October 22, 2020

Fall, or Folly? (1)


The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), Bosch

Whatever else one might say about Genesis 2-3 (the text actually goes from 2:4-4:26 and includes Cain’s story) and the account of Adam and Eve and the “fall,” it should be noted that, in its final form, this is a wisdom story. It is the first in a series of narratives that encourage the post-exilic community to reflect upon their history by showing them, in nascent form, the folly of their own ways which had led them into exile in Babylon.

This week, we will consider Adam and Eve and their story in Genesis 2-3 and what it teaches about the human condition. We start with an overview of its context and general characteristics.

Cranach Adam Eve

Adam and Eve, Cranach

Genesis 1-11 forms a preamble to the Hebrew Bible, and its focus is two-fold: (1) it distinguishes Israel and her beginnings as set apart from the nations, particularly Babylon, and (2) it shows that Israel was nevertheless just as foolish and sinful as the nations, even though chosen by God.

This section ends with the nations gathering at Babylon to found the city and build their great tower to the heavens. God comes down and scatters them abroad, paving the way for Abram’s call and the time of the patriarchs, when Israel as a people is formed in the midst of the nations. The stories that make up Genesis 1-11 set the stage by introducing us to several characters who represent Israel in both her chosen and foolish condition.

We read about Adam and Eve in the garden and exiled from the garden. Then we learn of Cain and Abel and God’s provision of both justice and mercy in the aftermath of the first murder. A list of Seth’s family line emphasizes both the greatness and mortality of the faithful ancestors. Noah and his family, like Israel in days to come, are saved through the waters from God’s judgment. The resulting “new creation” is soon spoiled again, however, in another garden and by another sinning son. The narrative then fast forwards, through genealogies, to a portrayal of the nations founding Babylon, the ultimate opponent of God’s people in the world.

Genesis 1-11 shows an ongoing pattern of God’s blessing, human folly and sin, divine judgment, salvation and new creation. The first story — of Adam and Eve — has been understood by many as depicting a unique, cosmos-changing event — a “fall” from paradisal perfection to a state of depravity, introducing corruption and death into the world.

Many Christians are taught to read the Adam and Eve story something like this: Adam and Eve are fresh-off-the-assembly line, shiny, new, perfect, first human beings — sort of super humans. God tested these flawless creatures with this command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, just to see if they meant business and would obey him. But they failed the test, rebelled against God, and lost not only their own perfection but also that of every other human being born since.

• Byas and Enns, Genesis for Normal People

But can the story bear the weight of this interpretation?

In his examination of ancient Christian readings of the Bible’s creation narratives, Peter Bouteneff gives several reasons why the traditional Augustinian view of “the fall” does not fit the particulars of the garden story as it is presented in the Hebrew Bible.

First, the early chapters of Genesis show that Adam and Eve were not the only human beings in the world at that time. There is more than one use of the word “adam” in Genesis 1-2. 1:26-27 describes the creation of “humankind” (adam), encompassing both male and female, as the crown of God’s creation, made in God’s image. On the other hand, the first human we meet, designated as a specific male individual (adam), is created alone in chapter 2, a much different process is envisioned, and the female is created out of him later. This suggests, in the logic of the joint narratives, that humans are created by God in the beginning and already in the world when God later deals with this particular couple. We also have the story of Cain, which portrays other people in the world at the time he is set wandering. Other human beings are living outside the garden; Adam and Eve are special because they are “first” in other ways, not as the lone humans on earth.

Second, the story suggests that these first humans were already subject to death. Their mortality is assumed by the presence of the Tree of Life, from which they must eat in order not to die. Immortality is available to them; it is not their possession. Nor is death portrayed as the immediate consequence of their “fall.” Adam and Eve do not die after their transgression and, although physical death is described as their inevitable fate, it is not presented as part of the “curse” as such. As creatures made from dust they will return to dust. The couple’s expulsion from the Garden is for the specific purpose of denying them immortality through eating from the Tree of Life. All this fortifies Bouteneff’s conclusion: “Humankind does not begin as immortal and then become mortal as a result of the transgression” (p. 6).

Third, the story suggests that the first humans were not perfect before the transgression. Two sharply differentiated human natures pre- and post-transgression are not portrayed. The fact that God issues a prohibition to Adam and Eve implies not only that they are in communion with God, but also that they are capable of doing something of which God does not approve. Boundaries need not be set for perfect people. Furthermore, something within them makes them vulnerable to the serpent’s temptation, and their subsequent disobedience is not the behavior of pristine individuals.

Fourth, as mentioned above, in context the Garden narrative is one part of a whole decline narrative, the first in a series of “falls.” The Bible first mentions “sin” not in the garden, but with regard to Cain’s much more depraved act of murder. This observation led many Jewish and early Christian interpreters to emphasize the corruptive nature of this account more than the Adam and Eve story. And if we are looking for an account of a truly transformative “fall” leading to pervasive sin, death and destruction, then Genesis 6 fits the bill much better, when The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth [land], and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Bouteneff concludes: “Genesis 1-11 narrates a whole series of cycles or ages of human decline. . . .”

The transgression . . . is an ongoing reality or activity; Scripture does not present the fall as an event but as humanity gone awry, though this sense is not properly (for Israel, at any rate) identified with the tree in Eden. Scripture points beyond paradise, beyond Genesis 1-11, to existential life. “It is the ongoing sin of the human that returns the earth to chaos” [quote: Ricoeur and LaCocque]. As we might deduce from Jeremiah 4:22-25 and Hosea 4:1b-3, it is not because Adam sinned that everything is askew; it is because everyone is sinning. (p. 8)

Adam and Eve’s transgression is the first. In that sense it is unique. Their story is also singular in that it portrays Adam and Eve being banished from the garden and losing access to the Tree of Life.

These are important characteristics of the story, and we will explore them further tomorrow and see how they are designed to teach wisdom to Israel in exile.


