Books and Culture Hosts Online Symposium on Adam and Eve | The BioLogos Forum

Please, would you explain why you couldn’t believe in this text? And I am sorry but, can we really choose what to believe and not to believe, in the Bible? Maybe there’s somewhere a verse where it is stated that we can take jumps on verses that we don’t like or understand. Cordially.

I interpreted ‘eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ as acquiring a conscience, and this implies that as true humans, Adam and Eve had risen above the animal nature from which they evolved. That seems to me to be a gift from God, not a reason for banishment from Eden. Is there any way to interpret it differently?
Al Leo

Thank you Aleo for your answer. I don’t want to begin here a whole new subject on the Tree of Knowledge of God. I was just wanting to know if there is a base in the Bible to take such jumps that permit you believe or not believe in some specific texts. I kindly ask you again for a biblical support for such a maneuver.

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would you please show me where did I use the word “sin”.

Thank you.

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English is not my mother language, so I am sure I misunderstood Al’s expression I copied above. That’s where I got my misunderstanding. Al intended to mean “I couldn’t persuade myself” but I understood it as “I couldn’t believe it”. That changes the whole sense of the expression. So, @Aleo, apologies for my confusion.

@piopio @eddie
I could have made it clearer. I meant I was not comfortable incorporating that passage into my ‘world outlook’ (Weltanschauung). Acquiring knowledge of any kind is never evil in itself; what you do with that knowledge can be, however. Example: In WWII the Manhatten project acquired the knowledge of how to harness atomic power. Now we wish we could ‘un-learn’ how to use that power to build bombs. Learning from the Bible (or the Koran) has helped millions of people to lead better lives, but misinterpreting its meaning has led to much harm.
Al Leo

Maybe Aleo’s problem arose from an overly-prescriptive interpretation of that verse within Catholic teaching (can’t say I’m qualified to know); but I do know that there was much fruitful discussion over the millennia about just what its implications are. To reject a failed interpretation is a different beast from seeking to reinterpret Scripture because its own interpretation is doubted.

Thirty years ago I remember being in a sermon-preparation group, and coming to the position that, in the context, a likely meaning was that the error in question from “eating the fruit” was deciding for oneself (apart from God) what was good and evil - this being practised in the very act of disobeying God by doing what he had said was harmful. More to do with damaging conscience than acquiring it.

Decades later John Walton’s position is that the phrase “good and evil” is almost certainly an ANE idiom for “wisdom”. That’s information older interpreters (like my group!) didn’t have, but it amounts to much the same - seeking to acquire wisdom (a good thing) apart from communion with God. That would square well with the common biblical theme that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, and with the skepticism about human wisdom is many OT and NT passages. In other words, such an interpretation doesn’t stand in isolation, but is in harmony with a major biblical theme - wisdom (= right living) with or without God. Moses was not simply being a jerk.

My point is that our difficulties arise from ignorance. If that drives us to the Anselmian ideal of “faith seeking understanding” we’ll often become enlightened, sometimes remain puzzled, but always remain patient and faithful. If we lose patience and start to judge the Scripture’s inspiration instead of our own ignorance, we act in a very different spirit. We don’t do much better if we wrest Scripture into compliance with whatever interpretation fits our current beliefs in other areas - especially science.

@Jon_Garvey @Eddie
As a ‘cradle Catholic’, the religious environment I was exposed to (if I understood it correctly) was: “The Bible is a holy, inspired book, but passages in the OT are especially easy to misinterpret. Nevertheless, you can rely on the wise Church Fathers to present to you the Truth that it contains in the form of Creeds and the catechism.” Of course when I reached adulthood and wanted to think for myself, I then realized that this attitude was too much like censorship and was an important motivation for the Reformation.

Having the OT and NT in print (and now online) and so readily available to every Christian did not solve the problem, of course. It did encourage lively and (most often, thoughtful) dialog, as the responses to this BioLogos blog can attest. In order to avoid sin, it seems logical to try to learn how sin entered into this world and Genesis is the obvious OT source. But even amongst recognized Scripture scholars there is wide disagreement. If we look too closely at the bark of one tree, are we missing the message that the entire forest has for us?

