Divine Sovereignty And Human Responsibility: Bringing Resolution To The Tension With Genesis 1-3 (Research Paper)

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Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Bringing Resolution To The Tension With Genesis 1-3 PDF

D.A. Carson writes in his book on divine sovereignty and human responsibility that 

“I frankly doubt that finite human beings can cut the Gordian knot; at least, this finite human being cannot. The sovereignty-responsibility tension is not a problem to be solved; rather, it is a framework to be explored.” [D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 2.]

But Carson’s statement, although honest, contains within itself a hidden assumption: that divine sovereignty and human responsibility cannot be portrayed in a reconcilable fashion. R.K. McGregor Wright catches this hidden assumption of Carson’s:

“It does not seem to occur to Carson, however, that John himself may have noticed no tension or conflict because in fact there was none.” [R.K. McGregor Wright, No Place For Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Freewill Theism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 55.]

Wright’s quote above explains why the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility has existed for so long: because various theologians and believers have maintained a theological presupposition of tension. While there is a possibility that these two concepts are in tension, there is also the possibility that these two concepts are reconcilable. Only scripture will reveal the nature of the relationship between the two biblical concepts.

In this paper, I intend to demonstrate that there is no biblical tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility; rather, divine sovereignty is the foundation for human responsibility. While D.A. Carson has studied John’s Gospel regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and various theologians have studied other portions of scripture, I intend to make the case for reconciliation with Genesis 1-3.  Genesis chapters one and two will provide an introduction for chapter three so as to set up the framework for the conflict of the Fall in Genesis 3. In the same way that a house cannot exist without a firm foundation, neither can human responsibility exist without the firm foundation of the sovereignty of God.

Genesis Chapter One: The Sovereign God Creates

Genesis chapter one, “the beginning of the beginning,” shows God’s creative power as He speaks the world (and everything within it) into existence. Genesis 1:2 describes that “the earth was without form, and void,” meaning that no earth existed. There was just darkness (Gen. 1:2). It was out of the darkness that God spoke the words, “Let there be light,” and light came into being [Gen. 1:3 (NKJV). The New King James Version will be used throughout the rest of this paper unless otherwise stated.].

God demonstrates His power by willing to create the world and then, by speaking life into existence ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” According to John Skinner, the creation of the world “is wholly the product of divine intelligence and volition” [ John Skinner, International Critical Commentary: Genesis (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1951), 7.] and shows God’s “absolute sovereignty over the material He employs” [Ibid.] through the spoken word. God has total control over everything that happens, as He alone possesses the power to create anything He desires.

God, then, is the all-powerful, mighty, and Great Sovereign of all existence. God creates the light (v.4), Heaven (v.8), earth (vv.9-10), grass (vv.11-12), sun and stars (vv.14-18), as well as the animal kingdom (vv. 20-25). Divine Sovereignty is clearly established as the foundation of all that is to come.

God’s last creation is man: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion…over everything that creeps on the earth’” [Gen. 1:26.]. Alexander and Baker stress that by having the image of God, man is the representative of God’s authority on earth, quite like royal statues used as symbols of the king’s authority in his absence [T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 18.].

The Hebrew word radah, translated as “have dominion,” refers to forceful rule; the word can refer to the rule of a king (Numbers 24:19) or the rule of one nation over another (Isa. 14:2) [Nathan MacDonald, “The Imago Dei and Election: Reading Genesis 1:26-28 and Old Testament Scholarship with Karl Barth,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no. 3 (July 2008): 324.] The implication of this decision is that man’s sphere would be the earth, in the same way that a king rules over a domain or a territory. 

 God blesses Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” [Gen. 1:28.]. The word for “subdue,” kavash, can mean “to trample down, to step on something with the consciousness of a ruler, to force a way through” [MacDonald, 325.]. The Greek word for “subdue,” katakurieusate, is a combination of the words kata (over) and kurieusate (to be lord). Translated literally, the word means “to be lord over” (LXX). The Greek word reveals within itself the word “lord,” pointing to the fact that man, as “lord” (lowercase l) would rule in the likeness of his Creator “Lord” (capital L). 

