical impulses. By what standards or criteria can you measure man – “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel”? Without God and all his holy angels the unbeliever has nothing but the lesser creation with which to size up man, and so man can end up being dubbed a ‘naked ape.’ Shakespeare’s similitudes are so exalted, “in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god.”
In this chapter of the book of Acts we are confronted with Paul standing on Mars Hill before a couple of dozen leading councilors of the city of Athens. They were in effect the local watch committee and one of their functions was to assess itinerant teachers. Were they revolutionaries? After hearing reports of Paul’s preaching in the market place some of them had gone there to hear him speak in order to ratify what they’d heard on the grape vine. Then they’d summoned Paul to their meeting where they’d asked him to give an account of his teaching. We have here Luke’s brief précis of Paul’s presentation of Christianity as he declared it to the pagan world, in other words, to people who’d never had any contact with the Bible. Luke has recorded here the apostle’s salient points – you can read aloud the whole speech here in Acts 17 in one minute or so. But Paul preached for half an hour we guess, and he began by talking to them about origins, that the God he trusted, on whose behalf he was speaking in Athens, had created the heavens and the earth. This God gives to all men life and breath and everything else. That is the first point, and then Paul proceeded to explain to them the origin of man and the human race. “From one man he made every nation of men” (v.26). That’s what Paul told them.
The Epicureans listening to Paul had an utterly inadequate, pagan view of man. The late Professor Blaiklock, the Baptist professor of classics at Auckland University in New Zealand, describes these Epicurean views, that they were not at all spiritual or religious or moral in their understanding of what constituted man. Dr. Blaiklock says that their views were materialistic, thoroughly and absolutely. The soul and the mind, according to Democritus, “were atomic in structure, atoms round and mobile, and infinitely subtle. Sight, hearing and taste were the impinging of atoms on the senses, themselves material in structure.” That was the Epicurean view of man. He was a mass of atoms, a lump of molecules. And for the people of Greece one consequence of that demeaning view of man was that unwanted babies were exposed, in other words, they were put out at night for the packs of dogs that roamed the streets to tear apart and eat, atoms devouring atoms. Again, another consequence of this low view of man was that five out of every six people in Athens belonged to the underclass of slaves with no rights – even of marriage and parenthood. The lot of women was also wretched because Epicureans did not see woman as equally made in the image and like ness of God, to be honoured and treasured.
So Paul told these Athenian aristocrats, keepers of the city’s morals, that every nation came from the one man whom God made. In other words Paul taught them that Adam was the first man made by God, a fully historical human being who was the genetic father of the whole human race. For these senators to understand and believe the true nature of man was evidently important to Paul because you see he quickly returns to this theme later in his sermon (verses 28 & 29). It is important also to us in the 21st century – as you can see in Dr. John Ling’s book on medical ethics. One huge crucial battle we are fighting today is over the issue of the nature of man.
ADAM WAS A REAL MAN CREATED BY GOD.
The first human beings were initially not unlike today’s human beings, except for our falleness. They were not primitive ape-like savages covered all over with hair, like a dog or cat. I suppose such creatures, if they did exist, would have to be judged as the highest form of ape, creatures able to make primitive tools and to paint on the walls of caves – Neanderthals – who’ve long died out, like many of the other early creatures. The Adam of the Bible was not like that at all; he was homo sapiens like ourselves. I am saying that the Adam we meet in Genesis 1,2 and 3 was also far more than a biblical illustration or a parable or a teaching model. The first man was the result of a special decision of God, some inter-trinitarian counsel, “Let us make man . . .” resulting in a supernatural action whereby God made a man morally perfect in knowledge, righteousness and holiness in God’s likeness. Then after some time, by man’s own free action, for which he alone was responsible – not God and not Satan – he listened to the Serpent and defied and rebelled against his Maker bringing sin and death upon all his posterity, because of his unique position and office, the federal head of mankind – like Christ the last Adam was federal head of his people, those who were new creations of God.
