Christians are obsessed with the idea of salvation. Fair enough, salvation is essential. The problem, however, is that everyone has different opinions on what salvation actually is. Different traditions tend to emphasise and even make exclusive claims to their own definition of salvation at the expense of others. So in this series, I aim to explore the different facets of salvation so that we may better understand what it really is. Here are the salvific themes we’re going to explore:
Each motif plays a pivotal role in demonstrating what salvation is, how it is achieved and received, and how it is lived out by the believer. In this post, we will be exploring recapitulation.
The doctrine of recapitulation is just a fancy term to describe the idea that Jesus reenacted the drama of humanity. That is, humanity in the person of Adam was supposed to not “eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” but in Genesis 3, they failed the test. Jesus, on the other hand, did pass the test, and every test subsequent perfectly. Joshua M. McNall explains recapitulation to be the foundation in which every other atonement theory makes sense.
Like every biblical theme, we see the origins of recapitulation on the first few pages of the Bible. In Genesis 1:26, we find that God created humanity in His image (the imago Dei). In previous posts, I’ve already explored what the image of God is, in short, it is a two-fold reality. First, the image is something ontological. In other words, the image is something that is part and parcel of human nature. Second, the image is expressed functionally through the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” and to work and keep the Garden (Genesis 1:28, 2:13). The problem?
In Adam, all of humanity has now become a corrupted version of what God had intended. We’ve failed to have dominion and to keep and work the Earth. This failure becomes apparent in Genesis 3, where sin in the form of the serpent rules over humanity instead of humanity ruling over it. Also, instead of guarding and keeping the Garden (Gen 2:15), Adam and Eve allow it to be invaded by the serpent to tempt them into idolatry. Mainly, Adam and Eve failed at being human and imaging God. In Adam, we have all failed the test, and we’ve all failed to be human. However, God doesn’t just give up on humanity. Instead, God is about restoring and renewing humankind back to its original purposes, and in fact, a more excellent state (complete unity with God). So then, let us trace recapitulation through the rest of the Bible:
- Cain and Abel are offering up sacrifices to God (traditionally interpreted as an attempt to get back into the Garden). However, one fails at being human as Cain let’s sin rule over him (as it crouches at the door and wants to rule over him – creature language). Cain murders his brother and is sent eastward (Genesis 4).
- Noah comes across as a good human. He builds an ark and preaches righteousness and judgement. Noah is faithful. The flood occurs. Then he gets off the ark and offers up sacrifices and plants a garden/vineyard, and God reestablishes the Adamic covenant with Noah (new Adam imagery). However, Noah gets drunks, lays around naked, and something suss happens. He fails at being human (Genesis 8-9).
- God calls Abraham out of Babylon to be a blessing to the nations and a father of many. God wants to use Abraham to start a people that would be Yahweh’s own (Genesis 12). Yet immediately Abraham goes to Canaan with his family (though God said not to) to leave them behind). He doesn’t trust in God’s promises and has sex with a Hagar (Genesis 16). He fails at being genuinely human.
- Moses is promising. He is called by God to deliver Yahweh’s people from bondage to Egypt (Exodus 2-3). On multiple occasions, Moses approaches Pharaoh and demands his people to be set free so that they can worship God. He sends plagues on Egypt (Exodus 7-11) until finally, Moses parts the Red Sea and leads them into the wilderness (Exodus 14). Moses goes up Mount Sinai and gets the law to give to Yahweh’s people (Exodus 19-24). The people love and trust Moses to be their representative to God. Moses might be this new human we’re looking for (Genesis 3:15). However, Moses loses faith in Yahweh and is subsequently barred from the Promise Land (Numbers 20:2-12).
- David, the chosen the warrior king, and a man after God’s own heart ( 1 Samuel 13:14) faithfully ruled over Israel and with his son Solomon after him. Essentially they established the golden age of Israel for many years. However, David sees beautiful Bathsheba, kills her husband and takes her for his own. There’s so much blood on his hands that God won’t even let him build the temple (2 Samuel 7).
- Solomon, the wisest king to ever rule (1 Kings 3) continued to raise Israel to a glorious standard. Solomon built the temple where God came to dwell (1 Kings 8), and was loved by all. Yet all the wisdom in the world failed to remind him that he wasn’t to accumulate much wealth, women or and army (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Every one of these laws Solomon broke which ended up leading Israel into mass idolatry.
- Jesus Christ, is the true prophet, priest and king (think Abraham, Moses and David). The true Israel, the new Adam, i.e. the new human. In a sense, Jesus reenacts all of Israels and humanities failed history in His own life and fulfils all of that in his own life, death and resurrection. That’s recapitulation.
My final thoughts. As we read the Scriptures, we’re supposed to see something of ourselves in them. We aren’t the heroes of the story. Far from it. We are, however, like Abraham, Moses and David. We’re all in some way or another, failures at being genuinely human. We all fail at loving others as ourselves and God with our entire beings. You could be a king like David, or a nobody like Abraham in a God-forsaken city, or a priest like Moses who talks to God like you would a friend, none of us are who we are meant to be. We all suck at imaging God. That’s ok. There is one who’s greater than us who is truly human. Who in His life took up the entire history of humanity, laid it upon Himself, and died for it. Now Jesus can make you human again, but it isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
The essence of being human isn’t seeking perfection, but now, it’s seeking Christ.