It is here within Genesis one that the reader notices God, as Divine Sovereign, bestowing power and authority upon man, His creation. Man is given the responsibility of ruling the earth. This rule comes about precisely because man bears the image and likeness of his Creator [Victor P. Hamilton, New International Commentary On the Old Testament: Genesis 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990), 137.]. Terence Fretheim argues that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not in tension biblically, but presuppositionally. While it has been assumed that God maintains absolute sovereignty, “a closer look suggests that such a perspective needs to be modified…what if the God of the creation texts is understood to be imaged more as one who, in creating, chooses to share power in relationship?” (Terence Fretheim. “Preaching Creation: Genesis 1-2,” Word and World 29, no. 1 (Winter 2009: 77. According to Clifton J. Allen, man was given both a “privilege and challenge…in a sense, he is to join God in the awesome task of continuing the work of creation” [Clifton J. Allen, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. I: General Articles (Genesis to Exodus). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Press, 1969, page 125]).

It seems that the opening of Genesis one portrays a God who possesses all control; however, by the end of chapter one, God is not the only one who possesses some form of rule over the earth—for God has now given earthly rule to man. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility cooperate in verses 26-28. The Divine Sovereignty of God is not compromised when He gives human power (and responsibility) to man; rather, it is enhanced in His desire to share power, not just with His human creation, but also in the Trinitarian relationship of the three Persons who consent to the creation of man. To be sure, “God thereby chooses not to do everything in the world ‘all by himself'” (Fretheim, “Preaching Creation,” page 78).

Genesis one presents God as the Divine Sovereign, who creates the world, man, and beast out of His own good pleasure and will. The Trinitarian decision to create man in the image and likeness of God (vv. 26-28) serves an important distinction: while both man and beast are creations of God, only man has been given power and responsibility by God. To deny this is to take away from man the very thing that distinguishes him from the rest of the created world (“On the contrary, men are not governed like [the plants and animals]…in matters pertaining to their minds, they do whatever they choose…as those who are free, endowed with power, and in the likeness of God” [Bardesanes, quoted by David W. Bercot, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 288]).

And the reason why this debate has continued throughout the centuries is that theologians have failed to make the following connection: (a) man has been given power over the earth; (b) with power comes responsibility; (c) if man has power, then man also has responsibility. When this connection is made, God is no longer presented as the one who must bear responsibility for the world situation (After quoting Isaiah 45:7, Bruce Ware comments: “that ‘bara’ (create) would be used for ‘darkness’ and ‘calamity’ instead of with their positive counterparts only underscores the fact that God does not want us to yield to the intuition to relinquish from him responsibility for these kinds of actionsGod’s responsibility for them is both stated and emphasized…” [Bruce Ware. God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004, pp. 71-72)]), or deemed the “God of the Iron Fist.” In the words of John Chrysostom (regarding man’s dominion):

“Did you notice the definitive character of this authority? Did you notice all created things placed under the control of this particular being? So no longer entertain casual impressions of this rational being but rather realize the extent of the esteem and the Lord’s magnanimity toward it and be amazed at his love beyond all telling” ( Andrew Louth, Ancient Christian Commentary: Genesis 1-11 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 40.). 


Genesis 2: The Exercise of Man’s Dominion

Genesis chapter one traces God’s bestowal of power and responsibility upon man. In Genesis chapter two, man begins to take his place on the center stage of world history, exercising dominion over creation as he had been commanded to do.

After the Lord had created the earth and everything in it, He “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” [Gen. 2:15 (NKJV)]. From the beginning, God made man with a purpose: to give him responsibility, to give him work in the creation. God clearly did not have to do this; He was not bound by necessity to place man where He did in the creation order. Nevertheless, God decides to do this. This is the same God who planted the garden (2:8), allowed a mist from the ground to water the vegetation (2:5), and even provided a river of water for the garden (2:10), not to mention placing man in the Garden by His own hand (2:15). Since God is doing all the action, God is clearly in charge of the creation. Yet and still, in His sovereignty, man is given responsibility by the hand of his Maker. Although the garden itself was “the most perfect portion of the terrestrial creation, [it] was nevertheless susceptible of development” and needed human effort to grow [Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 52.].

