Saturday, January 2, 2010


Genesis 3-4

The third and fourth chapters of Genesis bring us two stories. The second is Cain and Abel. The first is the central story, the central issue, of both Christianity and Judaism - the fall of man.

To start with, I cannot accept this passage, actually any of the passages in at least the first third of the book of Genesis, as literal history. Setting aside the fact that there was no witness to the creation - at least no human witness - there are issues that arise when comparing these stories with what science tells us about the history of the world, and what common sense tells us. (Did Cain and Seth marry their own sisters, children of Adam and Eve about whom we aren't told? I don't believe that, but some people do.) Certainly, much of the passage reads as history, but not all of it. The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" sounds metaphorical, the "cherubim and flaming sword" guarding Eden sound poetic.

Whether the story of the fall is historical or metaphorical, it is the background assumption for everything that follows. "Since by man came death," wrote Paul to the Corinthians, "by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." And indeed, this 3rd chapter of Genesis also contains the first Biblical allusion to Christ, as God addresses the serpent:
I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
Certainly, "her offspring" is a foreshadowing of the incarnation, and the crushing of the serpent's head represents Christ's ultimate victory over death.

Are we all tainted by "original sin?" J.I. Packer, in Concise Theology, describes original sin as the doctrine that
makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin...[and] it derives to us in a real though mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God.
It's a doctrine that has always bothered me. But I certainly cannot argue that I'm aware of any counter-examples that falsify it. Well, other than Jesus, of course. I will say that as I age, I become more aware of my own shortcomings, moral and otherwise, and if "total depravity" and "original sin" aren't technically accurate terms, well, they'll do until we figure out what the correct terms are.

The story of Cain and Abel - that I don't really know what to do with. If it's not historical, if it is supposed to be a metaphor, well, I don't understand what the metaphor is1. All I have are questions. Why was Cain's offering rejected? Who was the mark of Cain supposed to protect him from? What is the lesson here?

OK, on one more re-reading (this time in the NIV) something stands out that didn't when I read the KJV. In verse 7, the Lord says to Cain, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." This is the free will argument. We are faced with the world, and many choices. Cain chose wrong, he did not master his sin, and was punished as a result. Is this just an extension of the lesson of chapter 3? Punishment comes to those who do not follow God's will.

Well, maybe...

Proverbs 2

You receive wisdom,
keep it with you,
seek after it,
cry out for it
you will understand the fear of the Lord
The Lord
gives wisdom,
keeps the paths of judgement,
preserves the way of his Saints (his faithful ones)

If the first chapter focuses on or describes the "why" of the book, much of this chapter seems to focus on the "why" of wisdom itself. Clearly, the implication is that this books contains, not the wisdom of Solomon, but the wisdom of God himself. A wisdom that is a gift from God used for the support and protection of those faithful to him, AND a gift that God provides to those who seek it. who cry out for it.

This wisdom enables its recipient to avoid "the evil man" and "the strange woman." The evil man is easy enough to understand - he's one of those
13 who leave the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,

14 who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,

15 whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.

The "strange woman" is a temptress, a seductress. Sometimes, she's literally a seductress, but at others, I think, "she" is just a wrong choice. A bad religion, a pagan idol, a path that the "evil man" presents in a tempting form.

Is the "Land" here symbolic language for "God's Land," that is to say, Eden or heaven itself? It seems as if it might be...

1 - As I said up-front, this is for me, by me, and I'm untrained. I would imagine that this passage is well-understood, and probably fits nicely into a Theology or History of the Bible 101 course somewhere. I don't have this common knowledge.

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