December 17, 2017

It Don’t Mean a Thing without that Historical Ring?

Adam & Eve in the Garden, Cranach

By Chaplain Mike

In addition to issues of interpretation with regard to Genesis 1 and the portrayal of creation it gives, (which have been covered in detail here in previous posts—check the archives), Young Earth Creationists insist that only their literal view of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 2-3 is consistent with an orthodox position on humankind’s fall and the entrance of sin and death into the world.

Many folks are talking about this at the moment. You can go to BioLogos and find a number of posts on the matter. Jesus Creed has regular discussions about the matter, including one already this week. In fact, reading that post earlier today encouraged me to come home and pull my Romans commentary by Jimmy Dunn (Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 38A, Romans 1-8) off the shelf so that I could read his perspective on the question. I hadn’t looked at it for some time, but now that I have, I think it will provide a good discussion starter with regard to this issue.

Commenting on Romans 5:12-21, here’s what Dunn says:

The Creation of Adam, Uccello

All we need to say to make complete sense of Paul’s argument here is that the reference to Adam’s failure is for Paul a way of characterizing the condition of humankind in the epoch of human history which has extended from the beginning of the human race till now.

At the same time the implication of the argument should not be pushed too far in the opposite direction. In particular, it would not be true to say that Paul’s theological point here depends on Adam being a “historical” individual or on his disobedience being a historical event as such. Such an implication does not necessarily follow from the fact that a parallel is drawn with Christ’s single act: an act in mythic history can be paralleled to an act in living history without the point of comparison being lost. So long as the story of Adam as the initiator of the sad tale of human failure was well known, which we may assume (the brevity of Paul’s presentation presupposes such a knowledge), such a comparison was meaningful. Nor should modern interpreters encourage patronizing generalizations about the primitive mind naturally understanding the Adam stories as literally historical. It is sufficiently clear, for example, from Plutarch’s account of the ways in which the Osiris myth was understood at this period (De Iside et Oriside 32ff.) that such tales told about the dawn of human history could be and were treated with a considerable degree of sophistication, with the literal meaning often discounted. Indeed, if anything, we should say that the effect of the comparison between the two epochal figures, Adam and Christ, is not so much to historicize the individual Adam as to bring out the more than individual significance of the historic Christ. (p. 289f)

It is of further interest to note that Romans 5 is one of the few places in the Bible that reflects with any detail on the character of Adam. The First Testament simply does not comment on him after Genesis. And in the New Testament, Paul is the only one to use Adam in a theological argument, and he does so only in Romans 5 and 1Corinthians 15. Dan Harlow, professor of Biblical and Early Jewish Studies at Calvin College, observes this and summarizes his understanding of Paul’s perspective:

Adam and Eve, Domenichino

To judge from his surviving correspondence, Paul does not seem to have made Adam the object of much theological reflection. Nor did he make exegesis of Genesis 3 a centerpiece of his theological analysis of sin. Rather than reasoning forward in his theology from the plight of humanity to God’s solution in Christ, Paul appears to have reasoned backwards “from solution to plight”—from Christ’s saving work to the human race’s need for redemption. “And rather than Adam being a model or image for humanity, or even the first real human being, it is Christ who is both. Christ is the first true human being, and Christ is the image of God and the ‘model’ for Adam.” [quote from Boutenoff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives]

OK, folks. That ought to be enough to get us talking.

  • Wanted: informed, thoughtful discussion with a generous, listening spirit.
  • Not wanted: magisterial pronouncements about who is and isn’t a real Christian.

Comments

  1. Dan Allison says:

    Firstly, we all need to be utterly honest with ourselves. Why do I believe what is believe? Taking the humble approach that “it’s just possible I could be wrong about this” is something we may all need to do. Secondly, how does this affect my witness to others? Am I really showing others the love of Christ? Or am I making a “truth claim” about some doctrine, or some interpretation, and insisting that others must accept it? Finally, am I really reading the Bible “for all it’s worth?” Am I reading it as the greatest story ever told? Have I learned and looked honestly at the ways scholars and saints – people who came before me – have read Scripture – or am I simply using Scripture as a set of rules and proof-texts? Do I pretend that I’m “just reading what’s there,” or can I honestly admit that – like everyone else – I carry convictions, prejudices, and preconceived notions that I impose on the text?

    • Dan Allison says:

      Typo. That’s “Why do I believe what I believe?” Sorry.