So, Paul was led by the God of truth to say at this juncture to the Areopagus that God made from one man every nation of men. They were all, Greeks and barbarians, Romans and Jews, in the loins of Adam. I think that that word is really a preface to an even more basic question. “Was the fall of man, as described in Genesis 3, a real event in human history?” In other words, the figure of Adam in the Bible is not simply a symbol for Mr. Everyman, a literary figure but not a historical personality, the first man. The message of Genesis then could not be that, “we’re all prone to fall into temptation like Adam.” You understand the consequence of believing something like that? If there were no historic Adam who defied God then we have to conclude that the bad behaviour of all of us is simply a statement of what it means to be a human being. That is how we were made by God. If there was no time of the probation of Adam and Eve, and no fall that means that mankind has perpetually been lying and killing and stealing and rebelling from the beginning. It is a terribly bleak and despairing view of man, and that is why so much of modern literature and modern music and painting is dark and tragic. There never was a time when man was not sinning. Man is just like the rest of creation today, nature raw in tooth and claw, violent and deceitful. There’s the paradise of Eden, in a once perfect creation, and there never was a fall into sin and death. The final step of unbelief from denying creation and the fall is not a long jump. It’s a little hop to be denying divine redemption through the last Adam Jesus Christ.
Is the denial of the making of Adam and the fall of Adam a faithful representation of the Bible? Isn’t that saying, “I believe in Adam, but I interpret it to mean that there was no such historic first man and no fall.” That is what the modernist says. That is an imposition on the Bible of the ideas of modern unbelieving man? The first mention of God making man is Genesis 1:26&27, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . .’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Then in the next chapter we are told how God made Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living creature. Later on we are told that God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam because the first man needed a helpmeet, and Jehovah took from Adam’s side a bone which he fashioned and made into Eve – like the Lord Christ made from the dust mud and put them on the eye sockets of a blind man. Adam and Eve are presented to us as living, breathing human beings, doing down-to-earth things, like having conversations, involved in sexual relations, giving birth and naming their children.
2. MAN’S CREATION WAS SUPERNATURAL AND IMMEDIATE.
The description of the creation of our first parents in Genesis is a total contrast to the idea that man was formed through a process stretching over billions of years, the result of natural evolution from a single cell to a complex organism. Man’s creation, according to the Bible, is by an intrusion into the world of a supernatural action of God, just like the opening of the Red Sea, or the arrival of manna on the desert floor six days a week no on the Sabbath, or men staying unharmed in a burning fiery furnace, or the floating of the axe head, or in the New Testament the turning of huge water pots instantly into containers full of aged wine at the Cana wedding, or the multiplication of 5 loaves and 2 fishes to enough to feed 5,000 men – with 12 basketsful of food to spare, or the transformation of a man’s leg muscles and ligaments – someone who had been crippled from birth – to enable him to stand erect, run and jump at once. That such acts are said to have taken place immediately can only be explained by a wholly supernatural intervention of the Creator. They all raise the most important question of all – is God? And if God is, God can. The only explanation is that these many instant transformations and creations were the divine and miraculous work of the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – for without him was not anything made that was made. Who is at work here? Who are we dealing with? What is the message of the Scriptures?
What did the infallible Lord Jesus say in Mark 10 and verse 6? “From the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” And what does the apostle of Jesus Christ say? (of whom his Master said that those who would hear him would actually be hearing Jesus? You can slip a leaf of Indian paper between what Paul has written and what the Lord Christ said.) Paul says in his first letter to Timothy chapter 2 and verse 13, “For Adam was formed first and then Eve.” He also wrote that “through Adam sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Roms. 5:12) and he tells the Corinthians that the first man was of the earth, made of dust; while the second man was the Lord from heaven (I Cor. 15:45-49). He affirms that we have borne the image of the first and we shall bear the image of the second.
3. THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY IS THE KEY TO BELIEVING THE CREATION OF ADAM.
Let me tell you what I believe to be the most irresistible argument for the creation of Adam from the dust of the earth by a miraculous act of God. You consider the Christian hope of the resurrection. Our God is the alpha and the omega; the beginning and the end. The God of Creation and the God of the last things, origins and eschatology. What does the church say in the Apostles’ Creed? “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” That’s in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye. The bodies of millions are scattered dust – the bodies of the patriarchs and prophets, and of those burned at the stake and those drowned at sea and dissolved and eaten by the brine and the creatures of the deep. Yet the trumpet will sound and the Lord shall descend bringing all the spirits of just men made perfect with him, and their dust is precious in his sight, and he will raise up those mortal physical remains, and he will join them to the spirits that have been in his presence since their death, and he will transform them into the image of Christ’s own body. His body, I say. We are not going to be spooks for ever, clouds of gas floating about! Listen to the great words of the apostle . . .
