Tag Archives: Adam

What, Exactly, Did God Breathe?

My post on Adam and Christ generated the range of predictable responses, from, “Thank God someone is saying what I’ve thought for a long time,” to “How on earth can anyone believe what Paul says about the resurrection of Jesus if he flubbed so badly on the existence of Adam?!”

To the latter question I address this post.

More the point, I address this post to the question of why I acknowledge the errors in the Bible, the ways that ancient cultures influenced the biblical writers to say things that we cannot agree with, and the like.

No, I’ve not quite said it right yet–I want to address how the Bible, precisely as the word of God can be so varied in its witness, and so reflective of both the strengths and shortcomings of its writers.

My confidence in scripture as the word of God, comes from the great source of “there can’t be any errors” itself–2 Tim 3.

The part of 2 Tim 3 that everyone likes to quote and that becomes the bedrock of their doctrines of scripture is, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction…”

Scripture is God-breathed. Yes!

But wait! There’s more!

Or, perhaps better put–wait, you forgot a part!

The verse before this presents a significant qualification: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Did you see it?

Scripture isn’t just “good.” Full stop. It is good for a particular purpose. That purpose is Christological. Scripture is not rightly read as scripture when it is given its historical, scientific, or critical meaning. It is not rightly read as scripture until it is read as a witness to, or cultivating a wisdom that inclines us toward, the crucified and risen Christ.

In Romans, Paul says similar things: the righteousness of God (in the crucified and risen Christ) is borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets; Christ is the end/goal of the Law.

Paul is faithful in what he says about Adam, not because he rightly identifies Adam as the biological precursor of all subsequent humanity, but because he sees in Adam a way to understand how the crucified and risen Christ is the beginning of God’s plan for a new humanity at the acme of new creation.

What did God breathe? Words of wisdom. Words of wisdom that lead to salvation. Words of wisdom that lead to salvation through faith in Christ.

If we read and find only words of science or dogma or ethics or history, the Bible has not yet become for us the living and active and inspired word of God.

Images Are For Worship

Before I jump into today’s post on The Life of Adam and Eve, I want to say a word to those of you who don’t live in the world of biblical studies.

Often, we use ancient parallel material as part of our research. Here’s the point: often when we read scripture we think we know exactly what it’s talking about. But an ancient reader might not have brought the same framework for interpretation to the text. So, studying ancient literature helps us step outside of our current cultural and religious context in an attempt to hear the Bible with fresh ears.

This means that when I look at a text like The Life of Adam and Eve, I’m not citing it because I think it’s “right,” necessarily, but because it opens up a door through which I might see how early Jewish people understood the cosmos and the place of people within it.

One ongoing puzzle in reading the OT, early Jewish literature, and the NT, has to do with what it means to be human; or, what it means to be God’s elect people.

One thing that I have been working out over the past couple of years is the thesis that humanity, as depicted in biblical and early Jewish traditions, occupies a higher place in the cosmic hierarchy than angels.

This means that people can share God’s sovereignty over the earth, and at times even receive worship, because of the role God has given to humanity: it is God’s image and likeness, ruling the world for God.

Enter, the Devil’s fall from glory according to the Jewish story, The Life of Adam and Eve.

The devil replied, “Adam, what do you have to say to me? It is for your sake that I have been hurled from heaven. When you were formed, I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of the angels.

“When God blew into you the breath of life and your face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought you and made (us) worship you in the sight of God; and God the Lord said: ‘Here is Adam. I have made you in our image and likeness.’

“And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: ‘Worship the image of God as the Lord God commanded.’ And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God the Lord.’ And I answered, ‘I have no (need) to worship Adam.’

“And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why do you urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being. I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.’” (LAE 13-14; modified Charles translation)

The image of God is made for worship: the worship of the heavenly host.

This opens up some interesting avenues for exploring the identity of Jesus as exalted and worthy of worship. What if the early Jewish followers of Jesus heard his claims to be “son of man,” “the Human One,” as the CEB rightly renders it, and understood that he was playing this role?

What if they thought, at least in part, that he was restoring humanity to that exalted place from which he fell? What if this embodiment of God’s image and rule accounts for his authority to cast out those fallen angelic host we meet under the rubric of “demons”?

One of the most popular explanations of Jesus’ exalted status, as put on display in the NT at various points, is “angelomorphic”: Jesus takes the form and glory of an angel.

There may be something to that.