In verses 16 and 17, the Lord tells Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” [Gen. 2:16-17.]. The Lord gives Adam a command, thereby revealing to Adam His expectation for his human creation. Spence and Exell assert that God gave Adam this command to awaken the moral law He had already implanted within him:

“The prohibition laid on Adam was for the time being a summary of the Divine law…which lies at the basis of all responsibility. It interpreted for the first pair those great moral intuitions which had been implanted in their natures…with the Divine will as its source and with themselves as its end” [H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis (London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 189-?), 46. Note: date is supplied as printed.].

Man had been made in the image and likeness of his Creator and given dominion over the earth (great power). However, as the saying goes, “With power comes responsibility”; and since man had great power, he would also have great accountability to his Creator for what he did with that power—whether good or evil. God demonstrates His sovereignty here with His command to Adam. Because He is the Sovereign God, He could command Adam to obey. “The Divine law…lies at the basis of all responsibility,” for, without a law, what responsibility would exist? 

God gave His Law so that man would recognize his responsibility before God. The least man could do is be responsible before the Lord God of all the earth who had given him so much: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required…” [Lk. 12:48a (NKJV).]


Genesis 2:19 is another instance of the concurrence of divine sovereignty and human responsibility: “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name” [Gen. 2:19.]. As Terence Fretheim mentioned earlier, if theologians assume that God retains absolute sovereignty over creation, then Genesis 2 poses a problem for them—for it is here that Adam, like God, is allowed to give names to a portion of the creation:

“God brought them [the animals] to him [Adam], that he might name them, and so might give…a proof of his power…God gave names…to show that He is the supreme Lord…but He gave Adam leave to name the beasts and fowls as their subordinate lord; for, having made him in his own image, he thus put some of his honour upon him” [Matthew Henry. Matthew Henry’s Commentary: Genesis to Deuteronomy (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revelle, n.d.), 1:19.].

When Adam names the animals (as God has named the rest of creation), Adam is acting with the image in the likeness of his Creator. God seems pleased to leave the naming of the animals to Adam—and does not feel His sovereignty threatened by so doing. If all power belongs to the Lord God, and He decides to bestow a portion on humanity, then who are theologians to object?


                                                 Genesis 3: The Fall

As aforementioned, D.A. Carson refers to the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as the “Gordian knot.” If this is true, then the Gordian knot tightens as the reader approaches Genesis 3. It is here that man attempts to surpass his Maker—and fails miserably.

In verses one and two, the serpent questions Eve about God’s prohibition regarding the forbidden fruit and she demonstrates cognizance of God’s command, although imperfectly (“nor shall you touch it”; Gen. 3:4 NKJV.). It is not the “touching” portion of Eve’s statement that the serpent hangs on to: instead, he intends to deceive her about God’s command. First, with the words “you will not die,” [Ibid.], the serpent eliminates human responsibility for disobeying the Lord’s command. 

According to the serpent, if Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they had no need to worry—nothing would happen. They would escape punishment. The serpent eliminates human responsibility while still upholding man’s power as given to him by God. 

Secondly, the serpent gives them an incentive to disobey: “for God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The sin was not only appealing because they would not die; it would also allow them to become “equal” to their Creator. Adam and Eve would no longer have to “take orders” from God; now, they would become gods, able to determine their own rules and make them and break them at whim. The worst part in all of this is that “God knows” this to be true—God contained this knowledge in Himself and held back this truth from Adam and Eve all along. How could God hold back such a good thing from His own creation? [“What are we to say of God’s actions? Admittedly, the narrative presents a God who makes a peculiar demand, on the face of it out of ‘sheer irrationality’” (Kenneth Matthews, New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996), 1A: 236).]