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cors.15:42-57). We stand beside the ravaged body of the one we have loved for so long and finally let go his hand, and as Christians we know that we shall soon meet again, but meeting then not the weak, skeletal one whose body soon we shall give up to the earth, but one risen, glorified, like the resurrected Lord Jesus delivered from every taint of weakness and decay. He will raise up that one we have loved, and ourselves too in the Great Day. We are joined to him our Head and the body that will be raised from the sea or the dust will be as glorified as the Head himself – instantaneously.
My youngest grandson may ask me, “Taid, was Adam a real person?” “Oh yes,” I reply. “Yeah. That’s what our teachers in our Christian school say. Just checking on you,” he says nodding and smiling. If I told him “No,” then what do you make of the Christian hope of resurrection? What do you make of Genesis 1,2 and 3? What do you make of Cain and Abel, or Seth, or Noah? They were all direct descendants of Adam. In the narrative of the book of Genesis (that the Son of God said was truth and could not be broken) where do draw a line and say that at that point mythology ends and history begins? God is working with the real Moses, and the real Samuel, and real King David (with all his inspiration and all his lusts) and above all with real Jesus who says, “I am the truth.” The Bible engages with real people and it speaks to real people, with real need of real forgiveness, of real sins through a real Saviour who really died as the Lamb of God and rose again on the third day.
4. ADAM’S CREATION IS THE KEY TO MAN’S HUMANITY.
Without a historical Adam how do you explain where remarkable mankind comes from?
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving how express and admirable
in action how like an angel
in apprehension how like a god.”
Where did Mozart come from? And Leonardo Da Vinci, and Shakespeare, and Isaac Newton, and Einstein, and Churchill, and Rembrandt, and Jesus? Did they all come from a lump of atoms? How can you explain the brilliance and creativity and moral strength of them all? What an infinite distance there is between us and the humbler creation – you don’t get much help in answering what man is from observing the antics of the primates. Without Genesis 1, 2 and 3 the origin of humanity is all in a black hole of chance/luck plus billions of years. If Adam is a myth then that is where redemptive history in Scripture starts. It is all therein Genesis 3, the fall and the skins God makes to cover them and the promise he gives of one coming who will crush the head of the serpent. To mythologize the opening chapters of the word of God greatly diminishes our confidence in the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible that Jesus Christ repeatedly affirms. You deny Adam and then is humanity – are you -accountable to your Creator and Sustainer? If you read the Bible at its face value then you learn this from the men who had seen Jesus Christ, that holy men of God were moved by the Spirit of God. You learn that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and it’s all profitable.
The historical Adam is profitable for explaining humanity’s sinful nature, all the cruelty of the wars of Greece and Persia, the crucifixions all over the Roman Empire with men’s bodies left hanging up for days at crossroads or nailed up on crosses like street lamps every hundred yards along main roads for miles. Why did men behave like that then, and why is there absolutely no change of behaviour today, even with all our wealth and powers of communication and culture? We meet today worse abominations! The reason is here in Genesis 3, that our federal head Adam in our room and stead defied God and did things his way taking the forbidden fruit. Thus death came through sin and spread down through mankind. We are all natural-born rebels against God. The judgment followed one trespass and brought about condemnation.
5. ADAM’S FALL IS THE KEY TO MAN’S DEPRAVITY.
But take Adam out of the picture. No Adam – any more than there was a Jack the giant-killer or Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Then you have to explain what accounts for sustained universal depravity. Why has no country, no civilization, no age, no tribe in the most remote place has escaped depravity? You remember the great question debated between Augustine and his followers and Pelagius and his followers? Do we sin because we are sinners – that is what Augustine said – or are we sinners because we sin? That is what Pelagius said. Once Adam is discarded then our depravity is simply bad luck. You shrug. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Without the fall our wills are considered to be quite free, and it’s up to everyone to make their own minds up, to choose their own lifestyles. But the great Augustine resisted Pelagius – as did David the patron saint of Wales. They went back to Genesis 1, 2 and 3 to the origin and the rank and office of our first parents. They preached that in Adam we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In Adam’s fall we sinned all. The will of man is not free; there is the reality of the bondage of man’s will. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cors. 2:14). We are all having to resist our own bias to choose what is selfish to save us from becoming monsters. A historic Adam? Foolishness, says the wise of this world. A historic fall? Folly! The world says. The natural man at enmity against God? Nonsense, says the world.
