September 18, 2018

Genesis: Where It All Begins (7)

Dream of Solomon. Giordano

Genesis: Where It All Begins (7)
A Wisdom Story

The account of Adam and Eve in the garden is a story.

It is a story that tells the whole history of Israel in microcosm. It is a story about Israel.

Today we will see that this is a wisdom story.

The quintessential wisdom book in the Bible is Proverbs. The first nine chapters form the introduction of the book, and here is a summary of what those chapters teach.

This book is designed to instruct “the simple” (the young, morally unformed, susceptible to temptation) to listen to and follow “wisdom” (fear the Lord and follow his instructions), because listening to wisdom is the path to “life” and failing to do so leads to “death.”

Sound familiar?

It should, because that is the exact story of Adam and Eve.

The story of Adam and Eve has been often portrayed as the story of two sinless people in perfect conditions who “fell” into a state of corruption and mortality and plunged all creation into a corrupt state because of rebellion. But “fall” is not really the best description, or at least the most accurate description of what this story teaches.

Instead, this is a story of two children who fail to grow up and follow the teaching of their parents. Genesis 3 tells how God set boundaries for two children (or adolescents, as Irenaeus suggested) who are “simple” — youthful, naïve, inexperienced, morally unformed, and susceptible to temptation.

  • Look at them: “naked and not ashamed,” like children who don’t even know enough to be embarrassed as they frolic about without clothing.
  • Look at them: enticed by a treat that looks good, that promises to taste good, something that engages a childlike curiosity which knows no caution.
  • Look at them: easily distracted from their parent’s warning by a cleverer, wiser tempter.
  • Look at them: persuaded into transgressing the boundaries set for them without even thinking.

[T]he Adam story is not about a fall down from perfection, but a failure to grow up to godly wisdom and maturity. Adam and Eve weren’t like perfect super humans. They were like young, naïve children, who were meant to grow into obedience, but were tricked into following a different path.

. . . The serpent tricked Adam and Eve into gaining wisdom too soon, apart from God’s way. They were naïve children who did not have the shrewdness to withstand the serpent’s craftiness. They should have just trusted their maker. The knowledge of good and evil isn’t wrong, but getting it free from God’s direction is death. Without the maturity that comes from obeying God, Adam and Eve can’t handle the truth (said in our best Jack Nicholson voice).

This is the point of this story: the choice put before Adam and Eve is the same choice put before Israel every day: learn to listen to God and follow in his ways and then— only then— you will live. The story of Adam and Eve makes this point in the form of a story; Proverbs makes it in the form of wisdom literature; Israel’s long story in the Old Testament makes it in the form of history writing.

• Byas and Enns, Genesis for Normal People

This story was intended first for Israel, who throughout their history followed the same patterns set by Adam and Eve and then by their children Cain and Abel and were likewise sent off into exile from God’s good land.

But one effect of reading this as a wisdom story is that it tends to universalize its message. Whether Jew or Gentile, we recognize ourselves in the stories of Adam and Eve and their children. Adam is everyman. And Eve is everywoman. These stories reveal the universal human susceptibility to temptation. We all show ourselves to be simpletons, in need of divine wisdom.

We all need to learn: “Trust in the Lord with a whole heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).

Recently, we’ve had a lot of discussion about “original sin” and “total depravity” in our comment section. Those doctrines presume that Adam and Eve “fell” and that event changed everything. From then on, all their descendants were born with a sinful nature and started out “dead in sin.”

Reading this as a wisdom story leads to a different conclusion. The Bible doesn’t tell us where sin came from. But it does tell us that each human being is susceptible to giving in to temptation and choosing ways other than God’s. And that every human does that. After Adam, “death spread to all because all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).

As James writes: “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” Most people see James as a NT “wisdom” book, and in this section of his epistle he appears to be reflecting upon Genesis. Adam and Eve had what it took to sin from the beginning, and so do each of us. What their story teaches us is that we are all “simple” like them, susceptible to making sinful choices, and so we stand in constant need of God’s wisdom.

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Previous Posts in this Series

Comments

  1. CM, simply excellent. You have done a wonderful job making sense of Genesis with this series. This approach makes it far more relevant than the traditional approach. Since the traditional approach sees the ‘fall’ as the foundation of a whole ‘salvation model’ (or as Douglas Campbell calls it ‘Justification theory’), seeing it in a new (and far more biblical light) calls into question much about that theology as well. Thanks for this great series.

    • Thanks Greg. One thing I would say, however, is that this does represent a traditional view going back before Augustine and represented in many Jewish interpreters and in the eastern church. Irenaeus is one example.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It also reminds me of a pre-scandal Bill Cosby monologue about Adam & Eve (apparently a later one than his most famous one). From memory, it went something like this:

        “God tells Adam & Eve ‘Don’t eat that fruit.’ Then God apparently goes off to do something else, leaving Adam & Eve alone. Now all of you who have children: You have just told the child to not do something, then your attention is away from the child. What is going to happen? THE CHILD IS GOING TO GET IN TROUBLE.”

