The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 4, Imputation
Gary North – October 30, 2021
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis 3:6–9).
A. Covenant Model, Point 4
Point 4 of the biblical covenant is oath. A covenant is established by a formal oath under God. There are sanctions attached to a covenant oath.
Point 4 of biblical social theory is sanctions.
Point 4 of biblical history is imputation: God’s and man’s. God imputes either guilt or innocence to all people. He then applies sanctions to them in history and eternity. He evaluates history in terms of people’s obedience or disobedience to His law. His system of evaluation is the standard for historians.
In Chapter 2, I discussed the nature of the temptation. The serpent, acting as a covenantal agent of Satan, misled Eve, who was acting as a covenantal agent of her husband, who was acting as a covenantal agent of God. She knew what God had told her husband. Her memory may not have been perfect. She told the serpent that God had told them not to touch the fruit. God had said only not to eat it. But her memory was good enough for her to know to reject the serpent’s version of what God had said. The serpent persuaded her that God had not said that they would die on the day that they ate the fruit. He said that they would become wise, knowing good and evil.
Eve had to make a decision. She had to exercise judgment. She had to decide whether she should believe her husband’s account of what God had told Adam, or whether she should believe the serpent’s account of what God had told him. She could have asked Adam for his advice. Or she could have smashed the serpent’s head with a large stone. Instead, she accepted the serpent’s version of God’s words, and she ate. She then persuaded Adam to eat. This meant that Adam believed that the serpent’s version of God’s words was probably accurate. God’s word was probably inaccurate. Adam decided that he would complete the test of the reliability of God’s word, a test that his wife had already begun and had survived. Would they die on that day? Maybe not!
We come now to the biblical account of the story of God’s imposition of negative sanctions against Adam, Eve, and the serpent. It is the story of a criminal investigation. God knew that there had been a series of criminal violations of His law. But He did not initially announce His verdict to the criminals. Instead, He conducted an investigation. We can call this a forensic investigation. It had to do with suspected violations of the law.
God brought a covenant lawsuit against Adam and Eve. He served as investigator, jury, judge, and executioner. But remember: God is a Trinity. There were two witnesses to confirm the investigation by the Second Person of the Trinity, the Creator. “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6).
He asked them a series of questions. He knew the correct answers because He is omniscient. Nevertheless, He followed a specific judicial procedure. In doing so, He set forth the biblical model for civil justice. This procedure has these factors: observation, investigation, interrogation, evaluation of evidence, a public verbal announcement of guilt or innocence, and the imposition of negative sanctions in the case of guilt.
This judicial procedure is the covenantal setting for the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:17). This commandment is the fourth commandment in the second set of ten commandments. The first five are priestly laws (church). The second five are kingly laws (state). (I presented the case for this dual witness of the Ten Commandments in Volume 2 of my economic commentary on Exodus, Authority and Dominion . Volume 2 is titled Decalogue and Dominion.)
Immediately after their joint meal at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve felt shame. They saw that they were naked. This was their first insight into the knowledge of good and evil. They recognized one of the consequences of their own guilt. They had not perceived this before because they had been innocent. God had not warned Adam about this consequence. This was something new. It was something unpleasant. They attempted to reduce their sense of shame by sewing fig leaves to cover their nakedness. In other words, they attempted to solve their sin problem on their own initiative. They came up with a procedure that they believed would be successful in reducing their sense of shame.
At this point, they had become covenant-breakers. As covenant-breakers, they wanted to provide their own coverings. Had they been more self-conscious in their rebellion, they would have immediately eaten from the tree of life. Why? Because God had promised the sanction of death against them if they ate of the forbidden tree. The tree of life would have protected them biologically. But they were distracted by their sense of shame. Their nakedness bothered them far more than their fear of God did. They wasted precious time. This is characteristic of covenant-breakers. They imagine that they have sufficient time before God imposes the final sanction. God knew that they eventually would figure this out, which is why He placed a flaming sword at the entrance of what must have been a walled-in garden (Genesis 3:24).
First, God asked Adam where he was. He did not ask Eve. His focus of concern was Adam. Adam was His covenantal agent. Eve was Adam’s covenantal agent. Adam therefore had greater responsibility than Eve did. Adam replied: “And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v. 10). Adam’s response indicated the extent of his rebellion. He was not afraid of God, despite the fact that God had told him that He would impose the negative sanction of death on them if they ate from the tree. But this threat was not Adam’s main fear. Adam was afraid because he was naked. He should have been afraid of death. He should have been terrified. He should have been terrified before he ate. But he was not. He was still testing God’s word. Logically, he could only do that if he was confident that he had the authority to test God’s word versus the serpent’s word. He had already discounted God’s word. Now he was worried because he was naked. He had completely misunderstood the immediate threat that he and his wife faced.
