Models for a historic Adam – 6

David L Wilcox’s penultimate model for Adam is this:

Experimental Head – Sin was already there, but we don’t know how – that’s why the garden was needed, the perfect environment. Adam was the experimental proof of the human condition – he showed we humans are all sinners by nature – that it is not environmental.

In a comment on another thread, our friend Cal quoted Karl Barth:

Barth once responded to an incredulous question about Genesis 3 with, “It doesn’t matter if the snake existed, but what he said”.

But actually, even in (or especially in) foundation myth, it does matter what actually happened. The story might still work if the snake, for example, were a symbol of Eve’s hearing an inner voice from Satan – but it won’t bear the weight of biblical doctrine if the words were said by, say, the author’s black-sheep cousin. If they were not actually said at all, the myth loses as much of its meaning as would debunking the story that the Christians destroyed the library at Alexandria because they hated knowledge … woops, that has been debunked; and doing so helps knock the ground out from under the feet of the scientistic worldview. Facts matter, even in myth.

Accounts like this model, that do away with an historic fall from primaeval innocence, conveniently foreclose the problems that modern science seems to make for such an event. Theistic evolutionists, in particular, can for a while at least have their cake and eat it too. Theologically, evil exists: some such temptation as Adam’s perhaps did happen – or it happens at least in a story – which demonstrates that fact to mankind today. But we can bypass that whole awkward genealogical question.

But the devil, of course, is in the detail. If Genesis 2-4 were only there to teach that we are all sinners by nature, it would only be saying what is common knowledge – and certainly was absolutely common knowledge in Israel, the original target audience. Their whole religious system was about the need to atone regularly for sin in order to enjoy the presence and blessing of Yahweh.

The Genesis account was self-evidently not written to affirm the universality of sin, but to show its origin, and its relationship to death and eternal life. And of course, not only that, but as we’ve seen repeatedly, it was written also about the origin of human beings in covenant relationship with God, which duality (covenant and sin) makes sense of the whole of the rest of torah, and of the whole Bible thereafter including the gospel.

Specifically, the account was written to show that sin was not an original part of human nature – that it did not come from God either in creation or in relationship – indeed, rather it destroyed that creation (death) and broke the relationship (exile).

It was also written to show that sin was not necessary. Much ink has been spilt on this in the last few decades, often by pitting Irenaeus’s emphasis on the story – of Adam’s sin being the result of deception, ignorance and immaturity – against Augustine’s emphasis on self-willed rebellion. Sin becomes, in this view, an inevitable part of God’s intended “soul-making”, and even therefore perhaps a good thing. I say that this misrepresents both Irenaeus, who saw sin as a heinous evil, and Augustine, who was on board with God’s secret counsel encompassing the fall as the means to an even greater good.

You see, if Adam, as some kind of authorised representative of the race, did only what comes naturally in the garden, we are inevitably left asking why it came naturally. The commonest layman’s answer is that we all just happen to sin like Adam – but that is simply to say that God created us with a massive bias towards sin, which the whole Bible denies, not least the culmination of the Genesis 1 account, which says that creation, with man, was “very good.”

Evolution provides a get-out for this – but only if we follow the modern TE trend to make it (or “nature”, an equally indefinable concept) autonomous. George Murphy, for example, seeing the whole survival-of-the-fittest thing as innately selfish, views mankind as inevitably tainted by selfishness (though in Genesis, sin is not selfishness but disobedience to God*). An event like that in the garden might well, for the first man taken into covenant relationship to God, demonstrate man’s fallibility. But it would do so only by showing the whole living creation to have failed, and therefore its Creator, too, who set up the evolutionary process.

Those who hold to such views have failed either to exonerate God from bad planning, or to avoid frank dualism, in which the choice, or chance, of a “free creation” are independent of God’s providence.

So although rejection of Genesis’s explanation for the origin of sin ostensibly leads to a humble agnosticism on the matter, in practice the void will inevitably be filled with theological monsters of our own, or demonic, making.

This model, according to the abstract, shows that sin is from our nature, and is not “environmental.” What does that actually mean? Does not evolutionary theory say that our nature itself is the product of our environment? And even in the Genesis account, was it not the existence of a particular environmental factor – the snake – that deceived Eve and led Adam astray. So it seems to see sin as something that, in a way it doesn’t venture to spell out, happened to us, not as something we chose. Why then does God, and even our own conscience, blame us?

But perhaps others can see strengths in this model that I can’t.

* Footnote: It’s well worth pointing out that the casual assumption that Adam’s sin was “selfishness”, or any other concept not directly related to offence against God, is another instance of reading modern concepts back into ancient texts. It is absolutely no less illegitimate than reading evolutionary stages into the days of creation, the kind of concordism that liberal writers are only too ready to berate in others. Israel’s concept of sin was far more ethically based than that of the surrounding nations, but though Babylonian confessional prayers are addressed to gods who get offended for far more arbitrary reasons than Yahweh, they are in other ways identical to penitential psalms – sin is, by its very nature, offence against God. It is only the ethical nature of Israel’s divine law (summed up as love God, love your neighbour)that makes an offence against others also an offence against God.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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