    • Thank you Dan for your comments. I have a friend who has rejected the Christianity she was raised in because of this rule business. She has converted to Judiasm because of their more open minded response to her questians. Someday she may come back if we Christians study and understand the whole first testament/second testament picture. We also need to be more mindful of how we respond to others and meet them “where they are”

  2. Full Disclosure, I am a “literary” interpreter (in the Jesus Creed linked article sense), and I also will bandwagon on pretty much anything that makes Jesus more important in our exegesis. I love this interpretation on so many levels.

    That being said, I can’t help but feel like I am losing something every time I think of the Bible as a work of true-myth instead of true-history. I blame it on my upbringing; my parents were gentle fundamentalists and engineers, and they think of the world in objectivist/modernist ways. I can do the mental gymnastics enough to say, “I believe there is a ‘deeper’ truth in this historically untrue narrative”, but in the back of my mind there is always the nagging suspicion that if it were “really true” it would be historically accurate too.

    • Kevin said: “…in the back of my mind there is always the nagging suspicion that if it were “really true” it would be historically accurate too.”

      Kevin, the four gospels are really true, yet each tells a slightly different story, and at times seem to be in slight disagreement (Incidentally, this is a stumbling block to Muslims, who may ask, “Why do Christians need four accounts of Jesus? And why don’t they agree completely?”).

      But if we step back and look at the big picture, we see a Jesus that can be understood better by the varying accounts. The details may differ, but it’s the same Jesus throughout, seen through different eyes. This may be what you have in mind when you say that you will “bandwagon on pretty much anything that makes Jesus more important in our exegesis.” I hope this helps.

      • and at times seem to be in slight disagreement

        Actually, at times they are in fact in disagreement with each other. 🙂

        • The message they are communicating about Jesus is not in disagreement. They are emphasizing different aspects, but the same core message.

          • But then they cannot be regarded or spoken of as historically accurate and inerrant documents. I.e., inerrantists can’t have their cake and eat it, too.

          • When did “inerrancy” even come up? Besides, it is a loaded term that means various things to various people.

            Even if one does not hold to inerrancy, that does not mean the accounts are not true in what they are attempting to communicate.

          • Okay, I may have segued into a different topic with that. But ISTM that historicity, factuality, and inerrancy (or beliefs people hold about those things) impinge on each other, whether re: the Creation and Fall accounts or the Gospels.

          • I think a large part of the issue is that people need to recognize and discuss the varying genres found throughout Scripture.

      • Heh, yeah, I know my fair share about the Bible’s rough spots and the ways to think around them. 5 years of “classic christian education” will do that to anyone.

        My comment was more about how it “feels” to take that route. Its kind of like what Nietzsche felt about the realization that there never was a G-d. To him, there was a sadness in knowing the truth; the world was a better place before, but now it is a truer place.

        I believe in a literary Bible. My mind, though, was trained to seek for a historically accurate Bible. Which was my original point: even though I agree with a literary, not historical, reading of Genesis 1/2, there is always the feeling in the back of my mind saying it would be “better” if it were historical, it would be “more real”, “more glorifying to G-d” if it were real.

        • “I believe in a literary Bible. My mind, though, was trained to seek for a historically accurate Bible.”

          But it is not necessarily one or the other. Some books, or even parts of books, emphasize more of the literary aspect, while others emphasize more of the historical aspect. However, all need to be seen on the overarching message/theme of Scripture as it relates to God, His creation, and the central event of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.

  3. Let’s keep in mind a couple of things when talking about Paul. First, he was educated as a Pharisee before his experience on the Damascus road. Of all the Christian writers, he was the foremost authority on Hebrew, the Old Testament, the Law and such like. Secondly, Paul always knows his audience. When preaching in the cities of Greece, he reasoned the way the Greeks did. His whole “the hand cannot say to the eye” speech may even seem a little silly to us; it just goes on and on with parts of the body debating whether or not they belong to the body, but he was reasoning through issues of logic the way his Greek audience would have.

    Finally (keep point two in mind) Paul was not above using actual historical events as part of an allegory. In Galatians he used the story lines of Hagar and Sarah to represent the bonds of slavery vs. freedom. The two women are two covenants. Hagar and Sarah are historical figures that Paul used illustratively to make a point. Am I saying Adam must therefore be a historical fact? No; I’m saying be careful what conclusions we draw from Paul using Adam and Jesus to contrast sin and freedom. Just because Paul is speaking in analogies doesn’t prove a particular story is historical or not.

    • That part about the various parts of the body debating comes from ancient Roman history when the lower classes revolted and a famous speech was made using the “we’re all part of the body analogy” to bring the lower classes back. Story would have been well known to any Greco-Roman world listeners. Just think it’s interesting, that’s all.