God asked Adam two more questions. “And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (v. 11). The first question was a rhetorical question. God knew that nobody had told Adam about his nakedness. Adam had figured this out for himself without any prompting. So had Eve. God then followed with the second question: did Adam eat of the forbidden tree? This reminded Adam about the prohibition against eating from the tree. In other words, he quoted the law to Adam. He did not do this because He imagined that Adam was forgetful. Adam’s problem was not a poor memory. Adam’s memory was as sharp as his ability to categorize and name the animals. His problem was sin, not a faulty memory. His problem was that he did not believe what he remembered. He had already decided that the serpent’s word was more probable than God’s word. He had made an error of judgment. This error was not based on a faulty memory.
Adam did not deny that he had broken God’s commandment. Instead, he shifted blame to his wife. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (v. 12). The unstated implication here was this: all this was really God’s fault. God had given Eve to him. Eve was faulty. If God had given him a better wife, this would never have happened. All that Adam needed to be faithful was a better environment. God had short-changed him.
Adam had made a serious accusation against his wife. So, God continued the interrogation. What did she have to say for herself? She followed Adam’s lead. She shifted blame. “And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (v. 13). Again, Adam’s unstated assumption undergirded her response. God had provided a faulty environment. If only He had not allowed the serpent to come into the garden, none of this would have happened.
God had providentially arranged all of this in terms of the original dominion covenant. Adam and Eve were to serve as His covenantal agents in history. They were to police the garden. It was their responsibility to deal with the serpent. It was their responsibility to try, convict, and impose negative sanctions against the serpent. God had left them alone to see how well they would administer the judicial authority that He had transferred to them. But, as soon as He had left their presence, they fell into sin.
God did not continue the interrogation. He did not ask the serpent any questions. He imposed negative sanctions on it. These were sanctions that Adam and Eve were not in a position to impose. They should have smashed its head. Instead, God took away its legs. This would force the serpent to eat dust (v. 14). He also pronounced this judgment: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (v. 15). This was metaphoric language to describe a new era of history: the transition from wrath to grace. The transition from grace to wrath was now behind Adam, Eve, and the serpent. There would be no saving grace for the serpent. There might be saving grace for Adam, Eve, and their heirs.
Then God imposed additional negative sanctions. Against Eve, there was a negative sanction of pain in childbirth. Against Adam, there was the negative sanction of thorns springing up from the ground, inhibiting Adam’s labor. Against them both was the sanction of death: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v. 19). Yet this was a positive sanction. They would not die that day. They would have time to repent. They would continue to exercise dominion over nature. They would continue to be under the terms of the dominion covenant. They would continue to act as God’s covenantal agents: either self-consciously or not.
That did not end the positive sanctions. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (v. 21). They would no longer rely on fig leaves to cover their nakedness. They would also have better protection against nature. To accomplish this, God killed animals. He shed their blood. They died so that Adam and Eve would not die yet. He took away their lives in order to extend the lives of Adam and Eve.
So, accompanying the curses against them there were blessings. This is the nature of grace in history. Until a person dies, even the curses that God brings against him contain some blessings. This is what theologians call common grace. Men do not deserve these blessings, but God grants them anyway. People have work to do: to exercise dominion.
3. The Tree of Life
God then placed a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden. “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (vv. 22–24). Man could no longer attain eternal life on his own terms. For a brief period of time, Adam and Eve could have achieved this by having a communion meal at the tree of life. But they wasted precious time sewing fig leaves. They refused to think covenantally. They dismissed God’s word. Again.
The sword eliminated this problem: eternal life after the fall would have been eternal life in sin. They had transgressed the law. They were now covenant-breakers. The tree of life would have provided them with permanent biological extension. It would not have dealt with their sin. For that, they needed saving grace. For that, they needed God’s forgiveness. For that, they needed confession of sin. Eating from the tree of life would have gained them unlimited time as covenant-breakers.
Eating from the tree of life would also have violated the terms of the dominion covenant. They would no longer have been acting on God’s behalf. They would have been acting on their own behalf. Covenantally, they would have been acting on Satan’s behalf as his agents. They had just eaten a covenant meal in the presence of Satan’s agent. Unlimited temporal extension was a threat to them spiritually. They would no longer fear death. They would have become worse than the people at the tower of Babel, who at least feared death. God closed that door by means of the flaming sword. This was supernatural. When the garden disappeared from history, no later than the flood, the tree of life disappeared with it.
