Adam, Eve, & the Seed of Violence

So last time we discussed how in the first two chapters of Genesis, there are two variations of the theme of creation. The first variation comes in Genesis 1 and ends in chapter 2, v. 4 of Genesis 2. This narrative happens in 7 days, different categories of animals are created on different days or at different times in the day, and male and female human beings were created together. The name for God in this first story is Elohim, translated simply as God in English. This narrative is stylistically very poetic, lofty, and structured. It is called the Priestly text.

The second variation is called the Yahwist text. It begins in Genesis 2, v. 5. It uses the name Yahweh for God instead of Elohim. In English-translations of the Bible, Yahweh is translated as Lord or Lord God. Stylistically, the Yahwist text is pretty straighforward prose, not poetic or lofty linguistically like the Priestly text. The order of creation is different. The male, Adam, is created first, then all land animals all at the same time, then the female, Eve, is created out of Adam’s rib.

Today, we are going to look at the story of Adam and Eve. Their story comes from that 2nd story, the Yahwist text. You will notice the name for God is Lord or Lord God in your English translations.

Now, I was always taught that this story described the birth of sin, the arrival of the first example of sin on earth which gave way to the arrival of sin itself on earth. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command after being tempted by a serpent, which many see as satan in earthly form. In eating the forbidden fruit sin entered the world, a world God created without sin. This interpretation is pretty standard fare for traditional, orthodox Evangelicals.

That is why I was surprised one day when I talked with fellow theology student friend of mine who happened to be Jewish. He informed me that this is not the Jewish interpretation of Adam and Eve at all. For Jews, the story of Adam and Eve is not the story of the Fall. In fact, it is not even the first sin to some Jews that are literalist as far as the Hebrew text goes. The first time the Hebrew word for sin appears is not in the story of Adam and Eve but in the story of Cain and Abel which we will discuss next time.

I am going to give my intepretation of this story borrowing from the Jewish reading of it as well as the Christian.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of the creation of sin’s seed. Adam and Eve’s disobedience is not the weed born from the seed, it is no the weed of sin per se, but is the seed that gives way to the weed of sin.

That seed of sin is not some foreign thing to us. It is not an Adam and Eve only kind of thing. Adam and Eve are us. The seed of sin is something we must all be careful to not create in ourselves.

Now, I realize the word “sin” is hard for some people to hear for it brings up religious baggage and memories of fire, brimstone, and damnation. So let me use another term for sin - separation from God. Sin equals separation from God whom we are meant to be united with.

What is that seed of seperation from God? Well, to answer this we must look at the two trees mentioned in Genesis. Understanding the significance of these two trees and what they symbolize is the key to understanding what the seed of seperation from God means.

The seed of seperation from God begins with a discontentment with who we are created to be.

What grabs Adam and Eve’s attention right away is the serpent’s hitting their discontentment button. It is as if the serpent is saying, yeah, I can see you are not happy being who you are. Don’t you want to be something else, something much better. Don’t you want to be the greatest? Don’t you want to be a god?

If Adam and Eve were content and lived contented lives and were happy with what they had and were, there would be no temptation here. But there is some discontentment, some dissatisfactoriness there and the serpent goes straight for the bullseye.

Buddhism calls this nagging sense of discontentment or dissatisfactoriness with the way things are and who we are, “the roots of our suffering.” The beginnings of the seed of seperation from God in Genesis 3 says something very similar. What gives way to the seed of sin is our nagging sense of discontentment with God’s creation and with who we were created to be.

The second element in the seed of seperation from God is the desire to know good and evil as opposed to simply doing good.

The serpent doubles the temptation by saying, yes, you are not happy with the way things are or who you are, you want to be greater. Why not come to know like God knows, beginning with knowing good and evil?

The thing about the knowledge of good and evil is that it is the “and evil” that is problematic. God created the universe and declared it “good.” Adam and Eve knew good, they experienced good all around them. They did not, however, know evil. There was no evil. There was no splitting of the world into two competing sides as in good vs. evil.

God knew this division could be a reality. God knew evil was a possibility and that this would split the world into two fighting sides. God knew violence would soon follow behind.

This was not the way God wanted it.

God wanted knowledge of good. God also wanted and wants knowledge of who He is. The well-loved verse in Psalms 45 says, “be still and know that I am God.” That’s what God intends for us to know. Know God. Not good and evil first and foremost, but God first and foremost, letting the rest happen naturally.

