The Role of Physical Pain

I recently was listening to a compelling and fascinating message from John Piper titled “The Purpose of God in the Pain of the World,” (The Purposes of God in the Pain of the World | Desiring God), which was a sermon he preached based off of Romans 8:18-25 at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. in September 2022. Piper gives a summary of a basically Edwardsian and Reformed understanding of God’s purposes for suffering in the world, which I agree with based on my interpretation of the Biblical corpus.

In that sermon, Piper talks about the purposes of God in pain in a metaphysical sense, and says this:

Second, the reason this world of pain and misery exists is because God subjected the natural world to futility in hope. God put the natural world under a curse, so that the physical horrors of that curse would become a vivid picture — a parable, a drama — of the horrors of moral evil, or sin. In other words, natural evil — physical suffering — exists in the world as a signpost, a parable of the horrors of moral evil. Physical suffering exists to show how outrageous sin against God is.

It is worth asking, Why does God make physical suffering the consequence of moral evil? The essence of sin is not physical; it’s not the movement of muscles or the touching of flesh. The essence of sin is when Adam and Eve said to God in their hearts, “I don’t trust you anymore to provide the best life for us. I think I know the best life. I reject your kind of limiting love. I reject your wisdom. I reject you, and I vote for me. I will decide right and wrong.” That was the beginning, crude essence of sin, and it was not physical.

Rather, it was a moral blow to the face of God, and as such it merited thousands of years of horrible, physical misery in the world. Romans 8:18-21 says, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope . . . ” So it wasn’t Adam or Satan who subjected the world to futility “in hope.” God is the one who designed hope in the sufferings of the world.

Then the passage continues by saying that God “subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” That’s what’s coming, and we say, “Hasten the day, O God.”

When Adam and Eve sinned morally, the world was touched physically. (See Genesis 3.) Why would that be? One reason is this: Sin by its very nature blinds us to the seriousness of sin. Sin does not see the infinite outrage of slapping infinite holiness in the face. Sin can’t feel that outrage. What can sin feel? It can feel hunger, cancer, lacerations, broken bones, disability, death. People don’t lie awake at night wrestling with the outrage of their indifference to God. But they do lie awake at night when their bodies are touched with pain — which is the siren, the trumpet, of the outrage of the evil of sin.

And don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that every pain in a person corresponds to a specific sin in that person. That’s not true. Remember how they asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3). Physical suffering is a global trumpet blast of the outrage of sin against God.

I really like this interpretation because of how it weds things that are physically empirical to its “true meaning” in theological symbolism.

But my question is this: if physical pain is a “parable” or a “drama” of a spiritual reality (which I think an orthodox interpretation of the Biblical account suggests), what do we make of the experience of pain predating man receiving the “Image of God” (whenever we accept that is imparted to him), or even that pain and suffering are necessary features of our world system to even bring life and further evolutionary development about?

In other words, if a physical reality is primarily meant to symbolize a theological reality for Image-bearers, how do we account for that physical reality existing prior to anatomically modern humans being given the capacity to understand the theological reality it is meant to symbolize, especially if we assume that the physical reality of pain was brought about as a curse in response to man’s disobedience?

One route is to say that God reveals pain’s “true spiritual meaning” in the same way he does for childbirth (e.g., Romans 8) or marriage (e.g., Ephesians 5), in the sense that these are also revealed to be “parables” or “dramas” of greater theological realities (the New Creation and Christ’s marriage to his Church, respectively). But the difference is that those things are “baked into the cake” of the human experience, for example, and aren’t necessarily things that the Bible seems to suggest were introduced in response to a prior human activity (with possibly the exception of childbirth, although Gen. 3 suggests it only becomes more painful for women, not that it wasn’t painful prior to Adam and Eve’s transgression or that it did not exist). That is not the case for physical pain, suffering, and death, which all seem to be introduced as responses to man’s disobedience.


And that is one reason Piper is wrong. When expelled from the garden and presence of God, we experience creation as it is and has to be. Gravity is not a curse, but when it exerts its force on you and fall and break a leg, it hurts. Pain itself is not bad as it teaches you to avoid falling, and to avoid touching the hot stove, but of course becomes bad when it happens beyond its purpose of protecting you. Weeds are not bad, but serve a place in the environment, but become bad when you have to till the soil. Thorns protect the plant, but are only bad in the context of pricking your flesh.
I suspect others will chime in and offer much more profound and thought out ideas, so thank you for a good post. It will be interesting to see where this takes us, both in support and in opposition of Piper’s statements.