  4. The denial of a historical Adam leaves us with a major theological problem: the origin of sin. It requires us to believe that sin is inherent to creation itself. On this view, sin becomes a metaphysical necessity rather than a foreign intrusion into God’s good creation.

    Dunn’s argument is very weak, to my mind. All it amounts to is an assertion that Paul did not necessarily conceive of Adam as a literal figure, but it provides no positive evidence for that claim. Nor does it provide any means by which to judge whether “mythic history” was a category in Paul’s mind.

    Furthermore, we must not forget that Adam is not the only historical figure mentioned in the comparison. Paul describes a time period “from Adam to Moses” in Romans 5:14 as a time when death reigned, even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam did (i.e., those who did not break an explicit commandment). By Dunn’s reasoning, should we relegate this entire time period, and even Moses himself, to mythic history as well?

    In addition, Paul speaks of Adam specifically as a “type” of Christ in Romans 5:14. I am not aware of anywhere that term has been used where it did not refer to a historical reality.

    As for Harlow’s argument (inherited from E. P. Sanders), all I can say is that it doesn’t prove anything one way or the other on this question. Whether Paul reasoned from plight to solution or from solution to plight does not really speak directly to this issue. However, I will say in passing that I think the “solution to plight” reading of Paul is a bit simplistic and has been widely rejected by Pauline scholars, even among those who follow Sanders in his portrayal of Second Temple Judaism.

    • “The denial of a historical Adam leaves us with a major theological problem: the origin of sin. It requires us to believe that sin is inherent to creation itself.”

      Why do you think we have to choose between an historical Adam or an inherently evil creation?

      • Because it makes God the author of evil?

        • Yes. This is also where Karl Barth’s view of Genesis 1-2 left many people wondering if Barth subtly imputed God with the existence of evil.

      • The reason I posit these two alternatives is that, if there is no Adam to commit sin and thus plunge humanity and the world into the reign of sin and death, then we would have to conclude that sin and death have been there from the beginning. Only a historical fall can explain the transition from good creation to fallen creation.

        That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to interpret Genesis 3 as a literal account of history (although I do). In his book “In the Beginning” Henri Blocher argues for a symbolic interpretation of Genesis 3, but he also maintains that Adam and Eve are historical figures and that the story in Genesis 3 is representative (even if not literally so) of a historical event. Blocher is a theologian who accepts an evolutionary view of humanity, but he continues to draw a line on the historicity of Adam, rightly recognizing that a historical fall is an essential component of the Christian faith. I disagree with much of Blocher’s exegesis, but I think his theological instinct is right.

      • Also relevant to this discussion is Paul’s argument in Romans 8:18-25, where he argues that the subjection of creation to futility occurred as a result of Adam’s sin. Creation itself will only be restored when humanity is restored through the new Adam.

        And just to clarify (for some others who have brought up the point), I agree that sin existed prior to Adam in the angelic rebellion. But it is particularly human sin that brought creation into subjection to futility, as Paul argues in Romans 8. And it is Adam’s sin that brought the human race under the reign of death, as Paul argues in Romans 5. So while the angelic rebellion may have preceded Adam in time, it did not have the same impact on creation that Adam’s sin did.

    • The denial of a historical Adam leaves us with a major theological problem: the origin of sin. It requires us to believe that sin is inherent to creation itself. On this view, sin becomes a metaphysical necessity rather than a foreign intrusion into God’s good creation.

      I don’t understand how this is an issue. Sin, or evil, is something that has historically been thought of as something that affect all of Creation, not just something that arises out of human will. Even in the Genesis account, the snake is questioning the goodness of God prior to humanity’s fall. I don’t think that an understanding of evil as a metaphysical reality diminishes anything that Christ did. If anything it makes the cosmic impact of His death and resurrection more important.

      • The idea that God put such a nasty curse on all of mankind for the actions of two people has always been a hole in Genesis for me. Is that a just God, a loving God? Such an action seems inherently evil to me.

        Sin/evil was around before a literal or mythical Adam and Eve. The snake is proof of that, as is where God seemingly has to fight and push back the darkness in order to create the earth for us.

        • Thus, even before the fall of Lucifer (and yes, angels, Satan, and demons do exist or else you’re not reading your Bibles properly) then are you saying that evil existed back then too?

          • Well, I’ve always liked the part in Job where Satan and God are chatting about the best way to make him miserable.

            I wonder if God is going to send Satan into my life today? What a great God He is, to do that for me.

        • What makes you think God put a curse on humankind?
          God was merely describing the effects of their decision to know good and evil and experience death.
          God cursed the Earth, not Adam and Eve.