    • adamtaunowilliams says:

      This.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      A WIsdom Story about how Adam & Ever were chosen by God to “grow up” (uplift to sentience) but got sidetracked into Arrested Development.
      A Wisdom Story.
      NOT a checklist of FACT, FACT, FACT.

      I am 62 years old, and this is the FIRST TIME I have ever heard it expressed that way. Up until then, it was Original Sin and Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Scripture Scripture Scripture. This despite now being in a Liturgical church that does follow Augustine but has a more transcendent take on the Atonement. First Impressions Linger Longest.

  2. I do agree all statement and from now onwards I will follow this principle – “Trust in the Lord with a whole heart, and do not lean on your own understanding”

    Thank you!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Just make sure you don’t drift into the “Holy Nincompoop” corollary where “It’s Stupid and Makes No Sense, It HAS To Be Of GOD!”

      Human understanding is a SUBSET of Understanding, NOT a completely-separate and opposing thing. “Human wisdom may differ from God’s Wisdom, but should not flatly contradict it.” — Calvin Miller, in a Socratic dialog.

      Abu-Hamid al-Ghazali took Islamic theology down the latter path some 800 years ago, and the results and side effects of that are still active today.

      • Yes. I’ve always found it fascinating that this saying comes from a book that is ALL ABOUT gaining wisdom and understanding to make good decisions. In some circles ignorance is seen as a spiritual virtue. Godly wisdom does NOT equal ‘worldly’ stupidity (or vice versa).

      • You had the mystical vision last night, during which you were transported into a transcendent realm. This morning you woke up in the ordinary world, the vision faded away, and it’s time to apply your sober rationality to what you remember of your inebriating experience.

  3. john bary says:

    One thing that I appreciate about CM, Mike the G Man, M. Bell and others who submit articles and give guidance to this site is their respectful presentation of their opinions and their viewpoints and not a negative judgment of the beliefs of others. . I am a big respecter of individual rights and freedoms that God gives us including the freedom to grow , change our mind use our God given wisdom to grow in our daily walk.

    In short what is the beginning of wisdom. Faith , wisdom, knowledge and love all are so iinter connected to our life journey all are needed and it sometimes takes faith and courage to accept wisdom aka knowledge that may change your perception of what you consider the “truth” before. Simply put and how else could I put it, we grow as God intended or when I was a child I thought as a child.

    Enjoyed and appreciate the series.

  4. About 10 years ago I had similar discussions with a Greek Orthodox priest as we walked through the sections of his Church representing purgation, illumination and Union with God (I was at a Greek food festival at the time and struck up a conversation with him).

    I have learned to see Old Testament stories, especially those before the awakening of Israel’s identity as having a few layers of meaning, the shallow to learn the story, the deeper to understand its meaning in context to the writers at the time (and what was important at that moment in history).

    Currently reading a book which looks at the Old Testament through the influences of the Elohist, Yahwist, Deuteronomist, and Priest… interesting read….

  5. I want to mention one other thing as I missed the weekend articles and I apologize in advance for going off track…

    The revelations last week put out by the Attorney General about the Priest abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania are shocking, evil and have many of us in these Diocese reeling. I am in the thick of this and expect there will be ramifications to this for years to come (I am seeing it now in my religious education registrations). What we are shocked about are the details put out about these Priests and we are having a hard time wrapping our minds on how this could have occurred. We were aware that this was already being addressed over the recent years.

    That being said I want to put some things in context. Most of the incidents are old, 1990 on back. Many policies have been put into place since the 1990’s that were way ahead of their time (before the same was done for schools, scouting etc) in my Diocese. These policies continue to change and mature in a positive way partly from experience, partly from state mandate. The reports that say nothing was done are not true as I have lived it, at least in my Diocese. And as the report was able to get the information it needed, one can see that the Church documented everything, and so was not covering up, though one can say it was not forth coming either.

    That of course does not negate the culpability of the Church and its leaders in this crisis and the deep wrong and pain caused that will be with these victims the rest of their lives. Some leaders will have to step down, even if they were doing what was thought as the right thing at the time, for the good of the victims, and church members.

    I will continue to struggle as I am close to ground zero as will other Catholics in my area. Some will walk away altogether, others may turn away from God, and I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that it is naïve to say “this could never happen in my Church/school/team”. Somehow my community, with all that is in place now has to root out what the conditions were that allowed this evil to creep in and take hold in the first place, and then close up those holes….

    I am the father of seven and I will admit that if any of my children suffered under this evil I would beat that person within an inch of his life, not a very Christian attitude I know, but that is where I am at the moment.

    Thanks for letting me share….

    • Fr. Richard Rohr put out a statement today that strongly brought into question the church’s stance on celibacy for priests. Many priests have said celibacy is not the fundamental problem but he is a priest who is saying quite the contrary. Most simple observers would agree. It’s certainly a good starting place for the one clerical group amongst them all that has a pedophilia epidemic. It is, without question, everywhere but it seems that Catholic priests have cornered the market.