That’s an interesting modification. So it’s not that pain itself is wrong, or did not predate our awareness, but rather that what pain has now come to further symbolize (and probably how it is experienced in human consciousness) has radically changed in light of our spiritual alienation from God.

In light of that, I don’t think what Piper has said is incorrect at all–you just have to massage it when you begin thinking about how it comports to a Biblical cosmology that is compatible with scientific record. Pain still seems to have some kind of theological parable to the reality of sin, in the sense of how it is now experienced.

Paul’s statements in Rom. 8 are rather clear in this analogy–he makes several statements that are parallels to “the sufferings of this present time” (ESV) in v18. Respectively, they are:

“The creation waits with eager longing” (v19)
“The creation was subjected to futility” (v20
The “creation itself” experiences a “bondage to corruption” (v21)
“The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (v22)

He then brings it back to the personal in v23, saying those who have the Spirit “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

That seems to speak to me of some kind of “introduction” to pain in ways that did not exist prior to Gen. 3, since Paul is clearly referring to this “subjection” as being a response to man’s disobedience. But perhaps you’re right in that what is in view metaphysically is how pain is now experienced as alienated/enemy subjects of God–something that no longer warns or protects us from injury but in some sense, because of our enmity with God and residual “flesh” in Adam, provokes larger notions of futility and suffering.

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Another interesting wrinkle to this is to think about what Paul means by the creation being “subjected to futility,” that it is “bound to corruption,” and finally is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” and that these realities are physical symbols that are meant to demonstrate realities about man’s quintessentially spiritual transgression against God in Gen. 3 and the salvation of a coming new humanity in Christ.

What Paul has in view, in my mind, is really a theological interpretation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics and entropy. The idea that things are decaying and falling apart, are falling back into a state of disorder, are continuously fruitless or predisposed to rust, destruction, etc.

Obviously at least some of this is inherent to the creation design, because man is given a mandate in Gen. 1:28 to “fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion” over other living creatures. How could this be if the earth was not already predisposed to a level of disorganization that man had been charged to steward and correct? So it seems to me that some of what we understand about the earth being “bound to corruption” was present before the Gen. 3 narrative, and thus is not in view in Paul’s comments about it in Rom. 8.

So, if some things we categorize as being an evidence of creation’s “bondage to corruption” are actually part of the created order, then that settles some of the issues. But Paul also seems to be suggesting that creation (or perhaps our experience of it?) has somehow been altered and made worse as a result of Adam and Eve’s transgression. That is his fundamental point in Rom. 8:20, that “the creation was subjected to futility,” which is basically a summary of the curses given in Gen. 3, meaning he understands this as a specific event that distinguishes pre- and post-Fall creation. Thus the pivotal question seems to be, “what in the physically created universe was ‘subjected to futility’ if we maintain that there is no real distinction between the worlds that existed before and after Gen. 3?”

Is it merely our experience of entropic forces that has changed in light of Homo sapiens being given the Image of God? If that’s the case, how can Paul say “the whole creation is groaning” if it was groaning far before man’s transgression?

I guess one could say “what he means by ‘the whole creation groaning’ is man’s spiritualized experience of that creation in his experience of it as a futile and corruptible endeavor.” But that doesn’t seem to be what he’s saying–he’s saying that physical aspects of creation are a reflection of man’s moral corruption. So what has physically changed?

Thank you for posting this intelligent and thoughful discussion question.

I really hate this interpretation because I think it misrepresents God’s revealed character. But that would be consistent with my major objection to Reformed theology. I think it makes God’s love derivative of this abstract construct of “God’s glory,” which I think is backward. God’s love and faithfulness are his glory in Scripture.

But I appreciate that Piper is at least honest about the fact that this interpretation of creation being fundamentally altered because of sin requires God to be the subjector of the world to suffering. It’s not just something that God allows to “happen” to creation, because “sin entered the world,” which is a completely non-sensical assertion. Sin can’t fundamentally alter creation.

I think this gets metaphorical and symbolic reasoning backwards. Nothing in our embodied experience exists primarily as a symbol or a metaphor. We choose things from our embodied experience as metaphors and symbols because they help us understand more abstract things and they help us build our abstract constructs. But the abstract constructs are derivative of the physical experience that is being used as a symbol, not vice versa. Even if in your theology God intended all along for the embodied experience to be used symbolically to understand some truth, I don’t think the abstract “truth” somehow led to the existence of the symbol.