      • “I don’t understand how this is an issue. Sin, or evil, is something that has historically been thought of as something that affect all of Creation, not just something that arises out of human will. Even in the Genesis account, the snake is questioning the goodness of God prior to humanity’s fall.”

        I don’t think that’s a true statement, Phil, about the historical view of sin. The traditional view from Augustine through Aquinas down to modern Reformed (or other) theologians has been that creation was pure and that the sin of a literal man, Adam, is what brought corruption into creation—his sin is something we inherit and so a literal lineage from that man is necessary. The historical understanding has always been that the snake itself was not inherently evil but was inhabited by a fallen angel (Satan). An angel sinned, turned to a pure creation which had the ability to stay pure, but he got the first man, Adam, to sin and brought corruption on all nature, including humans who inherit their corruption by direct descent from Adam.

        • Perhaps the Western understanding of evil can be traced back to Augustine, but I really think a Christian perspective should be rooted in Jewish thought and take into account the earlier church fathers. One good book I’ve read that touches on this issue is God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terence E. Fretheim. It makes the case that God’s intention from the very beginning was creating a world in which He could genuinely relate to His creation and that the Biblical narrative tells a story of Creation being renewed. It isn’t simply about personal salvation. So evil takes the form of anything working against this renewal.

          I also lean towards believing that Genesis 1 does not tell the story of Creation ex-nihilo – note, I’m not saying it doesn’t present the idea that God did create everything from nothing, but rather simply the narrative in Genesis 1 isn’t tell the story from that point. The words “formless and empty” that are used to describe the earth are used elsewhere to describe the desolation after a great battle. So perhaps, Genesis 1:2 is describing the aftermath of a great cosmic battle and God is bringing order to this chaos.

          The long and short of it is, that I think there are several other alternatives to account for evil in the world beside a literal, historic Adam.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It makes the case that God’s intention from the very beginning was creating a world in which He could genuinely relate to His creation and that the Biblical narrative tells a story of Creation being renewed.

            i.e. Tikkun Olam.

            So perhaps, Genesis 1:2 is describing the aftermath of a great cosmic battle and God is bringing order to this chaos.

            That does hold with the cladistic idea of Genesis (which I first came across in a Stephen Jay Gould essay of all places), that Genesis 1 isn’t so much an order of creation as a separation and classification of Creation. This is sky (not-land, not-sea), this is land (not-sky, not-sea), this is sea (not-sky, not-land). This is sun, this is moon, these are stars. These are plants, these are animals, each named according to their kind and distinguishing them from the others. A classification of an existing creation, bringing classified order out of what had been undifferentiated chaos.

            But take that interpretation of Genesis 1:2 alone and go literalist from then on, and you have the speculation of the Pre-Adamic world; I’ve heard it preached that this was the time of the Rebellion and Fall of Satan, wiped out by a pre-Adamic cataclysm before Genesis 1:3. Kind of like the Islamic beliefs in the pre-Adamic world of the Jinn.

  5. Well…I think that’s what Mike is saying. There’s absolutely no way to “prove” the historicity or mythology of a literal Adam. If you’re trying to you’re already on the wrong path in terms of understanding either Genesis or Romans. That’s not really the point of Paul’s argument in Romans 5, nor is it the point of the creation or the fall narratives. This focus on something that isn’t the point tends to lead people in some strange directions. I just heard a good friend, who is conisderably more literal than I am, teaching someone else about the inherent “male-ness” of sin; in other words, sin came into the world through a MAN so it had to be solved by a MAN. The insistence that Adam be a single, specific person exactly as described in Genesis 1-3 strikes me the same way. It’s just not a very important detail.

    The point is that sin and death entered into God’s good creation, as you said Clark. C.S. Lewis looks at this very issue in one of his books…it may be Mere Christianity…and he concludes that, at some point, mankind became conscious of a choice between the self and God, and he chose the self. It’s quite possible that that began with one specific person, but it’s not a critical detail. The creation/Fall narratives are polemic in nature; they’re specifically arguments contra competing creation narraitves of that era, and they use culturally appropriate language and ways of speaking to make the point of the One True God, his love for us and the centrality of humanity in his creation. We had a choice between ourselves and him, and we chose ourselves. It’s a choice that would have wide implications for the future (as we see in Genesis 4-11). Hounding the passages for greater detail than that tends to yeild strange results.

    • Nice post; come up to KC and preach at the OP Vineyard sometime…..just tell ’em Greg R said it was OK…..

      PS: Not wanted: magesterial pronouncements about who is and isn’t a real Christian. Oh, drat…I was hoping to thin out my Christmas list, oh well….

