Bavinck argues that revelation preceded the fall. After all, God spoke to Adam and Eve. So, what “sin made necessary was not revelation as such, but the specific content of revelation, i.e., special grace, the revelation of God in Christ, the incarnation of God.” (Reformed Dogmatics, v. 1, 359)
I am unsure. First, take the term “special grace.” If this simply refers to the revelation of God in Christ, the incarnation of God, then simply go to the second point. However, it is means special grace in a different manner, then did not Adam and Eve have this too? Bavinck himself mentions that God bestowed grace on Adam and Eve in the love relation God placed himself to them. On top of this, is not the eating of the tree of life an act of special grace? So if something different than the incarnation is meant, then I am interested in wondering how he would parse this more.
Second, is the incarnation simply due to the fall? If there was no fall, would there be no incarnation? I have no firm thoughts on this matter. Obviously union and communion with God is central to Scripture (and Bavinck), so is the incarnation necessary there? In Eastern thought, this seems to be a huge emphasis.
Bavinck talks about a view that would argue that if “God wanted to bestow a supernatural end upon human beings, the entire supernatural order that now exists in the incarnation, the church, and the sacraments, would have been necessary also without and aside from sin.” (ibid.) If that is the case, then “the soteriological character of revelation would be entirely lost, the fall would lose its meaning, and sin would scarcely have introduced any change at all.”
Setting aside the incarnation, should we think of eating of the tree of life as a sacrament? I suppose this depends on how we parse sacrament. If it involves revelation, grace, and union and communion with God, then presumably it is one. Depending on how strictly one wants to think of the use of “church” in the Bavinck quote, something similar presumably existed before the fall too. After all, Adam mediated God’s commands to Eve and Eve was his helper. This is a community that helps the individual grow in their God-given vocations.
Nor does this deny the soteriological character of revelation. After all, now we are under the dominion of sin. The revelation in Christ after the fall saves us from that dominion. Similarly, the fall does not lose its meaning because we are now slaves to sin. Finally, sin does not scarcely introduce any change at all. It still mars the world, enslaves us to sin, and it pervades creation comprehensively.
Bavinck’s point might depend on how strictly one parses the sacraments and church. For if one parses then very strictly, then clearly baptism did not precede the fall since we would not need to die to sin. If we make the point looser, though, it is not clear that his argument works.