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Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone

Life—understood biblically as the enjoyment of the covenant communion bond with God in a holy kingdom—is brought into close association with God’s word from the beginning. It was Adam’s response to the word of God (in either obedience or disobedience) that characterized his probation: obedience to it would entail eschatological life as symbolized in the tree of life, while disobedience would incur death away from the life-giving presence of God. Even in the pre-redemptive state, God’s word was to regulate the communion bond of life into which Adam was brought. The covenant relationship was not a joint-venture between God and Adam, but the sovereign imposition of God by which he brought man into personal fellowship with himself to be graciously and lovingly ruled by his word and so with him find fullness of life. Adam was to live in accordance with God’s interpretation of himself and his surroundings, not his own autonomous interpretation. Adam, for one, could not have intuited from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that it was forbidden and would lead to death without a special word revelation from God. Vern Poythress writes,

Verbal communication was one aspect of personal communion between God and man. Through his Words God also gave guidance and direction in both general [Gen. 1:28] and specific [Gen. 2:17] ways. … When he created man, God never intended that man should find his way in the world just by using his mind and observing the trees and the soil around him. God spoke. God instructed. And because it was God who spoke, he spoke with absolute authority, the authority of the Creator. This speech was designed to govern everything else in human life.[1]

From the beginning man was not to live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (see Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 4:34). This principle will run throughout redemptive-history as the communion bond between God and his people is established, maintained, and consummated by the power of his revealed word, which is to be life (even resurrection life) for them.[2]

[Y]ou have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25).

In contrast to the life-giving word of God, the twisted words of the serpent stood in opposition as death stood in opposition to life. The words of the serpent sought to compromise and ultimately destroy the very communion bond that was Adam’s life by injecting into it suspicion and doubt as to the good and gracious character and purpose of God. Sinclair Ferguson captures this well,

In Eden the Serpent persuaded Eve and Adam that God was possessed of a narrow and restrictive spirit bordering on the malign. … [The serpent’s temptation] was intended to dislodge Eve from the clarity of God’s word. … But it was more. It was an attack on God’s character. … The Serpent’s tactic was to lead her into seeing and interpreting the world through her eyes (what she saw when she looked at the tree) rather than through her ears (what God had said about it). … In both mind and affections God’s law was now divorced from God’s gracious person. Now she thought God wanted nothing for her. Everything was myopic, distorted ‘now.’ … [W]hat the Serpent accomplished in Eve’s mind, affections, and will was a divorce between God’s revealed will and his gracious, generous character. Trust in him was transformed into suspicion of him by looking at ‘naked law’ rather than hearing ‘law from the gracious lips of the heavenly Father.’ God thus became to her “He-whose-favor-has-to-be-earned.”[3]

The Serpent’s words were a targeted attack aimed at severing the wholesome life-giving fellowship of union and communion that Adam enjoyed with God. For Adam to submit to the word of God meant life, but for him to submit to the word of the serpent meant death. So because of his silence before the forbidden tree, Adam failed to counter the serpent’s venomous lies with the truth of God and so incurred death away from the life-giving presence of God. Rather than experiencing joy in the presence of God, a lethal fear entered his heart, a fear of the source of life, God himself (3:10).

Into this situation the grace and mercy of God resounds in the words of curse pronounced upon the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The dark communion bond between the woman and the serpent is severed by the interjection of enmity and ultimate triumph over the serpent is promised. The communion bond of life with God is restored and consummated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ whose Gospel Word and Spirit are now the power of life for all who are united to him by faith.

[1] From the forward to John Frame, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, ed. Joseph E. Torres (2nd ed.; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), xix. For more on this see Vern S. Poythress, In the Beginning Was the Word: Language: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009). See also Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, ed. William Edgar (2nd ed.; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 125-26.

[2] For a concise biblical theology of the centrality of the word of God in human living, see Vern S. Poythress’s forward to John Frame, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, xviii-xxii.

[3] Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaten, IL: Crossway, 2016), 80, 81, 82.


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