I actuallly thought quite hard about this when TGC posted that article about “sex is an icon” and it is “designed” to communicate truth. No, that’s really backwards. Humans reproduce the same way all other mammals do. The fact that we can take a natural biological process and use it to understand truths about God and relationships is part of our human cognition capabilities and arguably part of our image bearing, it’s not somehow “behind” the natural process.

One thing I wish some Bible scholars would discuss is the concept of creation that is operating here. I think we automatically assume the entire natural world and all its laws when we hear mention of “creation,” but if I am not mistaken, ktisis means a created thing, and can also be translated creature, and is conceptually different than cosmos. Cosmos is the label for the concept of the order and laws that govern the world. I haven’t looked deeply into it, but in a passage that deals so much with sarkos (which has one sense of flesh and blood creaturely-ness, but another sense of a corrupted nature of sin-oriented disposition) I wonder if it is flesh and blood creatures who are in bondage to corruption because of sin, not the cosmos.


Well, it’s not just that “this interpretation” requires it as a logical outcome of a systematic approach. That’s true. But it’s also because grammatically it’s pretty clear that’s what the apostle is saying in v20. ὑπετάγη connotes an authoritative action, and that the condition was done “not willingly” but “on account of him who subjected it” pretty clearly indicates God functioning as the decisive agent. Alternatives, such as Adam or Satan, are simply not tenable per the vast majority of scholarship (cf. Moo, Keener, Ciampa, Dunn, Schreiner, Mounce, et al.), especially because this subjection was done ἐφ’ ἑλπίδι (“in hope”).

Hard disagreement on virtually all of this, but don’t want to derail the intention of the thread.

Right. Scholars have debated the scope of ἡ κτίσις in this verse for centuries. Moo, for example, contends that we should be modest about “the creation’s” scope in Rom. 8 due to the Second Adam motif of Rom. 5, where “the world” that death is introduced to is of limited scope (namely to humanity), but in the end still concludes that some elements of the natural order are clearly in view because “the glory that humans will experience, involving as it does the resurrection of the body, necessarily requires an appropriate environment for that embodiment” (

So, even if ἡ κτίσις throughout Rom. 8 refers to something more narrow than is popularly perceived by its usual English rendering (“the creation,”) the natural order is still within view to some degree. This is also supported by other NT writings which speak to “a New Heavens and a New Earth” (Rev. 21), which suggests a transformation of the physically material that will be akin to the transformation of the physical bodies of those who are in Christ. No such motif would exist if the Biblical writers thought the current natural order would be suitably contiguous with the New Humanity, in its glorified state, that is coming in Christ’s return. Which brings us back to the questions I’ve proffered above.


I’ll add a few things here, & may add more when I have more time. First off, thanks @mgruber173 for lobbing this grenade into the forum discussion . Just a wee bit here that folks can discuss.

I’ll lead off with what a few folks here know already. I’m an anesthesiologist. That’s my day job. Come to think of it, it’s my night job way too often, as well…but that’s my cross to bear, I guess. So what I do with a good bit of my day at work is to alleviate pain, or at least try to. So I say all that to preface a brief physiology lecture. @jpm , you & @Randy learned this stuff once upon a time yourselves; it just made for questions on my board certification exam. :wink:

Imagine that you burn your finger on a hot stove. The nerve fibers that carry that painful stimulus from your fingertip back to your spinal cord are of a specific type — they’re called C- & A-delta fibers. The fibers consist of single neurons, single cells which extend all the way to the spinal cord. That’s a really long cell, especially if you’re this guy…

These nerve fibers are built for speed. The impulse travels faster than, say, the sensation of petting your dog, which travels along other nerve fibers, and which does so more slowly. The first relay of the signal to a 2nd neuron — called a “synapse” — doesn’t occur until the signal reaches the spinal cord. From there, various synapses occur, & it gets more complicated. Interestingly, one of the immediate synapses is to a motor pathway which will cause you to reflexively withdraw your hand from the painful stimulus. Thus, the painful impulse doesn’t have to be processed in the cerebral cortex; you don’t have to “think about it,” whether to withdraw from pain. It’s a spinal cord level reflex. This insures that you withdraw faster, & prevents further tissue damage to your finger. Other pathways within the spinal cord & brain are also dedicated to processing painful stimuli as they are detected.

