November 23, 2017

Fall, or Folly? (4): As It Was in the Beginning . . .

Sunset at Montmajour, Van Gogh

Sunset at Montmajour, Van Gogh

Same as it ever was . . .
Same as it ever was . . .

“Once in a Lifetime,” Talking Heads

• • •

This has been an interesting week for me at Internet Monk. As I’ve studied, thought, conversed, and prayed my way through these posts, I’ve gained a new clarity in my understanding about what the early chapters of Genesis are trying to communicate. Ever since my days in seminary, when Dr. John Sailhamer blew my mind with perspectives on Genesis that I had never conceived of, much less considered, I’ve come back to these chapters over and over again. As I have, I’ve been particularly impressed with how so many western Christian traditional views of Genesis are divorced from the original Jewish nature and perspective of the text.

For example, the concept of “the fall,” not just of Adam and Eve, but of the whole human race through them, is one of those aspects of Christian teaching, particularly in the Augustinian tradition, that I find hard to square with the actual stories we read in the Hebrew Bible.

Many Christians have this notion that the day they sampled fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the world underwent a dramatic change. Before that moment, all was not only “good,” not only “very good,” but pristine, perfect. Adam and Eve were the only humans in the world. They were perfect and immortal. Animals were not predators or carnivorous. There was no pain or death or disease. No such thing as a natural disaster had ever taken place.

One bite, and the previously sanitary and fragrant solid waste hit the fan.

Memory of the Garden at Etten, Van Gogh

Memory of the Garden at Etten, Van Gogh

The very nature of human beings changed. Not only did Adam and Eve cover up and hide and make excuses, but at that very moment, seven deadly impulses began coursing through human veins. The hospitable natural world around them — in an instant — became fraught with dangerous conditions and creatures. Tigers grew teeth and big birds morphed into vultures. People began to age (although slowly at first — look at the ages in Genesis 5!). They developed sniffles and headaches and diseases because bacteria and viruses (which apparently before that had either been non-existent or beneficent) became hostile. Accidents started occurring — a broken limb here, a bloodied brow there. No one had ever known fear before or a whole host of other emotions which protect the human psyche. Nature began its never-ending cycle of death and rebirth through the changing seasons. Previously lush landscapes started turning arid. Trees fell. Fruit rotted on the ground. Naked vegetarians whittled spears and knives and began hunting for their supper and new wardrobes. For the first time, tears. Arguments broke out where never a cross word had been spoken. The first grave was dug. The first poet sat under a tree and in her melancholy asked, “What’s it all about?”

This absolute transformation of humans, animals, plants, nature, and the entire cosmos began to happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit. People fell from the heights of immortality and perfection to the depths of depravity (at least in their hearts). Nature doubled over and groaned as the birth pangs commenced.

If that is anything like what happened in Adam and Eve’s “fall,” then their story is of extremely limited interest to me. It is a relic that merely informs me about something that happened long ago (and something rather inconceivable I might add) to two people with whom I have little in common.

That’s not how the Jewish people have read this story. Nor is it how many Christians, particularly those in the Eastern Church, have read it.

Broadly, they have read it as a story of wisdom, as an exemplary tale given first to Israel and then to the world.

We, all of us, are Adam and Eve. We are brought into the world not as perfect people, nor as depraved sinners because of some inherited sin nature which makes us totally corrupt. We are born simple. That is, human beings are personally, morally, and spiritually unformed, naïve, and susceptible to temptation and making bad choices. We are children who need to grow up. It is our duty to trust God and gain his saving, transforming wisdom, which “is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Prov. 3:18).

Someone will ask, “Are you saying then, that people naturally have the potential to make the right choices and lead sinless lives?

I will answer: No. I believe in the universal sinfulness of humanity. No person who has ever lived, save Jesus, has been free from sin. No baby born from this day on will be without sin. The simple will always fall short. The simple will blow it regularly and often. The simple cannot avoid all the pitfalls life throws at him. The simple will invariably succumb to some temptation, fail some test, transgress some boundary.

On the other hand, sometimes kids amaze us with “wisdom beyond their years.” The image of God we bear is also visible in human experience. I’ve always been attracted to Scot McKnight’s description of people as “cracked Eikons” (“eikon” being the Greek word for “image”). Beauty and brokenness. Foolishness and wisdom. Good choices as well as bad. Responsibility as well as recklessness or rebellion.

If the point of the Adam and Eve story was that they inaugurated an entirely new situation in human experience, that they were transformed through their act into hopeless sinners and began passing that on to their children so that all people are born without any ability or capacity to do what is right or to engage in behavior pleasing to God and good for their neighbors, then why did the Jews not pick this up? Why does the Hebrew Bible continually call them to pursue wisdom and do what is right? Why does the Pentateuch, which begins with the story of Adam and Eve, end with Moses using words from that very story to tell the people that they should avoid the poor decision their ancestors made and choose the way of life instead?

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity [good], and death and adversity [evil]; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.

• Deuteronomy 30:11-16

Adam and Eve teach us that every human being is on this road from simplicity to wisdom, from being unformed to mature, from naïve to discerning. The full Christian answer to our human condition involves turning from our own ways to becoming united with God by his grace through faith in Christ and engaging in the process that the Eastern Church calls “theosis” — in which Christ becomes fully formed in us as “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1Cor. 1:30).