In verse six, Eve looks at the tree and notes that it is “good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes,” and “desirable to make one wise” [Gen. 3:6 NKJV.]. God had told Eve not to eat of the fruit, but never gave reasons for His commandment. So now, Eve decides that the tree itself is no different from any other tree in the Garden and that, according to her own evaluation, the tree is perfectly normal to eat from. 

She now claims a status independent of God, as she becomes her own judge. She now determines her own standards, right from wrong. All of a sudden, God’s warning meant nothing. Who was God, anyway? And how could He determine right and wrong? In that moment, Eve rebelled in heart and mind before she rebelled in deed:

“The reader of this narrative will surely recall that in Genesis 1 it was clearly God alone who ‘saw what was good’…now, instead of God, it is the woman who ‘saw what was good’” [Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, eds., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis~Leviticus, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 86.].

If Eve wanted to be a “god,” she did not need to eat of the fruit; she had already “declared” herself to be one—by deliberating about whether or not to eat the fruit. 

This moment in Genesis speaks volumes to the ongoing debate on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Often, Arminians have been labeled in the debate as those who possess a “man-centered” theology, where man is “autonomous” and makes decisions apart from God [R.K. McGregor Wright, 44; on page 118, Wright mocks Arminians by rewriting Charles Wesley’s hymn “Amazing Love.” Lyrics include “prevenient grace” and “autonomy.”]. However, it is not current Arminian theology (whether it is “classical” or “neo-Arminian”) that is man-centered, but this moment in Genesis—where Adam and Eve want to retain their power and responsibility apart from God. Current Arminian evangelicals embrace the idea of man’s responsibility before God; but it is the atheist (for example) who desires to live an autonomous existence apart from God who should possess this label. Living with power and responsibility under the reign of God does not make a person dangerous; it is living apart from God that does. 

Eve evaluates the tree and its fruit as one who believes she is equal to God; therefore, when she sees that the tree “appears” to hold some benefit, she takes of its fruit and eats (and then gives it to Adam, who does the same).

At the moment they eat the fruit, the worst happens. They do not achieve what they worked so hard for: they wanted to be “like God,” but they forgot that they already were by virtue of being made in His image and likeness [Longman and Garland, 86.]. Instead, they find nothing but misery and shame. In verse six Eve sees the tree as “good for food”, while in verse seven the couple sees their nakedness; in verse six the tree is “pleasant to the eyes,” while in verse seven the couple is displeased with their nakedness; in verse six the tree can “make one wise,” but in verse seven the only wisdom gained is knowledge of how to sew together fig leaves [Matthews, 239.]. Their vain pursuit turns into shame and guilt.

Throughout the opening verses of chapter three, the reader is thrown into a moment where divine sovereignty and human responsibility are in conflict. Adam and Eve, humans made like God, now desire to “be God” and attempt to overthrow God’s sovereignty in their relationship with Him. But no sooner than Adam and Eve plot to usurp God’s authority, do they discover the truth: that no matter how powerful they become, they will never overthrow the sovereignty of God. If God’s sovereignty serves as the foundation for human responsibility (and that responsibility comes with power), then how will their God-given power exist without God Himself? They eat the fruit because they desire to experience God’s sovereignty; however, once the sin has been committed, Adam and Eve experience none of God’ s sovereignty, but more of their God-given responsibility. They desire to plunge into “Godhood”, but only experience more of their “humanness”—the worst part being that now, both man and woman will have to answer to God for their rebellion.

In verse eight, Adam and Eve hear God walking in the Garden: “And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” [Genesis 3:8.] By using the name of the Lord as “The Lord God” in verse 8 (“God” in vv. 1-5), God has assumed the role of Judge now, while still being man’s Creator [Gordon Wenham, The Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 76.]. The question to be asked is, “Why do they hide from the Lord?” The answer can be discovered in what the writer gives us in Genesis 2:25—“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Adam and Eve hide from God because their consciences convict them of their rebellion. The Lord calls out to Adam, and Adam responds by saying, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” [Gen. 3:10.]. Since Genesis one when Adam was created, he had been naked and never attempted to cover his nakedness. Now in chapter three Adam is naked and afraid. What did Adam have to be afraid of? 

