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644 pages
Aug 2004
Bethany House

Systematic Theology Vol. 3: Sin/Salvation

by Norman L. Geisler

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Synopsis for Volume Three

In Volume 1 we discussed Introduction to Theology (Prolegomena) and the Bible (Bibliology). These serve as the method and basis for doing systematic theology.

In Volume 2 we focused on Theology proper, that is, on the attributes and activities of God. In the first half, attention was centered on God Himself—His attributes and His characteristics, both nonmoral (metaphysical) and moral. After we addressed who God is, in the second half we discussed what God does (in relation to His creation).

Part One: Humanity and Sin (Anthropology and Hamartiology)

Volume 3 also is comprised of two parts. Part 1 deals with the doctrine of sin, known as hamartiology (from the Greek words hamartios, “sin,” and logos, “study of”). First, a brief but necessary discussion of human beings covers the origin (chapter 1) and nature (chapter 2) of humanity. (This discipline is called anthropology, from the Greek words anthropos, “human being,” and logos, “study of.”) Then, we will examine the origin of sin (chapter 3), followed by the nature of sin (chapter 4), the effects of sin (chapter 5), and finally, the defeat of sin (chapter 6).

Part Two: Salvation (Soteriology)

Part 2 discusses the doctrine of salvation, called soteriology (from the Greek words soterios, “bringing salvation,” and logos, “study of”). Here we will cover the origin of salvation (chapter 7), followed by the theories of salvation (chapter 8), the nature of salvation (chapter 9), the evidence of salvation (chapter 10), and the assurance of salvation (chapter 11). Next, we will study the extent and exclusivity of salvation in regard to the theories of limited atonement (chapter 12), universalism (chapter 13), and pluralism (chapter 14). Then, we will consider the results of salvation in relation to infants and the heathen (chapter 15). Last, we will examine the condition of salvation (chapter 16) and the content of salvation (chapter 17).

* * *




As discussed in Volume 2, all evangelical theologians believe in the creation of the first human beings by God. With this in view, the focus here is on the original created conditions of Adam and Eve in which temptation and the Fall occurred. All of this will set the stage for a treatment of the origin of the soul in each human being after Adam, and it will serve as background for understanding the inherent and inherited depravity of each person born since Creation.


God is absolutely perfect, 1 and it follows, therefore, that His creation was also perfect. Moses declared, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect” (Deut. 32:4). David added, “As for God, his way is perfect” (2 Sam. 22:31). Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Nothing less than the perfect can come from an absolutely perfect Being, and it befits the perfect Being to make only perfect beings, for the effects bear the image of their Cause.2


According to Genesis 1–2, Adam and Eve were created with complete innocence. They had no evil in their natures or their environment. They “were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25 nasb), and they did not yet know “good and evil” (3:5). In short, they were not only guiltless of any sin but also innocent of sin.

Further, the very temptation to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) implies they did not know evil before they fell. Indeed, when they ate the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (3:7). According to the New Testament, by disobedience Adam and Eve became sinful (Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:14) and brought condemnation on themselves and their posterity: “The result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18).3 Before this, they were flawless.

A State of Virtue and UprightnessNot only were Adam and Eve innocent (without evil), they were morally virtuous by virtue of their created state, for God endowed them with moral perfection. Solomon wrote, “This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes” (Eccl. 7:29).4 The Hebrew word for “upright” is yashar, meaning “straightness,” “uprightness,” “honesty,” or “integrity”; it is the same word used in connection with “righteous” (Deut. 32:4 nasb), “blameless” (Job 1:1), and “pure” (Job 8:6). Consequently, yashar does not merely denote the absence of evil but also the presence of good—it is not simply the lack of vice but the reality of virtue. There are two basic views as to the origin of this created state of purity.

The Supernatural View

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) held that this original status was a supernaturally created state of grace that Adam had before the Fall and then lost by his sin:

The history [of Genesis 1–3] leads us to suppose that Adam’s sin, with relation to the forbidden fruit, was the first sin he committed. Which could not have been had he not always, till then, been perfectly righteous, righteous from the first moment of his existence; and consequently, created or brought into existence righteous. [Further], in a moral agent, subject to moral obligations, it is the same thing, to be perfectly innocent as to be perfectly righteous. It must be the same, because there can no more be a medium between sin and righteousness, or between being right and being wrong, in a moral sense, than there can be a medium between being straight and being crooked, in a natural sense. (WJE, 1.178)

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and Catholics following him have held the same view, viz., that original righteousness was not natural but supernatural. One Catholic scholar affirmed that it was necessary for God to give Adam this supernatural righteousness at creation “in order to provide a remedy for this disease or languor of human nature, which arises from the nature of material organization” (cited by Shedd, HCC, 1.143).

