Thursday, March 22, 2018

What is the Meaning of the Fall of Man?

Notice: This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, affiliates, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

Doctrine five of the Salvation Army states, “We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013). The fifth doctrine of the Salvation Army is a declaration of the biblical account of Genesis indicating a humanity made pure in the image of God, but through disobedience to God fell into sin, and because of this, all men are totally depraved, marred with original sin, and given over to the wrath of God. We find a divine tension in the fall of man: That humanity was a righteous and good creation and that this creation became fallen due to disobedience to God, which then leaves the creation cursed and the human soul tainted by sin, though still of great value to God. Given this state of depravity and sinfulness in man, humanity is exposed to the wrath of God. Yet God is a God not only of justice, but love, and offers with great love the free gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ (John 3:16 NIV).

God originally created humanity for the purpose of perfect union with Him (Genesis 1:26 NIV). Adam was made in God’s image, from the dust of the ground, which God breathed life into. Woman was made from the rib of Adam. Both were made in the image of God, meaning they were imbued with certain characteristics similar to God himself. These characteristics include a longing for eternal things (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV). It could also include the ability to reason, the ability to make free choices, and the fact that humans are imbued with an eternal soul. There are three primary views when considering the image of God’s meaning: the substantival view, the functional view, and the relational view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 97). The substantival view postulates that the imago Dei is the fact that humans alone have souls (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 99). The functional view suggests that the imago Dei is not simply referring to the soul, but is referring to the authority given by God to humanity over the creation (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 103). In other words, the imago Dei primarily refers to God-like authority given to humanity over creation (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 103). The third view is the relational view which indicates that the primary meaning of the imago Dei is to reflect the fact that humans are fundamentally relational beings and made for community (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 106). Which view does the Salvation Army hold to? According to the Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2013) “Our capacity for human relationships reflects the nature of the Trinity and the steadfast love of God. This capacity finds an important expression in the family, and in the Church, when loving and responsible relationships are based on the making and keeping of covenants” (p. 111). The Salvation Army would therefore hold most closely to the relational view, that the imago Dei is the concept of humanity made for community. However, in the Handbook of Doctrine, each of the three concepts outlined previously are referenced in some way (p. 110-111). But the Salvation Army would most likely consider the relational view as the most important aspect of the imago Dei. I would tend to consider the substantival view to be the most accurate description of the imago Dei, though the functional view and the relational view do certainly hold strong merits and impressive scriptural supports. I see the substantival view as the most plausible because of Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV) which states: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” The eternity set upon the human heart is a reflection of the soul of man, and that part of man which longs for the eternal things of God.

When considering the fall of man in the Genesis account we must briefly consider the topic of the Genesis debate. The debate is centered around Genesis 1 and 2, and considers the question: How did God go about creating the universe, the Earth, and humanity? There are four primary views: The Young Earth view, the Day-Age view, the Restoration View, and the Literary Framework view (Boyd & Eddy, 2013). The Young Earth view indicates that everything was created by God in six literal days and on the seventh literal day God rested (Boyd & Eddy, 2013). The Day-Age view is that the universe is actually billions of years old and that the Genesis account of the “days” is actually symbolic of much longer periods of time (Boyd & Eddy, 2013, p. 80-81). The Restoration View is an interesting viewpoint that suggests there was a pre-creation before the creation of our universe, and God was actually starting over with the creation of Eden, postulating a great gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (Boyd & Eddy, 2013, p. 86-87). The Literary framework view indicates that the days of Genesis are actually stages going from problems like the formless void and darkness, to the next stage of the solution, being light, heaven, and Earth, and the 2nd stage of the solution being the filling of the void with light, animals and humans (Boyd & Eddy, 2013, p. 90-91). The Salvation Army would most adhere to the Young Earth View, though not strictly (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013). Genesis views should not be used to create divisions in the church, the Genesis debate is an in-family debate, unlike issues like marriage and the sanctity of life (McDowell, 2009, p. 5). I think the most plausible view is the Young Earth view, and secondarily the literary framework view also holds many merits. The Young Earth view is the most reasonable in my view because a plain reading of the text indicates 24-hour days (McDowell, 2009, p. 5). And an old earth (evolutionary) view would put death before the fall, which is not consistent with scripture (McDowell, 2009, p. 5). Additionally, one of the best evidences for a young Earth is the presence of soft tissue in fossils (The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth, 2012). Overall, the debate is intriguing and useful, but should not separate Christians working to evangelize the world.

