Hating Religion, Loving Jesus, Accepting Imperfection

You’ve likely seen Jeff Bethke’s YouTube video that juxtaposes Jesus and religion in a poem/rap. If somehow you’re not one of the nearly 20 million people to watch it, check it out above. Certainly it exploded across my Facebook feed this winter, and the reactions raised from undying adoration to dismissive antipathy.

I confess that after I watched it, I felt more of the latter than the former. My objection, like many others, centered on Bethke’s seemingly poor understanding and/or lazy use of the word “religion” and its cliched juxtaposition with Jesus. “Jesus came to abolish religion,” Bethke stated, and it’s the curse of the journalist-academician to want to correct the sentence to add: “some forms of”.

Continue reading

Sex in the Garden?: Enns Review Redux, Part 2

Here’s a question to chew on:

If, as is commonly believed in Christianity, Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden allowed sin and death to enter the world, then why did they need a tree of life in the first place? Further, if death didn’t exist before they ate the forbidden fruit, why do they seem to know what it means to die when God and the serpent discuss it as the penalty for their disobedience?

These questions indicate to me that Genesis 2–3 do not necessarily argue for the traditional interpretation they have been given: that the Garden of Eden story is a historically based explanation for the doctrine of original sin, i.e., the “fall of man.”

One thing Peter Enns does not detail in The Evolution of Adam as much as I would have liked (review | redux Part 1) is the increasing diversity of interpretations we are now seeing surround this story. For about 1,500 years or so, the dominant belief of the fall of man and the doctrine of original sin have held sway, thanks largely to the creative work of Paul and Augustine.

That has changed in recent decades, pushed largely by the advent of critical scholarship and new scientific discoveries in the 19th century.

Continue reading

What Really Happened in the Garden?: Enns Review Redux, Part 1

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.

Continue reading

A Tough Job

Our professor in class talked about the two kinds of wisdom presented by the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament – constructive and deconstructive. The former is found mostly in Proverbs. It contains keys for “the good life,” maxims that generally prove true and provide glimpses into how to be successful and happy during your time on earth.

But most of the biblical Wisdom literature is actually deconstructive – describing or questioning the fact that, for many people who do the right things, the good life doesn’t actually happen. Instead, they suffer and die. These texts can be stupefyingly depressing, especially so in Ecclesiastes:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no one to comfort them. Their oppressors wield power—but they have no one to comfort them. So I declare that the dead, who have already died, are more fortunate than the living, who are still alive. But happier than both are those who have never existed, who haven’t witnessed the terrible things that happen under the sun.

Happy Monday!

In truth, the Wisdom texts of the Bible appear to be in conversation with each other, and the conclusion they reach is unsatisfying. Because they ultimately do not reach a conclusion, do they? Sometimes we think they do – we’ve probably been taught that they do – but what is it?

Continue reading