But what if there’s another strand of Jewish teaching they’re drawing from? A strand in which “angel” is an insufficiently high category, a more exalted role is needed, and so, they depict Jesus as the idealized human being that Adam was created to be, and whose likeness God intends for all God’s children to one day reclaim?

What’s On Your Plate?

Slowing the blogging pace and stepping back for a week or two over the holidays, I started to think about what streams of conversation are flowing with particular force these days.

Over the past couple of years there have been emergent or missional conversations that always provided ready fodder for conversation. But those streams have largely dried up as ever-present conversation pieces.

Here are a couple of things that strike me as continuing points of interest as I scan the blogosphere. But I’d also love to hear from you: what are you thinking about and finding yourself in vigorous conversation about as you strive to work out what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus in 2012?

  1. The Gospel. I know that sounds rather broad and… well… settled, but here’s what I mean: in the more or less evangelical circles in which I run, we are finding a good deal of traction in conversations that press us to articulate a holistic gospel that affirms the “spiritual” dynamics of a restored relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus while also affirming that the spiritual work of being at work in the world for the good of all God’s creatures is integral to the faith.

    Recent books by Scot McKnight, Tom Wright, and yours truly are all working to contribute to such a recalibration of the evangelical gospel, that has been too long denying what it should have been affirming (in many circles). The gospel is good news for the whole world.

  2. Human origins after evolution. As denial of evolution becomes a rallying cry for both religiously and politically conservative movements, it moves certain brands of Christianity into more of a backwater. Too many Christians now have too much education for this non-viable position to continue to hold sway among thoughtful evangelicals.

    But, this means that we are confronted with a monumental task. And here is where the conservatives are right: to affirm evolution entails a reconfiguring of the narrative of humanity in significant ways. What can Christians say about the significance of humanity’s place in the cosmos once the story of evolution displaces the story of one-off creation? What can be retained? What must be replaced? Pete Enns’ book, and the interest it is generating even prior to publication, is one piece of bookish evidence about the continuing significance of this issue.

  3. Gender in the church. Here’s one for which I have no direct evidence in terms of tell-tale books. (I apologize.) But, with the continuing surge of the neo-Reformed movement, there has been a concomitant surge theological conviction about male dominance of the church.

What do you think? Are these issues the ones that are active points of conversation in your world? Are there others? I started to wonder if “what the Bible is” might not be another significant point where evangelicals are entering a new place (cf. Christian Smith’s, The Bible Made Impossible), and if folks find themselves increasingly in conversations about sex and sexuality?

Anyone?

Hope

“Hope is when you wish for something.”

“No, hope is when you really think something is going to happen.”

This conversation, overheard from the back seat of my car, embodies the dissonance many of us live in between hope as a powerful life-giving reality, and hope as a wishy-washy sense of desire.

I choose my words carefully: “live-giving” reality. “Life-giving” expectation.

Even when we’ve moved beyond the wishy-washy to something that might help us press forward, we are in danger of watering down hope. Hope is not simply a disposition. Nor is it simply the expectation that all things will work out in the end, if we just hang on long enough.

Hope, Christian hope, the hope by which the story of the world finds a hope that will not be disappointed, comes from the confession and belief that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

The story of resurrection tells us that humanity is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of the grave, beyond the power of sin, beyond the power of law.

The story of resurrection tells us that the cosmos is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of supernovas, beyond the power of entropy, beyond the power of corruption.

The story of resurrection tells us, for sure, that our world has been imbued by its creator with a certain, inalienable hope. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Humanity will be raised from the dead to its new-creation dwelling.

Hope for the future comes from the Event in the past that gives all history its meaning and its end.

Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Therefore, we have hope.

Arius and Adam

Regular readers will know that my research interests right now swirl around the Christology of the Synoptic Gospels: who are we to understand this Jesus to be? What sorts of parallels do we find in early Judaism? If Jesus does certain things that seem to be restricted to God in the OT, what does that mean about his identity in the Gospels? If the NT writers apply YHWH texts to Jesus, are they calling him God?

A couple friends like to rib me, only partially joking, about my “Arian” project. You remember Arius? He’s the one who argued against Jesus’ identity with God: there was a time, Arius claimed, when the logos was not.

Preexistent? Yes. God himself? No.

Arius is deemed a heretic because he wrongly puts together the pieces about Jesus as heavenly being.

