Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve

‘Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…. I will make a helper suitable for him.”… Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden...Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ”The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”...To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 2 :8 -9 and 3 : 1 – 24)

Evolutionary science teaches that humans arose as a population, sharing common ancestors with other animals. Most readers of the book of Genesis in the past understood that all humans descended from Adam and Eve, a couple specially created by God. These two teachings seem contradictory. In his book ‘The Genealogical Adam and Eve’, S. Joshua Swamidass tests a scientific hypothesis: ‘What if the traditional account is somehow true, with the origins of Adam and Eve taking place alongside evolution?’ Swamidass explains how genetic and genealogical ancestry are different, and how universal genealogical ancestry creates a new opportunity for rapprochement and explores implications of genealogical ancestry for the theology of the image of God, the fall, and people "outside the garden". Swamidass argues that when we think about ancestry genealogically rather than genetically, it is possible that all humans existing by the time of Jesus are descended from a pair existing only a few thousand years before. He also makes the case that this couple could have been created de novo and have descendants interbreeding with the surrounding population. Swamidass argues that this new approach allows us to retain many elements of the “traditional Christian view” concerning Adam. (from Biologos) Swamidass suggests that "The genealogical account does not prove Adam and Eve’s existence, but it’s impossible to disprove the existence of such a couple 6,000 years ago. Nathan H. Lents thinks that the book's "bold attempt" to find a place for Adam and Eve within the scientific understanding of human ancestry might help reconcile evangelicals to evolutionary science, and science in general, but thought it unlikely to persuade scientists of a role for the Genesis narrative in human origins.

The literal acceptance and understanding of the text of Genesis 2 and 3 is seen to be the preserve of young earth creationists in fundamentalist parts of the Christian Church. They believe that the world was created about 6,000 years ago. The majority of Christian people in the West do not consider Adam and Eve to be real historical characters. Rather, the whole story of Adam and Eve and The Fall is a profound explanation for the existence and state of the human condition in relation to our Creator, written back into pre-history by people with the specific calling and insight to do this. Thus elements of human consciousness and experience are represented in Adam and Eve.

The suggestion of an idyllic setting contradicts the fossil record and our knowledge of the food chain. The special garden may not necessarily exclude other areas of habitation. This was an orchard after all. Were Adam and Eve vegans? A fruit-only diet means that we won't get vitamin D and may only get small amounts of bone-building phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. Ultimately, this could lead to weak and fragile bones. We will also be lacking in some of the B vitamins, particularly B-12, riboflavin, niacin and biotin. This would be counter to the providential care of our Maker. We require a balanced diet. Thus the trees are only part of the economy of the Garden. There could have been grain fields outside the Garden also. Indeed there were and to them Adam and Eve were ultimately dispatched.

‘In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. Humans do not eat the fruit of trees to gain knowledge and understanding. We find these through living, observing, experiencing, thinking and learning. This is clearly metaphor. We can fairly connect Adam’s experience with our own. He was not a separate species. What is the connection between gaining consciousness and understanding and then dying? Did God create man and woman to be eternal while on earth? It is implied. Is this an explanation for our realisation of our temporality? Traditional doctrine says that our finitude was imposed as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Were they immortal before? Were they separate from the surrounding earth cycle of nature, of birth and death and did they then become part of it, as humans have done and as we do today?

These major issues in human life and consciousness cannot be explained in terms of eating fruit. Rather they are present in humans and require exploration. Are they not somehow the narrative of the human experience. We journey from childhood innocence, through puberty and the discovery of our maturing bodies and our sexuality, to adult choices and decision-making and then on to later years and physical death. Does the eating of the fruit represent natural maturation of the individual person – that exhilarating realisation of autonomous adulthood? (Food that is good to eat and pleasing to look at.) Why then is it clouded over by judgement and banishment. Is not human life a struggle for the very many? Relationships, work, purpose – these do not come easily or straightforwardly for all. Disaffection, alienation, insecurity, mental and physical illness, violence and death itself limit the goodness of created life. Life may not be cursed, we may think, but it can be a struggle.

The disobedience presumes a personal relationship with God, a specific command requiring obedience and the stating of the consequences of not being obedient. From the beginning Jewish and Christian thinkers have said that we live in a moral universe. It is not a lifestyle free for all. Our relationship with our Maker requires respect. Is this not the same thing that we sing in churches 6000 years hence? ‘Our restless spirits yearn for thee, where'er our changeful lot is cast, glad that thy gracious smile we see, blest that our faith can hold thee fast.’ (from ‘Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts’ by Bernard of Clairvaux).

We have to answer Richard Dawkins’ rebuke. “Original sin itself comes straight from the Old Testament myth of Adam and Eve. Their sin - eating the fruit of a forbidden tree - seems mild enough to merit a mere reprimand. But the symbolic nature of the fruit (knowledge of good and evil, which in practice turned out to be knowledge that they were naked) was enough to turn their scrumping escapade into the mother and father of all sins. They and all their descendants were banished forever from the Garden of Eden, deprived of the gift of eternal life, and condemned to generations of painful labour, in the field and in childbirth respectively.” (The God Delusion) Dawkins of course is a confirmed atheist without sympathy for anything Christian or Biblical. Nevertheless the issue of proportionality is important. Is the whole human race forever condemned because of Adam and Eve’s sin? Is the punishment of physical death commensurate with one act of disobedience? May it be that the story of Adam and Eve is a contribution to human knowledge specifically in relationship to God and that it can exist within the framework of evolution as special revelation to and within the People of God as later identified? It sets the standard for relating to God. This can be offered to all humanity in time.

The negative command ‘Do Not..’ is in Christian retrospect very limiting. To tell children ‘Not to’ is essential to their well being. But it leaves an empty space for the positive ‘Do’. Christianity is not a ‘Do not’ Faith, it is a ‘Do’ Faith. The laws and rules of Judaism were superseded by personal relationship with God based on grace, forgiveness and love in Jesus Christ. The Garden of Eden is not the final word. The redemption of humanity in Jesus’ death and resurrection is the better perspective in which to evaluate its meaning.

Is supernatural evil a reality? How do we experience it? It begins with mental suggestion. We may often ask ourselves ‘Where did that thought come from?’ Christian cosmology includes this dimension of existence. Was there really a speaking serpent? Did it actually hold a conversation with Eve? In Numbers 22 : 28 - 30 there is the story of Balaam’s ass in which the animal senses the presence of an angel of the Lord barring its way and refuses to move. Balaam beats the poor creature and he then hears it complain to him. He himself sees the angel and repents of his treatment of his ass. Is God a ventriloquist? Maybe. In the Garden of Eden however, the serpent does not speak the words of the Lord but of his adversary. Jesus knew who this was. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time’. (Luke 4 : 3 - 13)

The key dynamic in the serpent in the Garden of Eden is seduction. In Jesus’ temptations it is suggestion. In both it is the offer of an alternative to God’s plan. Arguably seduction is one of the most potent tactics of this personalised evil in the world today. Indeed, we are saturated by offers of alternative lifestyles and choices. So be this metaphor or not, the serpent is realpolitik in our personal experience. He does not have the last word though. ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’. (Romans 8 : 37 – 39) We have seen enough of human history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to recognise the power and extent of evil in the human community.

Genesis 1 affirms that we exist by the genius of our Creator and that we may live in relationship to him. Life is meaningful and structured and purposeful. This is the opposite of what the new atheists say – that life is random and meaningless. Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden further tell us that we live in a moral universe and that we are capable of doing both bad and good. The history of humanity bears out this truth. From our existential predicament we need to be saved. Our Maker has provided us with His Son Jesus.

Robert Anderson 2017

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