      Greg R

      • Ha…I’d love to. I need a vacation and I’m only seven months into my church plant. I’m not so into pronouncments on who’s “in” or “out”, so you’re in luck.

        “I recently witnessed a discussion among conservative Evangelicals regarding how the whole fall was ulitmately caused by Adam and Eve not following the roles complementarians believe to be Biblical.”

        Exactly…that’s what I’m talking about. I’ve heard that whole line of reasoning, that the fall ocurred because men weren’t leading the way. Unbelievable. Talk about wringing a passage for detail that just isn’t there…

    • A Catholic friend of mine once defined original sin as the choice that everyone of us makes in choosing self over God. He said that early on, each and every one of us made this choice, and chose wrong. (By early on he meant in and around the time of birth.) In his mind it wasn’t hereditary sin, but a choice that each and every person made. It was original in that it was our first sin.

      I know this doesn’t follow standard theology, but I always found his explanation more reasonable than seeing God as a figure similar to the near slavers in India, who hold families in debt bondage (in which a family works to pay off a debt because of a debt incurred generations ago). We are all sinners; why do we need to inherit any extra?

      • That’s the heresy called Pelagianism that your Catholic friend is promoting. I wonder how his more traditional Catholics will respond if he ever took the priesthood still holding that view.

    • “Hounding the passages for greater detail than that tends to yeild strange results.”

      Very true. I recently witnessed a discussion among conservative Evangelicals regarding how the whole fall was ulitmately caused by Adam and Eve not following the roles complementarians believe to be Biblical.

    • Salsapinkkat says:

      I agree, I think it’s all about our ability to choose- we don’t think bees are evil because they kill rival queen larvae- it’s just how they are. But our essential created nature is about freedom to choose God (or his ways) rather than our own ways, or relationship rather than selfishness

  6. It is of further interest to note that Romans 5 is one of the few places in the Bible that reflects with any detail on the character of Adam. The First Testament simply does not comment on him after Genesis.

    While I’ve had a similar thought/question – i.e., if the Fall of Adam into sin was so much a key part of NT doctrine, why was there no mention of “Adam” and his sin after Genesis 5 (except for I Chronicles 1:1) – when I started doing a search for this, I realized that I’d be pulling up every instance of the Hebrew word adam. Which meant I’d be reading a lot of Scriptures. Is it possible that among some of the OT instances of the Hebrew adam there is a reference to the man “Adam” and not simply to “human/mankind”?

    • Some do regularly bring up that point, and the Eastern Orthodox Church regularly mentions that point. For example, from the Orthodox Church in America site:

      “As the Fathers also made clear, the entire narrative is to be understood in the technical sense as historical mythology: not a “fable,” a made-up folk-tale, but a narrative element of Israel’s sacred history that speaks of the ineffable interaction between God and His human creatures, a relationship that can best be described by symbolic language. (Consider, for example, the Hebrew terms ’adam, ’adama, which signify “man” / ”earth”; and ‘eden, which means “bliss,” “delight,” a virtual synonym of “Paradise,” as in Isa 51:3; Ezek 28:13; 31:9,15-18, where the underlying mythological element is quite evident.) ”

      I think we do need to recognize that a “Fall” is not necessarily being questioned, just the who, how, and when is being questioned. Likewise, the western/Augustinian understanding of “Original Sin” may be impacted, but not necessarily that idea that sin has an origin and impacts all.

    • good point, I think you’re probably right. Even apart from the appearance of the word itself, there are plenty of references in the OT about the Garden of Eden and the circumstances—it’s not as if the whole story is somehow forgotten after the first couple chapters of Genesis. Paul also mentions Eve in the NT, in a similar way that one could argue he’s just using a story as an analogy rather than proving historicity, but she certainly is mentioned.

  7. I am not one who spends much time on this issue. I’m old earth and am content with the mystery of how God pulled all this off.

    In regard to Adam and Eve, I could live with them being archetypes, even literary ones but tend to believe they are literal and historical as most OT and NT accounts appear to reference them as such. Adam is even listed in one of the genealogies of Christ if I recall. Is this only a figurative/representative list? An actual historical list? A combination of the two? I tend to believe the its “historical” general sense. But I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it either way.

    • Over at Jesus Creed awhile back, RJS authored a post and stated this:

      “In Luke the link from Abraham to Adam simply repeats the OT witness. The link from David to Abraham does the same. Jesus is of the lineage of David, descended from the Israelite patriarchs. He is therefore connected to Genesis 1-11 in the way that all Jews were. I don’t see this as a specific claim for the existence of a unique and individual Adam, nor does it require such to be true. I have not considered the OT genealogies specifically here – but there is no real reason to think that they were intended to be literal historical records in the modern sense. They make important connections (to the truth revealed in Gen 1-11 among other things) and serve a function.”