The biochemical first responder is a peptide neurotransmitter called Substance P, also present at that initial synapse in the spinal cord. Substance P does not have its own specific gene, rather it’s one of a handful of post-translational modification products — known as tachykinins — derived from a common precursor molecule, which is the product of a gene called TAC-1, located on human chromosome #7.

The upshot here is that we all understand pain as one of any number of different sensations that we can & do feel, just perhaps the most unpleasant one. If I touched the stove when it wasn’t on, the metal burner would feel cold. I might also perceive the contour of the metal. But when the stove is on, I feel a painful sensation. And that’s all true, insofar as it’s what we experience.

But what’s also true is that there is dedicated “hardware & software” in your nervous system that has the sole responsibility of perceiving & processing painful stimuli. That hardware & software serves no apparent other purpose. It doesn’t serve to transmit the more pleasurable sensation of petting your dog. And…the genes for this hardware & software — for A-delta & C-fibers, as well as for Substance P & its receptor proteins on the involved neurons — are right there hard-wired into our DNA.

Furthermore, this same pathway exists in all mammals, and more rudimentary & primitive versions of this tachykinin mediated neurological pathway are found in invertebrates.

I think this has profound consequences if we think of physical pain as a direct consequence of Original Sin & The Fall, as Mr. Piper is suggesting. Again, physiologically it’s not just the case that we feel pain as simply the most unpleasant of any number of things we could possibly feel, & that those unpleasant sensations are new vs. before The Fall. Rather, a rudimentary form of the neurological pathway dedicated to pain perception evolutionarily appears to predate trees on planet earth. Hundreds of millions of years before there was a Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, or any other tree, the neurological pathway was in place by which we (& other animals) would feel pain.


Thanks for the fascinating contribution and education, Scott!

I think how I’d interpret this through Piperism (which is basically just a repackaged contemporary Jonathan Edwardsianism) is to say that it is not the physical sensation and biological-neurological mechanics of pain that have changed, but rather that pain now constitutes a wholly different spiritual experience for those who possess the Image of God in their cursed, fallen state.

This is akin to the bridge that Calvin makes trying to address pre- and post-Fall death. Calvin doesn’t deny that death for humans could not have occurred prior to the Fall, but instead reasons that death for Image Bearers, if they would have died in their pre-Fall state (which we have no Biblical evidence to support, so this is mostly theoretical), can perhaps be better understood as a gentle passing into another kind of life, whereas death in the post-Fall state is the exact same mechanical-biological process, only now it is defined by a spiritual and existential dread that did not exist beforehand. Hopes unfulfilled, dreams unrealized, desires never met, regrets abounding, promises unfulfilled, etc. Or, perhaps even more sadly, it is a death brought about by our fellow man (Gen. 4), or from the seeming tragedy and arbitrary indifference of nature–a tree limb falling on a jogger during a run, and so forth. So death is mechanically the same biological process, but now that our access to the Tree of Life has been cut off and we have been cursed for our transgression in the Garden, how it is experienced is qualitatively different, and this is really what is meant by us “returning to dust.” It’s not just the biological process of succumbing to metastasized cancer that needs defeated, but rather it’s all of the emotional-spiritual wreckage such a death causes, both for the sufferer and for their loved ones.

So I think the Piperian theologian would say pain can have the same exact biological mechanics before and after Gen. 3, it’s just that in our post-Fall state, it takes on new experiential qualities in the human consciousness. This is a theological statement, not an empirical one, obviously, because it’s not really falsifiable or even provable, as it’s attributing experience to the (assumed) phenomenological, not merely the physically material. In other words, it can’t really be measured.

A far more gripping question is to ask whether this also corresponds to changes in the physically material universe in ways that are not merely phenomenological (e.g., whether physical matter has somehow changed from its pre- and post-Fall states). But a conclusion I might draw is that if it has, these are also fundamentally unfalsifiable assertions. How would we measure such changes if they occurred? Especially if all of our instruments for gathering empirical data are ultimately products of a post-Fall physical state? We would perhaps need tools formed from this supposed pre-Fall physical matter in order to even measure it, and that is something to which we no longer have access anyway.

