A Garden, Two Trees, and a Detour

Days 9-10 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days

Texts: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.

The reading of Genesis 2-3 is widely disputed, and it is difficult to discern what the best reading is. Is this description of cosmic and human origins literal history (as if we were watching a video), a theological saga, a mytho-historical worldview, or some other genre?

My interest in this post, and in my book, is not to settle or even discuss those kinds of questions. There are many good books that engage those concerns (like William Lane Craig, John Walton, or Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?). My interest is more theological than historical, though both are important. And, more specifically, my interest concerns the nature of humanity before God as human beings seek to live out their vocation within the creation as well as the nature of the detour that followed eating the forbidden fruit.

There are different ways of understanding what happened. What is the nature of the “fall”? What was the perfection of humanity (if we can call it perfect) before the “fall”? What is the nature of the human condition after the disobedience of the original couple? History is strewn with diverse answers to these questions.

I suggest framing a theological reading of Genesis 2-3 in this way (though this is by no means the only way to frame it): is this a narrative about the legal separation or alienation of God and righteous human beings, or is it a narrative that functions like a wisdom parable (which does not deny its historical character) about foolish choices and immaturity? Is the point forensic as in a judicial judgment, or is the point about a foolish detour as in a wisdom play? In some sense, it could be both, I suppose.

The Western traditions of the Christian Faith have typically read this as a forensic story about guilt and punishment which left humanity alienated from God in their very nature. The Eastern traditions of the Christian Faith have typically read this as a wisdom story about life and death which has left humanity sick and diseased, bereft of the divine wisdom to flourish though still blessed by God in their search for the divine.

I suggest Genesis 2-3 is more about wisdom than forensics. It is more about life, choices, and consequences than about a courtroom trial and decision. It is about the maturation of humanity rather than its probation. The consequences are not so much forensic punishments as they are destructive processes generated by foolish choices.

This is a wisdom narrative that includes all of us. We are all Adam and Eve. We all begin as immature as children, and we all have chosen foolishness with devastating consequences physically, emotionally, and relationally. And, at the same time, God has graciously pursued us, just as God remained with Adam and Eve as they exited the Garden to live east of Eden.

In this Bible class video, I attempt to tell that story.

Leave a Reply