Thistles, Van Gogh

Thistles, Van Gogh

What about the creation? Did the very world we live in, the very cosmos that houses us, undergo a dramatic transformation from “paradise” to “nature red in tooth and claw”? Yesterday, one of our commenters asked about Romans 8:18ff:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (8:18-22)

The question is whether this passage supports the common interpretation that nature itself was transformed by the “curse” that God announced after Adam and Eve’s sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Although it is common for some interpreters to link this text with Genesis 3, it is by no means a universally accepted position. For example, C. John Collins, who sets forth fairly conservative interpretations of the Genesis narratives in his book, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, doesn’t think this interpretation holds up.

He notes that there are no explicit allusions to Genesis 3 here. There may be allusions to other OT texts, such as the word “futility,” which looks back to Ecclesiastes. Collins observes that the key term in Romans is “decay” (Gk. psthora), translated in some versions as “corruption.” The passage that uses this term in the Greek OT is Genesis 6, which describes the world’s condition in the days of Noah. Collins draws out the implications of this:

Seen this way, the creation is “in bondage to decay,” not because of changes in the way it works but because of the “decay” (or “corruption”) of mankind, and in response to man’s “decay” God “brings decay to” (or “destroys) the earth to chastise man. The creation is “subjected to futility” because it has sinful mankind in it, and thus it is the arena in which mankind expresses its sin and experiences God’s judgments. No wonder it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” for then the sons of God will be perfect in holiness, and sin will be no more. Paul here sees the resurrection of the sons of God as a blessing not only for themselves but also for the whole creation. (p. 184)

Human sinfulness definitely has effects on the world and creation as a whole. However, I don’t think Scripture supports the notion that the world changed in its very nature or workings in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s transgression.

We and this world we live in have always been mixed bags. As it was in the beginning, it is now and will be until the day Christ makes all things new. Until then:

The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.

(Prov. 4:7)

Comments

  1. How does this view of the fall (or rather the non-fall) and the probable non-existence of an actual historical “Adam and Eve” couple square with Martin Luther and hence with Lutheranism and being (a) Lutheran?

    • Some of “the fall” stuff is difficult to square, I’ll admit. There are some Lutherans, especially in Scandanavia, who have been working for a few decades now on building stronger bridges with the Eastern Church and perhaps such a view would find some acceptance or consideration there. Luther himself, though attracted to Eastern teaching because of his love for the Church Fathers, ultimately declined to go that way because of his focus on forensic justification. I wrote to a friend the other day that it feels a bit awkward to say I’m a non-Augustinian Lutheran, but here we are.

      Who’s the saint of spiritual mongrels? I think I’ll start praying to him/her.

      I don’t think the historicity of Adam and Eve is really an issue that causes much angst for me.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Who’s the saint of spiritual mongrels? I think I’ll start praying to him/her.

        How does one avoid mongrel-hood? Every widely-read person I know [or read] is ‘guilty’ of being a mongrel. There are so many views which possess some merit; I’m always finding new ones.

        Saint Roch is the patron saint of dogs and the falsely accused – so I nominate him.

        If the metaphor is kept I would take it as a complement – mongrels of the canid variety have fared very well, they’ve proved invaluable companions, and populated every corner of the globe with their kind. A degree of their success is certainly due to their immunity to partisan loyalties.

        > I don’t think the historicity of Adam and Eve is really an issue
        > that causes much angst for me.

        Agree.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “I wrote to a friend the other day that it feels a bit awkward to say I’m a non-Augustinian Lutheran, but here we are.”

        Not entirely non-Augustinian, surely. He wrote about the Fall and total depravity, but he also wrote about grace. We still need grace, even without an Augustinian Fall. Perhaps “cafeteria Augustinian”?

        “I don’t think the historicity of Adam and Eve is really an issue that causes much angst for me.”

        Testify, brother! This is a non-issue set up as a stumbling block for believers and an obstacle for potential believers.

        • I have plenty of axes to grind with Augustine. My son is named August. I see no contradiction.

          Augustine wrote a huge corpus. He’s an important and great thinker. One can be influenced by his thinking, and even by the truths he was trying to describe in writing about the Fall, without agreeing with in 100 percent.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            ST AUGUSTINE WAS NOT INFALLIBLE OR INERRANT. I consider Auggie to have carried baggage of his surrounding culture and pre-conversion lifestyle (and post-conversion guilt) into his writings, and you have to keep taking that into account. Yet his theology became so dominant in the Western Church that in many cases it got treated as an additional book of the Bible. (Wasn’t the first to become so, and wouldn’t be the last.)

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            I don’t know HUG, I think you’re overstating your case. For the vast majority of church history the local bishopric has had far more influence on the local Christian than anything Augustine wrote. In fact, during the Reformation it often appears that Augustine was used as a post-hoc support for some positions (notably Calvinism). But if you read Calvin, who was certainly not short on admiration for his own cognitive capabilities, he generally presents his ideas as his own work, and then adds something like, “Which view notable church fathers have held, such as Augustine.” Anyway, in the overall schema of church life, I don’t think Augustine has actually had a tremendous impact.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            The same could be said of Luther. I don’t know of any Lutheran who holds all the positions Luther did. I would worry about any who did, given that some of Luther’s positions are repugnant.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Though firmly Western Rite, I think the Eastern Church is really onto something with its emphasis on the pre-Augustine view of Christus Victor instead of the post-Augustine systematic view of Original Sin. Even on a personal scale, Christus Victor offers a cure and solution for death — Resurrection.