My amateurish search indicates that scholars appear to be in agreement that parts of Genesis were first conceived when Jewish theology was still in a relatively primitive stage (J for Javist) and that later documents, Elohist with modern theology, were blended in to produce the final written form sometime during (or shortly after) the Babylonian exile. Tenmant characterizes J’s conception of Jahveh as “possessing many purely human characteristics.” In matters of knowledge (the Tree of Life; the Tower of Babel) “He (Jahveh) is jealous of man’s encroachment on His prerogatives of knowledge and immortality.” At least science has provided us with a view of the universe that forces us to be more humble.

In view of this, I must ask: Can we be putting too much weight on ‘sola scriptura’? Did each of these (many) contributors to Genesis receive direct inspiration from God? How does their inspiration compare with folks today who strive to use Faith seeking Understanding? What was Solomon’s meaning in the passage, "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Is this a prophesy intended for the Atomic Age we are living in? Oppenheimer: "In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose."
Al Leo


If one classes critical biblical scholarship as “scientific”, one needs to recognise that, like other science, it has faith commitments underlying its paradigms. Kuhn and others have shown that abundantly. It hasn’t had a reputation, either, for humility over the last century and a half (“assured results” and all that).

One such faith commitment is to a Victorian theory of the evolution of religion, which has never been attested externally as archaeology etc have advanced - for example, the “impossibility” of monotheism in early Israel was overturned by its existence in Egypt under Akhenaten before the Exodus. But that old theory has largely moulded the internal dissection of the OT into the purely hypothetical sources you mention, with the historical reconstruction of both Israel’s religious history and the writing of Scripture sitting on top of that train of externally unverified assumptions. The consensus on sources has been lost - for example a significant strand now places “E” before “J”, so where does that leave the priestly redactors?

Cutting through all that is the teaching on inspiration from the NT writers like Paul, Peter and writer to the Hebrews on Scripture’s inspiration by the Spirit of Jesus - and of course the teaching of Jesus himself in words like “Scripture cannot be broken”. In these founders of our Christianity, one can trace a broad concept of inspiration that encompasses not only the “original” prophetic voices but their circumstances, the circumstances of their scribes and editors, and indeed the whole circumstances of Israel’s history. The net result is that the final locus for the transmission of “the very words of God” (so Paul) is the Scriptures as we have them.

At that point, it seems to me, one faces something of a choice: is ones attitude to Scriptural authority Christological and Apostolic, or are those considerations to be relativised by a continually changing modern scholarship? That’s not to downplay the vital importance of scholarship, but to insist that the faith commitments behind ones paradigms are fully recognised - and prioritised.

Sola Scriptura is often misunderstood. None of the Reformers were “Fundamentalists” in the sense of slam-dunk literalism - even William Tyndale’s understanding of “the literal meaning” was avowedly genre-sensitive. Scripture was finally authoritative, yes - but the Church Fathers as “primitive” authorities were still valued (see the quotes in Calvin), as was Church tradition (eg Creeds), Ecumenical Councils, reason and scientific discoveries too (Calvin again on the relative sizes of Jupiter and the Moon). All these could be guided by God’s Spirit and were taken seriously. But all of them were recognised to be human and fallible - actually a humble position as it meant one was always open to fuller understanding of ones prime material, and should never hold one’s interpretation to be infallible (or even “assured”).

Once Scripture is downgraded from the basic paradigm “men spoke from God”, then inevitably one or more of these human tools will be elevated as judge over it. In our age, of course, the commonest such judge is “science”, whose “Sola Scientia” myth is deeply embedded in our culture.

I’ve read through the two rounds of essays at Bs & C a couple of times, and it seems that the two traditionalists simply say, there is a theological and Biblical necessity for an actual Adam and Eve; therefore we refuse to discuss other considerations from archeology or genetics. Neither makes clear whether they think that their necessary A & E must be the unique ancestors of all humans or not, but since they seem to be committed to the traditional point of view, I would assume they would affirm this. Neither has any comment on why the scientific evidence should be so much at variance with their point of view. You can’t have much of a discussion when one side, in effect, declares their discipline supreme and their point of view definitive, and warns of serious consequences if their point of view doesn’t prevail.