  1. These are good observations about the Genesis texts. Some of them have occurred to me over the years. As a result, I’ve sometimes wondered if what is called our “fallenness” and “original sin” are not really our incompleteness, and the way we tenaciously hold onto it. But I’ve demurred from these thoughts, because I’ve never thought myself a competent enough interpreter of scripture or theologian to buck two thousand years of interpretative tradition.

    • On the basis of a simple reading of the narrative text, what seems to be lost by Adam and Eve’s transgression is the trusting relationship between them and God, on which they depended for everything, and also the trust they had for each other, and their simple trusting relationship to the world around them. As a result of this, their intimacy with God does indeed die, and they are thrust from the Edenic garden, where they had lived in childlike dependence on the constant care and companionship of God, into the outer darkness of a world already existing that is fraught with dangers, suffering and travail. In addition, they are cut off from the Tree of Life, of which they were intended to eat, and become heirs of eternal life. Now, the Tree of Life is no longer directly accessible, but can only be found by passing through the depths and suffering of a cross; Jesus’ cross, as it turns out.

  2. I’m not 100% convinced that this interpretation is correct. I can think of explanations within the traditional interpretation for most of the points raised here. Do you have any sources/commentaries that cover this?

    • I’d like to hear those explanations, Eeyore. Bouteneff’s book is a compendium of early Jewish and Christian reflections on Genesis, before the Augustinian view became prevalent. Enns’s emphasis on Adam representing Israel reflects Sailhamer’s commentary as well as many of those ancient interpreters. One of the main problems I have with the traditional view is that it moves to universalize the text too soon. First, we should understand its meaning in the Hebrew Bible, as a Jewish text addressed to Israel, before jumping to universal perspectives.

      • I wrote my first reply before spotting the link above. My bad. Now, about the explanations, I just happen to be getting off work early today, and can post a conscious reply early this afternoon. 😉

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As time goes on, I’m coming around to the idea that Augustine brought a lot of personal baggage from his previous lifestyle into his theology. Not so much as it corrupted him as it gave him some personal blind spots in his thinking. (I first heard this regarding Christian sexual morality from Augustine; the essay pointed out that before his conversion experience Auggie was a real horndog and afterwards a vowed Celibate. And that in neither case was he relating to women as people — only (before) sex objects and (after) forbidden fruit. And this baggage had to influence his writings on sexual morality.)

        And to the Eastern-Rite emphasis on Christus Victor instead of inherited Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement. Though I remain Western Rite; it’s not so much replacing Original Sin with Christus Victor as putting more emphasis on the earlier teaching.

      • I would argue that having Adam as Israel is putting the cart before the horse. Israel came about from the divine selection of Abraham out of the nations – Genesis 1-11 deals with the background of the calling of Israel, and therefore is universal. Granted I have not read the works above, but I don’t believe the “Adam as Israel” interpretation is the best fit in comparison to the portrayal of Israel in the restaurant of the Bible (where Abraham is always listed as the foundation).

        As for the rest, could not the language of Genesis 3-4 be presumptive on the part of God and Cain that other offspring of his parents would arise and seek vengeance? After all, no timeframe is set in the passage. It may seem like special pleading, but it’s just as plausible logically and linguistically as the interpretation above.

        • Eeyore @1:35pm, I hope you realize your first paragraph is messing with Chaplain Mike’s (and others’) Lutheranism…so don’t expect him to agree with what seems obvious to you (and others).

          • Actually, it doesn’t mess with my Lutheranism at all. In fact, one of Lutheranism’s greatest weaknesses is missing the Jewish nature and context of much of Scripture.

            I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a “New Perspective” Lutheran, but if there is, I’m one of ’em. I also like those Lutherans that have been seeking ecumenical understanding with the Eastern Church.

    • For me, one appeal of this argument isn’t so much that proponents of the Augustinian view can fashion some response to Bouteneff’s objections. It is that Bouteneff’s reading seems to create far fewer bizarre problems that need to be solved.

    • Never mind, this is what happens when I try to read and reply to something right after I first wake up. :-/

  3. Asinus Spinas Masticans says

    (2) and (3) are taught by the Eastern Church, who has always viewed Augustine as somewhat sketchy. This is why we are accused of Pelagianism, and of having “no real Fall”.

    It takes some getting used to, the Eastern teaching that our nature ( physis) is not corrupted. That always seemed to me to be so empirically evident as to be non-arguable.

    • And to me, the fallenness of humankind is very “empirically evident” in history, the nightly news, and honest examination of my own heart. Sorry, I have to side with Augustine overagainst the East on this one.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

        I’m kind of agreeing with you. Eastern hamartiology is hard for me to follow as a Westerner. After all, it isn’t like the Orthodox Church doesn’t believe in repentance, nor in the universality of sin, nor even in the inevitability of sin.

        The Eastern Church makes a big deal out of the fact that we inherit the consequences of Adam’s sin, which is mortality and the disordering of the passions, which the Law was not capable of correcting. I’m not sure though if that is not what the Reformed call “a distinction without a difference”.

        BTW, we do confess that Our Lady was graciously preserved from committing any actual sin, hence no Immaculate Conception, but that she still required her Son to die for her in order to be perfected, and she still suffered bodily death.

        • Asinus Spinas Maticans: It takes some getting used to, the Eastern teaching that our nature ( physis) is not corrupted. That always seemed to me to be so empirically evident as to be non-arguable.

          Eeyore: And to me, the fallenness of humankind is very “empirically evident” in history, the nightly news, and honest examination of my own heart.

          Grberry: I think you two agree, read carefully. Asinus says that the corruption is empirically evident and that the Eastern teaching takes getting used to. Eyore says that fallenness is empirically evident.