        I wonder how and when Fluffy Cloud Heaven and Burning Hell eclipsed Resurrection of the Body and New Creation as the Christian afterlife. Cultural diffusion from the later Greco-Roman two-tier version of Hades (Elysium and Tartarus)? Speculation about “The Intermediate State” between death and resurrection taking over? Reaching final form in Victorian Romantic Sentimentalism?

      • This is a bit confusing. I always thought Augustine held an allegorical interpretation of Genesis, rather than literal. Augustine’s manichean background probably is more to blame for Augustine’s views than any particular cosmology. There’s more than one way to end up in a ditch studying Genesis.

  2. If that is anything like what happened in Adam and Eve’s “fall,” then their story is of extremely limited interest to me. It is a relic that merely informs me about something that happened long ago (and something rather inconceivable I might add) to two people with whom I have little in common.

    Like the old saying goes, we can choose our friends, but not our family – especially our parents. 😉 You may think you have little in common with them, but they are still your parents, and we all share their heritage, the give good – and especially the bad.

    then why did the Jews not pick this up? Why does the Hebrew Bible continually call them to pursue wisdom and do what is right? Why does the Pentateuch, which begins with the story of Adam and Eve, end with Moses using words from that very story to tell the people that they should avoid the poor decision their ancestors made and choose the way of life instead?

    As a Lutheran, you *know* the answer already. Although we fell and became corrupt, God did not. He is still Holy, and demands holiness. He must demand perfection from us, though we are incapable of it.

    THAT is why Our Savior came.

    • Two quick corrections – ” heritage, the give good…” and “you *know* the answer already. 😉 ”

      Virtual keyboards have their flaws, just like post-Fall humanity. 😉

    • But Moses explicitly says, “this command I give you today is not too difficult for you.”

      We have to deal with the actual text and what it says, not just our received theology.

      • Moses and Joshua also said that Israel could not keep the covenant. That, too, is in the text.

        I do have an appreciation for letting individual books and sections of the Bible speak for themselves, but we simply must allow for some systemization.

        • No, they did not say Israel could not keep the covenant. They said they would not keep the covenant. Why? Because like Adam and Eve, they remained simple and didn’t trust God and his wisdom.

          • So what caused Paul to conclude (perhaps contra James) that the Law could not be kept and was never intended to be kept, but was only a child-conductor to lead us to Christ, and that attempts to keep the Law could only result in death and condemnation? Why/how did Paul conclude that indwelling sin thwarted one’s best efforts to do the good that the Law expected or required, whereas that view of the Law as being impossible to keep and in reality being a “set up” for failure is nowhere (or rarely) seen in the Torah or the Tanakh?

            • Different subject, Eric, which opens up a lot of other discussions. In particular, what was Paul concerned about when he wrote about the futility of keeping the law? This is New Perspective territory, far beyond the bounds of this post.

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            Simple and quick. Paul was a preacher of Theosis, not this misbegotten, milk-and-water Nestorian morality that produces ethical businessmen but no saints. I am neither a theologian nor do I play one on TV

            1) The Law cannot make you perfect. Mary was born just like you and I, yet she kept the Law. That’s what the Eastern Church teaches, albeit they admit that she was given great wisdom and love for God from her earliest breath. Yet even the Most Holy Theotokos needed Her Son to live and die to perfect her.

            2) The Incarnation was never “plan B”. It was never a response to the “emergency” of sin. Read Athanasius. It was always God’s intention from the beginning to unite His creation to Himself. The Incarnation is a recursive function that works because God has an infinite amount of RAM on His motherboard.

            Re: CRACKED ICONS. When the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God came to Atlanta, it was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. What RobertF said about Jesus emerging from the pages of Scripture was mirrored in my encounter with the personhood of the Most Holy Mother of God through the medium of the Kursk Icon. I venerated the icon, and looked at the face of the Mother of God. The only thing I can say is that I was recognized and acknowledged. There was personhood there, just like you can be present with a friend or your wife and tell that she is with you or drifting in thought a thousand miles away.

            Usually I tell this to Protestants who try to get me back into the fold, and they leave me alone. I feel very, very uncomfortable worshipping in a building without icons now. It’s like the Lord and His mother, His angels, and His saints are telling me ‘We aren’t here. Get whatever benefit you can out of whatever they do with the Book, but we aren’t here. Come home as quickly as you can.’

            I’d really like to stir some sewage on icons and images someday.

          • What about those of us who have no desire to keep the law at all but must rely on the holy spirit to force us to keep the law (or make our desire to keep the law)?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Like the old saying goes, we can choose our friends, but not our family…

      As Jimmy Carter said almost word-for-word about Billygate.

    • “He is still Holy, and demands holiness. He must demand perfection from us, though we are incapable of it.”

      Eeyore,

      My personality and some experiences in my childhood disposed me to Perfectionism. What I received from Perfectionism was guilt, anxiety, toxic shame (I do believe there is a good shame, properly understood), huge lack of assurance of God’s love and occasional doubt about what my parents’ love meant – and in church being told I was loved BUT God had to punish me, and that Jesus died for my sins, and that I should try to do what is right — and trying to balance all of that as if I were one of those circus jugglers or acrobats on a teeterboard. God demanding perfection from us? That just made everything even more unbearable for me. There was no life in that. None. Whatsoever. I could be a reasonably optimistic person and enjoy life, and life in God, *if* I bracketed all of that temporarily.

