Genesis: Where It All Begins (7)
A Wisdom Story
The account of Adam and Eve in the garden is a story.
It is a story that tells the whole history of Israel in microcosm. It is a story about Israel.
Today we will see that this is a wisdom story.
The quintessential wisdom book in the Bible is Proverbs. The first nine chapters form the introduction of the book, and here is a summary of what those chapters teach.
This book is designed to instruct “the simple” (the young, morally unformed, susceptible to temptation) to listen to and follow “wisdom” (fear the Lord and follow his instructions), because listening to wisdom is the path to “life” and failing to do so leads to “death.”
It should, because that is the exact story of Adam and Eve.
The story of Adam and Eve has been often portrayed as the story of two sinless people in perfect conditions who “fell” into a state of corruption and mortality and plunged all creation into a corrupt state because of rebellion. But “fall” is not really the best description, or at least the most accurate description of what this story teaches.
Instead, this is a story of two children who fail to grow up and follow the teaching of their parents. Genesis 3 tells how God set boundaries for two children (or adolescents, as Irenaeus suggested) who are “simple” — youthful, naïve, inexperienced, morally unformed, and susceptible to temptation.
- Look at them: “naked and not ashamed,” like children who don’t even know enough to be embarrassed as they frolic about without clothing.
- Look at them: enticed by a treat that looks good, that promises to taste good, something that engages a childlike curiosity which knows no caution.
- Look at them: easily distracted from their parent’s warning by a cleverer, wiser tempter.
- Look at them: persuaded into transgressing the boundaries set for them without even thinking.
[T]he Adam story is not about a fall down from perfection, but a failure to grow up to godly wisdom and maturity. Adam and Eve weren’t like perfect super humans. They were like young, naïve children, who were meant to grow into obedience, but were tricked into following a different path.
. . . The serpent tricked Adam and Eve into gaining wisdom too soon, apart from God’s way. They were naïve children who did not have the shrewdness to withstand the serpent’s craftiness. They should have just trusted their maker. The knowledge of good and evil isn’t wrong, but getting it free from God’s direction is death. Without the maturity that comes from obeying God, Adam and Eve can’t handle the truth (said in our best Jack Nicholson voice).
This is the point of this story: the choice put before Adam and Eve is the same choice put before Israel every day: learn to listen to God and follow in his ways and then— only then— you will live. The story of Adam and Eve makes this point in the form of a story; Proverbs makes it in the form of wisdom literature; Israel’s long story in the Old Testament makes it in the form of history writing.
• Byas and Enns, Genesis for Normal People
This story was intended first for Israel, who throughout their history followed the same patterns set by Adam and Eve and then by their children Cain and Abel and were likewise sent off into exile from God’s good land.
But one effect of reading this as a wisdom story is that it tends to universalize its message. Whether Jew or Gentile, we recognize ourselves in the stories of Adam and Eve and their children. Adam is everyman. And Eve is everywoman. These stories reveal the universal human susceptibility to temptation. We all show ourselves to be simpletons, in need of divine wisdom.
We all need to learn: “Trust in the Lord with a whole heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).
Recently, we’ve had a lot of discussion about “original sin” and “total depravity” in our comment section. Those doctrines presume that Adam and Eve “fell” and that event changed everything. From then on, all their descendants were born with a sinful nature and started out “dead in sin.”
Reading this as a wisdom story leads to a different conclusion. The Bible doesn’t tell us where sin came from. But it does tell us that each human being is susceptible to giving in to temptation and choosing ways other than God’s. And that every human does that. After Adam, “death spread to all because all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).
As James writes: “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” Most people see James as a NT “wisdom” book, and in this section of his epistle he appears to be reflecting upon Genesis. Adam and Eve had what it took to sin from the beginning, and so do each of us. What their story teaches us is that we are all “simple” like them, susceptible to making sinful choices, and so we stand in constant need of God’s wisdom.
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