          As to fallenness, I disagree with the belief that we have empirical evidence. Fallenness necessarily implies two states, a time boundary or process, a change between the states across that time boundary. We have empirical evidence for today. We don’t have empirical evidence of the before, pre-fall, state. So we can’t have empirical evidence of a change away from that state.

          Corruption also tends to imply a change. If read as implying a change the same problem exists of lacking any empirical evidence regarding the before state. So on that reading we also lack empirical evidence. However, if we read corruption differently as “being less than perfect” without an implication that we used to be perfect, then we have only one state to consider, and that the one for which we have empirical evidence.

          Free will versus determinism is a major debate. I believe that God gave us real free will with real choices. That means that we can make wrong choices. Much of the empirical evidence for being corrupt is also empirical evidence for making wrong choices.

          • “That means that we can make wrong choices. Much of the empirical evidence for being corrupt is also empirical evidence for making wrong choices.”

            Absolutely. However, if you observe the same wrong choices being made over and over again, as though every generation were struck in a classic tragedy with its twists and ironies, you might want to come up with a term to describe the preponderance human beings have for falling into mud puddles, killing their lovers in disguise, undoing all they’ve accomplished while celebrating victories, making rash promises with unforseen meanings, and sending into the exile the only child who was actually loyal.

          • tendency, not preponderance! ugh.

        • mortality and the disordering of the passions, which the Law was not capable of correcting. I’m not sure though if that is not what the Reformed call “a distinction without a difference”

          I’m sure some TR types would insist on total conformity to their precise definitions, but I’m willing to call this a gentleman’s agreement and leave it at that. 😉

    • Boutenrff is writing from an EO perspective.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

        Nice. Another book for my to-read list, just when I packed up all the others.

        Still, it would be helpful to remember that the Eastern Church does not view her teachings as distinctives. We are like those Midwesterners who accuse everyone else of having accents.

    • David Cornwell says

      Asinus Spinas Masticans: Almost thou persuadest me! What I mean is that so much of what you say (plus some other reading I have been engaged in) about the Eastern Church fills a hole in my thinking. Wesley was also accused falsely of being Pelagian and is thus reviled for it.

      What the Eastern Church teaches (Gregory of Nyssa for instance), from what little I know of it (correct me if wrong)is that humans were created in the image of God; that image has been tainted because of sin; that salvation is a restoration to the image-bearing state.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

        Would that thou wert altogether such as I, save for the big mouth, the unpopular sexual politics, and the grandstanding.

        As I said before, the Eastern Church teaches that we inherit the consequences of Adam’s sin, but not the guilt. I am wondering if this is a distinction without a difference on our side, although it eliminates the problem of the pissed-off godlet who was forced to torment the best of us cruelly to make us fit for his fastidious company.

        Orthodoxy is an ascetic religion warp and woof. It doesn’t meld well with Luther or imputed righteousness, although that is the only righteousness any of us are capable of.

        • David Cornwell says

          “Would that thou wert altogether such as I, save for the big mouth, the unpopular sexual politics, and the grandstanding.”

          I’ve never considered you to be doing these things. I hope I do not.

    • “It takes some getting used to, the Eastern teaching that our nature ( physis) is not corrupted.”

      For me, this is is either the first or second most compelling aspect of Orthodox thinking. A Christian anthropology that doesn’t wrestle properly with evil would be a broken one. But so, too, is one that cannot recognize good in people – and in all people, not only specific insiders. If I were feeling very Greek and poetic, I might call the situation tragic. Perhaps if I was trying to chase Orthodox metaphors, I would say humanity is an excellent, a very ill, creature.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In talking to my one writing partner (the burned-out preacher), I use the term “The Cosmos is Broken” (Surd Evil) and the Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam.

      • C.S. Lewis used these words to describe our wounded human condition:

        “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

        • I was listening to a series of discussions at Fuller with NT Wright earlier today, and at one point he lamented about how Christian art tends toward sentamentalism (while postmodern art tends toward brutality) which is unfortunate, as the Gospel and biblical story ought to give us better imagination and thus better art than other folk. I immediately thought of how nice it is to read C.S. Lewis’ fiction, as it is a wonderful counter-example to Bp. Tom’s usually-vindicated generality.

    • Some argue that the East and the West teach the same thing(s) re: “original sin”: http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2006/03/original-sin-in-eastern-orthodox.html?m=0

      • Hmmm. Now i am very confused, especially regarding statements on the O. Church in America’s website.

        Appreciate the link, Eric!

        • Sometimes in their zeal to show how different they are from “the west,” some Orthodox people might make some misrepresentations of both the east and the west, as well as of church history. Like a lot of Christian groups no doubt do. 🙂

          • Especially considering how many American authors of Orthodox books and blogs are converts from some form of Western Christianity or another. The zeal of the convert always tends toward overstatement, regardless of what the convert has converted from or converted to.

          • This is certainly true. At the same time, one must look at where the consistencies are. The writer at the link given quotes some things that are inconsistent with Orthodox teaching, including writings of a saint/saints. Saints are not looked at as perfect in Orthodoxy, and where their writings are inconsistent, they don’t hold the same weight. Also, some of the quotes given were from documents written after there was an influx into Russia and Greece of influence from Western theology.

            Numo, stick with what is given at the OCA site as Orthodox teaching.

            Not everything of the west is “bad”. However, if there were really no substantive theological differences between the west and east, after my long journey I would have simply reverted to Roman Catholic.


          • As always, it is important to try and strike a balance – and that often is difficult for converts to anything (from religion to politics to fad diets and more).

            I also wonder how much difference there might be in views between, say, Byzantine Catholics and EO?

          • Dana, thanks for your reply. My sense is that these are complex matters, not easily addressed in blog comments – also that there is a spectrum of belief here.

            So, back to reading and pondering!

