God originally placed Adam and Eve in Eden, which is literally a place of ‘delight’. After sin entered in, in Genesis 3, God exiled Adam and Eve. In between these events, Satan had entered, disguised as a serpent and precipitated the Fall of Adam and Eve by tempting them to partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so they could become “as gods knowing good and evil”.

After the entry of sin into the world, God shared with our first parents the seed of a plan he had worked out before time began. In Genesis 3:15 God promises the crushing of the serpent’s head by the Seed (zerah in Hebrew) of the woman and the bruising of the Messiah’s heel by the serpent. This promise implied a return to the blessings of God as previously enjoyed in paradise. It was to be accomplished by the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Messianic Seed, Jesus Christ, the last Adam, our kinsman redeemer who defeated the serpent’s rule and ushered in the blessings of God’s Kingdom that continue into eternity.

Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) is best-known as a co-reformer with Martin Luther and Luther’s closest friend. He was the first writer in the sixteenth century to provide an exposition of Genesis 3:15. Melanchthon used the topics he found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans as the basis for his book ‘Common Places’ or Loci Communes (1521) which became the reform movement’s first systematic theology.

Melanchthon opens the Loci by stating that in the beginning God created Adam without sin and was present with him through his Spirit. After Adam partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and sin entered into the world, the part of Adam which was ‘spirit’ died and God, who was now at enmity with man, was no longer present to guide man by his Spirit.

Melanchthon expounded original sin from 1 Corinthians 15:22, ‘Just as all die in Adam, so in Christ all will be made alive’, and Genesis 6:5 ‘every desire of the thoughts of the human heart is always vain and corrupt’.

The guilt of sin is imputed to every person because of Adam’s transgression and not for anything we do. That is, we all have sinned and are cursed because of Adam’s disobedience before we commit any personal sin. Sin and death, which did not exist before Adam, are the universal condition of all life after Adam. So spiritual death and physical death are linked; the one caused the other. Death is the result of sin and not a necessity of a biological process.

God revealed the Gospel immediately after Adam’s fall. Melanchthon reasons that all the promises about God’s favour (mercy/grace) to us for the sake of Christ, the Gospel which permeates all scripture, should be traced back to that first promise made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15 by which God confirmed that sin and death, the punishment for sin, would be destroyed when the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the serpent.

Melanchthon writes that the promise which was made to Eve concerning Christ was later renewed in the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 22:18, ‘In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed’. God’s declaration to Abraham about the multiplication of the Seed came to pass when everything looked hopeless (Sarah was past the age of conceiving)because Abraham believed ‘against hope’ (Rom. 4.18) the promise of the expected Messiah.

God’s face was veiled by the law which was transgressed by Adam. God’s law and his righteousness must be satisfied in their entirety in order for us to receive forgiveness and be reconciled to God. Melanchthon writes that the law is the will of God. The law was given so that we would live, but the law demands the impossible, namely, perfect love of God and our neighbour. Since we cannot fulfil it, it is the instrument of death. The law therefore confounds, terrifies and kills the conscience (which battles for control of our will) by exposing and revealing sin.

The Spirit is the one who condemns the hearts of all through the law of God and consoles them again through the Gospel, which is efficacious because of the Spirit of God. Because the sinner is unable to fulfil the law, the sinner must receive by faith the righteousness of Christ who perfectly fulfilled the law. He did this throughout his whole life, and died a substitutionary death on our behalf, taking away the curse of the Law by taking our punishment upon himself. The law thereby culminates in the Messiah.

Melanchthon cites Isaiah 53:11 that ‘Christ himself will justify many by knowledge of himself’. Before sin entered the garden, Adam knew only God. Satan’s original temptation to Eve was that knowledge comes through the senses (knowledge was made ‘desirable’ to look at and was ‘good’ for food) and is acquired apart from God.

Knowledge of Christ is justification and not the pursuit of ‘self- knowledge’ or ‘love of self’ which Adam desired and all the philosophers taught. Now finally Adam’s thirst for knowledge is satisfied in knowing Christ and being known by him, the last Adam.

Melanchthon applies the imagery of the Passover to illustrate our new creation in Christ. Israel knew the power and goodness of God by the fact that he redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt. Only God has the power to give life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17; Obadiah 17). Israel is raised from the dead, born again, from nothing. The light of God’s Spirit comes and opens the eyes of our conscience (Habakkuk 1:11).

Melanchthon summarizes: ‘the Law reveals sin and terrifies the conscience. The gospel forgives sin and bestows the Spirit who moves the heart to keep the Law”. Those who were formerly enslaved to sin but have now embraced Christ, receive the power to become children of God, not created from any will of their own (John 1:12). This causal chain is connected without interruption to the righteous Seed of the woman and culminates in the historical Christ. All the seed that is united to the LORD by faith, are opened to an intimate relationship with Christ, for righteousness, and so live every moment by his sustaining power whilst being transformed from the lesser to the greater glory (Isa. 45:25; 2 Cor. 3:18).

What Melanchthon discovered which was so revolutionary was that if good works are not ends in themselves as a means to salvation because salvation is by God’s grace, then the doing of good deeds toward my neighbour are not the result of duty but of pure love and gratitude toward a loving God.