God also intended for us to be doers of good not philosophers trying to understand the nature of good vs. evil.

All we need to know God gave us to know. We are to be stewards, doing good and being God’s handmaidens of good on earth.

What’s more, knowing godly wisdom in an intellectual way is insufficient. This kind of head-knowledge is cheap. We don’t need to know godly wisdom as much as we need to recieve godly wisdom into our hearts and let it overflow in our actions.

The Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn had this saying, “Only Don’t Know Mind.” The idea is that ignorance, ignorance when it come to things like defining God or defining the meaning of the infinite, ignorance of brain concepts and notions is indeed bliss. There is a freedom in loosening our discursive focus, our intellectualizing, our attachment to concepts and notions.

God doesn’t want us to know good and evil. God wants us to do good and be goodness.

Adam and Eve make their fateful decision. They let their deep discontentment, their desire to know wisdom instead of doing wisdom, and their egotistical desire for divinity get the best of them. And they make that fated decision to eat from the tree of knowledge. The seeds of seperation from God are at that point planted in the soil of the human heart.

What is the result of this in our narrative? Well, God makes an interesting decision in response. God declared to Adam and Eve if you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will surely die on that day.  This doesn’t happen. The traditional Christian reading says that spiritual death happened. But there is no indication of spiritual death in the original Hebrew. It is literal death in the Hebrew. And there are hints of violent death.

Why doesn’t this happen? God chooses nonviolence, God chooses grace, God chooses life.

There is a consequence, however. God describes how human life will now include hard labor and suffering. There is now suffering born of human discontentment, a desire to know it all and be powerful.

There is another consequence. Adam and Eve are pushed out of the Garden of Eden and refused return. God doesn’t leave them. But being united with God outside the Garden is now harder. The seed of separation of God is now planted in the human soul.

The traditional Christian interpretation of this is that this removal from the Garden is a punishment. But  there is actually something else going on. Verses 22-23 of Genesis 3 tells us what that is, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.”

God fears Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Life which would grant human’s immortality. This means humans would be even more akin to God and angels which they weren’t meant to be. Like a good, loving Father, God moves them out of Eden to remove them from the temptation of being so close to the Tree of Life.

Again, to close, I remind you that the Hebrew text of Genesis 3 does not call Adam and Eve’s fateful act “sin.” Certainly, it was not what God wanted and was ill-fated though some interpreters say Adam and Eve’s decision was admirable for it was an act of human beings asserting their independence and autonomy and seeking to know more than they knew.

Whatever the case may be,  it doesn’t reach the level of calling it out as “sin” in the text. That is why I have called Adam and Eve’s fateful decision the planting of the seed of seperation from God. Buddhism calls this the beginning of karma.

It is in Genesis 4 and the story of Cain and Abel where the word “sin” first is expressed. From the seed of separation from God sprouts the lethal weed of violence. Cain’s killing of his brother marks the first act of violence in human history, according to Genesis.

Here, we see separation from God and violence inextricably linked. And we will look at that in two weeks.

