According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Story of Genesis as Wisdom Literature, Part 1

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), Bosch

Fall, or Folly? (1)

by Chaplain Mike
with comments by r.e. slater
November 10, 2014

Whatever else one might say about Genesis 2-3 (the text actually goes from 2:4-4:26 and includes Cain’s story) and the account of Adam and Eve and the “fall,” it should be noted that, in its final form, this is a wisdom story. It is the first in a series of narratives that encourage the [Israel's] post-exilic community to reflect upon their history by showing them, in nascent form, the folly of their own ways which had led them into exile in Babylon. (sic, Genesis 2.4-4.26 was not written until 500 BC or thereabouts - re slater].

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

Adam and Eve, Cranach
Genesis 1-11 forms a preamble to the Hebrew Bible, and its focus is two-fold:

(1) it distinguishes Israel and her beginnings as set apart from the nations, particularly Babylon, and

(2) it shows that Israel was nevertheless just as foolish and sinful as the nations, even though chosen by God.

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

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


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

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

- Byas and Enns, Genesis for Normal People

But can the story bear the weight of this interpretation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Bouteneff gives several reasons why the traditional Augustinian view of “the fall”
does not fit the particulars of the garden story as it is presented in the Hebrew Bible.

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