    • Good call. Nothing to lose sleep over, just enjoyable conversation with fellow believers.

  8. By the time I read through the responses, Frank and Mick had essentially contributed what I was planning to add. Namely, that “Adam” and “Eve” can function as archetypes for the literal fall of humanity, leaving questions of exactly who and when and how long unanswered and in the realm of mystery.

    I’ve come to feel more intellectually and theologically comfortable positing what I can know from Genesis 1-3 rather than what may or may not be literally/historically true. Which means I (and the text) affirm:

    God’s good creation of everything.
    God’s creation of humanity in God’s image.
    The Fall of humanity through willful disobedience on the part of the “first” humans.
    The pervasive consequence of that disobedience (death/degeneration).

    I feel like affirming those 4 things allows for the rest of the Biblical narrative to maintain its theological significance and for the news about Jesus to be received as Good/Gospel news.

  9. To add a layer of complexity, there’s the linguistic issue. I worked in Arabic in the Middle East for nearly 10 years off and on, so I’m intimately familiar with the way Semitic languages work internally. There is quite a lot more meaning attached to words conceptually speaking simply because the language is so old and so vast. Names, for instance, are a whole different game than they are in English here in the US. Names *mean* something in Arabic. The name a parent chooses reflects his/her hopes for the child or remembers a family member from the past.

    I say all of that to say that it seems awfully coincidental to me that names in the OT function so well as descriptors of the individual’s function. “Adam” means “mankind”. “Eva” means something like “life” or even “life-giver”. “Abrahim” means something like “exalted father”. “Yakov” and “Itsak” follow the same patter, functioning as a description of their role in the narrative. What if Adam wasn’t supposed to refer to an individual at all, but to the functional focus of the fall narrative, which would be mankind in general, both genders included?

    • Your second paragraph is the extended version of what I meant by putting quotation marks on either side of the names “Adam” and “Eve”.

  10. OK So help me out here….Gen 1-3 is simply a literary tool telling us someone, somewhere, somehow chose poorly (sinned). This ‘tool’ was picked used by Matthew who made up a genealogy just to give us a sense of connectedness to this someone, somewhere, somehow non-event. Then Jude tells us the same thing in miniature and finally Paul tells us that one of these non-individuals was deceived and one wasn’t. Finally we’re taught to teach what the Word says and to be silent where it doesn’t speak but believe it, except where some well intending scholars decided it was just a tool. Yes, I do understand the different literary devices Scripture uses; i.e God doesn’t have wings. My confusion comes because, I must ask, when do we then begin to accept what the narratives describe as literal? with Noah? Moses? Exodus? David? the many miracles? Jesus’ resurrection? His coming again? What is physically verifiable?
    Is it really any wonder why the church seems to be in disarray when we are now being told, that well, all that stuff really didn’t happen and the uninitiated/unlearned must rely on the traditions and teachings to be able to know whats true because we could never understand it otherwise.
    I know this is not what everyone is saying but…

    • I think we proceed literally when the genre and context demand it and don’t when they don’t. Why do we take something like the resurrection literally but not so much with the creation/fall narratives? Because there are lots of literary clues that lead us to treat them differently. I mean, they’re not the same kind of narrative at all, purely on the face of it. Getting into the details even just a little bit reveals all sorts of differences not just in content but in structure. Looking at the way the narrative is used both in the bible and in extra-biblical sources indicates that the literal sense of every detail was entirely beside the point.

      Claiming that the average reader wouldn’t be able to ferret all of that out rather dramatically underestimates both the skills of the average reader and the amount and quality of resources that are openly available on the web. No seminary degree necessary, no ability to read Greek or Hebrew necessary. If the objection is, “why should we have to do all of that”, then I’d say the same thing one of my seminary professors said when someone piped up with that same objection: “sounds like somebody’s lazy to me.”

      In the end, though I don’t think a rigidly literal reading does the passage justice, there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. Like I said before, it tends to lead to some strange conclusions, but I don’t see any huge problems with it.

