Not Paradise Lost, But Paradise Ungained

Sistine Chapel - Forbidden FruitThe next three propositions in John Walton’s new book The Lost World of Adam and Eve look at non-order, order, disorder, and the fall in Genesis 3. There are several important points in this section addressing the questions: What is sin? What was lost in Genesis 3? What is the consequence of this loss? and How does it impact us even today?

What is sin? Walton looks at a number of different definitions for or biblical and cultural meanings of the word “sin” and settles on the disruption of a relationship with God as the sense of primary importance in this discussion of Adam, Eve, and the fall.

Relationship was God’s intention in the creation of human beings. It was lost in Genesis 3, and the rest of Scripture documents the stages of its being re-established. Another way to express this is in terms of the disequilibrium caused by sin.

… it is the alienation/disequilibrium model that will serve as the focus for the discussion of this chapter. This is a significant theological trajectory that is often neglected or not even recognized. If Genesis 1 is about order and sacred space, the disorder aspect of sin takes on new importance. Disequilibrium (disorder) has disturbed the equilibrium (order) that God has set in place. (p. 142)

In eating of the fruit of the tree Adam and Eve did not become omniscient or omnipotent. The fruit of the tree is not really the point. The transgression of Adam and Eve was in the attempt “to be like God by positing themselves as the center and source of order,” and “in taking from the tree, Adam and Eve were trying to set themselves up as a satellite center of wisdom apart from God.” (p. 143)

From Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder-The_Garden_of_EdenWhat was lost in Genesis 3? The Old Testament never refers to the fall, or speaks of the world as fallen. However “the effects of sin,” that is, the consequences of a disrupted relationship with God, “are seen to be pervasive throughout the Old Testament.” (p. 143) The point of Genesis 3 is not that Adam and Eve failed some arbitrary test by disobediently taking fruit from a tree. It is important that this is the tree of moral knowledge or wisdom. In fact, Walton suggests that the taking of wisdom, putting themselves up as a center of wisdom, is the most important part of the story.

The fall is defined by the fact that Adam and Eve acquired wisdom illegitimately (Gen 3:22), thus trying to take God’s role for themselves rather than eventually joining God in his role as they were taught wisdom and became fully functional vice-regents of God involved in the process of bringing order. If humans are to work alongside God in extending order (“subdue” and “rule” [Gen. 1:28]), they need to attain wisdom, but as an endowment from God, not by seizing it for autonomous use. (p. 144)

Adam and Eve didn’t lose paradise – they failed to gain it. In a partly ordered cosmos with a role to play in God’s creation, “they failed to achieve a solution to that situation that was within their reach.”

In contrast, Christ was able to achieve the desired result where Adam and Eve failed. We are all doomed to die because when they sinned we lost access to the tree of life. We are therefore subject to death because of sin. Christ succeeded and actually provided the remedy to sin and death. (p. 145)

Walton concludes:

Genesis 3 is more about the encroachment of disorder (brought about by sin) into a world in the process of being ordered than it is about the first sin. It is about how humanity lost access to the presence of God when its representatives tragically declared their independence from their Creator. It is more focused literarily and theologically on how corporate humanity is therefore distanced from God – alienation – than on the sinful state of each human being (with no intention of diminishing the latter fact.) p. 147

What is the consequence of this loss? The Genesis 3 story sets the background for the state of affairs as the Old Testament story unfolds. Before the fall the world was in the process of being ordered by God, with both order and non-order present. The fall brought “disorder in which sin reigned.”

Therefore, first of all, we now live in a world characterized in part by non-order because it remains in process of being ordered – a process that is hampered because humans have not filled the role for which they were created. (p. 151)

Sin is not the cause of disease, suffering, and natural disasters. These are aspects of the non-order remaining in creation. Only in the New Creation will all be finally ordered. This was true before the fall, but the process is hampered by the failure of humans to live up to their calling.

Second, we also live in a characterized by order, because that is what creation established. (p. 151)

We enjoy God’s order, we enjoy the order that humans through their collective creative activity have brought about. And now, after the coming of Christ, we also “enjoy the benefits of the kingdom order established through the work of Christ.” Human creative activity however, brings both order and disorder – as we pursue selfish ends.

Consequently, and third, we also live in a world characterized by disorder. This disorder is found in the ways we harm the environment, the ways that we harm one another and the ways that we harm ourselves. Disorder is the result of sin,and it continues to reflect our inability to be as good as we were designed to be. … All of creation groans (Rom 8:19-22) in this state of delayed order and rampant disorder, the latter being the result of sin. (pp. 151-152)

How does it impact us even today? That is, what is the mechanism of the transmission of sin? Walton suggests that the church, and especially the Protestant church, has been influenced more by Augustine than by Paul or the rest of Scripture on this issue. Augustine derived his view theologically, and through his (incorrect) understanding of biology. Walton prefers the general view offered by Irenaeus over that favored by Augustine. “We are infected from the world that got polluted because of that first act (disorder let loose and run amok).” (p. 157) We are all born into the toxic environment that resulted and results from the failure of humans to put aside disorder and focus on God as the center of our being and mission.

We are all subject to the disorder that has been introduced into the system since that first moment when our representatives decided that they desired to be the center of order. Its manifestation is corporate and cumulative. Not only are we victims of such a condition in the world; we all contribute to it. (p. 158)

A sin nature is not genetically transmitted from father to son and daughters, it is transmitted through the inescapable social nature of human existence. Our environment is polluted, we are polluted, and we are polluters.

Walton dabbles a bit into Paul, Jesus and Romans 5 in this chapter. The next two chapters dig into this more deeply (including an excursus by N.T. Wright on Paul’s use of Adam) and I will defer all discussion of this to the next post.

Does Walton’s emphasis on non-order, order and disorder make sense of the biblical story?

How is sin transmitted to each new generation? Need we follow Augustine here?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If you would like to comment please see Not Paradise Lost, But Paradise Ungained at Jesus Creed.

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