  4. Mike the Geologist says

    I have often wondered if what is pictured here is what is common to each of us as we pass from childhood to maturity. We begin, not as some perfect immortal supermen, but as innocent childlike trusting souls, who have that uncomplicated simple relationship with our God. As we grow we lose or “fall” from that innocence and simple childlike trust into an assertion of our stubborn, self-willed independence. Is such a fall inevitable? It would seem the empiric evidence is so. I wonder if any EO folks could tell me if you know of this viewpoint?

    • This reflects what we will present tomorrow, Mike.

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says

      Well, we commune children and infants, and there is a particular category of saints called “innocents” for small children who died extremely young. We do tend to take our Lord’s teaching about the childlikeness of the Kingdom
      pretty seriously as well. It comes up very frequently in our services.

      Other than that, you’re heading into deep waters. I’d ask Father Stephen Freeman, who can be contacted at his blog , or Father Ernesto at OrthoCuban. They could point you in the right direction better than I.

    • I wonder this too. There seems some merit to that paradigm.

      However, I also wonder if this does not imply there is something “bad” about adulthood – greater self-consciousness, learning, experience, sexual self-awareness, and so on. Surely many severe problems arise as we mature. And I can agree with Wendell Barry when he writes:

      Give your approval to all you cannot
      understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
      has not encountered he has not destroyed.

      However, it won’t do to suggest a religious vision of life that infantilizes adults, or that prizes inaction/inexperience/ignorance. Children and childhood are good in themselves, and should not be viewed as “lacking,” for having not yet reached full growth. But adulthood is also good, and to the end of childhood is, eventually, to mature. Wisdom literature would, in fact, suggest that the definition of a fool is something like ‘an adult who is still characterized by the inexperience and ignorance of childhood.’ Ability without training or discipline, experience without wisdom, action without worthy end.

      • It occurs to me that one might also be observed that folly, and plenty of misery, extends from our inability to port the correct characteristics of childhood into adulthood.

        My son, at 2 1/2, is deeply impressed by the fact that the objects in our neighborhood currently include a large number of pumpkins. He has three of them. This is wonderful to him, worthy of repeated walks just to see pumpkins. It is worthy of songs. (Specifically, it calls for holding a pumpkin over one’s head—a gourd, in truth, but don’t tell him this–while dancing and chanting, “I am the pumpkin man!”) It is worthy of trying to give pumpkins to other people, or of pointing out to them that there are pumpkins in the room or on the block. It is worthy of going through all ones books to find pictures of pumpkins.

        I’m tempted to regard this as ‘cute’–that is, adorable; also, proof of his inexperience. “Listen kid, there are pumpkins every year, it’s nothing special!” And this is true: he responds to pumpkins with such enthusiasm because pumpkins are novel to him, and his brain is in a big rush to form, discard, and reform as many synapses as possible while it figures out how to adapt itself to the environment. But its also true that there’s a lot of basic appreciation for the world and good will in August’s approach to things and people. If I peer into that mirror, I discover that I’m not just more experienced – I’m ungrateful and jaded, and totally reliant on patterns I’ve learned to exist in the world, to interpret what comes next. I can respond to almost anything with “meh.” It would only be to my benefit to be somewhat less knowing and somewhat more easily impressed by what is common in the world around me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You can also claim a metaphor for sentience/sapience. What makes humans people instead of animals? Animals are just THERE, running on instinct and some learned behavior but no abstract concepts like Right or Wrong, Good or Evil.

      Eating of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil could be taken as a metaphor for becoming sentient enough to form these concepts. An idea that before this event, like animals they didn’t know the concepts of Good and Evil.

      Chapter preface from a small-press SF novella of mine, an excerpt from a journal of one of the two main characters, a Catholic priest in a space-opera universe:

      “All the species of [interstellar civilization] are as fallen and stained with sin as humanity, just in different ways. Apparently true sentience carries with it the potential for sin; the Imago Dei, expressed in whatever form, is always vulnerable. And if the potential for a Fall is there, someone, somewhere, sometime is going to try it.”

      • HUG,
        I sometimes wonder if we don’t sell animals short in our evaluation of them. I think it’s very possible we do this.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          From reading Gould, it seems that natural and biological systems are on a spectrum instead of distinct “this is A, this is B”. And sentience is probably also on a spectrum.

          Problem is, Law is a realm of precise definitions and distinctions, not a spectrum where A shades into B. Like “how many hairs define a beard?”, Law has to set a dividing line somewhere.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            You really need to read Frans van der Waal, HUG. “Our Inner Ape” or “The Bonobo and the Atheist” are both good. There are elements of moral sense, empathy and guilt in our nearest primate cousins.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            >There are elements of moral sense, empathy and guilt in our nearest primate cousins.

            You do not need to stay so close to home. Empathy is demonstrable behavior in *RATS*.

          • In addition, bonobos also go to war with each other, and wars of extermination at that, so they share not only the better angels of our nature, but the more demonic ones as well.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            Robert F – Bonobos not so much, but chimps very much so. There is a lot of sex in Bonobo conflict resolution…

        • Christiane – i think we sell animals *very* short, on the whole. But that’s a whole other topic!

    • I’ve come to see children as not so much “innocent” as “incompetent”. “Innocence” seems to infuse too much of a binary opposition.

  5. About the Fall: I never considered it in a first-among-many sense. I’d been on the fence about the historicity of Adam for some time, but now I think I’ve settled into a rather apathetic position on it, and Boutenoff offers a good summation of why the story is there, irrespective of history.

    Snarkily, I don’t need to believe that two naked people ate a magic fruit once to believe that the world is full of suffering and evil; I can see the suffering and evil all around me, and moreso within me. The value of Christianity is that it offers a solution in Christ, and that, not an explanation, is what is really needed. The curious case of the naked people and the fruit serves to tell us the kind of God we believe in. One who, when we fail to keep even the simplest rule and break his trust, condescends to make a way for us to go on and eventually be reconciled, even when this betrayal and inconsideration turns out to be habitual. It’s crazy that he would do so; one might even say foolish (think of a wife who does that for a bad husband), but that wonderful silliness is nothing less than the hope of life itself, and thanks be to him for it.