      • The problem remains. The average reader (an undefined definition) will simply rely on his or her present traditional preset or choose a tradition that best aligns with their own bias. You are correct in the ‘lazy’ comment in that far too many simply do not “study to themselves approved”. Which is indeed sad. However, in the particular verses under discussion, I must ask, why would they when a straight forward reading, actually makes sense. Yes many strangle some type of things out of the texts, but that doesn’t preclude a basic literal rendering. Otherwise do we not then end up creating alternative views of original sin to establish a starting point?
        If we relegate the Genesis genre as allegory or historical mythology does this contradict how the other Biblical writers or even Jesus himself, viewed these. And once again, are we not back to man’s defining something in a way that the Lord may never have intended?
        I do though appreciate the discussion. There is much to be learned from one another, even if not all agree at all points.

        • I understand where you’re coming from, and struggle with this very thing myself. One problem I have, though, is that assumed in what you’re saying is that a straighforward view of the Scriptures by a modern, western reader is without bias. It seems more to me that the modern reader imposes his framework on the Bible as much as anyone else. So, if we’re to say, just read and take it as it comes to you, implicit is the fact that you’re interpreting it through your grid…which doesn’t see things as a Jew in the BC era did.

          But it’s still inspired scripture, and I think we’d both assume that means that there’s one way to understand each passage. So, who’s correct? The original hearers or modern western individuals?

    • Once again I find myself in very much the same tradition as Frank, so I won’t attempt to add to his response. What I would add to it is that my agnosticism (or interpretive method, if you will) with respect to the historicity of Adam and Eve and some of the other details of the creation accounts is at least partially pragmatic in nature.

      That is, I find myself having to do much less explaining about how the details of the account relate to scientific findings and theories when I choose a non-literal interpretive method (which, as Frank says, seems to be suggested by the text–or is at least a thoroughly legitimate interpretive approach to the text).

      So what I find is that by choosing this non-literal approach, what I gain in cultural currency that I can use for witness/evangelism outweighs the anxiety related to both overall interpretive method and the need to satisfy Christian brothers and sisters who are strongly committed to a literal interpretation of the text. Hope that makes sense…was harder to articulate than I thought it would be.

      • “So what I find is that by choosing this non-literal approach, what I gain in cultural currency that I can use for witness/evangelism outweighs the anxiety related to both overall interpretive method and the need to satisfy Christian brothers and sisters who are strongly committed to a literal interpretation of the text.”

        Wonderfully put. I couldn’t agree more.

    • “someone, somewhere, somehow chose poorly (sinned).”

      Or that mankind as a whole sinned – as others have noted, Adam may well be representative of mankind, rather than being a specific historical individual.

      And in my seldom humble opinion “the church seems to be in disarray ” because we keep trying to force the Bible to say what it would mean if the words in our English translations were being spoken to modern Western audiences, rather than having been spoken in Hebrew to an ancient Eastern audience.

    • Steve, I don’t see at all that “the church seems to be in disarray” because we are trying to understand the genre of the creation narratives better! When teaching these texts to the church, a faithful pastor will focus on their theological message, which IMO is pretty clear, even if we end up disagreeing on the actual nature of the literature that communicates it.

      • Certainly that’s fair and true. I guess I’m concerned because I hear the same mythological arguements from the unbelievers. And I must confess that while I understand the arguement that mankind sinned as a whole, it would seem to follow then that if Adam is simply representative then was there indeed a time at all when man had not yet sinned (had not yet fallen)? If so, if so would we not have to assume that someone, an individual took that fatal step and the rest, being infected, willingly, as Adam from the scripture seems to have done? If not, then it would seem that the text is not truthful in telling the story. I don’t think I’m hearing that mankind was made responsible for Satan’s fall but simply for our choices, which I think the Scripture teaches.
        I think being able to discuss issues and make observations are important and I thank you for your patience with my comments. I still see quite a bit of the church being in disarry, as I termed it, not because of trying to understand the genre of the Genesis text, or any other, but as a problem that the late Mike Spencer wrote about in his book, “Mere Churchianity”; the drift from our base and misplaced focus on the differences rather than what we should have in common. I appreciate that IMonk doesn’t allow the nastiness that is far too often spewed out in the different areas of the internet, etc.

        Thanks again for taking the time with me…

  11. Buford Hollis says:

    The challenge of evolution isn’t JUST that Adam and Eve never existed (i.e., that there was never a time in which the human race consisted of a single breeding pair, let alone a pair who appeared “from scratch,” as it were). Evolution also means that what we call “sin”–our tendency to alternate between behavior we call “good,” and behavior we call “evil”–has been there from the beginning.

    Selfishness? Aggression? Competition? Anger? Lust? All present since long before humans were humans, thanks to various instincts and hormones. If there is a God, then it created what we call “evil,” including human “evil.”

