Here is a link to chapter 2 of my book.
The discussion of the passages speaks for itself, but I feel I ought to add something here specifically because a publisher criticised my lack of interaction with Gordon Wenham’s take on the “curse on the ground”, and because KJ mentioned the curse in his supportive comment on the previous chapter. My original judgement had been to avoid such detailed discussion in what is, actually, quite a short book.
I have a great deal of respect for Gordon Wenham as an OT scholar, and indeed used his Genesis commentary in preparation of the chapter, and it’s not just because he was at my college and his brother Mike was a contemporary of mine there! Dealing with Genesis 8.21, Wenham disagrees with others who follow the great German OT scholar Rolf Rendtorff, who in 1961 interpreted the verse as abrogating the curse on the ground, the position I have recently come to.
Wenham’s main argument is grammatical: he says that the positioning of the words means something like “I will not again add to the curse on the ground” rather than “I will not curse the ground any more.” The supporting arguments for this include a different (weaker) word for “curse” in this verse, and the suggestion that the birth-prophecy for Noah in 5.29, to which I draw attention in the chapter, is fulfilled in his planting vines and inventing wine.
Now I don’t read Hebrew (as of course both Wenham, Rendtorff and their academic supporters do – though I learned my rudimentary NT Greek from the textbook by Wenham’s father!), but I have seen over the years how grammatical arguments, though important, are always subject to disagreement, simply because language is a flexible human tool, not a strictly algorithmic, law-based, process. And I note that if one compares the translations there is little support for the distinction Wenham makes either in the translation of the word for “curse” or his nuance of the meaning. It therefore seems far from conclusive, and there is clearly still room for debate in the scholarly community, even though I would normally side with the conservative Evangelical!
If, then, the grammatical argument is placed in the “outcome still pending” category, the reasons I believe the text intends to describe the lifting of the specific curese of Gen 3 are as follows:
- The curse in ch3 is superadded to the central sentence of death of which God had warned Adam in advance, and which is delivered in the exclusion from the tree of life. Death is the problem that is linked to sin throughout the whole of the rest of the Bible, and especially in Paul’s expositions in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15. Why, then, does God give additional punishment? The parallel judgements seem to give the clue: the serpent is punished for its deception of Eve; Eve for her listening to the creature; and Adam, I suggest, because he listened to his wife’s contradiction of God, over and above his actual taking of the forbidden fruit.
- The prophecy made over Noah by his father says he will provide relief from the curse (this is the same word as in ch3). The suggestion that this is fulfilled in his discovery of wine seems unlikely when that story majors on the drunkenness and shame of Noah – his corruption by the fruit of the earth – and the curse on Canaan, rather than any idea one may have of “wine to gladden the heart of man”. The story doesn’t even say Noah invented winemaking – merely that he planed a vineyard and got drunk. On the other hand, if (as I suggest) Noah’s intercession results in the lifting of the Gen 3 curse, the prophecy is appropriately true (and the wine incident a reminder that sin, and its consequences, still attach to Noah after the Flood, even when the ground produces grapes rather than thistles).
- The Flood story is not at any stage presented in terms of cursing, but in terms of cleansing or purification of the world by a kind of de-creation, back to water. As I say in the chapter, one has to deduce any effect on crops, for it is the destruction of living creatures, and especially man, that is described, rather than their food. Furthermore, again as I point out, 8.21 presents the latter in the second part of the verse, separately from the promise never again to curse the land. Wenham sees these as poetic parallels, but I have to say they don’t read that way to me – and of course, Hebrew poetic parallelism is flexible enough to include contrasts, qualifications and similarities as well as repeated expressions of the same thought.
- The curse on the land (unlike the curse of death) is not mentioned, or dealt with, in the rest of Scripture, suggesting the writers no longer considered it a problem to be solved. Instead, there are passages such as Paul’s addresses to pagans in which the plenty God provides through his blessing is emphasised (rather than telling them farming life is hard because of a curse which only Jesus can lift).
- I mention in the chapter the interesting (and seldom remarked) passages in the ANE parallels with the Flood story about the bgods sending famine as a precursor to the Flood.
- The curse of Genesis 3 is strictly limited in its scope: it decrees only hardship in obtaining food, because of the prevalence of thorns and thistles. This is true even if Wenham is right, and Rendtorff wrong, and the curse on the soil still prevails. It is actually a curse of man through the soil, in that thorns and thistles get to prosper, and only man’s preferred crops get choked with them. To generalise it to everything we find troublesome in nature – to animal death, disease, natural disasters, cosmic catastrophes and all the other things included in the concept of “natural evils” is to go so far beyond the text as to be irresponsible.
I suggest that one could only even think of the Flood as being some kind of special case of Gen 3.17-19, and therefore what is intended by the lifting of the curse in Gen 8, if one has already made a general corruption of nature part of ones worldview – in other words, if you read it into the Genesis text, rather than out of it.