    • ->”Snarkily, I don’t need to believe that two naked people ate a magic fruit once to believe that the world is full of suffering and evil; I can see the suffering and evil all around me, and moreso within me.”

      No snark necessary. I think most would agree with this.

      ->”The value of Christianity is that it offers a solution in Christ, and that, not an explanation, is what is really needed.”


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That would make the story of Adam (“The Man”) and Eve (“Mother of All Living”) a Just-So Story to explain how the world became suffering and evil.

        • Maybe, maybe not. Does one need to believe in a literal Adam and Eve to believe humankind’s condition was doomed from the beginning?

        • The etymology makes it very sound mythical (in the best Post-Evangelical Internet-Christian sense of the word) doesn’t it? The Bible is full of Meaningful Names of all types.

        • I don’t recall the Hebrew prophets or much else of the Hebrew Scriptures saying much about Adam, Eve, or the Fall.

          Part of the problem is that the word Adam is also the word for man, so some references in the prophets or the Psalms to man might be better translated as Adam. But I am still not sure there are very many of those.

          So what caused Paul to make a big deal about Adam when his own sacred Scriptures said very little? And Jesus also said very little about Adam, Eve, or the Fall, ISTM.

          • I don’t think there is anything evrn close to the concept of the Fall in Judaism. Sin, yes, but an emphasis on so-called original sin? No.

            Increasingly, i find myself on that side of the aisle re. interpretations of theopening chapters of Genesis, the 2nd creation story especially. (A talking reptile?! I don’t mean to offend; it reads like ancient folklore to me, where the 1st creation story is something entirely different.)

          • EricW,–Don’t you think that Paul’s fuss about Adam, and the way he linked him soteriologiically to Jesus, implies that in first century Judaism there must have been some ideas current that were analogous to our ideas about the fall? Just because we have no record of such ideas existing in the time doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist, since, truth be told, we don’t have anything like exhaustive knowledge about what people were thinking and talking about in that era. And Paul’s tone seems to assume that his readers are familiar with the idea that through the transgression of one man, Adam, death came into the world. Someone laid the groundwork for that to be a familiar idea.

          • I am not suggesting that Paul created his Adamology out of whole cloth.

            The Babylonian exile (?) and subsequent events probably introduced some new ideas into Judaism that were not canonized but could have resulted in some of the later developments in Judaism and things like the Melchizedek and Enoch traditions, which do appear in the New Testament. Perhaps some of the ideas that we read in Paul had their beginnings between the testaments.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            Interestingly, Robert F, there are plenty of scholars who don’t think Paul is making any kind of deep or important theological connection between Jesus and Adam. Specifically, the imprecision in Paul’s language is seen to imply that he is not making a soteriological point, but using an anthropological illustration. If so, that might explain why his statements have no real correlation elsewhere (even in the Bible).

          • Dr. F,
            Two questions: What imprecision in Paul’s language?, and, What is he trying to illustrate anthropologically?

  6. This week, we will consider Adam and Eve and their story in Genesis 2-3 and what it teaches about the human condition. We start with an overview of its context and general characteristics.

    If the story isn’t true as recounted in Genesis, how can it be said to “teach us” anything? Do Aesop’s fables “teach us” anything, or do fairy tales “teach us” anything? Aren’t they instead reflections of what is observed to happen? Rather, real life “teaches” Aesop and Hans Christian Andersen what kind of stories to write to reflect what people do, and the consequences of their actions. And hence the human condition and experience(s) “taught” the author(s) of Genesis what story/stories to write about how we got this way.

    • “If the story isn’t true as recounted in Genesis”

      Who said it is not true as recounted? You sound like you are reading it as a purely historical genre, when in fact it may be another type of genre, yet still teaching truth.

      • Many people believe it is not true as recounted (I.e., it didn’t historically and/or literally occur as recounted in Genesis), including both Jewish and Christian scholars.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          I have heard of fundamentalists who insist that the various parables Jesus told are accurate retellings of historical events: that there really was a son who took his inheritance early, blew through the money, and returned home; that there really was a vineyard-owner who paid his workers the same amount regardless of how long they spent there; and so on. These fundamentalists argue that if we do not regard these parables are not true as recounted, then we aren’t really Bible-believing. I find this very weird. But it isn’t really any weirder than similar, more mainstream arguments about other parts of the Bible.

          • I’ve been an evangelical my whole life, with fundamentalist friends. I have never met or heard anyone teach that those parables were real individuals. Never heard that you weren’t a believer if you thought they weren’t real people

          • Richard Hershberger says

            I’m not claiming it is anything other than a fringe position, but the logic is the same. For a less fringy example, many people look at the book of Jonah and think it very important to prove that a man can live for three days inside a whale. This to my way of thinking is no less a missing of the point. Jonah is not explicitly marked with the word “parable,” but then neither are all of the parables Jesus told, if you look at the actual text and not the notes.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I have heard of fundamentalists who insist that the various parables Jesus told are accurate retellings of historical events: that there really was a son who took his inheritance early, blew through the money, and returned home; that there really was a vineyard-owner who paid his workers the same amount regardless of how long they spent there; and so on.

            Dake’s Annotated Bible, almost word for word.

        • You keep focusing on the “recounted” aspect. You seem to just take it as a history lesson, rather than a cultural way (for that period) to teach a certain truth(s).

          • My comment is that if it didn’t happen, then it doesn’t “teach” truth so much as reflect truth learned from things that really did happen. I could just be splitting semantic hairs.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Problem is, when you view the Bible as a Spiritual Engineering Handbook of historical Fact Fact Fact, you will see the Genesis story AS “true as recounted”. Which explains Ken Ham and all the Searches for Noah’s Ark.