      Interestingly, I think Luther suffered from that, too. The only way I think about him with any warmth or sympathy is seeing our common need for Assurance. I was raised in a Catholic expression that was charitable overall, but still felt extremely ambiguous to me in this area. [It would have been so much better for me as a Catholic if I could have known about von Balthasar and Nouwen and Lonergan, but alas their works were not known in this country yet (the first), not yet written (the second), or beyond my understanding at the time (the last). Who knows if I had known them, if I would have remained Catholic? Maybe not, but I really can’t say.] One very important thing that non-sacramental Protestantism offered me was Assurance. In my immaturity I couldn’t see that for me at the time, and for years beyond, it was, “Ok, I’ve done what I understand scripture to say I must do to comply with what God wants; therefore, God is obliged to accept me.” I came to see that as a very flawed view of God, and that kind of god to be very small.

      In the last few years I have come to read all those righteousness/justification words in scripture as “faithful to/faithfulness in the kind of life God wants for us, especially toward Him.” (After all, the word has only 1 stem with its grammatical forms in Greek; it has always bothered me that we have used 2 different words in English.) That has really taken a lot of air out of those Perfectionist tires… The major part of my journey was taken up with trying to answer the question, “Who is God and what is God up to?” because my received theology, both Catholic (in my immature understanding) and Protestant (in my adult years), just couldn’t give answers that measured up to the God revealed in Jesus. Jesus did not demand “sinless perfection” from those he encountered; he simply brought truth and healing, if they would receive. I wasn’t trying to find answers that would make me”feel good about God” – I just wanted it all to make sense!

      That’s why I have been such a big fan of N.T. Wright; his work showed me that the Judaism of Jesus’ day had nothing to do with people “pulling themselves up by the bootstraps” to ensure their personal righteousness. That’s not what “works of the law” were about. There was such overwhelming evidence for this that I found I had to drop the whole “Augustinian” view (however one wants to describe that – and remember, Luther was an Augustinian monk…). The result of that was finding a God who was possibly… as Willard had led me to believe…holding my breath… Truly Good. There was a better way to consider who God is and what God is up to than my previously received theology; though there were some good and helpful things, most of it partial, disjointed, lacking organic connection. Wright gave me a theological framework that connected nearly everything, with roots in Judaism. That framework was filled in to overflowing as I encountered E. Orthodox theology and life – where God is not held hostage by his attributes, but in freedom loves and forgives all the time, and is always, always, always on our side. He does not condemn, and Jesus said he did not come to the world to condemn, but to heal (the dominant understanding of the Greek word for “salvation”).

      I can’t go back to less than the fullness.

      Dana

  3. Theosis, or something like it, may be the full Christian answer to our human condition. In that case, though, it seems apparent that something like purgatory would be necessary, too, at least if the lack of spiritual progress of most of the people, including Christians (me, too), I’ve known in my life is any indicator. As an Anglican, I can go along with both of these not only as possibilities, but as likelihoods.

    “As it was in the beginning…..”

    “In my beginning is my end.”

    • As Eugene R. Fairweather wrote in his 1963 article, “Christianity and the Supernatural,” regarding Reformation theology:

      “…in the last analysis, grace remains essentially external, effecting no real inward renewal and elevation of nature. Despite the the moving eloquence with which both Luther and Calvin, for example, speak of the indwelling of Christ and of the Christian’s loving response, this relationship does not seem to include a true supernatural elevation of human nature……..Reformation theology seems unable to make room for a true renewal of human nature…”

      • Fairweather’s article deals with how Western theological tradition, especially in the the Reformation, has a dominating strand that reduces everything to the sin/salvation dichotomy, and leaves little room for the elevation of the natural to the supernatural both in human nature and in creation.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Over at Christian Monist, JMJ wrote extensively about Platonic Dualism infiltrating Christianity and digging an unbridgeable chasm between Spiritual (GOOD!) and Physical (BAAAAAAAAAD!).

          So you got St Rose of Lima abusing her body (tearing her face to scar tissue, gargling lye to kill her voice) to Mortify her Flesh until the self-abuse killed her before age 30. And others so Fixated on the Hereafter that they destroyed any chance of living or enjoying their life. Even today, sealing themselves off in the Christianese bubble to avoid Heathen Contamination, like Kirk Cameron barricading himself in his dressing room trailer on the set of Left Behind.

          Jewish tradition does not draw any clear dividing line between Flesh and Spirit, and places great emphasis on living life (“L’Chaim!”) instead of driving yourself into Heaven Alone. Also of arguing ambiguity and interpretation into the holy books/Old Stores.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            That is why it is such fun, especially when the Calvinists war with the Thomists, to run through their midst , yell “Spinoza!”, duck, and quickly make your way out of there 🙂

  4. CM,
    If you don’t think Scripture supports the notion that the world changed in its very nature or workings in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s transgression, then how do you explain “cursed is the ground because of you”?

    • God Is not pronouncing a curse that changes the nature of the ground, he is telling Adam what the consequences of his action will be for him. No longer will he live in God’s garden, freely eating its fruits. He will now live outside Eden and have to work hard for his supper.

