Luther: Before The Fall We Had No Need Of Christ

Before the Fall, Adam did not need Christ, for he was righteous by his own nature, through the law of perfect nature he loved the law. But after the Fall all need Christ.

Martin Luther | The Disputation Concerning Justification (October, 1536) | Trans. Lewis W. Spitz | Luther’s Works, 34:196 (HT: Inwoo Lee)

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  1. I’m having a problem with “by his own nature.” I suppose I could read Luther to be speaking of his nature as created. I think it is Luther who also said Adam was able not to sin. He did, and now we are not able not to sin, until we are redeemed in Christ alone.
    There is perfect precision and integrity in the Bible, but I find myself muddled, tangling the threads and forgetting important portions and arriving at partial understanding. If I have misspoken above, it is because I am a true amateur.

    • He means precisely human nature as created. This is what he is affirming: we were created in righteousness and true holiness that we might rightly know God our Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal blessedness.

  2. Man did not need Christ as a mediator before the fall, neither did he need Christ as a sacrifice as he did not have a debt for sin that needed to be paid, but as a created being man needed, and continues to need, God to maintain his continued existence. Another amateur.

  3. Adam before the fall would not have required Christ as a redeemer for his sins but that is not the same thing as saying that he didn’t need Christ:

    “Yet  I  am  not  dissatisfied  with  what  has  been  handed  down  by  some  of the  fathers,  as  Augustine  and  Eucherius,  that  the  tree  of  life  was  a  figure  of  Christ,  inasmuch as  he  is  the  Eternal  Word  of  God:  it  could  not  indeed  be  otherwise  a  symbol  of  life,  than  by representing  him  in  figure.  For  we  must  maintain  what  is  declared  in  the  first  chapter  of John  (John  1:1-3,)  that  the  life  of  all  things  was  included  in  the  Word,  but  especially  the  life of  men,  which  is  conjoined  with  reason  and  intelligence.  Wherefore,  by  this  sign,  Adam  was admonished,  that  he  could  claim  nothing  for  himself  as  if  it  were  his  own,  in  order  that  he might  depend  wholly  upon  the  Son  of  God,  and  might  not  seek  life  anywhere  but  in  him. But  if  he,  at  the  time  when  he  possessed  life  in  safety,  had  it  only  as  deposited  in  the  word of  God,  and  could  not  otherwise  retain  it,  than  by  acknowledging  that  it  was  received  from Him,  whence  may  we  recover  it,  after  it  has  been  lost? 

    (Commentary on Genesis Chapter 2:1-25)

    Calvin, following Scripture, didn’t restrict Christ’s mediatorial position solely to redemption – he applied it both to Creation and eschatology. Unfallen Adam’s righteousness was far below that of God’s and he needed Christ as mediator just as much as the elect angels did. Would Luther have agreed?

    • William,

      Calvin was discussing a different issue. The question here is not whether Christ was typified by the tree of life but whether Adam, before the fall needed a Mediator and a substitute. There is a reason that Paul calls Christ the “Last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45) and says what he does in Rom 5:12-21. Luther’s point is about the integrity of human nature before the fall.

      There’s no question here about the sustaining operation of God the Son. When Luther says “Christ,” he is talking about the incarnation not about the operation of the Son per se.

      It was fairly common in Reformed theology in the period (e.g., Rollock comes to mind first) to say that Adam had no need of grace before the fall because he was not a sinner.

      Further. Calvin flatly rejected the Scotist doctrine that God the Son would have become incarnate irrespective of the fall.

      • Dr. Clark,

        Thank you for your reply.

        Calvin would most certainly say that Adam had need of grace before the fall and therefore a mediator, but he did not define grace solely as redemptive or the Word’s role of mediator as only soteriological. Certainly Adam had no need of redemptive grace before the fall and I assume that’s what Rollock and those early reformers meant?

        I do think what Calvin is saying about Christ as the tree of life relates at least indirectly to Luther’s view about man’s original state and particularly to some of the comments made on it. Calvin is very clear that original human righteousness, although perfect in itself, still made man little more than a worm before the incomparable righteousness of God. Adam still needed Christ the eternal mediator between unfallen man (and the elect angels) and God, if only to stand before His glory.

        • William,

          1. Would is not a historical word. It’s the language of supposition.

          2. We need to be clear about the nature of divine favor before the fall. The question as it came to the Protestants from the Middle Ages was the Medieval (e.g., Thomistic) doctrine of the donum superadditum and the existence of concupiscence before the fall. In their attempt to explain the fall they posited, in effect, that concupiscence is native to humanity by virtue of finitude. We fell because we’re finite and we needed grace (the superadded gift) to restrain concupiscence and when, in the fall, we resisted grace we lost the donum.

          The Protestants generally rejected this scheme, though there are was some language among some Reformed writers the sounded something like Thomas. It was not detailed. There was general agreement that Adam was created with gifts etc. Those could broadly be called gifts or graces but it is very difficult for us, after the fall, to talk about grace before the fall without thinking of saving grace.

          The Reformed generally agreed with Augustine:

          Augustine On Grace Before and After the Fall

          Concupiscence: Sin And the Mother of Sin

          Rollock: Covenant Of Works Founded On Nature And Republished To Israel

          Rollock: Of Works Done By Strength And Nature

          Again, Calvin was discussing a different question.

          Strictly speaking, when we talk about Christ we are talking about God the Son incarnate and not the ante-lapsarian state.

  4. From the moment of creation man has always needed God the Son, as He has been from time eternal, not just for maintenance of continued existence, but also to glorify and enjoy forever (Maybe there’s some sort of Catechism out there that says something similar?). However, we only ever needed Him as the Christ after we had sinned.

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