I have been meeting with a study group and the topic for one of our meetings was original sin. The conversation started out, of course, in Genesis and the Garden of Eden where Adam is said by later biblical authors to have committed the first ('original') sin that wrecked things for the rest of us. It seemed like most people in our group believed that the story of Adam and Eve was to be taken literally and embraced the notion that the human race spiritually 'fell' as a result of Adam's disobedient fruit-eating.
I may post some thoughts on 'original sin' sometime in the future, but for now I just want to hone in on the story of the Garden of Eden itself. My view is that taking the story literally and adding other 'literal' embellishments robs the story of its original intended meaning and its metaphorical richness.
Just for background, here is the story line:
- Yahweh creates first man and woman in the Garden.
- Yahweh tells the man that he can eat anything in the garden except for the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and that if he disobeys, he will die.
- Yahweh makes all of the animals in an attempt to find a mate for the man, but none of the animals quite fit the bill, so Yahweh makes a woman for the man.
- The serpent (truthfully) tells the woman that God is not telling the truth about the fruit and that she will not die if she eats it, but will become like God and know good from evil.
- The woman eats the fruit and gives some to the man. Neither one dies and both know good from evil as evidenced by their sudden awareness that they are naked.
- Yahweh is upset with them, but makes some clothes for them and sends them out of the garden so that they will not be able to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever like Yahweh and his heavenly court. ("Then Yahweh God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever -- therefore Yahweh God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken")
So the point of the story is that, for some reason, Yahweh and his heavenly court did not want man to possess two god-like powers: knowing right from wrong and the ability to live forever. Despite this, man acquired one of the god-like powers, the ability to discern right from wrong, but still lacks the ability to live forever.
The story seems to have been written to explain how man finds himself in his unique predicament in the world:
- He alone among the animals has a transcendent sense of 'right and wrong', the ability to reason and a sense of shame.
- But he is also alone in realizing that he will eventually die.
- The 'fall' of man. Man didn't fall, he was chased out of a garden.
- The acquisition of a 'sin nature'. There is nothing to indicate anything about this. The man was disobedient, but, from the elements of the story, could not have known that disobedience was 'sinful' or 'wrong', since he could not discern good from evil until after he ate the fruit.
- The 'serpent' was the Devil. There is no indication of this in the story and the serpent did not deceive the man or the woman.
- Man died 'spiritually' when he at the fruit. The notion of 'spiritual death' is non-existent among the writers of the first five books of the Bible. In their world-view, man lives, dies and returns to the dust. The spirit of man is his 'breath'. When he ceases to breathe, that's the end of his 'spirit'.
But the use of the Garden story by later writers doesn't mean that they are given carte blanche to co-opt or change the original meaning of the story. Doing so is an injustice to the original author of the story because many times it obscures the theological point he or she was trying to make. To me, each biblical author deserves to be able to tell their own story in the context in which they intended it. Comments?