Continuing forward: What does it mean in the fifth doctrine, that humanity disobeyed God and lost their purity? Unfortunately, through the willful decisions of the first humans Adam and Eve, humanity disobeyed God, attempting to play god for themselves. This temptation to sin was facilitated by the fallen being known as Satan, depicted in the form of a serpent in the Genesis account (Genesis 3:1-24 NIV). Therefore, the origin of sin is actually prior to the fall of man. The origin of sin was in the heart of Lucifer, who became Satan (Isaiah 14:12-15 NIV). Humanity embraced the temptation of Satan to “become like god” and as such all people born into the line of Adam are born with a sinful nature. God had created a lush paradise for Adam and Eve, with all sorts of fruit trees to eat from (Genesis 2:9 NIV). God laid out a single temptation, the tree of knowledge, and instructed Adam and Eve to never eat from it (Genesis 2:15-17 NIV). Unfortunately, they found the tree, succumbed to the will of the devil, disobeyed God, ate from the tree, and humanity and creation was cursed as a result (Genesis 3:6-7 NIV). Now we find ourselves in a cursed creation, in which nearly every tree is a temptation; we live in a forest of sin and brokenness, and there is only one tree, hidden in the midst of us, that can lead us back to paradise: The tree of the cross of Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:13 NIV). To say that humanity disobeyed God, and lost their purity is to say that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, lost their purity by giving sin a foothold, and as a result all who are born in the line of Adam are born with the curse of sin (Romans 5:12 NIV). That’s what it means in the section of Doctrine five which states: “…that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners…” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. xv).

Let’s continue: What does it mean to say that humanity has become totally depraved? The concept of “total depravity” is that the sinfulness generated by the fall has affected the entire scope of human personality (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 114). “We are sinful in disposition so that even attempts at righteousness are tainted with sin” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 114). So the concept of total depravity is an indication of the scope of sin’s full effect on the human condition, and the inability of humanity to respond rightly to God and make ethical decisions (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 114). Original sin was the origin of this depravity, and through the sin of Adam, all became sinners in his lineage. Original sin, and total depravity are thoroughly supported by the scriptures (Perman, 2018). Some supporting scriptures for original sin and total depravity include: Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:2, Proverb 22:15, Genesis 8:21, and importantly, Psalm 14:2-3 (NIV) which states: “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Perman, 2018).

Finally, we consider the concept of the just result of the fall of man: full exposure to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is not meant to indicate wild fury or uncontrolled anger from God, but in stark contrast shows the holiness and love of a just God who must deal with the problem of sin (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115). The love of God calls us to repentance, and reception of the free gift of grace in Christ. Yet the love of God also extends to judgment, condemnation, and setting the world free from the scourge of sin (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115). It’s our sin, through our choices, and the original sin of Adam, that exposes us to the just wrath of God (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115). God’s ultimate purpose is to create a new heavens and new Earth in which sin has no place; therefore, God must deliver justice to those who refuse to turn to Christ, from their sin (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 115-116). Ultimately God offers up his only Son as a propitiation (a substitutionary atonement) for the sins of all of humanity, and the offer is open to all those who would simply believe in Christ and turn from their sinful ways.

In conclusion, the Salvation Army clearly affirms the truth of the doctrine of the fall of man recorded in the book of Genesis. The Salvation Army affirms the divine image of God as relational, the creation of the world in a young earth context, and the total depravity of man as an expression of the overarching influence of sin. Humanity lost its way when Adam and Eve sinned against God. Ultimately each person born is born into the sinful fallen nature, and is justly exposed to the wrath of God. But the offer of salvation in Christ is open today, though one-day God will set all things right, punishing sin, and renewing the heavens and earth in righteousness. As 1st Corinthians 15:22 (ESV) says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”


Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the Spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

McDowell, S. (2009). The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible .

Perman, M. (2018, February 25). What is the biblical evidence for original sin? Retrieved February 26, 2018, from

The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth. (2012, October 01). Retrieved February 26, 2018, from

The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine (2nd ed.). (2013). London: Salvation Books.

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