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.