Adam’s response is typical to that of little children. I watched the “Bounty” paper towel commercial several times when I was a child, and always wondered about the expression of the little boy who spilled something on the floor. The look of terror in his eyes matched that of someone who knew he was in “big trouble” for possibly staining his mother’s floor. The expression of the little “Bounty” boy, however, is typical of all children everywhere. Children know when they have done something wrong. Their consciences get the best of them, as mine did me when I was younger. Why do men’s consciences convict them?

The answer can be found in Paul’s words to the Romans: “who [Gentiles] show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” [Rom. 2:15.]. Men and women possess guilt and feel ashamed when they have done something wrong. The very fact that someone feels bad about something wrong done testifies to the existence of the conscience, mind, and the implanted law of God on the heart. Human responsibility, therefore, is more than just a notion or an illusion—it is a reality. The fact that God is sovereign testifies to the conscience, mind, and law of God within the human composition. Since God is sovereign, and He made man in His image after His likeness, only He could place such “moral checks” within His human creation. 

In verse eleven, God questions Adam: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” [Gen. 3:11.] It is in this specific moment that the reader finds the human couple playing what is termed “the blame game,” where each person blames the other person for the sin committed. When Adam is questioned he blames Eve, stating that “the woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” [Gen. 3:12.]. Adam immediately places blame on God for giving Eve to him as his wife. 

“The woman is depicted as God’s gift in 2:22, where Adam initially responds with enthusiastic glee. Now, like the serpent, he charges that God’s good gift was malicious, for she has led to his downfall…this is a line still heard today” [Matthews, 241.].

Since God had given Eve to Adam, and Eve gave Adam of the fruit, then God was responsible for the sin of the human couple. But James tells believers where to place the blame for sin: every human is responsible for their own sin: 

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” [Jam. 1:13-14. (NKJV).].

When a pastor, for example, commits adultery with another woman, it is not God who is responsible; it is the pastor. The pastor’s own lust is what motivated him to cheat on his wife. God did not “make” the man do what he did. He willingly chose to sin against his wife and God. Here, though, we see Adam doing what still happens today: blaming God for his sin. 

God turns to Eve in verse thirteen, and questions her. She responds, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” [Gen. 3:13.]. Eve blames her sin on the serpent, but back in verses two and three, Eve demonstrates that she is aware of God’s warning. Although the serpent does lie to her about the consequences of the sin itself, she was given the commandment somehow—and is responsible for what she knew the warning to be. Eve does not escape punishment, even if she is deceived. 

It is at this time that the Lord, in His Sovereign role, becomes Judge. In verse sixteen, the Lord punishes the woman with increased pain in childbirth and the domination of her husband. The word translated “rule” in Genesis 3:16 is “kurieusei” [Gen. 3:16 (LXX)], from “kurieo,” meaning “to rule, to be lord over.” The Lord punishes Adam for his sin of eating the fruit as well. Adam’s punishments include harder labor to yield fruit from the ground (v.18) as well as physical death (“for dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” v. 19).

Before giving Adam his punishment, however, God responds to Adam’s accusation of God as the guilty party. Adam was responsible “because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’” [Genesis 3:17 (NKJV).]. God quickly threw the blame back where it belonged—on Adam. The fact that God, the Sovereign Judge, punishes Adam, Eve, and the serpent demonstrates, that, if human responsibility fails to cancel out divine sovereignty, then divine sovereignty also fails to cancel out human responsibility [Ps. 51:4; Rom. 3:4.].

The Lord’s words to the serpent are the most pivotal of the tragedy in Genesis 3. First, the Lord curses the serpent: “you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field” [Gen. 3:14.]. According to Kenneth Matthews, there are two Hebrew words used for curses: “ala” and “arar.” Whereas “ala” is the usual word used, “arar” is used for special curses—curses that only God can place upon a person or thing, curses that “can come only from deity…” [Matthews, 244.] Even the biblical language itself proclaims the sovereignty of God. A special word is used here for a special reason: only God as Sovereign Judge could impose this sentence. 