Noted Reformed theologian William G. T. Shedd (1820–1894) criticized this view as “a relic of the Gnostic idea of matter” (ibid., 1.147) and rejected it because: “If so, then God creates man in a sinful state” (ibid., 1.148).5

The Natural View

Shedd argued that this created state of perfection was natural, viz., the very created nature God gave Adam was a morally upright and perfect one. He noted that the same word (Heb: yashar) is used by God of Job: “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).6

Original righteousness enters into the very idea of man as coming from the hands of the Creator. It is part of his created endowment, and does not require to be superadded. The work of the Creator is perfect, and needs no improvement. (op. cit., 1.145)

In short, according to the natural view, since God is perfect, He cannot make an imperfect creature. Hence, the natural state of Adam and Eve, from the moment of Creation, must have been perfect.

A Perfect EnvironmentNot only was Adam given a perfect nature, but he also had a perfect environment. There was no sin in Eden, a paradise of goodness. God had made it (Gen. 2:8ff.), and everything God made was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

There was no moral (or metaphysical) imperfection in Eden; it was flawless in every way. There was no tendency toward evil from within Adam, and there was nothing evil about his created environment around him. Creation was not subject to corruption, as it was after the Fall (Rom. 8:22). There was no human death (Rom. 5:12), and both internal and external natures were absolutely perfect.

A State of DominionIn the original created state, humankind was not a servant of nature but master over it. Man did not serve under its strong hand; rather, it served his, for nature was subject to humanity. God said to them, “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28).

A State of Moral ResponsibilityAll of this is not to say that Adam had no moral accountability to anyone over him. He did, for “the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:16–17). God had given an order, and Adam had a responsibility to obey His Creator. As we know, at this Adam failed miserably (Gen. 3:1ff.; cf. Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Tim. 2:14).

Adam was free in that his actions were self-determined;7 God specifically said, “You are free” (Gen. 2:16). When Adam chose to disobey, God blamed him, asking, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (3:11 amp). The emphasized words clearly point to a self-determined act (cf. v. 13). You did it, God said. Your “self” is responsible, He maintained. No one else made Adam and Eve commit sin, including the devil, who tempted them. Such is the self-determining nature of freedom.8

The Presence of the TempterOf course, these perfect persons in a perfect paradise were not without an imperfect intruder. Satan, a fallen archangel of God, had rebelled against his Creator, sweeping with him a third of all the angels (Rev. 12:4, 9). By clever deception, the great deceiver led Eve and then, through her, Adam into disobedience against God (Rom. 5:19; 1 Tim. 2:14). By a free and uncoerced choice of their wills, the perfect pair in the perfect paradise fell into imperfection—and their world with them. Their disobedience led to death and destruction (Rom. 5:12–21; 8:20–23).

It is noteworthy that Adam and Eve were not enticed to lie, cheat, steal, or curse. Indeed, their moral nature was perfect; thus, they were not vulnerable to these kinds of temptations. The command of God for them not to eat the forbidden fruit was not a command to stay away from what was intrinsically evil. With this, they had no problem, for their upright and virtuous state protected them from it. What they were vulnerable to was a test as to whether they would obey God simply because He said it.

“Hath God said?” was the snare they faced from the devil (Gen. 3:1 kjv). Their moral responsibility to God was with regard to an object that was morally neutral. God could have said, for instance, “Don’t pick the daisies.” Again, the issue was not that the sin was inherent in the substance in which they partook; the temptation to sin was in the enticement to defy God, and subsequently to be conscious of the evil of choosing against Him. No evil from within or from without drew them to their transgression. Only a raw act of freedom, wrongly exercised, carried out their disobedience and sealed their doom.

Herein, perhaps, lies the solution to a thorny problem: If Adam and Eve had committed some other sin before eating the forbidden fruit, would it have precipitated the Fall? The answer may very well be that it was impossible for them to sin on another issue, since they were created morally perfect. Surely Satan would have so tempted them if he could have, but there is no indication that he did. Most likely, only disobedience to God’s specific command would precipitate the Fall and plunge the whole creation into death and disaster.

Excerpted from:
Systematic Theology Vol. III: Sin/Salvation by Dr. Norman Geisler
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764225537
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.