      • While I certainly agree that God is telling Adam the consequences of his action, he does in fact say, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” That would seem to indicate some sort of change with the ground itself that came about due to Adam’s sin. Thorns and thistles are a part of that curse. Now I guess one could argue that it was only in Eden that the ground didn’t produce thorns and thistles, and this is just Adam having to go out and live in the world apart from God’s blessing. But that still wouldn’t explain the phrase “Cursed is the ground.” There is also the question of Eve’s consequences. Had she and Adam had a child in Eden, would she have felt little pain? Or is the pain perhaps more of an emotional aspect, as in the pain of losing children (like Abel) and dealing with rebellious children (like Cain)?

        • First of all, it’s poetry. Please allow some elasticity of language. Second, granting the logic of the narrative, does it ever say or imply that the rest of the world was like the garden? Maybe God is cursing the garden ground so that it will be just like the rest of the earth. There are lots of options here that don’t require an ontological change in physics.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > There are lots of options

            And there is the option of not choosing an option. The text can be understood as informing Adam that his life would be on of agricultural toil, which otherwise he would not have experienced. The ground may be the ground, unchanged, but it was not experienced as cursed [or a curse].

          • I realize it is poetry and poetry is to be read differently than narrative. But words do still have meaning. Cursed is the ground because of you has a meaning. And the most straight forward meaning is, “Because of what you have done the ground is cursed.” Earlier you said, “We have to deal with the actual text and what it says, not just our received theology.” This is what the text actually says. And there is no reason to think that a curse on the ground would result in an ontological change in physics. It could simply be that it started producing things (such as thorns and thistles) which previously were unknown, and that it wouldn’t be as productive in the things that we need.
            Now even if you don’t think the Adam and Eve story is historical in anyway, even if it is just wisdom literature, it would seem that one of the lessons is that creation has been cursed because of the sin of mankind.

            • If you going to be that literal, then the curse is only on the ground, so that it produces thorns and thistles. Is that the extent of the curse, as you understand it?

          • herman g nutics says:

            Another song almost as popular as Genesis
            is here
            http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/classic-country/battle-of-new-orleans—johnny-horton-14929.html

            Now, It is clear that one cannot use an alligator for a cannon.

            In addition, in this year of 3377 the river isspi which
            some equate with the ancient river in said song , is clearly
            not navigable from at least batton ruge to morganicity
            where it enters the gulf.

            It follows then , that the town of new orleans
            must clearly be mythological place.
            And there was no war of 1812.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          “Had she and Adam had a child in Eden, would she have felt little pain?”

          Is this not critiquing the interpretation of the Adam & Eve story as Wisdom Literature still through the Historical Narrative lens? This seems to me to be dissecting the words in the same Literal way as in the contrary interpretation – that won’t work. Wisdom Literature is not read that way, it is not parsed term for term to construct a precise Historical picture; it is read as to what the Words mean, not what the Terms mean.

          The thrust or gist of ‘the curse’ text is plain.

          And we cannot read the text so terribly carefully because doing so denies the very certain reality of how people speak and tell stories. No [healthy] person would parse the text of their favorite novel or TV show in this term-by-term wringing-for-every-drop-of-meaning kind of way – because if you did you would inevitably strip the text of its meaning, as the meaning is in the constellation created by the terms of the text, not in the terms themselves.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            No [healthy] person would parse the text of their favorite novel or TV show in this term-by-term wringing-for-every-drop-of-meaning kind of way…

            But an X-Treme Fanboy WOULD.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            “No [healthy] person would parse the text of their favorite novel or TV show in this term-by-term wringing-for-every-drop-of-meaning kind of way – because if you did you would inevitably strip the text of its meaning, as the meaning is in the constellation created by the terms of the text, not in the terms themselves.”

            The Word of God is not ‘our favorite novel or TV show” Sounds like more ‘forest’ in spite of the individual trees.

        • Jon, the bible also speaks of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Does that, then, mean that we live in a heliocentric universe? It also speaks of “all creation groans…”, so does that mean it ACTUALLY groans with a VOICE? There are many more of such examples. We cannot ignore literary styles and allusions for the sake of literalism.

          • I’ve yet to see anyone actually explain the purpose of the curses. I granted earlier that they are poetic, not really sure I should have even done that, since the rest of it is narrative. The point is that they are teaching something, whether you take it as historical narrative or wisdom literature. Just as Paul saying that “all creation groans” is teaching something. As for the curses they at the least teach us that the reason there is suffering, the reason there is painful toil, the reason there is discord between husband and wife, is sin. We have brought a curse on all creation because of our sin.

            • If you keep the interpretation that general, we are in broad agreement. Human sin is of no good to the universe and its negative impact is unfathomable. But it is the ongoing sin of all humans, not just Adam, that is the big problem.

          • And by anyone I mean anyone responding to what I’ve said.

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            “From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.”
            Judges 5:20

            When you move counter to the Logos of God, you can expect resistance from the logoi of the Ten Thousand things.

        • My understanding of the Hebrew involved is that it is much more psychic pain than physical pain for Eve.

          Like Ch Mike says, it’s poetry – it is mean to carry a lot of allusion.

          Dana

          • Dana – exactly!

            Jon, just because we read a translation into a modern language that makes it appear as if the story being told is straightforward narrative on a par with, say, *modern* ideas about truthfulness in narrative does not make it so.