    • While I am a theological traditionalist (and firmly Augustinian) and certainly believe the Genesis account to be true, fairy tales and fables doubtless teach us quite a bit, as did Jesus’ parables, which were doubtless fictional stories intended as a teaching tool rather than accounts of actual events. That said, they are also reflections on what is observed. There’s a bit of both in there. They give us idealized worlds and communicate those ideals to us while simultaneously reflect absurdities of reality.

    • Truth is not the sum total of all the correct facts.

      Truth and accuracy are not the same thing.

      Truth transcends correctness and accuracy.

      Love transcends even all of that…

  7. We are simply far too creation focused in our theologies. Israel’s first experience of God — and ours — in the being called out, and being redeemed. The real story of scripture starts with Genesis 12, where God calls Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” The creation itself is irrelevant to the calling of a people, their being formed in God’s redemptive actions. We don’t need “let there be light” in order to hear Jesus call us, “follow me.” If anything, the first few chapters of Genesis set a pattern for what is to follow — God’s gift, human response, wash, rinse, repeat — but Israel didn’t need an idea of universal sinfulness or fallenness to know they were captive to idolatry and its consequences, or to slavery and its consequences, and to know that God acted to redeem them from their condition.

    • Ok, but I think the authors and editors of the Hebrew Bible felt it necessary to include Genesis 1-11 as a way to show the distinctive theology and calling of Israel vis a vis the nations from the very beginning.

      I agree with you especially with regard to the theology of the historical church, which has forgotten the Israel-centric intention of these texts.

    • Charlie, the other thing I would say is that I’ve come to view this as a “wisdom” story, and that the wisdom teachers in Israel seem to have had a strong influence in the final stages of composition of the Hebrew Bible. Wisdom teaching by definition is creational in nature.

      • Oh, I won’t disagree with that, Mike. And from that perspective, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, and the stories they tell, are important to our identity as God’s people. What I dislike is that our theologies and even our historic confession begin and center on creation rather than redemption (and do things like demand a morally intelligible and ordered universe, for example), and thus they make redemption almost secondary or even peripheral to our understanding and experience of God. Our theologies ought to start with redemption. With call. And not creation.

        • FWIW, not all of the historic confessions start there. Ours, the English 39 Articles of Religion, start with the Trinity and the Persons of the Trinity.

          That said, you gotta know where you been to know who you are. Look at the narratives of the final Redemption (New Heavens and New Earth, New Jerusalem, and the Fulfillment of God-with-us in the final couple of chapters of Revelation), there is serious parallelism with the opening chapters of Genesis. Correcting the Fall is a major part of the Big Story of the Scriptures. The thing about an “Israel-Centric” perspective of the Scriptures (which is definitely true and often overlooked) is that it can sometimes forget that Israel is a microcosm of all of Creation in the biblical narrative. Whenever Israel got too Israel-focused, God had to smack ’em with more… shall we say universalist? portions in the Prophets. Even the Apostles had this problem just before the Ascension: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”

          Genesis starts global and eventually zooms in to focus on a single branch of a single man’s family. The NT starts with one Man and zooms out back to a global perspective. Jesus is both the Davidic King of Israel and Adamic Lord of Creation.

          • Thank you, Fr. Isaac, for this helpful comment. From the perspective of the the divine drama that unfolds around, and from, Jesus Christ, Israel is not about Israel.

          • I largely agree with you. Please remember, this is only the first post of the week on this subject!

  8. How does this view affect Christian theology and the explanation of Christ’s sacrifice? What do we do with verses like these? Rom_5:15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
    Rom_5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
    1Co_15:45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
    1Co_15:47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.

    If Adam is an allegory then what do we make of Paul’s reference and comparison to Christ? Is salvation then an allegory? This view creates more problems than can be adequately explained think.

    • We’ll look at Paul’s take on this later in the week.

      • I’ll lay my cards on the table and state that this verse does seem to demand a historical singular Adam (as implied by the parallel with the singular historical Jesus Christ). And the forthcoming explanation WRT this passage, and the interpretation of Adam in this post, had better be pretty spectacularly airtight to get me to change my mind. 😉

        • Well, out of courtesy I at least ought to share something of my view at this point. “Historicity” can cover a number of aspects in a discussion like this. I, for one, think there probably was an actual Adam that Genesis looks back to, otherwise the use of genealogies (however one construes them) to organize the book doesn’t make full sense to me. That’s one question. But whether the story that is told about Adam here is historically factual or whether all of its details are historically accurate is another question. I think, for example, that Jonah was an actual Israelite prophet, but that the Book of Jonah is a short story, using his character to make theological points via a different genre than history. Same with Job. It’s entirely likely, IMO, that this is what is happening with Adam. He is the first representative inhabitant of the Promised Land, chosen and called by God to keep his commands, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God’s blessings. And he failed to do that, the consequence of which was exile and separation from the place of life and blessing. That too, was Israel’s story, and the authors and editors of the Pentateuch used him to portray that.

        • At the very least, this verse universalizes the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden, appropriating it for Christian theological reflection and purposes from its Jewish sources. However we may view the historicity, of lack thereof, of the early chapters of Genesis, by putting this story in close theological proximity to soteriology, Paul insists that we take it seriously as a source of Christian theological understanding not delimited by the history and concerns of Jewish tradition and interpretation.

    • I would also say that many of the early Christian interpreters had no such qualms about allegory. Truth is not confined to the recitation of historical facts. In fact, Paul himself used it in his arguments, and as we’ll see, his use of Adam is creative, if not strictly allegorical.

    • Unless, the first Adam is everyman. In other words he’s the first man, the second man, and every man since then. Paul is saying it started with Adam, but every one of you is an adam and you need the last Adam.

    • Patrick Kyle says

      Paul presents some real problems to this view.

  9. There are those here and elsewhere who are quick to trot out the pejorative “Gnostic”, which I suspect they would be hard pressed to define other than “people I don’t like” or “people who disagree with me”. Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has us all as Gnostics. That’s how “Knowledge” translates. And if the one common attribute of Gnosticism that most knowledgeable people seem to agree on is Dualism, or a belief that Good and Evil are locked in ongoing combat, there you are again.

    Adam and Eve weren’t theologians except as they may have talked about God together. What seems to have happened is that they went from the Unitive state of Oneness with God to their identifying with their ego, and in that sense we all have fallen and are struggling our way back to the Garden thru a storm of swirling Opposites.

    I don’t find the comments of the Serpent to be particularly insidious. The questions he raised would raise hardly an eyebrow here, tho the response here might be somewhat more informed than what Eve had at her disposal. I personally find Augustine, and his partner in crime, Jerome, to be much more insidious in their negative influence on the church.

    Mike the G raises a good point about the story typifying childhood development. There is one point where kids have no problem running around naked, and another where they do, a watershed event that would seem to involve self-consciousness. Animals share Life with us, but for the most part not self-consciousness. It is the animal ego that has allowed survival and propagation to get us here, but we are the only ones here on Earth given the ability to recognize the ego as something other than our Self. And something to be transformed with the help of God.

    • ->”Adam and Eve weren’t theologians…”

      Nor is Jesus. The idea that Jesus wasn’t a theologian nor interested in denominations came to me when I asked him, “Hey, Jesus…are you a Calvinist or Arminian?” His answer came in the form of a face-palm. 😉

      • Several years ago I became convinced that I was approaching faith with the wrong questions. So I went thru the gospels and typed up literally every question that Jesus asks to the people around him. Whether they’re timeless questions or ones to the people around him, maybe those are the questions I should care about. Fascinating. The only time the Bible records Jesus asking questions about what would commonly considered to be “theology” was when people were trying to trap him. The questions are almost always much more “earthy” – “What do you want me to do for you?”, “Who do you say that I am”, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”, etc.

        IMO theology CAN be a good servant, but she’s a terrible master. These days, nearly all the “theology” questions that I ask are with thoughts of my 15 month old daughter at the front of my mind. That doesn’t simplify it. I think it makes it even more frustrating. When she, one day, asks me if Adam and Eve were real people I don’t even know what to say. “Well sweetheart you need to be aware of the ancient near eastern context.” If, later in life, she asked me the question of if God loves and wills the good of every person (not just all “kinds” of people) I could give her a thousand different answers from a thousand different theologians. I hate that the theological answer to that question would have to be “Well sweetheart we just don’t know. It’s very complicated.”

        • -> “I went thru the gospels and typed up literally every question that Jesus asks to the people around him.”

          I’ve done something simlar, though what I did was looked at all the questions people asked Jesus (to which he often answered with a question). And I hadn’t thought about it before, but yes, reflecting on my study now, his questions/answers were rarely “theological,” unless responding to the Pharisees who were out to trap him!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The only time the Bible records Jesus asking questions about what would commonly considered to be “theology” was when people were trying to trap him. The questions are almost always much more “earthy” – “What do you want me to do for you?”, “Who do you say that I am”, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”, etc.

          That does fit in with Judaism.
          Judaism has always struck me as being a very earthy faith.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “There are those here and elsewhere who are quick to trot out the pejorative “Gnostic”, which I suspect they would be hard pressed to define other than “people I don’t like” or “people who disagree with me”

      I am not quite at the point where I consider the G-word (or should that be the Gn-word?) simply a way of shutting down the conversation, but I am close. I am not quite there because on rare occasions it seems to be used in a useful way, tied meaningfully to the historical Gnostics. But yeah, usually it is merely cheap rhetoric.

    • “It is the animal ego that has allowed survival and propagation to get us here, but we are the only ones here on Earth given the ability to recognize the ego as something other than our Self. And something to be transformed with the help of God.”

      My Zen teachers used to say that when we see into our own true nature, we also see that we have no “self,” and that what is called the “self” is comprised of non-self components. This they called dependent origination, or conditioned arising. D. T. Suzuki wrote in his “Zen Essays, Volume 1,” that what we call knowledge is ignorance, and what we can enlightenment is innocence. For Suzuki, Adam symbolizes the movement from ureflective non-differentiation through ignorance, known as self-reflective knowledge and multiplicity, and then into a higher state of unitive integration, known as enlightenment, that is mysteriously enriched by the excursion into the illusion of multiplicity and differentiation. This is analogous to the morphology of narrative and story.

  10. Hmm…pondering this statement:
    “…it shows that Israel was nevertheless just as foolish and sinful as the nations, even though chosen by God.”

    1) So what does being “chosen by God” get anyone? (it doesn’t seem to turn anyone into “super-holy-men” capable of fighting the temptation of debilitating kryptonite)
    2) Can one be “unchosen” through continual screw-up? (such as the people who thought they were sheep who turn out to be goats)
    3) Does God periodically “re-choose” or shift his “chosen-ness”? (like from Israel to Gentiles?)

    • In my understanding, “chosen” is for the purpose of extending God’s blessing to others. Humankind in the beginning is viewed as God’s image in the world, blessed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This goes beyond physical procreation IMO. Israel’s calling in Ex. 19 is to be a kingdom of priests for the world, reflecting and extending the original call to Abram. God chooses a few that all might be blessed. Jesus, the fulfillment of Israel, is the Light of the world, and his people the messengers of his good news. “Chosen” is not a matter for proud boasting, but a call to loving service.

      • Thanks for your reply, CM. I like the idea of “being chosen” for a purpose. Seems to fit Jesus’ “Follow me” spoken to a few guys as walked by them as he started his ministry. Which then seems to mean there’s some choice, then, in the “chosen-ness,” for one can choose not to follow or fulfill the purpose to which they’ve been “chosen”?

        ->”“Chosen” is not a matter for proud boasting, but a call to loving service.”

        Again, one can then choose not to do anything with their “chosen-ness,” and thus think they’re a sheep within the fold when actually nothing they’re nothing but goats.

    • Kind of reminds me of the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye says: I know we are you’re chosen people, but maybe you could choose someone else once in a while.

    • I guess what I’m really wondering/pondering is…

      Was Adam and Eve’s fall AKA humankind’s fallen condition by choice or by design?

  11. the idea of the chosen people is interesting to me because I have seen it take two diverse turns:

    1. The fundamentalists and hyper-Calvinists see it as ‘exclusive’: ‘we-the-saved’ versus ‘the others’
    2. The other comes from an idea that FROM a remnant of humanity, God formed a people out of which to raise a Savior with the power to bless the whole of Creation

    maybe it’s not a ‘dichotomy’ . . . maybe these two form the ends of a continuum . . . ?

    • Yes. And as I stated in a post yesterday, God seems to have some Calvinistic tendencies while also having some Wesleyan/Arminian tendencies, so He must be some mysterious mix of whatever box we try to put Him inside using words which will never aptly describe His true being.

  12. Vega Magnus says

    Does the creation account really matter at all anymore? It may have had uses for ancient Israelites who came pre-Jesus and who did not yet have the scientific/technological capabilities to understand evolution, but to those of us now who have the Gospels to reveal the nature of God via Jesus as well as the scientific advancement to discover and comprehend evolution, is it all that important? This may sound odd, but the specifics of we came into existence don’t really matter to me. Whether an actual Adam and Eve existed or not is unverifiable and not especially relevant. As cliche and Christianese as it may sound, Jesus is what really matters.

    • (as some Christians and even non-believers will argue…)

      If there wasn’t a literal Adam and Eve, and if the Earth didn’t literally take six days to be formed, and if the Earth isn’t literally 6,000 years old, and there wasn’t a literal flood and blah, blah, blah…how can you trust that there was a literal Jesus?

      But I’m with you, Vega. Some mysteries can remain mysteries and don’t mean squat to my trust and faith in Jesus.

      • If God did not create (however it is that He did it)…then He did not create you and me. If He did not create you and me…then He cannot save you and me from eternal death.

        • Oh, I have no doubt he created me, Steve. The question is, “How?” I mean, for goodness sake, do you realize the generation after generation after generation of seemingly random couplings and pairings and intercourse and genetic combinations it took for me to turn out the way I am? So if God can know the exact number of hairs on my head after who knows how many seemingly random dice-rolls and genetic petrie dish combos, why would I object to how He might’ve created the Earth other than over a six day period?

    • Someone above talked about the Bible as a handbook of Spiritual Engineering – the sort that a student would open to learn how to do engineering. I think it is better seen as God’s toolkit used to to spiritually modify us. It isn’t a manual for teaching engineers, it is God’s actually designed and built tool for engineering humanity to be closer to his design objectives.

      The questions then become 1) can we tell what the original purpose of this part of the tool kit was? 2) does it seem to be still serving this purpose?

      I accept the finding of scholars that this portion of the TaNaKh/Old Testament was at the least redacted into finalish form during the Babylonian exile. (“Finalish” since the New Testament manuscripts are older than the written vowels of the Hebrew Old Testament so there could still have been some play in the verb tenses and similar nuances, but the Septuagint and other documents evidence that there weren’t major revisions still ongoing.) So some parts of it may have been intended to preserve and shape the religion of Israel during that exile. Observe that the Tower of Babel/Confusion of Languages story is an obvious example of an issue that had particular relevance during this period and by describing it as happening at Babylon put up a roadblock against assimilation during this period.

      The first of the Genesis creation accounts has a rough parallel in a Babylonian creation hymn known as “Enuma Elish”. You can see a discussion at http://carm.org/genesis-creation-enuma-elish. Look at the differences (the second list of bullet points). The similiarities in some ways act to highlight the differences – to an investigator they would invite consideration of the differences. How would Israelite culture have been engineered by believing those differences? I think we see that the culture did overall believe the differences and proceed through history on the basis of those differences. (It is also possible to compare the Genesis creation to the three main Egyptian accounts, the historical locale marking the beginning of Exodus and the other major political pole of the two kingdoms period, but I don’t know of an easy to refer to comparison of similarities and differences.) And I would say that the Genesis 1 account can still be used to teach those distinctive beliefs – but that since our culture has a different comparison point in our scientific belief, it doesn’t work on us in the same way it used to.

      I don’t have an answer on a platter for what the second creation account in Genesis 2-3 originally accomplished. But I suspect it still at least partially accomplishes the originally intended effects – or could if preached and taught by well informed preachers/teachers.

    • As I said above, if you look at the parallels between the final chapters of Revelation and the opening chapters of Genesis, it shows that the creation account still is very relevant. Big Story of Scripture sort of stuff. The events of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension may be the climax of the story, but they’re not the end of it.

  13. Mike, you said that Genesis was written for the post-exhilic community. Please explain more… Is the book no longer considered to have been written prior the captivity of Israel in Babylon?
    I thought I recalled another post of yours (perhaps one on chaos and surd evil) where you said that the creation/fall narrative was intended as a cautionary tale for Israelites entering the promised land…?

    • The creation/fall narrative is portrayed within the Torah in that way. Genesis 3 is book-ended by Deuteronomy 30 —

      15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity [good], death and adversity [evil]. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God[b] that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

      But since the Hebrew people did not have a “Bible” as we know it until after the Exile, these texts were ultimately put together as a message to the post-exilic community.

      I’ll say one other thing: earlier posts that I have written may include material from days when I did not understand the composition and editing process of the Hebrew Bible as I do now.