C. The Meaning of Imputation
God imputes either guilt or innocence to people based on their actions. Imputation means evaluation, determination, and declaration. It is subjective.
The first examples of imputation that we have in the Bible are in Genesis 1. When God evaluated His work at the end of a day by declaring that it is good, He was imputing value to His work. He was imputing perfect coherence between His standards and His performance in history. In the garden of Eden, God evaluated the performance of Adam and Eve. He compared their performance with His original standard. He had told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They violated His standard. He conducted an investigation of what they had done. Then He made a public declaration of their guilt. Then He imposed negative sanctions. His evaluation was subjective, but His standard of performance was objective. God is perfect. He is also omniscient. Nothing escapes His observations. So, imputation is simultaneously subjective and objective. In the case of God, imputation is perfect. God does not make mistakes. His declarations are final.
The final judgment will be a testimony to God’s imputation of guilt and innocence. At the final judgment, He will judge the performance of all people throughout history in terms of His fixed ethical standards. Then He will declare the guilt and innocence of each person. Then He will impose eternal sanctions. The eternal sanctions are objective. Men’s sins are objective. God’s declaration will be objective.
Without a doctrine of imputation by God, men’s imputations conflict with each other. People disagree with each other about what the standards are. Many of them assert that the standards change over time. This is ethical relativism. Each person makes his own judgment about the nature of the standards and how the standards should apply in specific cases to specific individuals. There is no way to reconcile the conflicting imputations of individuals regarding their legal status and the legal status of everyone else.
Imputation applies to everything. What is the meaning of history? That depends on what the standards of history are. Are there standards governing historic development? Modern historians have denied that this is the case. But if there are no standards of success and failure in history, then the doctrine of progress disappears. There is no way logically to affirm the doctrine of progress if there are no standards of success and failure.
Modern historians have abandoned faith in the meaning of history and therefore the significance of their work as historians. They have found no way to identify permanent standards in history. They do not believe that history moves forward in terms of such standards. Most of them do not believe that there are any laws of historical development. Marxists are a major exception, but there are not many of them still writing. Marxist theory was abandoned rapidly after the fall of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.
Because Christians affirm that God is sovereign, and because they affirm that God’s ethics do not change in history, they are in a position to become superior historians. (See Chapter 14.) They affirm their faith in the final judgment. They therefore affirm that God has both the legal authority and the power to impose sanctions in history and eternity in terms of His evaluation, meaning His imputation, of men’s performance in history. They affirm that God provides standards of evaluation. They affirm that history is meaningful because God imputes meaning to history. This enables them to impute accurate meaning in history. They are made in God’s image.
God would declare all people guilty as charged were it not for the grace that He extends to some sinners. Soul-saving grace—special grace—is judicially based on Jesus’ atonement at Calvary. But His grace also extends to all covenant-breakers. They get more than they deserve in history. This is common grace. This grace is the means of their dominion.
D. Dominion and Grace
1. Defining Grace
Grace is easy to define: a benefit granted to an undeserving recipient. In the case of Adam and Eve after their rebellion, the benefit was an extension of temporal life. They did not deserve this. God had warned them that they would die on the day that they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Judicially, they did die. Their covenantal status moved from life to death. That is because their judicial status moved from covenant-keeping to covenant-breaking. God had extended grace to Adam and Eve by creating them. They were images of God Himself. This was a great honour. He gave them control over the earth. They could benefit from their exercise of dominion. This was also an undeserved benefit. They did not earn this benefit. They did not deserve it. God was in no way in their debt.
There is a fundamental biblical principle: grace precedes law. Adam was given life before he was given an assignment to exercise dominion. He was given life before he was given a commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was a matter of responsibility. There would be a law-order governing mankind. One law had to do with the responsibilities associated with representing God in history. Man would exercise dominion on behalf of God. But Adam was given life before he was given this responsibility. He received grace before he came under law. In the case of the world before the fall, this grace had no negative sanctions. There was the threat of negative sanctions, but they had not yet been imposed. That is because Adam and Eve had not yet disobeyed God.
2. Special Grace and Common Grace
Special grace is redemption. That became necessary after the fall of man. Man could not save himself by his own actions. Adam and Eve thought they could, and so they sewed fig leaves. This did them some good. This occupied them for some time, which meant that they did not go immediately to the tree of life. Had they eaten from the tree of life, they would have guaranteed for themselves eternal biological extension, but this would not have saved their souls. They would have remained covenant-breakers. They would have been in covenant with Satan. That would have been a curse. Temporal extension of life would have seemed to be a benefit, but in fact it would have been a damning curse. God gave them life. He killed animals to dress them in skins that would protect them from the elements. They did not deserve this. This would not save their souls, but it would save their lives. They did not deserve this.
