exile

Peter Enns compares Adam’s banishment from Eden to Israel’s exile, in this mind-expanding talk which I greatly enjoyed. It will, of course, ruffle all sorts of conservative feathers. In bringing out a few highlights, I seek intellectual honesty.

Claim:  “Genesis reads well as an Israel-centred story on a universal stage, and this makes timelines less tense”.

  • Genesis 1: cosmos and humanity, (however many) years ago.
  • Genesis 2: subset of humanity, 6000 years, etc.

Question: Were Adam and Eve:

  • Naieve children, learning? (Irenaus)
  • Perfect humans? (Augustine)

Detour: Why would God say “I withhold from you any knowledge of good and evil?” No parent would wish ignorance for their kids. Proverbs describes wisdom as a tree of life, and rightly desirable. But Eve’s choice is quintessential non-wisdom. Knowledge isn’t the problem, it’s how you get it.

Individual Choice:

  • Cain kills his brother, but Adam’s original sin doesn’t get the blame. Cain could have chosen differently just like his father.
  • The Flood is not God saying “I have to kill everyone because of what Adam did.” People make individual bad choices, and an individual righteous man (Noah) is a fresh start.

Pauline Assertions:

  • For Paul, Adam is the first human.
  • But the Old Testament Adam is not Paul’s Adam.
  • The Old Testament giving of the law assumes the feasibility of obedience; Paul’s idea of being enslaved to sin is foreign to the OT.
  • Does Adam ever do what Paul says he does?
  • Not unlike us, Paul inherits a cosmology and a tradition about Adam.
  • Paul engages with Genesis, asking (as we do) primarily “what does it mean now?”, not “what did it mean back then?”
  • Paul re-reads the OT knowing “how the story ends”: Resurrection is his starting point.
  • Paul teases things out of the OT in service of Christ, in a way no one else could have done.
  • Romans is not a book about how to get saved, but about how Jews and Gentiles (and we) can co-exist as one people.
  • Paul is wrong about the cause of the problem, but right about the problem and the solution: sin and death are real regardless of the cause we attribute it to
  • Paul uses Adam creatively: I can forgive Paul for mis-reading Adam

Conclusion: You can’t just graft evolution together with traditional theology. You have to think hard, and be deliberate and careful. All of our theology is provisional.

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