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
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Story of Genesis as Wisdom Literature, Part 4


Sunset at Montmajour, Vincent Van Gogh

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

- Once in a Lifetime, by Talking Heads


Fall, or Folly? (4): As It Was in the Beginning . . .
http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52493

November 13, 2014

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, Vincent 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

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.

- Romans 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.

The Story of Genesis as Wisdom Literature, Part 3


The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, Benjamin West

Fall, or Folly? (3): Paul Reads the Story
http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52462

by Chaplain Mike
[with added commentary by re slater]
November 12, 2014

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin,
and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the
world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from
Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense
of  Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. - Romans 5.12-14, NASB

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

21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in [a]Christ all will be made alive. [ie, the Messiah]...
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The
last Adam became alife-giving spirit. - 1 Cor 15.21-22, 45, NASB
---

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

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

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

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

Death of Adam, Francesca

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

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

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

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

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

---

Second, it is clear that the primary reason Paul turned his attention on the one man Adam in the biblical story is because he began his thinking with the one man Jesus Christ [ie, as type, or typology - re slater].

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

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

According to Paul, what did Adam do? As the first recorded transgressor [sic, in narratival terms that is, not as historical fact - re slater], he initiated an ongoing process of sin and death that affects the entire world. Therefore, Adam is the perfect foil for Christ. “Putting Adam and Christ together in Romans 5 is merely a way of showing how the actions of one lone figure can have profound (though opposite) effects on many people” (Bouteneff, p. 40). Paul is not analyzing and explaining Adam’s story as much as he is interpreting Christ through setting up the well-known case of Adam as his antithesis. [That is, Paul uses the Story of Genesis as Jewish wisdom (narratival) literature to speak to the historical Christ. He mixes literary genre to get to the theological truth of Jesus as Savior. - re slater]

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

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

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

All that Paul seems to want to say is that this epoch of human history is characterized 
and determined by the fatal interplay of sin and death — a partnership first established
in power at the beginning of the epoch, through the one man Adam.
James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 (WBC)

---

The main adjustment that Paul must instill in Jew and Gentile alike is the establishment of
(1) Jesus Christ as not only a prophet - and not only a prophet to the Jews - but also
universal Savior. And, still more, (2) the one in whom is founded not just Israel but all
of creation.

This is part and parcel of Paul’s transformation of the scriptural message. Genesis
becomes the story not just of the origins of Israel but of the beginning of universal
humanity, and this in turn paves the way for stressing the universality of salvation in
Christ for the Jew and for the Greek.

Paul’s universalization of the Scriptures and his understanding of the Scriptures as
revealing Christ are thoroughly interrelated. Together they constitute the cornerstone
of his work in the establishment of Christian thought. - Bouteneff, p. 38



continue to -