Not only does God curse the serpent, but He also foretells of future events: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” [Gen. 3:15.]. It is interesting to note that the “seed” is not an “it,” but a “He.” James Murphy reveals the significance of the divine pronoun:

“…this simple phrase, coming in naturally and incidentally in a sentence uttered four thousand years, and penned at least fifteen hundred years, before the Christian era, describes exactly and literally Him who was made of woman without the intervention of man, that he might destroy the works of the devil. This clause in the sentence of the tempter is the first dawn of hope for the human family after the fall” [James Murphy, Barnes’ Notes: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 124-125.].

Matthews reveals that Genesis 3:15, called “Protoevangelium,” or “the first gospel” by Christians, highlights a long-standing struggle between Christ and Satan and their respective children: the blessing of Abraham (Gal. 3:6), the Pharisees as Satan’s seed (John 8:44), Cain (1 John 3:11-15), and finally, Satan himself, described in Revelation 12:9 as a serpent. Ultimately, Satan is destroyed in the end and God and His children prevail victorious [Matthews, 247-248.]. Paul reminds the Roman believers of the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 when he writes, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” [Rom. 16:20 (NKJV).]. It is in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 that God reigns supreme [“Though punishment has to be laid upon man, there is at the very outset proof of divine grace.” Carl F.H. Henry, consulting editor. The Biblical Expositor: Genesis to Esther (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Company, 1960), 1A:58.].

Divine sovereignty is upheld along with human responsibility. Although Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and were estranged from God (along with humanity), Jesus Christ would come to earth and reconcile mankind back to the Father. God would accomplish His purposes and show the world in Christ what human responsibility is all about.



Trigonometry is a hard subject consisting of pages of math work. I was taught that, when my answer failed to match the answer in the key, I needed to “go back to the beginning,” rework the problem and see where I went wrong. And this is no different with the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This centuries-old debate continues to the present day because many fail to heed the classic advice of the math problem: “Go back to the beginning!” 

First, reworking the problem assumes that the problem has a solution. And this is where I would disagree with D.A. Carson. The concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not in tension. The solution to the problem is not a “mystery” that can never be known. For, if this is the case, then how can man be judged for deeds he is not sure he even committed (2 Corinthians 5:10)?

Next, if there is a solution, then the problem must be reworked. Theologians must “go back to the beginning,” go back to the “Book of Beginnings,” the Book of Genesis. Genesis is the place where everything starts, where the world is created by God. It is in Genesis that theologians find God’s delight in the creation of man, as well as His desire to share sovereignty with man. Man is created to be God’s “viceregent” on earth and to rule as his Creator commanded; but man decides to rebel against his Creator due to greed. It is his drive for more power (and less responsibility) that results in the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

Until theologians go back to the original setup of God’s creation, they will rework the problem of divine sovereignty and human responsibility with much distress. As taxing as such a journey may be, theologians cannot fail to retrace their steps– for judgment day is drawing near…and the eternal destiny of many souls hangs in the balance.



Alexander, T. Desmond and David W. Baker, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Allen, Clifton J., gen. ed. The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. I: General Articles (Genesis to Exodus). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Press, 1969.

Bercot, David W. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.

Carson, D.A. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002.

Fretheim, Terence. “Preaching Creation: Genesis 1-2.” Word and World 29 (2009): 75-83.

Hamilton, Victor P. New International Commentary On the Old Testament: Genesis 1-17. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990. 

Henry, Carl F. H., consulting editor. The Biblical Expositor: Genesis to Esther. Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Company, 1960. 

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary: Genesis to Deuteronomy. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revelle, n.d.

Keil, Carl Friedrich and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

Lampe, G.W.H., ed. A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.

Longman, Tremper III and David E. Garland, eds., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis~Leviticus, Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Louth, Andrew. Ancient Christian Commentary: Genesis 1-11. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

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