So I am comfortable contending that some elements of our physically material universe are profound symbols of the spiritual devastation of sin, since Paul suggests this is the case in Rom. 8 and elsewhere, whereas others seem to have greater continuity with the original creation than we sometimes assume (such as biological-mechanical processes, which seem to evidence a great deal of continuity). But is this true for quantum mechanics or particles or other small scale things? Is it true for cosmology, whose standard model is very much in question at the moment and is by all accounts in crisis (A Possible Crisis in the Cosmos Could Lead to a New Understanding of the Universe | Scientific American)? Hard to say, as the Scriptures are silent on such matters.

That’s a great question in light f a comment by an Orthodox theologian who noted that in any world with gravity and rough objects there is the possibility of injury and pain.

I’ve run into people who explain that away by claiming that Adam and Eve were so graceful they would never have bumped into anything, but that seems like turning mythology into fairy tales.

That’s a good match for my take on the curse about thistles and thorns: it wasn’t that there had never been thistles and thorns, it was that now they would be getting in the way – in terms of the Genesis Garden stories, presumably those unwanted plants just didn’t grow where they weren’t wanted, but then outside the Garden, where God’s orderly Edenic version of Earth had not yet reached (since extending it was never accomplished by humans whose task that was) all sorts of unwanted plants would just grow wherever their seeds could sprout.

So I suggest that maybe pre-accountable humans experienced pain as a part of life, but once fallen pain became more common and perhaps more severe, and that increase has the lesson attached to it that people with broken souls are likely to end up with broken bodies.

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I vaguely recall reading on this topic and came across an argument that pain before the Fall didn’t cause discomfort, it just came as information to the brain. That view seems to require that the Garden stories be historical at core.

One view is that Creation’s groaning etc. is because it’s trying to continue to run the way God planned but that humans keep making messes that are harmful to nature. Of course that view reduces the scope of Creation’s suffering from cosmic to Earthly, when as I recall Paul uses the word “cosmos” which tends to mean “everything there is” – though on the other hand there are arguments that the term only extends to the portion of Creation which humans can have influence on.

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That’s a good observation about Reformed theology. I hadn’t looked at it quite that way before, but it definitely applies.

Well, as far as we can tell, anyway. There have been and continue to be Christians who maintain that sinless humans could command plants and animals but that this ability was lost once sin was part of the picture – though whether that counts as altering Creation I suppose depends on whether humans are to be included.

Very much so!

Now that’s an interesting suggestion! It makes s certain degree of sense in that living creatures are called “nephesh”, ‘souls’, along with humans, which might suggest that they can suffer effects linked to spiritual reality.

I definitely agree in terms of the Greek, both vocabulary and grammar.

I have some difficulties with this and would ask, merited on what basis? One person is caught speeding so the state trooper just gives everyone who owns a car or who will ever own a car in the future a ticket? There is nothing merited about this in my mind.But yes, the finite sufferings of the present do not compare to future glory.

Piper is out of touch with reality and little he has to say here can be taken seriously. It’s the same for any exegete starting with a literal Adam and Eve. The world has been this way for billions of years. This line of thinking is just free publicity for atheism.

I’d say suffering plays a role. Eden honestly sounds boring at times. So much so I am tempted to say Adam and Eve fell up.


On the basis of Paul’s logic in Romans 5, which Christians accept as authoritative divine writ. More granularly, this is known as the doctrine of imputation. The theological mechanisms which expand on this are usually called federal headship, in that Adam was a symbolic representative for all of humanity, or that we were in some literal sense “in Adam” when he sinned, in the same way that Hebrews 7:9 reasons that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham because “he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him” (ESV).

Denying this doctrine has serious implications for being able to reckon with the logic of Romans 5–namely, that it becomes impossible.

The problem is “this line of thinking” is clearly present in the text and theology of the early Jesus Movement (e.g. Acts 17:26), which means we as Christians must reckon with it if we believe our sacred book has things to say about reality.

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This is too simple for me. There are many definitions of authoritative and divine writ. Inspiration comes in various flavors. Christian’s disregard and reinterpret many things in the Bible. The Bible disagrees with its own authoritative self at times and even Jesus overturns some of its plain teachings.

Romans 5 says x thus x must be absolutely true might work for fundamentalists. In regards to Romans 5, Paul had no way of knowing about the evolution of humans and that we did not start from two people. Taking scripture authoritatively and seriously doesn’t mean believing everything is literally true as written on the page.

Piper’s argument doesn’t work if Adam and Eve are not real individuals that existed before natural evils and science tells they did not. I’m not sure Paul’s does either. Science tells us death and these natural evils plagued life on this planet for billions of years. For me, imputation is detached from reality. I can’t imagine raising children or any legal system run under “imputation.”