            The Bible isn’t the newspaper, or CNN – or journalism of any kind, really. I’ve made the mistake of reading it like it’s intended to be that, and it just plain isn’t.

          • numo,
            I hope this doesn’t sound as arrogant as I know it could, but I understand how to read the Bible. I understand about different types of literature and that they aren’t all to be read the same way. I understand that there are differences in cultures and they have to be taken into account as best as possible. I think you are the third person in this thread to try and explain to me how to read the Bible, and while I appreciate what you are trying to do, I have studied hermeneutics.

          • I guess i should have prefaced my entire post with “fwiw.” Maybe.

  5. I’ve really enjoyed this series, Mike. Great job.

    Since ditching the idea that the early chapters of Genesis are meant to be any kind of historical/chronological account, the “Fall” account in particular has absolutely come alive to me in ways I never expected. Instead of seeing in it a frankly fantastic story about a man, a woman, some trees and a talking snake, I’ve come to see it as a deep and rich source of wisdom about the human condition and what it does to our relationships with each other and with God. I have crazy notion I might like to write a book about it one day.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      +1

    • It has been a great series. What is helpful about it isn’t that it questions a customary reading of the text. It isn’t even the specific, alternative suggestions for reading Genesis. As Rob says, it is that the series invites us to consider what the story itself is saying about humanity, about human experience, and about God. It sets aside the captivity of the text from strict questions of historicity or of serving any particular systematic theology.

      Recently, I’ve returned to reading Genesis, after a very long break from it. So the IM series has been a nice occasion to again reflect on it.

      The reason for the break rests in my own issues with the text. When I first came to faith, Genesis was such a fighting point in the faith communities in which I participated, that I always read it entirely through the lens of the debates about it. I spent tremendous time and energy with apologetical arguments about it, especially because I liked history and science. Also, because everyone (Ken Ham, lots of adults I knew) were telling me that this topic was so important, that being wrong about it would cause civilization to crash into the sea and sent us all to Hell. I was also familiar with Christian subcultures who plumbed Genesis for all kinds of instructions for conducting social life (including, dating, marriage, parenthood). Genesis was, for a period of time, meant to tell me what it means to be a woman.

      The result was that these concerns, whatever value they might have, were always so prominent and anxiety-inducing that it was very difficult to get ever past them, to read the story that the text was telling. The text always had to be doing all this additional work, answering questions I had for it. Even after I’d moved away from this kind of interpretation, there was still so much noise in my head anytime I read Genesis, that I left it alone.

      It’s been delightful to end the impasse. The irony of me taking a break from Genesis is that my first steps toward faith came reading from Genesis *as a story*. Being a kid who liked myth, in early adolescence I picked up a book containing a series of stories from Genesis. Afterward, I informed my parents that I was going to start attending church. I/we did, for about two years, before we encountered evangelicals and learned how to tell faith stories that didn’t reference anything from this two year period.

      It’s interesting now, to be able to read Genesis again and dimly remember my first experience with it. Curiously, it was even my return to reading Genesis that helped to coax me out of my last period intense despair (that happens to me periodically; I lack a good word for the experience). Anyway, it’s pleasure.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Also, because everyone (Ken Ham, lots of adults I knew) were telling me that this topic was so important, that being wrong about it would cause civilization to crash into the sea and sent us all to Hell.

        The term is “OR NARNIA WILL BE OVERTHROWN AND PERISH! IN FIRE AND WATER!!!”

        (Yeah, it’s the White Witch’s line filtered through the old CTV adaptation, but it’s a good line.)

        I was also familiar with Christian subcultures who plumbed Genesis for all kinds of instructions for conducting social life (including, dating, marriage, parenthood). Genesis was, for a period of time, meant to tell me what it means to be a woman.

        In that context, “what it means to be a woman” is usually “Cooker, Cleaner, and especially Breeder — ME MAN!!! WOMAN, SUBMIT!!!”

        • “The term is “OR NARNIA WILL BE OVERTHROWN AND PERISH! IN FIRE AND WATER!!!””

          Pretty much.

          And don’t forget the slippery slope: If you liberalize one iota (that is to say, disagree with me), your morals will evaporate, and your children will all be atheists.

          • “In that context, “what it means to be a woman” is usually “Cooker, Cleaner, and especially Breeder — ME MAN!!! WOMAN, SUBMIT!!!””

            Breeding was important.

            Also, fathers have magical powers.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And don’t forget the slippery slope: If you liberalize one iota (that is to say, disagree with me), your morals will evaporate, and your children will all be atheists.

            And HOMOSEXUALS(TM). Can’t forget that.

            Isn’t this the “One True Way — 1000% agreement or DIE!” rigidity normally associated with the likes of the Taliban, Boko Haram, and ISIS/ISIL?

            Or “Do As I Say or I’ll Put This Hex On You”?

      • Danielle,

        This, I think, captures it perfectly:

        “[…] it is that the series invites us to consider what the story itself is saying about humanity, about human experience, and about God. It sets aside the captivity of the text from strict questions of historicity or of serving any particular systematic theology.”

      • Daneille, I understand what you’re saying about your approach in childhood vs. forced literalism. the former worked for me, too, when I was a kid – and lo and behold, it works now!