Why did God do this? He did it in order to create a new agenda for mankind: the transition from wrath to grace. He had planned to do this from the beginning. Paul wrote:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph.1:3–7).
3. The Witness of Common Grace
God has revealed to all men what they must do to gain His positive sanctions in eternity: trust and obey. God has also given them sufficient revelation in nature to distinguish good laws from bad laws. God’s Bible-revealed laws are good laws that some covenant-breakers do recognize as beneficial. Moses told the generation of the conquest: “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5–8).
The fact that some covenant-breakers can and do recognize the beneficial corporate results of God’s laws, including His civil laws, does not mean that they will adopt these laws or enforce them faithfully whenever they do adopt them. No foreign nation around Israel ever adopted Israel’s legal system, although the people of Nineveh did repent temporarily from their most blatant personal sins (Jonah 3). The Queen of Sheba did come for specific counsel from Solomon (1 Kings 10:1–10). These incidents in Israel’s history indicate that, on specific issues, covenant-breakers do recognize the wisdom of God’s law. A covenant-breaking society may adopt certain aspects of God’s law in personal ethics or even social ethics, but it will not adopt biblical law as a comprehensive system of justice. Apart from God’s gift to a society of widespread, soul-saving special grace, God does not empower a society to maintain its commitment to those few biblical laws that it may have adopted. Eventually, covenant-breakers rebel, just as Nineveh rebelled before Assyria invaded Israel. Common grace requires special grace in order to overcome mankind’s ethical rebellion.
There was another crucial aspect of the extension of common grace to Adam and Eve and their heirs. Mankind was still defined in terms of the dominion covenant. Man was still made in the image of God. Man was still required to exercise dominion on God’s behalf. Satan attempted to disrupt God’s plan. He attempted to overthrow the dominion covenant by luring Adam and Eve into rebellion. If God had killed them physically to match their judicial status of being covenantally dead, Satan would have congratulated himself for having destroyed God’s plan for mankind. He would have accomplished this simply by sending a serpent to tempt them into rebellion. God did not give Satan this satisfaction. He extended the lives of Adam and Eve so that they could begin to exercise dominion, despite the fact that they were now in a state of rebellion against Him.
So, there was an element of special grace associated with temporal extension. God from the beginning had chosen some people to be redeemed by the blood of Christ. The others would continue to exercise dominion, leaving the world visibly under God’s control. The world would testify to the ever-expanding dominion of man in history.
There are therefore two families of God. One of them is disinherited eternally. These are covenant-breakers who will be destroyed forever on the day of judgment. There is also an adopted family. These people are adopted by God as a way of showing His special grace in history and eternity. John wrote of Jesus Christ: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11–13). This confirmed what Paul wrote: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). (In Chapter 5, I discuss the implications of the principle of inheritance in a world in which there are two families: disinherited and adopted.)
4. Biblical Law and Common Grace
The work of God’s law in men’s hearts and men’s ability to obey it temporarily are the primary forms of common grace. The law is written in the hearts of believers, we read in Hebrews 8 and 10, but the work of the law is written in the heart of everyone (Romans 2:14–15). Thus, the work of the law is universal—common. This common access to God’s law is mankind’s foundation for fulfilling the universal dominion covenant to subdue the earth. The command was given to all men through Adam. This command was reaffirmed by God with the family of Noah (Genesis 9:1–7). God’s promises of external blessings are conditional on man’s fulfillment of external laws. The reason why men can gain the external blessings is because the knowledge of the work of the law is common. This is why there can be outward cooperation between Christians and non-Christians for certain earthly ends.
From time to time, unbelievers are enabled by God to adhere more closely to the work of the law that is written in their hearts. These periods of cultural adherence can last for centuries, at least with respect to some aspects of human culture (the arts, science, philosophy). The Greeks maintained a high level of culture inside the limited confines of the Greek city-states for a few centuries. (They were under Roman law after B.C. 146.) The Chinese maintained their culture until it grew stagnant, in response to Confucian philosophy, in what we call the West’s Middle Ages. But, in the West, the ability of the unregenerate to act in closer conformity to the work of the law written in their hearts has been the result of the historical leadership provided by the cultural triumph of Christianity. Special grace increased in the West, leading to an extension of common grace throughout Western culture.