Nonviolent Beginnings: Genesis 1-2 & Big Bang

Image result for big bang theory
In the beginning, God created. That is how the Bible begins. Pretty straightforward. 6 days of work, the 7th day, one of rest. Children Bible Story books begin with the same basic story.
In reality, the Bible itself is not so straightforward. From the very beginning, this is true. It is as if the authors are saying, from the get-go, the Bible is a bit more complicated than a children’s story. The Bible is more a 67 year-old newly divorced with no children looking to retire but too lonely to do it than it is a 40 year-old married man with 2 kids, a nice job, nice house, nice life.
We see this complexity in Gen. 1-2. The Bible doesn’t begin with one creation story. It has 2. If you look at the text deeply this becomes pretty obvious. There are 2 stories.
The 1st is Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3. It is the story we usually think of. God created the earth in six days.
1.   day & night
2.   separating of water of ground and water of air
3.   land, ocean, grass, herbs, trees, fruit, seed
4.   sun, moon, other stars
5.   fish and birds
6.   land animals, humans (“male and female”)
7.   God rested
Let’s focus on that first story a little bit.
There is a frequent refrain during those 6 days of creation in Genesis 1. You might miss it or ignore it. But it is important. In the Bible, repetition means extra important. The phrase in English is “It was good.” The refrain happens 6 times. Vs. 4, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31 (indeed very good)
According to traditional theism, the only thing perfectly good is God. God equals Perfect Good. Perfect Good creates and then declares that creation good. From perfect Good comes what is good. This good overflows from what is Perfect Good. It can be no different. “It was good” is merely stating the obvious. The purpose is to highlight it. Creation is good. Creation possesses God’s goodness. Just as the artist’s heart, soul, and mind lives and breathes in that artist’s masterpiece, God’s’ whole being – God’s goodness and love – lives and breathes in God’s masterpiece, the universe we see all around us.
Another crucial refrain to note is the refrain in v. 26-27, “Created in God’s image.”
In the Bible, repetition means something is extra-important. The language of man being equated with the image of God is used 3 times in just a short paragraph basically.
SO all of creation – sky, land, animas, plants, waters, etc. – is good.
Human beings are not only good but also created in God’s image.
We are moving pictures of God, icons of God. We are God’s self-portrait. We are, to use current lingo, God’s selfie.
What does this mean though for us? Well, the fact that this refrain comes in the middle of God the artist creating God’s Masterpiece is important. God’s creativity is the first characteristic that is introduced to us in the Bible. We should not dismiss the significance of this. The primary characteristic in God, in Genesis 1, is that creativity is essential, fundamental to God. The Bible begins by showing God as the King of Creativity, as the Spirit of creativity itself.
As God’s self portrait here, the characteristic that most striking in us, what distinguishes us from the rest of creation, is our gift of creativity. No, I am not talking human reproduction. All living things do this. I am talking about the creative spark humans know and are born with – all children love to color, right? I am talking about a creative mind that comes up with the perfect and world-changing mathematic equation. E=MC2. I am talking about a creative spirit that composes the emotionally complete symphony known simply as the 9th. A creative heart that creates a vignette of an image with just a woman’s face smiling slightly, a woman known as Mona Lisa. A creative soul who takes the very basic poetic form of the iambic pentameter and renovates it with images and humanity and humor that yell-out Emily Dickinson.
Human creativity, human ingenuity, and adaptability – this is what makes us stand out. That is why we are at evolutionary at the top of the pyramid, for better or worse. And this makes sense. Creativity – and love - is what we share with God. We were created to be creative.
So this is the first creation narrative in Genesis. The 2nd narrative comes in Genesis 2. We see the shift in vs. 3 and 4 of chapter 2…
How do we know there are two stories? Well, you may have noted the difference in order of creation. In story 1, we have fish and birds on day 5. Then land animals in the first part of day 6. Humans, male and female together, come in the 2nd part of day 6.
In story 2, we have Adam, the male, created first. Then we have all the animals created together at the same time in no particular order. Then we have Eve created out of Adam’s rib.

Story 1 -- birds and fish, land animals, Adam and Eve together.
Story 2 -- Adam, all animals, Eve

The other difference in the stories that tell us they are 2 unique stories combined together is the language. Genesis 1 is very poetic and elegant in the original Hebrew. Genesis 2 is pretty straightforward prose. Genesis 1 is a poetic. Genesis 2 is prose.
Lastly, and maybe most clear, is the names of God the 2 stories use. Story 1 uses the name Elohim for God. Elohim was a name used exclusively by Priests. Hence the first creation narrative in Genesis 1 scholars have deemed the Priestly Source.
The 2nd story uses Yahweh which is translated as Lord God in most English translations as opposed to just God. This 2nd narrative is called the Yahwist source.

The final thing I want to mention is a 3rd creation story. This one is not from the Bible but from science. It is known as Big Bang theory.
What often surprises people about the Big Bang theory is that the theory no longer submits that there was a big bang as in an explosion. Big Bang sounds violent, and many presume it was. But the Big Bang theory does not include an explosion. The Big Bang theory is all about expansion, not explosion. 