        Not ever having been in fundy circles, I have been exposed to some biblical literalism, but not nearly as much as you. so going back to the view held by most Lutherans and CAtholics (Genesis’ opening chapters as story) was difficult at first, but boy, has it made things *so* much easier in the longer term!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Chaplain Mike has theorized that the Age of Reason and Industrial Revolution caused a change in how we view the Bible: From a collection of Old Old Stories about God and Man to a Spiritual Engineering Handbook of Fact, Fact, Fact. Sort of Systematic Theolgoy gone Wild to where the System swallows up everything else.

      And one of the consequences of this is One True Way/Perfectly Parsed Ideology. Whereas in Jewish tradition the holy books are allowed to be ambiguous and open to debate and argument and interpretation. The “It Is Written! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!” One True Party Line is much more in tune with the Extreme Islam you hear in the news.

  6. That Other Jean says:

    Considering Scot McKnight’s “description of people as ‘cracked Eikons’,” I am persistently reminded of lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.”

    . . . “Forget your perfect offering.
    There is a crack in everything–
    That’s how the light gets in.”

    Thank you for this series, Chaplain Mike. It has made me think about Christianity in ways I hadn’t considered before.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    This absolute transformation of humans, animals, plants, nature, and the entire cosmos began to happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit. People fell from the heights of immortality and perfection to the depths of depravity (at least in their hearts). Nature doubled over and groaned as the birth pangs commenced.

    Oh, I’ve heard better than that. And dead serious. That the first bite of the Forbidden Fruit affected the entire Cosmos — apparent age quantumed from 6000 to 13.72 billion years, universe expanded from lights in the sky to all the galaxies, and EVERYTHING in that universe became mortal and temporal from immortal and eternal. Like some kind of Cosmic Schrodinger’s Cat.

    • And yet we’re the crazy ones. And they get really offended when you comment that it sounds magical.

      Yet…it’s what we believed too.

      How much of faith is just cognitive dissonance, I wonder…

      “See, faith is accepting something you can’t see is true. Just believe!”

  8. Mike,

    This may not be the right time/post to explore, but I’m wondering if at some point you could flesh out what you mean by original sin and the nature of “the universal sinfulness of humanity” Or, maybe you could link me to another post that reflects your understanding of this.

    I am wondering about the language used in Genesis to describe the Fall/origin of original sin and subsequent biblical authors who may have read and interpreted this account more literally as well and how this has shaped our contemporary understanding of original sin and “the universal sinfulness of humanity.” This also may have some bearing on how we view and understand “the work of Christ on the cross.” Thank you.

  9. CM, you’ve outdone yourself with this series. Well done! In my view one of the main things that makes this site, this little church, so valuable is its openness to Eastern thought. Then why not just go to any of the good Orthodox sites available? Again in my view, Orthodoxy has its own blinders and limitations, but not as basic and limiting as those of the West. What the Monastery does so well is to take the best of all and combine in new and nourishing ways. I have watched your personal growth here and regard it as of utmost benefit not only for you but for us all. Should be the main requirement of anyone serving as a role model or mentor or facilitator or indeed chaplain.

    Seems to me that what did happen in the Garden that changed the world irretrievably was the institution of Law. Don’t Eat the Apples Under Penalty of Death. Seems plain enough even if we may not understand exactly what the apples and death were, and are, all about. If there were other people at the time living as highly intelligent “animals”, I don’t believe they would have been given any Laws in the sense of direct directives from God. And I believe that once given, the results were inevitable and foreknown given our human nature.

    When I worked on the golf course I would periodically find footsteps thru the sandtraps besides the sign saying Please Rake Your Tracks. Sometimes accompanied by obscene messages in the sand. Or find golf car tracks going around the sign saying No Carts Beyond This Point. And that’s when I didn’t find the signs themselves ripped out of the ground and thrown into the bushes. It’s just how we are. I eventually decided the fewer signs the better.

  10. a quote (really a paraphrase) from Alan Storey- Jesus did not tell us to follow Scripture-He said to follow him
    Thanks to all the iMonkers- you add to my struggles as well as sooth many of my rough edges. To God be he Glory

    • Yes, follow Him. Scriptures can help us in determining what that might look like, but it all comes down to following Him.

  11. Good series of articles, CM. They’ve made me consider things I hadn’t considered before which will help broaden my view of scripture and “truth.”

  12. Huh. Prov. 4:7. I’m sure I’ve read that dozens of times, but it just now hit me. And usually that opening phrase is followed by “the fear of the Lord”, aka no one is wise unless they are a believer.

    The devil’s advocate voice in my head wants to know why we care about some ancient Jewish interpretation when they didn’t have the Holy Spirit as we do, who of course promised to deliver us into ALL truth (or TRVTH as it was spelled yesterday)?

    • Stuart,

      TRVTH as spelled yesterday I think was an attempt to indicate a “Truth (TM)” sort of idea, and/or a battering-ram use of truth – not Jesus Christ as The Truth. The promise was that the Holy Spirit will guide us into the fullness of being In Christ, not simply knowing all the facts.

      Dana

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        TRVTH = truth-as-coercion, arrived at by asymptotic approximation by ratiocination and polished by controversy.

        If the Holy Ghosters have worn you down, StuartB, you should dance a couple rondells with the Booklords. The worst mistake I ever made in my life was going into Orthodxy passing directly from the fetid swamps of Charismania to the dry, flinty plains of Neo-Calvinism without passing through the gentle valleys of Lutheranism or Anglicanism.

