When I wrote my review of Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins a couple of weeks ago, I was discouraged by how much I had to excise to keep it accessible. So I hope to keep talking in the coming weeks about points or sections of the book that I liked but didn’t seem to fit with where the review ultimately went.
One of those is Enns’ treatment on pages 82-92 of what Genesis 2-3 – the “fall of man” – might have actually been saying to its readers. Because here are two phrases you don’t find in that passage: “original sin” or “fall.”
In fact, the first use of the word “fall” to describe what happened in the Garden of Eden doesn’t come until about 500 years after the birth of Christ – as many as 1,000 years after Genesis is compiled in its final form. Augustine of Hippo (the St. Augustine) uses the phrase, and it’s probably not coincidental that he was writing during the fall of the Roman Empire. Our experiences shape our reading of any text, including scripture. The events of Augustine’s day, with an assist from Paul in the New Testament, shaped how he read Genesis 2-3, and therefore shaped how we read it, too.
As Enns argues,
[W]hat is missing from the Old Testament is any indication that Adam’s disobedience is the cause of universal sin, death and condemnation, as Paul seems to argue. In fact, even though death is mentioned as a consequence in Genesis 2:17 and 3:19, the Old Testament nowhere returns to this scene, though there is ample opportunity. If Adam’s disobedience lies at the root of universal sin and death, why does the Old Testament never once refer to Adam in this way?
All italics are the author’s; all bolding is mine.
Enns uses this to begin talking about Paul’s creative interpretation of the Eden story, arguing Paul extrapolates a theology the Old Testament itself does not support. I touched on that somewhat in the review, so I want instead to look at the question this paragraph raises: If Genesis 2-3 don’t actually support a reading centered on the fall of humanity and the doctrine of original sin – if they aren’t even historically true – what are those chapters saying?
I have an interest in this topic because I wrote a paper on it last semester. Before I get into that, we’ll let Enns have the floor.