The idea is that the universe began with a singular point. We might use the metaphor of a seed. But from this point of singularity, from the infinitely dense and hot seed there came a quick expansion and a cooling. It is as if the seed metamorphosed into a tree quickly. Imagine a popcorn kernel popping. That popping is the big bang. From the metaphorical seed the universe developed and expanded and it is still developing and expanding.  
We now come to the theme of the new series that looks at the Bible through the lens of nonviolence.
While the Bible is often seen as a violent book by the non-religious, this perception is like many people’s view of the Big Bang as a violent explosion – not so simple or simplistic.
The creation story shows God created the world nonviolently. The Big Bang also shows nonviolence in the beginning.
What’s more, God not only created the world nonviolently, God created the world to be nonviolent.
The Garden of Eden is what God envisioned when creating the masterpiece known as the universe. Harmony. Sharing. Companionship. Peace. Relationship.
Violence becomes the exception to the rule a little later, in the story of Cain and Abel. And with this first exception, the snowball effect began and violence entered our vocabulary. 
But that was not the design. And it continues to not be the design. The design was good and remains good. It is we who fall short. It is we who don’t follow the design, who miss the mark and the markers of the design. The Christian tradition calls this missing of the mark “sin.”
We will discuss this thing the Bible calls “sin” in a couple weeks.   

Is the Bible the Word of God?

READING (unison): John 1

1 In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2     He was with God in the beginning.

3 All things came to be through him,

    and without him nothing made had being.

4 In him was life,

    and the life was the light of mankind.

5 The l ight shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness has not suppressed it.

14 The Word became a human being and lived with us,

    and we saw his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth

16 We have all received from his fullness,

    yes, grace upon grace.

17 For the Torah was given through Moses;

    grace and truth came through Jesus the Messiah.

REFLECTION: “Is the Bible the Word of God?”

We often hear the Bible referred to as the Word of God. I grew up hearing the phrase. It is the preferred definition for the Bible for many Evangelicals.

As we just read, in John 1 Christ is declared to be the Word of God. Christ is Logos, which is the Greek word translated “Word.” Logos means Divine Reason, or godly reason. According to John 1, Christ is Logos, divine reason, godly reason, and that Logos is revealed. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Who or what is right? Is the Bible the Word of God or is Christ the Word of God? Is the Bible as the Word of God and Christ as the Word of God one and the same thing? Or different?

In our look at the Bible and the various understandings of the Bible, we get answers.

Any discussion of the development of the Bible must begin with Judaism. What is the Old Testament for Christians, what is the first part of a two part Bible is the one and only Bible for Jews. And of course, the Hebrew Bible was written in Old Hebrew. The Hebrew original is considered the sacred text of Judaism.

It should be noted that the Jewish tradition does have a hierarchy when it comes to its Bible. The Torah, which is the first 5 books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, reigns supreme. 2nd in line comes the Prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, all the way to Malachi). Last comes the books known as the Writings, the Poetic books – Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc. And that is the way the Bible is arranged for Jews – Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.

That brings us to the Christian Bibles. Yes, I said Bibles. For as we will see, there are three major renditions.

When Jesus, Paul, and the disciples referred to scripture, they meant the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. That was the only scripture they had. Beginning with acceptance of Paul’s letters and the Gospels as authoritative and correct in doctrine, which happens in the early 200’s, the New Testament was born.

The original language of the New Testament, the language the authors wrote in, was Greek with a little Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, thrown in.   

We do not have any of those original Greek texts of the New Testament. We have copies of copies of copies of that original. The oldest Greek Bibles were hand copied – no copy machines or printing press yet - in the 300s. These are the various Codexi (Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus).  

Another Bible-y term you often hear is the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate is the first Bible to be translated. It was translated from the Greek into Latin, the language of the Roman church. This Latin translation of the Greek Bible happened in the late 300’s.

The Latin Vulgate is what the translators of the famous King James Version of the Bible primarily used to do their translation. Interestingly, because the Latin Vulgate, a Roman Catholic project, included the Apocrypha, you see them in the early King James Bibles. The Apocrypha are books you see in some study Bibles that sit between the Old and New Testaments. Judaism did not accept them as part of their Bible. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox did. And Anglicans, the English church, King James’ church, did at this time as well. So you see in the earliest copies of the King James Bible these books.

My brother is a King James Only proponent, which basically means only the King James version is the only real, authoritative Bible. So when I was in seminary I took him to see one of the earliest King James copies which my seminary houses. We were both shocked to see the Apocrypha books there.

Anyway, as you know, there are a number of English translations of the Bible in addition to the 1611 translation of the King James version. This pew Bibles have a few examples –
The post-King James translations primarily use the earliest Greek manuscripts as opposed to the Latin Vulgate.
So we have four official renditions of the Bible.