But the weakness of God is stronger than man, and the folly of God is wiser than man. We will look in the eye the reality of human depravity. We groan at what we see, and we don’t attribute it to God. We don’t say that this is how it’s always been and always will be. We have an answer when men use human suffering, and the loss of beloved family members as the reason why they reject a living and compassionate and all powerful God. Men scornfully grumble, “If God were all powerful he would prevent that sort of thing. If he is weak then he is not God. If he is not all loving then how can I give him my love.” Ah, the Bible sets before us Adam in his unique role as the federal head of mankind, like our elected prime minister is our head, or the leader of North Korea is its head and the decisions such men take affect all their citizens. The decision of the head of a family to commit a crime puts him in prison and his folly plunges all his family into shame and poverty. Parents, wife and children, brothers and sisters are all joined to that one and they fall in his fall.
Any heresy I teach here, like the denial of Adam and his fall, would affect every one of you all if you were foolish enough to allow me to continue to preach to you. It was Adam who freely chose to bring sin and suffering and death into the world. He opened the door and gate-crashing into the human race came the most cruel and evil forces, and that is the reason you lost the ones that were so precious to you, through Adam and the true freedom God gave to him alone. It was not through the helplessness of a God of your imagination who twists his hands in horror at what he sees of those you love dying and you shattered with grief. However tempting it seems to be self-righteous and noble in blaming God for their suffering and justifying your unbelief, the real cause of pain and death all around us was our father Adam and the seduction of Satan. God who opposes sin, gave Adam freedom to choose but then he also provided the great deliverer, Jesus Christ. Go to him, I say, in times of trouble, when death rings the bell at your front door. Ask the Saviour for pity. Ask him to come into your life. Trust in the blood of Jesus Christ’s God’s Son to forgive you your sin. Ask him to become your Redeemer and never stop asking him until you know he has answered you. Trust in his utter goodness and mercy. Trust in the knowledge that one day he will makes things plain and you will understand the ultimate reason why a wave of grief once overwhelmed you when you lost your best friend. Don’t blame it on the God who has heaped blessings on you throughout your life. There was Adam the first man who did it his way instead of God’s way, who listened to his partner and to the devil and not to God. Don’t make Adam’s mistake! A little girl whose father is a theologian teaching in Wheaton College in Illinois once stood in front of a painting of Adam and Eve in Eden, and her face grew hard. She shook her fist at Adam; “You ruined everything,” she said.
6. ADAM IS THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING OUR OWN WORLD
How relevant Adam and Eve are to our understanding of modern living. What is man? What is woman? What is marriage? For example, there is the current publicity about homosexual marriages. Ten people, most of them from China, meet in our town for discussions about the Bible. About eleven days ago in the last meeting a girl raised her hand; she asked a question about the Christian attitude to homosexual relationships. Ultimately any answer to the question of what marriage is must go back to the first couple and how God said that in spite of man having him, and having all the richness of God’s creation, it was still not good for man to be alone and so God proceeded to make woman after the man, from the man, for the man and equal to the man in creatorial dignity. The Creator deliberately ordered the creation of Adam and Eve in that way. Men and women are made equally in the image and likeness of God, sharing in their common fallenness as the descendants of our first parents, and then both are given the equal privilege of access to God so that both may run up to Jehovah through Jesus Christ and look into his smiling face and say, “Abba, Father!”
When our Lord was asked about marriage and divorce – and Jehovah Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor who can answer the biggest questions in life – then how did he approach that issue? He went back to the opening chapters of Genesis by way of answer. Again, when Paul wants to talk about the relationship of husbands and wives, and male-female relationships in the church then instinctively he turns to Adam and Eve and God’s original pattern in the beginning. Paul regards them both as historical persons.
From Adam’s rebellion sin and death and judgment have flowed into this groaning world. That is why men treat men as they do, and men treat girls as they do, and men treat their wives as they do, and their imagined enemies as they do and their animals as they do It has all ruined mankind through the fall of our federal head, Adam. But from the second Adam life and energy to live loving forgiving lives, and pardon for the worst boys and girls and men and women who gives themselves to Jesus Christ. I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly. Adam’s sin was a pebble cast into a pool which sent ripples into every inlet. The cross of Christ was the rock of ages cast into the ocean of the love of God, and it is the destiny of all who are in Christ to be carried through the coming years on the wave of his majestic love and life on and on into the new heavens and the new earth. Paradise lost by the first Adam, and paradise regained by the last Adam, the one who said, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
25th July 2015 GEOFF THOMAS