Yes, we have two genealogies going back to Adam as well. God must have accommodated his message. The million dollar question is what to do with something like Romans 5 when its arguments are based on an incorrect understanding of reality?

But to answer it, you kind of have to accept the premise that God subjected creation to pain and suffering so that we might have hope of the new creation, which I think you are going to have a hard time selling to the audience here. I don’t think it’s true that all of our suffering and everything that is wrong or could be labeled “natural evil” in our physical universe traces back to a curse God unleashed on his creation because human’s sinned. I actually find this view of God to be kind of deplorable. I think pain and suffering pre-date the call to image bearing because pain, suffering, and death are indeed hardwired into nature independent of sin and whatever additional suffering and corruption of the natural order of things that unleashed. I don’t think sin changed nature at all. So I guess I’ll bow out of this conversation since I probably can’t add the kind of discussion you are seeking.


It’s the asserted logic of the letter, which is simple to grasp. Is the contention here that this would somehow make more sense if it were complex?

Yes. If you read above, I offer a number of possible resolutions to this empirical fact that don’t necessarily contradict orthodox methods of Biblical interpretation.

Ironically, neither does the Apostle Paul’s, which causes dramatic problems for what the Christian religion has asserted about itself for over 2,000 years.

Well, thankfully, you don’t need to, because you’re not God. But I would contend you can, even if you don’t agree with it principally, because we’ve used the logic underpinning imputation to address notions of collective guilt (most prolifically in the 20th century during the Second World War) many, many times. Are you not familiar with what it means to be “morally complicit?”

If it’s what the Apostle is communicating, which appears to be the case, then I’m not sure I have much interest in trying to make it more or less appealing. It is what it is, and as a Christian you either accept the apostolic logic or you are not a Christian and you don’t.

A long time ago I read excerpts from the book by the doctor the Philip Yancey worked with. I think it was called the gift of pain. Anyway, he worked with leprosy patients who lost their ability to sense pain and this caused all sorts of problems. It was interesting to think of in terms of the ability to sense pain being an evolutionary adaptation that is advantageous in so many ways and when we are deprived of this ability, we actually suffer more. Someone I read once tied this whole concept into the idea of Israel being named after Jacob who wrestled with God and got his hip dislocated in the process and forever walked with a limp (according to Jewish tradition or something, don’t quote me). Then Israel went on to sort of find their identity in being a suffering people. But they suffered with God on their side, which made all the difference. So the fact that Jesus became a Jew and entered their suffering is hugely significant. Anyway, I don’t exactly know where I’m going with this, but I think Piper nailed something true when he tied suffering to hope. I think it is formative in ways that nothing else can be and I think just like the ability to experience pain is a gift that keeps us healthy, the corporate experience of wrestling with God through our experiences of suffering leaves us spiritually stronger, even if we walk with a limp.


I agree, that’s a great question. The problem is that when accommodationism touches not on issues of imprecise scientific knowledge, but on salvific or theological knowledge–which is in view in Rom. 5, since the contention is that Christ and Adam have a parallel correspondence as historic persons–you begin unwinding claims that are foundationally central to Christianity. Which means at some point you are effectively no longer arguing for Christianity as true. That may not be your interest, but it is mine.

Well, I don’t think Christianity rises or falls on the basis of Adam. I think that belief is prevalent because Augustine used a mistranslation in the Vulgate and spread “original sin” to virtually the whole church. Paul’s argument is much larger in Romans. Its concerns Jews and Gentiles and he adopts Jewish interpretative traditions about Adam to make his point. “Or does Paul have in mind the standard Jewish Adam—that is, the literary genealogical Adam who becomes an adjustable figure who can be used in theology for a variety of presentations and ideas?” McKnight

We may inherit something from Adam (or our first ancestors who sinned but Paul implies it is our sin we are accountable for (“because all sinned). I think in order to truly understand Paul, one needs to strip themselves of 1600 years of Christian tradition and read intertestamental references to Adam.

It is a thorny issue for sure and we can ask what did Jesus’s death actually accomplish which makes the issue important, but there are several models of atonement. I’m perfectly content with solidarity alone. If it’s more than that then it’s more than that.

And I note there is nothing in the Nicene Creed about Adam, guilt or imputation. It just says Jesus died for our sake.