1.) The Jewish Bible known as the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible. Protestants know it as the Old Testament. While Protestants arrange it differently, the same books are included. The Apocrypha books are not included. And the Torah – the first 5 books - is absolutely central.

The following three are the Christian forms.

2.) Then there are the Roman Catholic Bible that include the Apocrypha books scattered in with the Hebrew Bible or what we know as the Old Testament books. So the books of Tobit and Judith are in the Roman Catholic Old Testament.

3.) The Eastern Orthodox is basically the Roman Catholic Bible with 3 more Apocrypha books

4.) The Protestant Bible is the Old Testament without the Apocrypha books and the New Testament.

So that is a short layout of the Bible. But back to our questions. Do any of the traditions mentioned above see the Bible as the primary Word of God?

As for Jews, the Bible, namely Torah, the first five books, is authoritative and essential. We cannot know who God is without knowing Torah, hence the importance placed on studying Torah. For Jews, the Bible is the essential, most sacred story. It is a story that amounts to the key unlocking the doors of Truth.

That said, the vast majority do not view the Bible as the literal words of God. In fact, Jews do not interpret the Bible as completely literal or the Torah as real history. They do not see the Bible as a science textbook either.

Now, in the Torah itself, Moses is said to have written down the words of God that is the Torah. So in the spiritual sense, Torah is the word of God to the Jews in the Jewish tradition.

With the Christian church things change. The early church into the Roman and Eastern church highlight the new creation story found in John 1. John 1 mirrors Genesis 1 and gives us advent, a new view of things. Torah is not the primary word of God any longer, John 1 suggests. Christ is the primary Word of God. Christ fulfills Torah and supersedes it in doing so. 

For these Christians, Christ is the Word of God in the flesh and dwelling among us. This is the new story. This is the new covenant. What Christians see in the incarnation of Christ is a New Torah, a new, living testament. Torah does not disappear, but the lens through which Christians see Torah is the living, breathing Torah that is Christ Jesus.

We no longer need to look merely to words on a page to see God, though this is important. We can look to a person, a man divine yet living like us, with us, among us. Christ is the living word, is Torah embodied and living, Christ is the word that has no periods ending a sentence or an end to a book.

What is the Bible then in this understanding? The Bible are words written by human hands. But God breathed truth and love in the hearts and minds of those humans, inspiring their words. In some sense God forged in the hearts and minds of God-inspirited men and women words, teachings, stories, truths.

But the heart and mind of the words themselves, the point of the words, the aim of the words, the heartbeat of the words found in the Bible is the Word of God, Christ Jesus. The only lasting meaning and significance found in the words those human authors wrote is that they point to Christ.

In the words of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Bible is the verbal icon of Christ. An icon in Eastern Orthodox tradition is a tangible, seeable sacred image that if deeply contemplated and understood leads us to God. Well, the Bible is a verbal icon that if deeply read and contemplated and understood reveals Christ, the Divine Son of God.

So you would never hear an Eastern Orthodox Christian saying the Bible is the Word of God. No, they would say, Kristos is the Word of God, the revelation of God. The Bible is the verbal Icon that helps us to see Kristos.

Finally, it is interesting to me that it is mainly Protestant Christians that have highlighted the Bible as the Word of God. In a sense these Protestants again return to a Jewish way of seeing things. Just as Torah is the Word of God in a spiritual sense for Jews, the Christian Bible is the Word of God in a spiritual sense and for some also in a literal sense.

I worry however about what is lost by the mantra-like statement that the Bible is God’s Word. What is lost is the primary truth of Christ as Logos, as the Word. What is lost is the truth that in the whole of Christ’s life, not just his death and resurrection or in ideas about these things, we have the Word of God embodied and present us. What is lost is the truth that in Christ we have the answer to the eternal question what is God like or what is Perfect Love.

The Bible is only as important as its pointing us to Love, to the Ultimate Lover of humanity, Christ and to our internalizing of the Love of Christ. Not just in a theoretical sense where we spout what we believe about Christ, but in a practical sense where we ourselves embody Christ here and now, where we ourselves become icons of God, who in turn reveal to others the truth of Love. If the Bible doesn’t lead to this happening, it is merely a book of words not a book revealing to us the Word, the one Jesus of Nazareth.