Last week David Opderbeck posted some thoughts on A “Historical” Adam? on the BioLogos blog Science and the Sacred.
The second paragraph of his post puts forth a concern of many:
My concerns are theological. Significant parts of the Christian Tradition have always taught that human beings are incapable of not sinning; that this incapability is a form of corruption and not an inherent human weakness that can be overcome by merely human effort; and that this corruption was passed on organically from Adam to his descendants. If we elide any historical Adam and any “real” mechanism for the transmission of original sin, this raises some important difficulties for many Christians. In the recent past, this move has often led to Pelagian views of human nature, and then to merely existentialist views of Christian faith that cease to be meaningfully “Christian.” In addition, whatever approach one takes to the question of Biblical “inerrancy,” it seems to many Christians, including myself, that the Biblical narrative is difficult to hold together without a “real” primal event of sin by humanity’s progenitors.
David continues on in the post to give a plausible view containing a historical Adam – not a single pair – but a unique Adam within a larger community. After all, he suggests, “Biblical genealogy … primarily concerns spiritual-representative relationships.” Israel is descended from Abraham and Sarah – but not Abraham and Sarah alone. Can we all be descendants of Adam and Eve – but not Adam and Eve alone?
The scenario David considers is an interesting one – and one I consider to be possible. In shorter form I have made similar suggestions in the past. But the post, and especially the opening paragraph gave a twist to my thinking about the story of Genesis.
What is the point of the story of Genesis 3? Is it a story that explains the corruption of humanity from that point forward? In other words – is this the story of Original Sin?
I would like to put forward an observation and open a discussion.
The idea of Original Sin is wide spread, but not universal, in the church. Peter Bouteneff, in his book Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives argues that the western view of original sin is not found in the early church Fathers. The reading of Genesis did not include this view of corruption introduced by Adam’s sin. The Augustinian view is not found in the Eastern church.
Genesis is our story – the story of beginnings. It is first and foremost a story of God’s interaction with his people created in his image. Genesis 3-11, and in fact the entire Old Testament, is in essence a story of failure after failure. God is faithful – humans are not. Sin has consequences. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden in a covenant with God – and they fail. In Genesis 4 Cain fails and he is cursed from the ground. In Genesis 6 everyone has failed – except Noah. In Genesis 11 mankind fails. The cycle continues throughout the Old Testament. No one in the OT ever blames Adam — or posits connection to Adam for sin — all it does is blame humans for sins, for failure to maintain faith with God.
I agree with David – human beings are incapable of not sinning and this is not an inherent human weakness that can be overcome by merely human effort. But does scripture really teach that it is a form of corruption brought about by the sin of Adam? After all, the sin of Adam and Eve was not the first sin. They didn’t get the bright idea on their own – they were tempted. The serpent had already fallen and evil was already in God’s creation – a creation he declared “very good.” If we follow Revelation and see the serpent as Satan – well Satan had already fallen. It is also worth noting that all snakes were cursed for the role of the snake in Genesis 3. The physical snake is considered culpable – and his earthly offspring bore the consequence. The story gives no indication that this was a “demon possession” without responsibility. With respect to the topic of this post it brings me to an important question.
Could Adam and Eve have remained in a state of innocence? Could they, by human effort, have not sinned?
I suggest not – and that Jesus Christ was part of the story from the beginning. We tell the story starting not with Adam but with Jesus in line with John 1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The story of the New Testament – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is a story of God’s action breaking the cycle of human inability. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves – what no created sentient being could do for themselves – and breaks the cycle of failure. As Paul, said, For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. How this works out – and there is more to it than a one line sentence can relate – is worth much discussion.
What do you think?
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