5. Van Til and Kline
Van Til rejected both the dualism and the dialecticism of Western philosophy. He saw in Christianity the reconciliation of unchangeable law and changing facts in the sovereignty of God. God is the cosmic law-giver. He is omniscient. He controls all facts. He has revealed Himself and His laws in the Bible. Covenant-keepers can understand the world because they are made in God’s image. They have been redeemed. They have the mind of Christ. But there was a major problem in his theological system. He believed that by obeying God’s law, covenant-keepers will get weaker culturally. He never said this openly, but this position implies the following: by disobeying God’s laws, covenant-breakers become more powerful. Van Til sided with those who proclaim that Satan’s kingdom wins in history. He made this plain in his book on Common Grace (1947). He referred to the final judgment as the crack of doom: the end of history.
But when all the reprobate are epistemologically self-conscious, the crack of doom has come. The fully self-conscious reprobate will do all he can in every dimension to destroy the people of God. So while we seek with all our power to hasten the process of differentiation in every dimension we are yet thankful, on the other hand, for “the day of grace,” the day of undeveloped differentiation. Such tolerance as we receive on the part of the world is due to this fact that we live in the earlier, rather than in the later, stage of history. And such influence on the public situation as we can effect, whether in society or in state, presupposes this undifferentiated stage of development (p. 85).
His doctrine of common grace was structured in terms of his pessimistic theory of history. As history develops, he wrote, covenant-breakers will exercise greater influence and power over the world. They will self-consciously persecute Christians. This is why Christians in every era should rejoice that they live today and not tomorrow or next year or next century. God has tilted the “playing field” of history in favour of covenant-breakers. As history progresses, the field becomes ever-more tilted against covenant-keepers.
This interpretation of history is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. He saw the inheritance in history going to covenant-breakers. This denies what Solomon wrote: “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22). This denies when Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). (I critiqued his concept of common grace in Chapter 4 of my 1987 book, Dominion and Common Grace.)
His colleague at Westminster Seminary was Meredith G. Kline. He was less pessimistic than Van Til. He offered a different assessment of the relation between obedience to God’s law and historical sanctions. He said that the kingdom outcomes of both obedience and disobedience to God’s law are inscrutable. He wrote a critique of Greg Bahnsen’s book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1974), which was published in The Westminster Theological Journal (Fall 1978). He wrote: “And meanwhile it [the common grace order] must run its course within the uncertainties of the mutually conditioning principles of common grace and common curse, prosperity and adversity being experienced in a manner largely unpredictable because of the inscrutable sovereignty of the divine will that dispenses them in mysterious ways” (p. 184).
In short, covenant-keepers should not rely on the Mosaic law’s promises of continuity between covenant-keeping and success. I responded in 1989 in Political Polytheism: “Biblical case laws are still morally and judicially binding today. . . . Kline’s theology explicitly denies this. Second, Kline’s argument also means the denial of God’s sanctions—blessing and cursing—in New Testament history. It is the denial of any long-term cause-and-effect relationship between covenantal faithfulness and external blessings—positive feedback between covenant-keeping and visible blessings. It is also the denial of any long-term cause-and-effect relationship between covenantal unfaithfulness and external cursings” (p. 49). (Bahnsen responded to Kline’s article in a long, detailed article that I published in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction [Winter, 1979-80]. https://bit.ly/Bahnsen-Kline)
The basis of man’s ability to impute meaning and purpose to the universe is based on God’s original imputation of meaning and purpose to the universe. God created it. God evaluated it. In the first week of history, God sequentially created aspects of the world, and then He evaluated His work. This is the model for human evaluation. People are made in the image of God. They therefore have the ability to impute meaning and purpose to the world around them. God commanded Adam and Eve to extend dominion across the face of the earth. But, as a test of their willingness to be faithful to His word, He placed a judicial barrier around a single tree in the garden. They failed this test. They refused to impute meaning to His word based on what He had said. They imputed a different meaning to His words. Then they acted in accordance with their autonomous imputation of meaning. This brought them under judgment. This brought all mankind under judgment.
This rebellion was the end of the first phase of history, which was marked by this theme: the transition from grace to wrath. It inaugurated the next phase of history: the transition from wrath to grace. God extends common grace to covenant-breakers for the sake of fulfilling the dominion covenant. Covenant-keepers become beneficiaries of the discoveries, capital, and efforts of covenant-breakers. The direction of history is toward the fulfillment of the dominion covenant and the extension of God’s special grace in history.
That is to say, the direction of history is toward the fulfillment of what we call the Great Commission. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18–20).
This was a recapitulation of the dominion covenant specifically for covenant-keepers. This is the dominion covenant for the adopted family of God. History reflects the extension of God’s inheritance to this adopted family. I cover this aspect of the structure of history in Chapter 5.