Woman was created to provide strong aid for the first human, who was the only thing in God’s creation that God found to be “not good.” It was not good for this “earthling” to be alone. How can something be not good before we are introduced to the story of what went wrong in creation? Should we take this not-goodness literally to mean something was BAD? Or that it could go bad without strong assistance to turn things around?
In the last two thousand years, Christianity has built a doctrine around the story found in Genesis 3, which is labeled “the fall of man.” From Paul’s writings in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, early Christian thinkers concluded that every human is born in a state of separation from God because of Adam’s actions. This is called the doctrine of original sin. We are all born as sinners who need salvation because we descend from Adam, who lost God’s grace and passed along this state of disgrace to all his progeny. Although, there is much to explore in this ancient doctrine, that is not the direction of this article. There is no doubt the Bible teaches that this character of Adam carries some responsibility for the creation going awry (Genesis 3:17-19).
But I have found little in theological thinking about this “not good” state of Adam prior to his rebellion in eating the fruit. The only reference I have ever read is found in Katharine Bushnell’s book God’s Word to Women. (That’s not to say there is not anything else, I just haven’t run across it.) She footnotes her comments with an earlier work of William Law. I found his work called “The Spirit of Prayer, the Second Dialogue,” written in 1758.
William Law’s theory on the first human
Law believed that the first human was both male and female, and that in Genesis 2, God removed the female part that He created conjoined with the male part. Although Plato had similar ideas, Law relates his theory to what we know of the state of angels to not be given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). In fact, Law believes the first human was created like an angel, reasoning that since Jesus said we will become like the angels at the resurrection, we must have been like them prior to sin’s damaging effects. He also describes this first conjoined being as a reflection of the Triune God, who is three in one. He thought the first human was created two in one. But, something was not good about the human being al-one. Here is Law explaining:
“It is not good that Man should be alone,” saith the Scripture: This shows, that Adam had altered his first State, had brought some Beginning of Evil into it, and had made that not to be good, which God saw to be good, when he created him. And therefore as a less Evil, and to prevent a greater, God divided the first perfect human Nature into two Parts, into a Male and a Female Creature.” [Pryr-2.2-15]
God’s care for his human creature is evidenced in his separation of Male and Female so through the female, God could bring forth another one like the male to right the wrongs begun by Adam.
“Adam had lost much of his first Perfection before his Eve was taken out of him; which was done to prevent worse Effects of his Fall, and to prepare a means for his Recovery, when his Fall should become total, as it afterwards was, upon the eating of the earthly Tree of Good and Evil.” [Pryr-2.2-14] (Underline mine)
William Law believed that Eve was taken out of Adam before the Great Sin of eating of the tree, so that she could provide a link to him through which God could redeem him through “the seed of woman.”
William Law’s theory on the gradual fall of Adam
William Law believed that the fall was not a single act of disobedience, but a gradual slide into the unholy state. He believes this gradual fall provides better explanation for the totality of consequence of eternal destruction, than a one time disobedience to an arbitrary command, i.e. eating of the tree.
“…if you consider the Fall of Man, only as a single Act of Disobedience to a positive, arbitrary Command of God, this is to make all the Consequences of his Fall unexplicable.” [Pryr-2.2-31]
Not only was the fall gradual, in Law’s explanation, it was also the source of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He calls this an evil tree, grown through earthly desires contrary to the will of God. He believed this is evident in God’s warning Adam that there was death in the tree. This tree did not come from God, it was a product of the earth where the fallen angels had taken residence and corrupted. As the first human began to lust toward this world away from God, God acted to put a stop to it. He prohibited Adam to eat of the tree. This was not a tree God put in the garden to test Adam, it was a representation of Adam’s natural choice to stay a creature of God or to become a creature of the world.
“…neither Adam, nor any other Creature, has at its Creation, or Entrance into Life, any arbitrary Trial imposed upon it by God. The natural State of every intelligent Creature is its one only Trial; and it cannot sin, but by departing from that Nature, or falling from that State in which it was created. Adam was created an human Angel in Paradise, and he had no other Trial but this, whether he would live in Paradise, as an Angel of God, insensible of the Life, or the Good and Evil, of this earthly World. This was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Death, that must stand before him; and the Necessity of his choosing either the one, or the other, was a Necessity founded in his own happy Nature.” [Pryr-2.2-35] (Emphasis original)
William Law explains this lust toward the tree as the beginning of the fall, and the eating of the tree as the conclusion of Adam’s choice away from God and toward the world.
Law’s reason for teaching the gradual fall: prayer
Law wrote this theory as introduction to a sermon on prayer. He was arguing for a complete renunciation of the world as it was the wrong path for mankind to take, and a return to the will of God through prayer.
“Thus seeing and knowing our first and our present State, everything calls us to Prayer; and the Desire of our Heart becomes the Spirit of Prayer. And when the Spirit of Prayer is born in us, then Prayer is no longer considered, as only the Business of this or that Hour, but is the continual Panting or Breathing of the Heart after God.” [Pryr-2.2-38]
And with this as his end goal of teaching his theory of the gradual fall of Adam, who can fault him? Should not a” continual Panting or Breathing of the Heart after God” be the desire of every Christian?
My thoughts of the gradual fall of Adam
In conclusion, I agree with Law that Adam’s fall was not found in one act of chewing, but in a series of choices he made prior to that fatal act. I believe this because God said that man was “not good” prior to his eating the fruit. God’s mercy was also revealed gradually, as God first warned and prohibited, then created woman to help, then provided a gradual hope to be found in her Seed. Law, as a man of his time, enjoys filling in what we don’t know with spiritual conjecture. I enjoy fantasy, too, and have spent many hours imagining Genesis 2 through Law’s theories about the angelic hermaphrodite Adam/Eve.
5 thoughts on “The Gradual Fall of Adam”
Why does Law say the tree was planted by fallen angels? Genesis 2:9 says the tree was in the middle of the garden when it was created. Did the angels fall so quickly after creation, and then decide to plant a tree?
I believe the ‘not good’ was not descriptive of Adam’s nature or character, but of his lack of a companion.
I wonder how much time had elapsed since the creation of Adam and Eve, and their fall. Satan tempted them, so it must have taken quite a while for him to fall and then make Adam and Eve fall.
So many things we just don’t know, right? We’ve been speculating for millennia. My take away is to use caution on using speculation to form dogma that brings harm and not good news.
I am a “fan” of William Law. I enjoyed your article.
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Hi Leslie, I give my source in the first portion: William Law. “The Spirit of Prayer, the Second Dialogue,” 1758.
Which “William Law” are you referring to AND WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE?