October 24, 2017

Fall, or Folly? (3): Paul Reads the Story

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, West

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, West

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

• Romans 5:12-14, NASB

[Paul] does not posit a perfect pre-fallen state, nor does he attribute later human sin to the sin of Adam. Rather, he sees Adam as a kind of beginning — the beginning of a death-bound mode of life.

• Peter Bouteneff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives

• • •

Christian tradition has held certain views about “the fall,” “original sin,” and the part Adam played in plunging humankind into ruin on the basis of a few words by the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans (5:12-21). There is also a short statement focusing on the resurrection in 1Corinthians (15:21-22, see v. 45). Other than these two passages and the seminal story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-4, the Bible is virtually silent about Adam and the nature and results of his first-recorded transgression.

The only other certain references to Adam in the OT are found in genealogies: in Genesis 5 and 1Chronicles 1:1. In the Gospels, Jesus never mentions Adam and Eve by name or refers to their sin. Matthew and Luke include him in Jesus’ genealogies and Jude names Adam in another genealogical reference. Paul writes of Adam and Eve on one other occasion in a discussion about men and women in the church (1Timothy 2:13-14).

This paucity of material may come as a surprise to some, since the Creation-Fall-Redemption template using the account of Adam and Eve in a prominent role has become part and parcel of the way Christians present the message of the Bible and salvation.

Given this background, why did Paul set his attention on Adam in Romans 5?

Death of Adam, Francesca

Death of Adam, Francesca

First, as many have noted, there was an explosion of interest in the paradise narratives in post-biblical Jewish literature in the intertestamental period. As Peter Bouteneff writes,

[D]uring the centuries under review, and especially during the first century of our era, several of the key, enduring questions surrounding the creation and predicament of the human person as treated in Genesis 1-3 were already on the table, even if they were not yet receiving clear and consistent answers. (p.25)

A vibrant discussion was taking place in Jewish literature in this period, raising questions (1) about Adam — was he a figure who stood for humanity in general or an individual? (2) about Eve — was she (a woman) ultimately responsible for the entrance of sin? (3) about the state of the first-created humanity — a dual legacy emerged, that of both a glorious Adam and a tragic transgressor, (4) about what the effect was of the first transgression on subsequent humanity — there is a whole mixed bag of opinions and interpretations, from denying that Adam’s sin played any causal role, to exonerating him completely and blaming Cain, to holding him responsible for subsequent human sin because he was the progenitor of all humanity.

One prominent voice was that of Philo, whose view Bouteneff summarizes: “The transgression is regarded neither as the greatest of sins nor as the cause of subsequent sin. Rather, subsequent sin becomes progressively worse, effecting an ever greater distancing from the noble protoplast.” (p. 29) But Philo also set forth allegorical interpretations of Genesis that paved the way for later Christian allegorical thinkers such as Origen.

Paul’s use of Adam must be seen in the context of this discussion. He didn’t make it up.

Second, it is clear that the primary reason Paul turned his attention on the one man Adam in the biblical story is because he began his thinking with the one man Jesus Christ.

His starting point was Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, who rose from the dead and was thereby declared Son of God and Lord of all, Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 1:1-5). For Paul, one Man now ruled the world, bringing life to everyone. As he sought to communicate this good news to both Jews and Gentiles, he thought through the biblical history and found a type (Romans 5:14) in Adam, one man who likewise had a worldwide influence by his actions.

And Paul is especially concerned to show how the world was filled with sin and death in the time before the Jewish Law was given at Mt. Sinai, making clear God’s religious, moral, and ethical standards (Romans 5:14). Adam and Eve set that “beginning” era into motion.

According to Paul, what did Adam do? As the first recorded transgressor, he initiated an ongoing process of sin and death that affects the entire world. Therefore, Adam is the perfect foil for Christ. “Putting Adam and Christ together in Romans 5 is merely a way of showing how the actions of one lone figure can have profound (though opposite) effects on many people” (Bouteneff, p. 40). Paul is not analyzing and explaining Adam’s story as much as he is interpreting Christ through setting up the well-known case of Adam as his antithesis.

It is important that we not take this comparison too far and draw conclusions from it that are unwarranted. Again, Bouteneff:

[Paul] does not posit a perfect pre-fallen state, nor does he attribute later human sin to the sin of Adam. Rather, he sees Adam as a kind of beginning — the beginning of a death-bound mode of life. (p. 45)

There is nothing here about drastic changes in the world or the nature of humanity after Adam’s sin, nothing about how Adam passed on a newly acquired sin nature to his progeny, or how his children bear original guilt because of the ancestral transgression. Nowhere in Genesis, the rest of the Bible, or in Paul is Adam blamed for any sin other than his own. Sin and death passed to all people, Paul says, because “all sinned,” which is fully consistent with what we read in Genesis 1-11. There is no denying the universality of sin and death, and that story begins with Adam, but we each bear our own blame.

All that Paul seems to want to say is that this epoch of human history is characterized and determined by the fatal interplay of sin and death — a partnership first established in power at the beginning of the epoch, through the one man Adam.

• James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 (WBC)

• • •

The main adjustment that Paul must instill in Jew and Gentile alike is the establishment of Jesus Christ as not only a prophet and not only a prophet to the Jews but also universal Savior and, still more, the one in whom is founded not just Israel but all of creation.

This is part and parcel of Paul’s transformation of the scriptural message. Genesis becomes the story not just of the origins of Israel but of the beginning of universal humanity, and this in turn paves the way for stressing the universality of salvation in Christ for the Jew and for the Greek. Paul’s universalization of the Scriptures and his understanding of the Scriptures as revealing Christ are thoroughly interrelated. Together they constitute the cornerstone of his work in the establishment of Christian thought. (Bouteneff, p. 38)

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    “the story of . . . the beginning of universal humanity, and this in turn paves the way for stressing the universality of salvation in Christ . . . ”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2011/12/04/eve-in-mary-reconciled-as-are-we-all/

  2. ” There is no denying the universality of sin and death, and that story begins with Adam, but we each bear our own blame.”

    I go along with the understanding that has been outlined here in the last few days. It reads less into the text than the traditional sort of interpretations do, and it really loses nothing that is essential to understanding the universal nature of the salvation attained by Jesus Christ. In addition, it resolves some of the important problems surrounding the existence of death and suffering in the world prior to the ascent of humanity, as science has uncovered in the last century and a half.

    But this idea that we are each solely to blame for our own sin and the evil that ensues from it depends on an idea of individual autonomy in a way that seems to run counter to the criticism of such autonomy as it is often presented here at iMonk. It seems to me that there is justification in believing that there is a kind of human solidarity in sin, and this justification need not be rooted in only a traditional reading and interpretation of Genesis. Indeed, the pervasively social nature of humanity itself seems to indicate it. “No man is an island…”

    • I think some of the things we said yesterday about Adam being “Everyman” in the form of wisdom teaching takes us beyond mere individual autonomy to a place where we share the solidarity you are suggesting.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I go along with the understanding that has been
      > outlined here in the last few days.

      Ditto.

      > It reads less into the text than the traditional sort of interpretations do

      Exactly.

      > In addition, it resolves some of the important problems surrounding the existence
      > of death and suffering in the world …

      For me it does even more than this – the amount of intellectual gymnastics required to actually *live* within the “traditional” edition of the story is nearly herculean; the traditional edition results in almost innumerable oddities and so much misapplied focus.

      > But this idea that we are each solely to blame for our own sin
      > and the evil that ensues from it

      Huh. I guess I just don’t hear the “solely” in “solely to blame” in this telling. That I AM to blame is something I have always excepted, that the “traditional” story seems to muddy [*1], that this reading – which is much more plain – restores [which is, in truth, a relief]. But I do not see the “solely”.

      Sin and Death came to all mankind, this is my inheritance, in which I am a participant.

      [*1] Along with the notion that the rapist murderer is, in reality, just a victim of Eve’s foolishness.

    • “I go along with the understanding that has been outlined here in the last few days. It reads less into the text than the traditional sort of interpretations do…”

      One strength is that it doesn’t force Genesis 1-2 to bear the weight of every subsequent text that makes use of it. Those texts, I think, must bear the weight of interpreting the accounts of creation and fall. Genesis and its author(s), having come first, cannot be expected to deal adequately with the concerns and paradigms of later authors, which they cannot fully anticipate. That doesn’t mean Genesis 1-2 and other texts are contradictory or cannot mesh, even brilliantly. It does mean, though, that there’s a lot to be preserved and enjoyed in Genesis 1-2 this text is allowed to stand on its own.

      “In addition, it resolves some of the important problems surrounding the existence of death and suffering in the world prior to the ascent of humanity, as science has uncovered in the last century and a half.”

      Oh boy, yes. The interpretations more familiar to me, at least in my youth, made a lot of very tenuous, if not totally untenable, assertions about natural history mandatory to faith. Needing to make these little, beautiful texts bear the weight of all our subsequent explorations in science and history is too violent toward them. And its the source of such great FUD. We could have everyone scrambling to speculate about the deep past of the planet and our human experience; instead of wonder, we’ve got fear that faith will below away in the wind, if anyone turns over the wrong stone and finds something unexpected under it.

    • A little late to today’s party, but I agree much of this thread. And we don’t only share blame in the “sin” aspect, but also in the “crucifying Christ” aspect. I wrote a poem several years ago called “Still Hammerin’ the Nail” which is me basically lamenting the fact that each sin I commit today is like going back 2,000 years and pounding a nail into Jesus’ flesh.

  3. I really hate to be the party pooper here, but I am just not getting this line of thinking…

    There is nothing here about drastic changes in the world or the nature of humanity after Adam’s sin

    But that is the traditional interpretation of Romans 8:19-22…

    “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

    As the first recorded transgressor, he initiated an ongoing process of sin and death that affects the entire world.

    Well, if it isn’t inherited or transmitted, how was/is that process perpetrated? By bad example? That’s always been regarded traditionally as Pelagian thinking.

    • If our reading of Adam and Eve as “simple” is correct, then there is no need to posit a fall and an inherited “sin nature” that somehow began with a change in Adam and Eve. Humans have been the way we are from the beginning.

      • We just have to disagree on this one. If human beings are the way we have always been, then what exactly did Christ come and die for? Why even talk about Adam and Eve in the first place? The traditional interpretation is coherent and logical, and just happens to not fit the spirit of the age. And I’m perfectly OK with that.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > then what exactly did Christ come and die for?

          To free men from the burden and concomitant ruin of sin and corruption. Nothing changes.

          > Why even talk about Adam and Eve in the first place?

          The narrative Adam and Eve originates as a story told to Israel. The Why was explicitly covered in parts #1 and #2 of this series.

          > The traditional interpretation is coherent and logical

          No, it really really is not. The traditional interpretation demands a myriad work around to questions such as “where did all those people come from” [*1]? And demands very odd notions such that sin-nature is really a biological inherited-by-blood thing? [so you are back to purchased by sacrifice / penal substitution] And what about all the non-human “evil” and suffering in the world? Adam’s choice caused Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Lava flows, and Liver Cancer?

          [*1] If Adam wasn’t The One First Man then sin cannot be “inherited” by everyone from him.

          • Devil’s Advocate:

            So then a perfect God created an imperfect world?

          • “Where did all the people come from?” They were rhetorically anticipated. I have no problems with that reading, even if some here do. 😉

            I don’t claim to know the mechanism of the transmission of sin – probably a combination of both biological and spiritual factors. But some form of transmission is presumed in the texts, no matter what your position, I think.

            Non-human evils are a mystery.

          • Yes, StuartB. A perfect God created a “good” world, but not a perfect one. And in my mind He willingly allowed His “good” world to be “corrupted” by some badness. Same with Adam. Man/woman was “good,” but not perfect. Big difference.

          • Or to follow with a thought that came out yesterday (I think it was yesterday), maybe the perfect God created a “perfect” world, as in “as God intended.” In other words, “perfect” in that it’s a world in which His creation could live, nothing more, nothing less.

            Same with Adam. Created “perfect” as in “as God intended,” meaning “as companion to God, no more, no less.”

          • **Capon Alert** ;o)

            “If you put all the miracles ever wrought into one pile, they would look like a grain of sand compared to the galaxiesful of noninterventionist, luck-of-the-draw operations by which God normally lets the world run itself. And do you see what that means? People always talk as if miracles were the holy thing and ordinary events were simply profane. But if God’s all-but-total way of managing the universe is simply chance (which, even in the Bible, it certainly is—biblical grass grew mostly by luck or by gorry, and biblical rain fell the same way), then luck is just as holy as miracle because it’s just as much God’s way of doing business. Maybe it’s even holier, because he seems to like working by it a lot more of the time. And you don’t even have to single out good luck for the accolade: as Charles Williams was fond of saying, “All luck is holy” —for the simple reason that all luck, good or bad, is God’s chosen métier.”

            Why do we assume that “bad stuff happenin'” is not part of God’s “perfect” creation?

            “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” At some point we will begin to realize that what we call “bad” is also the wishbone in God’s pantry.

            “Some of us believe that God is almighty and can do everything; and that he is all-wise and may do everything; but that he is all-love and will do everything—there we draw back. As I see it, this ignorance is the greatest of all hindrances to God’s lovers.” (Julian of Norwich)

            “The things which are done in secret are things that people are ashamed even to speak of; but anything exposed by the light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into light” (Ephesians 5:12-14)

            “God not only forgives and forgets our shameful deeds but even turns their darkness into light. All things work together for those who love God, “even,” Augustine of Hippo added, “our sins.”” (Brennan Manning)

        • “The traditional interpretation is coherent and logical, and just happens to not fit the spirit of the age.”

          But does it fit the proper reading of the texts?

          As NT Wright stresses, if we hold to the authority of Scripture, then we have to let Scripture be and teach what it is.

          • I’d like to see what consistency looks like that in that regard. It’s impossible to let scripture (or anything) just “be” and learn from it. Words have meaning. Words have a history. Words have a context. It’s never just “being”.

    • But, Eeyore, this passage does not link the frustration of the creation with anything Adam did, but solely with the will of the Creator. This passage could be read to mean that in humanity, creation was to be delivered from the frustration it was created with, since humankind was created as the pinnacle and completion of creation, bearing the image of God in a unique way. In this responsibility, humanity, Adam and Eve, failed miserably, and deepened the already existing frustration of creation; in Jesus Christ, however, the original promise of humanity’s completion of creation, and more, has been fulfilled and accomplished. If so, it was the will of the Creator that the creation would not be completed until humanity fulfilled its appointed responsibility.

      • this passage does not link the frustration of the creation with anything Adam did, but solely with the will of the Creator

        True. And His will was expressed in the curse laid on the earth in Genesis 3 in response to Adam’s disobedience. That’s the traditional interpretation, and needs to be addressed here.

        • Eeyore, I agree with your line of skepticism. So, when God created the world and all that was in it and pronounced it “good” he must have been wrong, eh? Oh wait! “Good” doesn’t really mean GOOD, it must mean something ELSE!

          This line of thinking does little to strengthen my faith, it only muddies the stream with “nuance” and “higher criticism”. Sorry guys, you’ve lost me on this one.

          • Oscar,you ignore the fact that the biblical authors continue to call God’s world good all throughout Scripture. Read Psalm 104, for example, and tell me the psalmist doesn’t believe in the goodness of the world we know.

          • Oscar,
            The OT also says that King David was a man after God’s own heart; that apparently didn’t mean that he wasn’t also a murderer.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            Oscar, Amen to that. To say that I am not a fan of the school of interpretation that talks about the forest irrespective of the trees would be a grave understatement. Not only does it not help faith, but undermines trust in the Scriptures.

        • We’ll deal with Rom. 8 tomorrow, Eeyore, in the final post of the series. Not everyone, even “traditionalists” agree with what you call the “traditional” interpretation of this text.

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            Traditional on our side of the Vistula.

            There is a big, big difference between “in the day ye eat of it, ye shall surely die” and “in the day ye eat of it, I will kill you”. There is never any ill-will on the part of God.

            I keep telling my wife this over and over again. Our sin does not piss God off. It doesn’t detract from His glory. it doesn’t offend His aesthetic sense. It doesn’t trigger Him in any way.

            We hurt ourselves, each other, and the Cosmos by our sin.

            I understand the concern. Calvinist anthropology is hermetically sealed, and Rom 5:10ff is one of its seals. When I discovered for myself that the anthropology of the Bible was all over the landscape, I knew it was time to leave the plantation.

            AS FAR AS CONCERNS THE TRANSMISSION OF EVIL, there is some interesting answers emerging from the exotic world pf Orthodox academic theology about the abdication by Adam of his prophetic, priestly, and royal roles towards Creation that more than adequately address this concern.

          • Eeyore and Oscar: My problem is much like ATW’s, the text is just too problematic with what is. Thorns and thistles date to the Devonian (400 million years ago) long before any humans existed. Heck, all the Carboniferous coal beds are composed of gymnosperms; there are NO flowering plants in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, or Indiana coal. None whatsoever. I know Ken Ham has an explanation for that, but really guys, I can’t un-know what I know. I know Jesus, but I know the earth is very old and plants and animals were living and dying long before anything remotely resembling a human appeared. I have to integrate those truths for my own sanity, tenuous as it is ?

            I believe all scripture is God-breathed; which means that if I put my trust in it then God will breathe into me life (Genesis 2:7). I don’t have to flatten it out in some woodenly literal manner, because Jesus said we can search the scriptures to find life; but they testify of HIM. So things that don’t seem to make sense in the natural realm don’t matter that much because ultimately they are summed up in Jesus. Now, again, I’m telling you how I feel and think, I understand and respect if you feel differently. These explorations are very helpful to me and I appreciate CM running them and I appreciate all the Imonk comments and discussion as they help to clarify them.

            On a different topic; CM you said you believe there must be some historical basis to Adam. Are you aware of the work of Douglas Rohde, of MIT, who produced papers in 2004 and 2005 describing complex computer simulations designed to find the date of the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all living people:
            1 Rohde DLT, Olson S, Chang JT (2004) “Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans”. Nature 431: 562-566,
            2 Rohde, DLT , On the common ancestors of all living humans. Submitted to American Journal of Physical Anthropology. (2005)
            The summary of the study is given: “Initial simulations were relatively crude, but as the methods became familiar Rohde’s team refined their model to take in not only the actual features of continents and populations, but known historical patterns of migration. The simulations were run using both liberal and conservative estimates of the variables. The net result was a surprising uniformity of outcome, however the parameters were set, which suggested the MRCA of every living individual existed between two and five thousand years ago, a surprisingly short time, and of the same order of magnitude as the time from an ANE Adam living say 7,000 years BP.”

            So he concludes that Adam was the first “Homo Spiritus” or: An alternative is to place Adam and Eve where the Bible places them, in the identificable land of Mesopotamia (with problematic, but specific, localising geographical pointers) at a time just a few thousand years BC. They would, in some way, be the first pair in relationship with God, and the first to lose that relationship through sin. Though not the genetic forebears of all mankind, yet in some way their guilt and fallen nature would then pass to the rest of mankind via his federal headship of the race Homo spiritus, making the interpretation of Scriptures like Romans 5 unchanged in essence from the classical understanding.

          • Mike the Geologist:

            So he concludes that Adam was the first “Homo Spiritus” or: An alternative is to place Adam and Eve where the Bible places them, in the identificable land of Mesopotamia (with problematic, but specific, localising geographical pointers) at a time just a few thousand years BC. They would, in some way, be the first pair in relationship with God, and the first to lose that relationship through sin. Though not the genetic forebears of all mankind, yet in some way their guilt and fallen nature would then pass to the rest of mankind via his federal headship of the race Homo spiritus, making the interpretation of Scriptures like Romans 5 unchanged in essence from the classical understanding.

            Does this rule out a worldwide flood that would have reduced the MRCA of all living people candidates to Noah and his wife (plus their sons and their wives), who were hundreds of years more recent than Adam and Eve?

          • EricW: I don’t think it speaks to it at all except in terms of ancestral bottleneck. The Rohde study was an ancestral simulation not a genetic one. In fact he concludes the MRCA originated in southeast Asia and not the Middle East. The Rohde paper is very technical as befits an MIT study and although I’ve read it 3 times I still don’t quite understand it. I was quoting from a more popular summary rather than the paper itself, which I should of made clear before I posted.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Well, if it isn’t inherited or transmitted, how was/is that process perpetrated?

      Perhaps the mechanism of perpetuation is not a concern of Scripture [*1].

      Nor perhaps even its ultimate origin.

      That is is perpetuated is evident enough to every bald mud monkey born here and lucky enough [a minority of the class in many centuries] to reach the age of sentience.

      The Scriptures are VERY EXTREMELY UNEQUIVOCALLY WANTING in terms of being a metaphysical text. If you want to draw diagrams of the heavens or the hells, hierarchies of angels and daemons, flow-chart the after-life, lay out life-age cycles of the world(s), … then one can just skip the Scriptures as they won’t be much, if any, help in any of these things.

      To paraphrase a paleoarcheologist I recently read: What one consistently fails to find may be as telling as what one does find. There can be messages written in silence.

      The message I take from the silence of Scripture on so many “metaphysical” issues reminds me of Jesus’ response to Peter: “What is that to you? Follow me.” Or the whirlwind’s answer to Job “”Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…” [which was not an Answer at all]. And Jesus himself nearly made it a habit of not answering the questions posed to him – but in turning them back on the one asking.

      [*1] It this was a concern of Scripture then why didn’t it lay out a clear philosophical statement regarding the transmission of evil/sin/corruption across space/time/generations? Rather than leave Theologians – those having a need for such concepts – trying to stitch a scheme together using scattered verses, which are even in their scarcity, troubled by being from various ages and cultures..

      • why didn’t it lay out a clear philosophical statement regarding the transmission of evil/sin/corruption across space/time/generations? Rather than leave Theologians – those having a need for such concepts – trying to stitch a scheme together using scattered verses, which are even in their scarcity, troubled by being from various ages and cultures

        That’s one of the first questions I will ask God when I see Him. It really is quite vexing 😉

  4. Christiane says:

    the sad thing is that fundamentalism, with all its strict devotion to a literal Genesis, has lost much of the powerful transcendent spirit that is hidden in those verses . . .

    “” The New Testament lies hidden in the Old
    and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”
    St. Augustine

  5. I think the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on humans inheriting the corruption that resulted from the Fall, rather than the guilt, is helpful in this light.

    Likewise, the EO emphasis and reminder of the spiritual battle going on (Satan) and how it impacts the narrative is helpful.

  6. This seems to move away from Enns’ idea that Adam is Israel. If there is a universality to this, then Israel is not the instigator.

    • Christiane says:

      ‘Alpha’, the Lord of Life – then the act of Creation – then a man with a human soul – then, a couple – then a family – then a tribe – then a nation – then a Church – then ‘Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven’ – and then Omega

      from beginning to ending, the Story of Christ flows outward with power to embrace all of Creation

    • RDavid, the other day I commented that seeing this as a wisdom text automatically universalizes the text, even though its primary readers and intended first audience was Israel.

      Also, Paul reads Adam here primarily as the one who introduced sin and death into the era that preceded the Law, and therefore an appropriate candidate to make his universal points.

      • Your post did come to mind, and I don’t necessarily disagree with it (I still think John Walton is on to something), but I was thinking more of how this (the universal aspect) impacts Enns’ theory.

        • His new book ‘The Lost World of Adam and Eve’ is available for pre-order now. I noticed it earlier in the week after this IM series started.

    • I’d argue that readers frequently make two, opposing mistakes in interpreting OT messages directed at Israel.

      On one hand, one may be tempted to read the entire Old Testament as though it was written entirely and directly ‘to us,’ ignoring the fact that the original recipient was another people facing a specific divine calling and specific historical circumstances. Those rushing straight to contemporary application, without thinking about the original audience, need to be reminded that the text is for and about Israel, and that it is within the Israeli-divine drama that its meaning can be discerned.

      On the other hand, one may be tempted to believe that since the text is directed toward Israel, it has no universal application. We may even be tempted to think since the text is for and about Israel, we can attribute to the Torah everything we don’t fancy about religion (for example, tribalism, brutal regional conflict, legal codes, and so on). Then we smugly note that the Torah has been surpassed or is primitive, and therefore is no concern of ours.*

      In reality, the OT veers between being about Israel’s internal life and martial concerns, and being about Israel’s larger mission, which is to be something to the other nations. And of course, the interpretation of Yahweh as the warrior God is complicated somewhat by the relative openness of many OT texts toward receiving foreigners into the nation and practicing hospitality. The OT is about Jacob, but it’s never only or narrowly about Jacob. Perhaps another way to put this is that God has called out Jacob, but Jacob has no control over God. He kicks around in the dark with a God he can’t see, and winds up with a limp.

      So even if you set aside the question of the wisdom literature genre, I think Adam can simultaneously be Israel, but can also tell the story of a larger human community.

      (Come to think of it, we assume the same stacking of meanings when we talk about the good news as a proclamation that is relevant to ‘us’ in particular, able to speak into the specific corners of time and place where we live AND relevant ‘everyone’ in general.)

  7. David Cornwell says:

    Even without the sin of Adam or Eve or Cain, we today would be sinners. Adam and Eve lost their innocence in the fall. They realized guilt and thus their own responsibility. When our children are babies, at very early ages, they do things that are offensive to other children, display selfishness, and do mean things. Some of it is playful, but its also hurtful. One day they realize what they are doing and they can no longer run naked into the park or grab a playmate’s ice cream cone and retain that innocence. They want to hide, cover their guilt, and make up stories to transfer blame (lies).

    When children are small we can make jokes about their actions toward us and each other. But in time there is nothing left to laugh about. And soon we will begin to weep. I’ve observed how this works out hundreds of times.

    The evil we are told about and participate in each day is not the result of Adam’s sin in any immediate way. It’s the result of our own. Adam and Eve are symbols of lost innocence, their escape from the place of protection, and knowledge of guilt.

    We pass our own sinfulness to our children each and every day. They watch us, hear us, and copy our deceits. Our sin becomes their sin. There may be genetic components to this, but I’m not sure. This scares me when I observe certain children and families.

  8. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    The problem I have with the “traditional” interpretation (I know, there is more than one) lies not in the Scylla of theology and Charybdis of philosophy, but in the immediate text. If the traditional understanding is necessarily comprehensive, then God’s words to Cain prior to his fratricide become confusing at best and meaningless at worst. I can’t help but think that there is something more going on here.

  9. Richard Hershberger says:

    I haven’t been commenting heavily on this series, but I want to toss out how much I like it, both for its overt content and for the implied commentary on how we read scripture. It is a curious feature of much of modern Christendom that we are told that reading scripture is easy: that there is a plain meaning, and this plain meaning is readily available with no special effort. This is very weird. Anyone who reads a book from even just a hundred years ago and from their own culture knows that idioms change, cultural references grow opaque, and underlying assumptions alter, sometimes in startling ways. Go any further back and we need annotations to make sense of the text. Yet we are told that a book some two thousand or more years old from a culture very different from our own is easily accessible. Incredible!

    This is, I think, a bastardization of the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and of personal responsibility for salvation. The implication understood at the time was that therefore we are responsible for educating both ourselves and our children as much as possible, in order to take on this responsibility for our salvation. This has been dumbed down: theological grade inflation tells us that it is easy to ace the course; it is what we called, in my college days, a “Mick” (i.e. a “Mickey Mouse” course).

    In the present case, we have this foundation of cultural assumptions about how to read this text from Genesis. Our “plain reading” is built so high atop these assumptions that we don’t even see them. When confronted with a different reading, it seems like special pleading. What we should be doing is teasing out the idioms, cultural references, and underlying assumptions to figure out what was meant by the text.

    • Good insight Richard.

    • Yup.

      D.

    • It takes teams of scholars to flatten the bible’s language into something resembling our own per translation. That should say something to us.

    • OldProphet says:

      Richard, this post is excellent. The sources, comemtaries, books, and cultural mores that we have gleaned in our lives totally influence how we interpret scripture. The real issue today is who and what do we consult to truly understand spiritual issues. Who and what can we trust? How do we process and verify facts and truth. Is it Piper versus St. John of the Cross or whomever? Is it Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan? Which denomination really holds the keys to Scripture Illuminated? Do we build our own personal theology as a smorgasbord of all parts of all different denominations?? Don’ really know anymore. Oh well, I’ll go and pray about in in tongues. I don’t want to be didactic about! (sorry, W)

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Wrath of Khan, definitely! If you are going to go with a Star Trek movie, that is clearly the one to go with. Certainly not *shudder* The Final Frontier: bad even by odd-numbered standards.

        Live long and prosper, dude!

    • I understand your point, Richard, and I appreciate what you’re saying.

      It concerns me, though, that this seems to make being in touch with the meaning of the scriptures, which in my understanding is Jesus Christ, primarily the province of specialists and academics. That, in turn, would exclude large numbers of the world’s poor and poorly educated throughout most of history, who simply do not possess the resources necessary to undertake the studies and researches you enumerate.

      If only sophisticates can truly understand the Bible, and know Jesus through it, then I’m tempted to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor’s comment about a merely symbolic Holy Communion: To hell with it! Except that I can’t say that, precisely because I have experienced Jesus Christ speaking to me through the scriptures, and have experienced the scriptures speaking to me in ways that nothing and no one else ever has. Surely this is a pervasive experience of Christians across denominational identities, and one that is not only limited to sophisticates. In my experience, God has used the Bible to speak to me in ways that are unique and authoritative, and that makes it a rather special document. I have no doubt that it speaks authoritatively and truthfully to humble and poor people who lack the advantages of higher education and sharp minds.

      • Robert, but aren’t our “traditional” readings also unwittingly dependent on the past work of scholars and church leaders? It’s just that they have the benefit of antiquity and long repetition, so that we think our “plain readings” are the natural and straightforward way of understanding the texts?

        • No doubt. I understand the historical problems involved; I’m not satisfied with the solutions. And I have no confidence in the appeal to authoritative traditions, because I don’t see how the very same problems that Richard enumerates in his comments wouldn’t also be applicable to extra-biblical traditions.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I’m not suggesting that the lesson of the Reformation is that we need to all go get advanced degrees in theology. But neither is playing the egalitarianism card the answer. Most people throughout history have not been merely poorly educated: they have been illiterate. Where does that leave them, if reading the plain meaning of scripture is the key?

        The problem with the “plain meaning” standard is not merely that it leads to poor readings. It is that it precludes better readings. If I read a text for its plain meaning, while you read the same text and take something else from it, what am I to make of this? Either you are such a fool that you can’t see the plain meaning before your eyes, or you are a scoundrel, twisting scripture for some purpose of your own. This isn’t a caricature, nor is it an extreme outlier. It is the inevitable logical conclusion of the “plain meaning” standard.

        What is needed is the recognition that the meaning of a text is not always plain. This in turn allows one the humility to recognize that he doesn’t know everything there is to know about reading that text. This allows for discussion of the text. If I regard you as either a fool or a scoundrel for having a different take on a text than I do, then there is nothing to discuss. I can preach or lecture at you, but we can’t have a discussion. Once I no longer feel it necessary to regard you as a fool or a scoundrel, we can sit down over a cup of coffee and compare notes. Maybe you will learn something, and maybe I will.

        This doesn’t mean we need to have a specialist’s knowledge. Take Shakespeare, for example. This is a body of texts far closer to us both linguistically and culturally than anything in the Bible. There are any number of bits that will leave the non-specialist scratching his head. (For that matter, there are bits that befuddle the specialists, too.) But that doesn’t mean we can’t go to the theater and enjoy a good production. And it doesn’t mean that we should look at those bits and declare a plain meaning, and disregard or denounce the specialist who tries to explain what is going on.

        • When I read the New Testament, I generally do not seek “meanings.” Instead, I prayerfully ask God to lead me into encounter with Jesus through the texts, I listen for his voice and I ask that I might know him and hear him speak to me by way of the texts. And then I go looking for him as I read.

          It’s amazing how powerfully the NT texts convey the reality of Jesus’ person; he jumps off the page. When I think of what has usually been called the perspicacity of the scriptures, this is what it means for me: the directness of encounter with the living God as known in Jesus that can sometimes occur when reading the sacred texts. This is why, for me, Barth’s idea that the Bible is the sacrament of God’s presence in the world makes sense. This I’ve experienced; I know others have, too.

        • ” Most people throughout history have not been merely poorly educated: they have been illiterate. Where does that leave them, if reading the plain meaning of scripture is the key? ”

          Yes, where does that leave them? I lean into the thought and hope that grace precedes, attends, and follows everything and everyone; I’m not saved, whatever saving may be, by reading the Bible correctly, or following practicing the correct religious rituals. I’m saved by grace, we are saved by grace, in and through Jesus Christ. I dare not presume that I may put a boundary around God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ.

        • Richard, do you believe that the third or fourth century Church Fathers had a sound and accurate understanding of the word and thought worlds in which the scriptures were written, and how those worlds differed from their own? I don’t believe they did.

        • Robert, your comments don’t strike me as being at cross-purposes with any of Richard’s assertions, so much as they raise other concerns. You say that you are not after meaning when you read the Bible, but an encounter. Insofar as this encounter is immediate and personal, it doesn’t relate to received textual “meaning,” or at least goes beyond it. [My apologies if I just butchered what you meant; if you are describing mystical experience, I’ll be rather clumsy in following you.]

          For your experience to be considered veracious, all one need posit is that there are additional meanings to the text as it is read and re-read, which have validity. I would readily grant that point. To use Richard’s Shakespeare analogy, the original thoughts of the Bard are rightfully interesting to us, and matter; so are the way people interpret Hamlet, that may be different or beyond the Bard’s immediate thoughts; and so is the subjective experience of watching Shakespeare performed. The text has meanings across time and place, and to different people. And of course, if we switch the the topic of the Bible, we should expect a few more fireworks given the way people read it – and the possibility that the subject of the book has powers beyond that of Hamlet or Ophelia.

          You other concern relates to relating salvation to knowledge – I agree completely. The pursuit of knowledge strikes me a good and salutary. The possession of knowledge, is useful, but it is never complete (often wrong), and may be less salutary than the quest for it. Plus, if the poor and illiterate go into the Kingdom before the powerful, one can be sure knowledge is not salvific.

          Christianity concerns a proclamation that was originally made in another time and place; a proclamation that has since been made in many more times and places; and a proclamation we hear today; a proclamation that the church will make in the future, in new times and places. It seems to me that this gives us more than ample reason to be interested in the original proclamation and audiences; but given our historical distance from them, the scholar and his Biblical annotations are surely useful. Our interpretations can, and probably should, relate back to the first ones, and not be totally disconnected it. But that assertion does not prevent me from also saying that we should expect the text to be, well, alive to us as well.

          • Building on my previous comment:

            If the subject of discussion is encountering Christ as person *through* the text, then the subject of discussion is no longer simply meanings that are *within* the text. Presumably the content of the text would help guide one to Christ; but once the destination is reached, one is no longer talking to the Bible.

            Am I construing what you are describing correctly? If so, I don’t see how any particular textual interpretation (historically rooted or otherwise) could either be said to be quite sufficient to establish or explain the event (although I’d think it would be a guide, and would have a lot of influence over the shape of experience). Likewise, I don’t know how the scholar’s insistence on the usefulness of annotated Bible could assail it.

          • Danielle, I think your comments regarding what I said and how it relates to Richard’s comments are probably pretty accurate. The net result of this discussion, as with so many others, is that I end up with more questions than answers, and the new answers that I get are as contingent as the ones they replace. If I haven’t already reached the limits of my ability to think through these things, I soon may, and certainly one day will. I’m tired, and what I need most right now is to rest from all the cogitation. Peace.

          • Oh dear. My aim was to try to relieve some of the angst you were feeling, which seems to relate a perceived conflict between the idea of scholars having insights into textual meaning, and the text still having meaning to the non-scholar. However, it seems though that my comment, which was meant to be helpful, has managed to stir deep waters further. I’m sorry to have that effect, in this or in any other comment.

            I cast my own hope, such as it is, on the thought you expressed at 9:19, “that grace precedes, attends, and follows everything and everyone”. It ultimately doesn’t matter that people have read the texts differently, or that people have lived in different circumstances. Surely there is not anywhere we can go, where God is absent.

            In all things, peace. Forgive me for piling so many thoughts on top of your own. I’m a whirling ball of cognition, and that is not always helpful.

          • Danielle, the fault is not with you. My Zen teachers often told me that I spent far too much time following along behind my thoughts like a dog chasing its own tail; they wondered out loud when it would stop, even as they assured me, with wry smiles, that one day it would.

            Lo, here I seem to be arriving at the very moment they prophesied! I’m sorry that you’ve gotten caught in the crossfire of this moment; you have never been anything but gracious and perceptive, and funny, in your comment. I feel nothing but gratitude for the time you’ve taken to respond to my sometimes neurotic concerns.

            Peace.

  10. Ch Mike,

    for further “background” reading you might be interested in the Lenten Triodion and the Lenten Triodion Supplement. The liturgical texts/poetry/hymns in Lent have a lot to do with God “calling back” Adam. It has an Everyman feel to it, and at the same time, I find myself fitting into what is expressed as a unique person. Alternatively, you could look up the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete on the Internet; this is read the first 4 days at the beginning of Lent and again on the Thursday of the 5th week of Lent. It captures repentance as answering a call, a turning, a re-awakening of possibilities on the part of us humans, who are granted dignity and agency; it portrays God as always seeking us, including through history. Its refrain is “Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me” – with the expectation that God is definitely about that healing, as it continually points to the Resurrection with language about “raising up.”

    If you haven’t already, I hope you will at some point get hold of Fr John Behr’s book, “Becoming Human.” I’ve started my third read of it.

    Dana

  11. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    Any discussion of Genesis I have with the Young Earth geneticist in the next cubicle makes me feel like I’ve been cast as the bad guy in a not-very-good imitation of a Frank Capra movie. I mention narratives and cognate Middle Eastern literature and literary genres and I feel like the city-slick politician or prosecuting attorney trying the euchre the rubes out in the gallery. “Huh? Whuzzat? Did he just say that the Bye-bull was LIT-ra-chur?” Then the Champion of the People rises up, the Plain Man using his Plain Horse Sense reading his Plain Bible and expounding on the Plain Meaning, and Plain Virtue triumphs over subtlety.

    Because we all know who was subtle and nuanced in the Paradise narrative.

    Inherit The Wind notwithstanding, the scenario of TRVTH being simple unmixed and error being subtle and complicated is so woven into our cultural narrative that it is hard to resist, and I can understand how Ken Ham manages to raise enough money for a Creation Museum. Myself, there are days that I WISH i could trim my epistemological sails, believe that a journalistic reading of the Bible was TRVE, and quit trying to synthesize the two streams of information coming from two sources that I trust and love.

    But it feels so much like a reduction, an en-little-ing, a movement from Highclere Castle to Ike’s Tiki Hut. It is a movement from a wider universe to one that feels cramped and, well, outgrown. The worst part is, that when I look around for Christ, He seems to me to be in the big space, not the little one.

    • “Huh? Whuzzat? Did he just say that the Bye-bull was LIT-ra-chur?” Then the Champion of the People rises up, the Plain Man using his Plain Horse Sense reading his Plain Bible and expounding on the Plain Meaning, and Plain Virtue triumphs over subtlety.

      Brutal.

  12. “the scenario of TRVTH being simple unmixed and error being subtle and complicated is so woven into our cultural narrative that it is hard to resist”

    Very well said. This especially.

  13. Thought I’d chime in on this one with a few questions. Or ramblings.

    As I finished reading the post, a voice in my head quoted “the soul that sins it shall die”, a verse abused way too often. (and then a brief rabbit trail about any person calling themselves a Christian sinning must mean they really aren’t and are going to die because a true christian no longer sin because they have the supernatural power of the holy spirit…don’t you just love mental voices from your past?) While this series has been about the beginnings of things, let’s flip this to the end of things quickly.

    Classical understanding is that Jesus was the Godman because he did not sin nor did he have a sin nature. The popular view from everyone of course is that YOU sinning is what sends you to hell, the augustian notion of original sin or being condemned to hell for just being born is never seriously brought up (unless discussing babies). This gets tied up quickly into sin and death understandings, and only with pushback will people say it wasn’t an immediate death at the fall (but certainly ALL physical death!).

    So…what should we do with Jesus? How best do we understand Him?

    Plus…is there such a thing as sin?

    And salvation…it’s a promise of life after death, and no longer a “set free from sin” type of deal?

    And if that’s the case…more than likely, there is no hell. Because, more than likely, only those who’ve been saved will be resurrected (or remain resurrected, if one assumes everyone gets resurrected to face a judgement), and those who weren’t saved will be dead or be a part of nothingness. So the choices are believe to be resurrected into a new life, or don’t believe, and cease to be.

    You know, I can follow discussions like this easily. But explaining ideas and discussions like this to anyone else is impossible and quickly casts you as a concern or not even truly a Christian. Any advice on how to talk about these things beyond just “keep your head down and talk when asked”?

    lol, how many more classical IFB frankenstein understandings of reality can i upvert this week…

    • Going back a few weeks to the How I Became An Arminian post, when I mentioned that I see nearly every single major heresy in the Christian church (revivalism, pietism, pentecostalism, keswickism, biblicism, fundamentalism…calvinism (j/k)) coming from that side of the fence…

      I’m onboard with free will to a large extent. Always have been, was not when I was told I shouldn’t or hero worshiping Driscoll and whomever. But I absolutely cannot get onboard, in fact refuse to and would rather suffer hell or whatever, with the idea that sanctification, post-salvation, is a physical will works based project. I’m a sinner who knows my sins (legit ones and fake ones, working on sorting them out) and who loves to sin. I have absolutely zero desire to stop. Any and all effort or desire MUST come from outside of me and into me through God and God alone, not through any man with a book and bully pulpit.

      Now, some/many would claim that’s evidence I’m not a true believer. I’ve never been “born again”. I’ve never been properly “baptized”, Holy Spirit or not. I’m like those who Paul (?) ran into on the road who had been saved and baptized but never “received the Holy Spirit”.

      To which I utterly declare bullsht. As well as an extreme indifference to worry and trying to figure out what’s wrong, what needs to change, maybe this “mountain top” (someone said that at church the other night and I cringed) experience will be THE ONE, maybe if I seek this baptism, maybe if i get rebaptized or move into accountable community or some other rules based justification/sanctification scheme. Wasted my 20s following that bullsht route, life got 1000% better when I left and quit giving a flip.

      So I look elsewhere. Testimony from others that “duh of course you’re a christian”. Observations in my own life that while God certainly doesn’t seem to be delivering me supernaturally from the “big sins” (other than a repeated reinforcement that guilt is not from God and subsequent apathy), he certainly seems to be improving/sanctifying my life in other areas, I’m a lot less angry, lot less bitter, more understanding and compassionate, seeing overall more fruit, more hospitable, etc.

      And it’s by faith I believe those changes come from Him.

      Did I choose Jesus and salvation? At one point, I did, it was very real and I meant it utterly. At one point, if not daily now (and most days, I want the farthest thing from it). And now I’d like to rest in the assurance that there’s NOTHING i can do to jeopardize that, nothing I can do to improve on that or on my sanctification in general, and there’s nothing I can do to lose that. THAT and that alone sounds like true rest, burden is easy, utter peace, trust, etc. And everything else is just white noise I must endure.

      So what does this have to do with the topic of today’s post? Beats me. Guess I just needed to write.

      Or maybe it does a little. Free will. We all maybe did not choose death, we’re all born into it, however it came to be, through Adam or through a creation God called good but still had things like natural death and entropy in it. (because those things ARE good and necessay, fundy voice in my head). but we all, at some point, must choose Jesus if we want life after death, deliverance from sin, etc. no one will ever face the hypothetical scenario of WANTING to be saved and God saying “nope, you weren’t foreordained”.

      Whoever wants to be saved WILL be saved.

      I’ve got to believe that. (and yes, fundy voice, I used the word “I”, because at the end of the day, I’m my own authority surrounded by influencers).

      • Yes, Stuart, but you can’t want to want something. How could it be that some would want to be saved, while others wouldn’t want to be saved? You can want something, but you can’t want to want something. The paradox remains.

    • Stuart,

      You have raised the central question:

      “So…what should we do with Jesus? How best do we understand Him?”

      That was the subject of nearly all the discussion in the early Christian period, answering that and related questions in order to be able to say what is heresy and to express what life in Christ is and is not.

      One thing that I became aware of some time ago is that in Greek there is no such term as “sin nature” – usually what is translated into that term in modern bibles is the word sarx (flesh). Sometimes that means the stuff our body is made of, that will decay and become corrupt; sometimes its referent is everything not united to the life of God that has the potential to decay and undergo corruption. It does not mean “sin nature” or anything like that.

      Christ is the GodMan because of the Incarnation, because he actually took on human nature. *Human nature* is everything about humans that makes them human. In the EO view, human nature itself did not undergo any change; that which makes humans human is still the same, and God never took back his pronouncement that his human creation was Very Good. Our human innards have become darkened because of our birth into a world of other sinning humans, our own sins, and our steady march toward Real Death that needed to be halted and changed by God.

      Our problem is not lack of morality (though we should be moral because that’s a result of love and care for others), but turning from our connection to the life of God and seeking to find life in our own bare survival. God himself established that connection through the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. Because of that, we can trust where Adam didn’t. God will not take back his good gift of existence. As my priest has told me: “You exist, therefore you are loved.” The Incarnation was not “plan B” – God knew all that would happen and knew the only way to restore everything was to do what he did.

      To me, that’s a way to look at things that upholds the dignity of humanity, tells the truth about where we are and what we need, and holds up a view of God as Truly Good and Who Loves Mankind. The impetus to sin, about which you eloquently write below, is viewed as something that is *inhuman*… We didn’t get where we are overnight. The road to healing is lifelong, and we travel it step by step. As one desert monk said to another, we fall down and then we get up, we fall down and then we get up.

      Dana

      • “You exist, therefore you are loved.”

        Yes, yes, a thousand times, Yes! In my thinking, when Genesis says of the creation that it is good, this is what it means: that the creation is filled with God’s love. Yes.

  14. OH! Another fun one…

    Assuming these posts are all true, is that me just wanting them to be true because “I want to sin” or “I don’t want to accept the truth” or “I want to by my own authority” or whatever?

    Ah, fun rhetorical times…

    • Bum-Legged Mule says:

      Something just occurred to me.

      I haven’t heard the word “authority” used in the way you just used it since I became Orthodox, except on these theology boards, talking and listening to Catholics and Protestants.

      It’s like we have bishops, councils, scriptures, canons, charismatic elders, fathers [and mothers], but no authorities.

  15. “It’s like we have bishops, councils, scriptures, canons, charismatic elders, fathers [and mothers], but no authorities.”

    Not a problem, Mule. I hereby authorize you as official iMonk Contrarian. You can exercise your authority immediately by changing the name of your job description to whatever you like. If anyone asks you by what authority you are doing these things, reply that you will tell them if they first tell you whether John the Baptist was of God or of man. If that doesn’t work, just tell them “I don’ need no steenking badge!

  16. Hey RF, Captain Kirk?