Jon, what’s your take on the specific topic of debate, Adam and Eve? I may have seen you expound on this, but, if so I’ve forgotten what you said.

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I’ve usually avoided launching into the debates here on A&E because the nuances are soon lost in a fog - and in my view, more often through an absolutisation from “science” than a refusal to negotiate from “theology” (though that, I grant, is subjective as there are plenty of comments saying we must retain A&E without accounting for scientific evidence).

I start from asking what the Bible actually affirms: Gen 1 is about the creation of mankind, but it doesn’t define man except in terms of being in the image and likeness of God. It therefore mainly speaks to all humanity now, and gives no grounds whatsoever for deciding whether a particular hominin fossil or genome is “human” - nor even whether a biologically H. sapiens fossil is.

But Gen 1 clearly says that man-in-God’s-image is the act of basic human creation, not merely of subsequent designation. Being like Christ, and being equipped to rule earth on behalf of God, are not biological functions: ergo, the creation of mankind required more than biological evolution, even if it included it. It was also intrinsically teleological, so ones science-faith synthesis must include a theory of teleology or fail to account for creation.

So a model of a bottleneck of 10K “humans” fails to address Gen 1 at the most basic level - what does Genesis mean by human? Numbers of individuals is irrelevant to the creation account of Genesis 1 anyway, which implies simply a population.

Then in Genesis 2 we have a separate account of a single couple - in a clearcut historical, cultural and geographical stting - who are placed in a sacred space in communion with and service of God, and are given access to eternal life. Adam is treated as an archetype for “man” generically - though nothing in the text equates his formation with the Genesis 1 account or states that the “image” originates in him. Nor does Gen 2 define “man” in biological terms. Once again population genetics bottlenecks are simply irrelevant to the text.

But this couple initiates sin by breaking that communion (seeking wisdom outside the intimate tutelage of the Father, as I suggested to Al). Scripture thereafter uniformly attributes our present universal human death and sinfulness to that one fateful act. Furthermore it grounds our salvation in our deliverance from solidarity with Adam (not Eve note, who sinned first - therefore federal headship must be taken into account) to solidarity with Christ, born of Adam (Luke genealogy) but as the God-man a new archetype for all men.

What Adam gave to the race, therefore, was a specific (covenant?) relation with Yahweh - the One true, triune, God - associated with the knowledge of, and desire for, eternal life, but marred by the reality of death and the depravity of sin. How that occurred is not treated, except in making the subsequent account both genealogical and culturally-geographic in nature. What it means to be human in this spiritual sense spreads across the world, and down generations.

A theory like Augustine’s is a reasonable speculation - but another thing that it’s tedious to keep explaining is that his theory is not genetic (again sidelining pop genetics objections) but generic: read Augustine to see the difference: sin spread by intercourse, not inheritance. But absence of a complete theory doesn’t alter the fact that the human race as it is, understood in Genesis 2 terms of eternal life, communion with God and sin, is monogenic (though not necessarily monogenetic).

A parallel would be that all Israel are sons of Israel through the covenant at Sinai and circumcision - yet both the text and archaeology show that non-descendants of Jacob both partook of the Exodus and became Israel, and were assimilated into Israel during the occupation of Canaan. If you could per impossibile show that some Jewish Y chromosomes were definitively Canaanite and not Hebrew, you’d have shown nothing of any relevance to the theology of Israel.

Being brief, the above is full of loopholes. But the key is that the current biological definition of “human” does not map to the Bible’s theological treatment of “human”, though the latter is all that matters to Christianity and - let’s face it - to our self understanding as people. As I’ve corresponded with you privately before, it’s practically of little importance to my life that I’m a 6th generation Irish emigrant, let alone that some genetic forbear came out of Africa. But it matters a lot to me every day that the archetypal head and fount of my humanity disobeyed God.

Books and Culture.

I agree that the declaration of disciplinary superiority cuts both ways. The biologists do however take a stab at what to do with the theology, even if you think they do it badly. The converse (not sure this is the right word) usually can’t be said for the theological traditionalists. They mostly don’t even do a bad job figuring out what to do with the science - they just dismiss it.

So what’s you take on Adam and Eve, as the all seeing philosopher? :slight_smile:

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