    • I think evil is more than lust, selfishness, aggression, etc. If that were the case, then my mother’s dogs would be regarded as evil. They had to be neutered to keep their lust in line. They have to be fed in separate rooms to keep from stealing each others food. And so on.

      Evil is the knowledge of what you are doing is wrong and the decision to still do it. Pain, in itself is not evil. Inflicting pain for any reason or not trying to ameliorate it when encountered is evil. Instincts aren’t evil, what we do with them is the moral choice. The birth of consciousness, ironically enough, was the birth of evil. Once we knew that we did wrong, then we could do evil.

  12. But the disciples of Ken Ham would say that once you introduce myth into the bible narrative, one descends a slippery slope (yes, fallacy alert!) which makes Jesus a myth. Perhaps there is no adequate defense against a fallacy.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Jesus himself introduced myth into the biblical narrative. People for centuries have called his myth-making “parables.”

  13. Randy Thompson says:

    It seems to me that finally the source of evil is a mystery, and that the Father, like His Son, teaches in parables which demand our engagement and which tell us the truth about ourselves. God’s creation is good, but we’ve chosen to live out of synch with that goodness, and prefer our own notions of good and evil, which, sadly, twist, maim, and destroy us. In other words, like Eve, we choose to eat the apple, and the apple ends up eating us. I never liked appeals to mystery when I was younger, but the older I get, the more sense they make to me.

    I sometimes wonder, though, whether original sin isn’t somehow related to genetics, and that the Fall is (was) a turn away from living a God-centered life to living a life rooted in our desires. Without an intimate relationship with God, which holds our identity in place, we end up at the mercy of our desires, and thereby, at the mercy of our genetic make-up. Wouldn’t a God-centered, unfallen life be one where God continued his creative ordering work within us? And wouldn’t a God-rejecting life separate us from that God-ordering, creative work? If we’re “given over” to our desires, according to Romans, might that not mean we start coming unglued at levels deeper than desires? From this (highly speculative) perspective, maybe Darwin had it right, but was looking at things upside down. Maybe we’re devolving. To turn from God is to turn from (His) order. Maybe the Fall is humanity’s collective refusal to let God finish His creative work in us, and that refusal has left us incomplete, undeveloped, and twisted inward, and we’re now living at the mercy of our genes, expressing themselves through our desires. If nothing else, this line of thought gives me a profound gratitude for a Savior!

  14. “I never liked appeals to mystery when I was younger, but the older I get, the more sense they make to me.”

    Me too, Randy.

    Randy also writes: “Maybe the Fall is humanity’s collective refusal to let God finish His creative work in us, and that refusal has left us incomplete, undeveloped, and twisted inward, and we’re now living at the mercy of our genes, expressing themselves through our desires. If nothing else, this line of thought gives me a profound gratitude for a Savior!”

    I love this!

  15. I want to ask why we’re having this discussion in the first place? Is it not because the scientific community of our day has undermined our belief in scripture with the teaching of evolution? I think Paul’s meaning in Romans and Corinthians is perfectly clear, especially when he says specifically, “…since sin and death came through ONE man(referring to Adam)…” It appears that Paul definately thought Adam was real and responsible for sin and death.
    It seems to me that we’re having this conversation because people have told us that we evolved from apes and our scriptural teachings on origins are just myths. If this is not the case, please let me know. I, however, do not see the need to explain away the story of Adam and Eve in order to accomodate an evolutionary perspective. In reality, it’s the evolutionary perspective that needs some serious explaining, as anyone can discover by doing some research, especially in the area of spontaneous generation(i.e. living matter emerging from non-living). As I read these posts I can’t help but think thatt the source of our division of mind is the idea of evolution being true.

  16. One more thing I’d like to add. In Corinthians 15 Paul says, “…since death came THROUGH A HUMAN BEING, the resurrection of the dead has also come THROUGH A HUMAN BEING.” Paul says straight out here that death came through a(single) human being, Adam. Comparing Adam’s deed to Christ’s further suggests that this Adam character and what he did is real, just as Christ, and what he did, was real.
    Again, he makes the same comparison in Romans 5, saying, “…just as ONE MAN’S trespass led to condemnation for all, so ONE MAN’S act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” For just as by THE ONE MAN’S disobedience the many were made sinners, so by THE ONE MAN’S obedience the many will be made righteous”.(emphasis by me)
    Why would Paul treat Adam with the same reality as Christ if by Adam he merely meant humanity back in the day? Also, he seems to emphasize the fact that it was ONE man’s act that brought death into the world. I dunno. When reading it, it seems clear that Paul considered Adam to be a real person, who committed a real sin, that had a real effect on humanity. Check it out for yourself.