        • Oh I grew up around a seminary with the Booklords. I’ve got a LOT of Booklord in me. It was just all IFB style stuff.

    • OldProphet says:

      “why do we care about some ancient Jewish interpretation?”. Good point. Why care about any contemporary interpretation? Considering how many book, films,blogs. And whatever else is out there, why is any one groups opinion more authoritative than another? It’s really just a theological free for all. Wow, I’m starting to think like you, Stuart.

      • Isn’t it? And if we’re talking exclusive claims on authority, I think the Mormons are the most recent! After all, if the gifts are for today, including prophecy and apostolic authority…

        I should just start a cult.

        Who’s with me!

        • OldProphet says:

          I’m in. Actually a lot of my acquaintances are Mormons. They are actually fine people. Most of them know little about Kolob, golden plates, annointed underware, and celestial wives! They just serve their God. Actually its not a shocker that most people don’t really know what their church or denominations really believe or teach, or how much money their pastor makes This is true from cults to evangelical groups. Heck, most parishioners don’t even know what their leadership does! Driscoll, Mahaney, Fertig, the RC scandals, need I go on? Of course, Stuart, I’m sure you would be above reproach

  13. I can’t specifically deal with every point raised in the last week, so forgive me if I summarize and generalize.

    The overall depiction of human nature in the Bible is very grim. It seems to me to be special pleading to say that “it’s just how we were made” And that the fall didn’t enact some major shift in our nature and spirituality. I cannot accept that God created us as we are now without losing the greater biblical depiction of Him as holy. God created us in His image – He is holy – therefore we too were holy, at first. I cannot deviate from this without all of Scrpiture essentially losing any appreciable meaning. Sorry, guys, I just don’t get the need to deviate from the Catholic/magisterial Reformation stand on this.

    I’m just not convinced.

    • That’s ok, Eeyore, I expected much of that kind of reaction. I appreciate you hanging in there day after day, staying in the conversation, asking good questions, showing respect even while disagreeing. I have an idea we will have plenty of opportunities to continue this discussion on other occasions.

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      +1

    • I have to say that, taken together, overall the texts of the Bible do seem to render a very grim picture of human nature, apart from Jesus Christ.

  14. Thanks for putting together a great series Chaplain Mike. And sorry in advance for the long post.

    Like others, in reading the posts and in trying to keep up with the comments I was struck by how much the discussion is shaped by presuppositions about scripture that we often aren’t even aware of. It’s unavoidable and I don’t think it’s bad – we’re naturally products of an environment/tradition that shapes our perceptions and determines how we contextualize. We all therefore take an “incarnational” approach to the Bible.

    I think there is sometimes an assumption that Paul wasn’t REALLY a product of his time and/or that he had a secret knowledge (inspiration) that no one else could possibly possess that somehow came out on paper when he wrote. Paul somehow existed outside of his time and place which is the what gives “inerrant” it’s concrete meaning. From that starting point, it often becomes necessary that when Paul spoke of Adam he was confirming Adam’s historical existence (even though Paul had no more historical confirmation than anyone else). Or we then get into cultural context (with it’s seemingly perpetual new developments and insights – again, not a bad thing) and we try to get at what Paul “really” meant given a cultural context that can often only be understood by scholars and theologians (who can’t seem to agree with one another anyways). The question for me is, if Paul believed in a 6,000 year old earth and a literal Adam and a literal talking snake and it turns out he was wrong, does it matter? Does the whole thing fall apart? I don’t know if he did or didn’t believe in a literal Adam (and I don’t think anyone can say for sure), but I’m becoming more and more convinced that it doesn’t matter either way. I don’t think Paul was using Christ to prove that Judaism had been right all along or to prove that Adam was real as much as Judaism was the context thru which he understood and explained Christ. Christ is the focal point and subject, and how else could he speak of Christ? Adam, as understood in their tradition, is used to explain Christ. It’s not the other way around.

    But if being a part of Jewish culture – not just knowing something about the Jewish scriptures but being part of their feasts and laws and sacrifices and traditions and expectations – was the only way to understand Christ than everyone would have to become Jewish to understand him. Perhaps what we have in scripture at times (not always) is a model of the Christ Story changing and “fulfilling” and reimagining an entire culture’s story and history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It models it in a way that tells us to do the same thing with our own individual and corporate stories. In that context, we don’t have to fear scientific discovery or contradictions in history or anything else. We somehow, mysteriously, must know Christ in the midst of an imperfect knowledge of ourselves and our world. This, to me, is how an “incarnational” model can be freeing and beautiful even if it does at times make us feel like the rug is being pulled out from underneath us.

    I actually find it to be quite beautiful and hopeful – that the Story of Christ is the “fulfillment” of the Jewish story, but that it also speaks to every other story in every culture in all times and places.

    • “It models it in a way that tells us to do the same thing with our own individual and corporate stories. In that context, we don’t have to fear scientific discovery or contradictions in history or anything else. We somehow, mysteriously, must know Christ in the midst of an imperfect knowledge of ourselves and our world. This, to me, is how an “incarnational” model can be freeing and beautiful even if it does at times make us feel like the rug is being pulled out from underneath us.

      I actually find it to be quite beautiful and hopeful – that the Story of Christ is the “fulfillment” of the Jewish story, but that it also speaks to every other story in every culture in all times and places.”

      This. Yes, yes, YES.

      Did I forget to say yes?