It is this kind of argument (though not this argument directly) that Richard Bauckham’s book, God Crucified was meant to curtail: the way that the NT writers identify Jesus with God does not have precedent in Judaism’s treatment of other heavenly beings.

In my work, I am not arguing that Arius was a better reader of the NT, and that heavenly but non-divine Christology typifies the Synoptic Gospels. This would be an argument against what the church teaches concerning Jesus’ divinity.

Instead, I am arguing that the Synoptic Gospels do not address the question of Jesus’ ministry on earth as one of a divine being at all. They neither to confirm or deny.
What we find in them is another aspect of the church’s theology of Jesus. The Gospels are not the place to go for understanding the nature of Jesus’ divinity. However, they are treasure troves of indications about what it means for Jesus to be human, to be the Adam figure who recapitulates humanity’s primal purposes upon the earth.

Irenaeus is the church father most closely associated with this understanding of the function of Jesus’ humanity: it is not something to apologize for (ah well, he had to be human, but the really cool thing is that he’s God!); nor is it simply negative, as though Jesus simply had to be human so he could die for our sins.

Jesus is human, and has to be human, because this was God’s plan from the beginning: that humanity would come, serve, and rule upon the earth in the name of God. Jesus has to be human because there is a human quest that needs to be fulfilled, a human vocation that must be answered–or else God’s project will come to naught.

Is my project Arian? No, it is Adamic. It is a plea to discover afresh what we too often pass by because we seem to think that true theological value is found only in the presence of God upon the earth.

No, there is more: an untapped vein of Christological gold to be discovered in the work of the Human One.

Hermeneutics, Origins, Ethics

Yesterday I put up two posts that, together, open up the question of how we should think about new ideas that challenge what Christians have “always thought.”

In the bounded-set thinking that comes most naturally to many of us, the arrival of a new idea, especially if it challenges an old one, automatically generates a response of rejection. It falls outside the boundary of received Christian orthodoxy.

It, and its proponents and adherents, is rejected.

This is what’s happening with the evolution and historicity of Adam question. And I understand it.

The Christian tradition has built a lot on Adam. The idea of a historical first parent who fell from a state of innocence is important for understanding humanity, creation, and even how salvation works.

But here’s what we’ve seen over the past hundred and fifty years: after scientists started working with a theory of evolution, data from innumerable branches and sub-branches of various scientific disciplines started making other discoveries that supported that theory and did not support instant appearance of diversified species on earth.

The latest challenge to the traditionally conceived Christian story of origins is genomic data that points to pools of thousands rather than a single individual.

So what do Christians do with all this?

First, we recognize that we are standing at a different point, downstream from our theological forebears. They had scientific worldviews that were impacting their articulations of humanity and sin (sin transferred in sperm, anyone?). And, their scientific worldviews were closer to the biblical writers: we hadn’t yet discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, for example, or found fossils of animals that died millions of years before anything like a human being was on the earth.

Image Copyright Javier Martinez
This does not mean that we will automatically get right what they got wrong, but it does meant that to be faithful to our point in the story we will have to say something that makes sense in our own day and time, even as those who came before us said something that made sense in theirs.

That first step is huge. It is, I think, the greatest hurdle: to clear the bar of setting our minds in such a posture that we can listen to the issue, wrestle with the problem, without defensiveness.

Second, we revisit the biblical story to see where we might have been over-reading our preconception into the story. The particular creation story in which there is a person named Adam who breaks a command and thereby brings ruin on himself and, apparently, the world, is the same story that then proceeds to have Adam’s son Cain run off to marry foreigners.

This indicates that Genesis 2-4 is a story that does not intend to give an entirely comprehensive account of the origin of humanity. Yes, it intends to tell a story within which God’s people have a unique place, and where a ruptured relationship with God wreaks havoc in every aspect of life, but there’s also a window into the possibility that this fits within a larger narrative of an already-extant humanity.

Then, of course, we step further back and realize that we have two creation stories in Gen 1-2 alone, and that each tells a different narrative about humanity as it fits within the unfolding of creation. Then there are other biblical stories–creation from a slain Leviathan, anyone?

We start to get a perspective on creation that is polyvalent, to say the least. When the question is opened up, by our modern scientists, about how we did, in fact, come to be here, we have our eyes opened afresh to see that the biblical narratives are anything but dogmatic about the answer. They give evidence of different ancient Israelites at different times and places painting different pictures in order to communicate something significant about humanity’s and, more importantly Israel’s, place in the cosmos.

And Paul did the same thing, building on Adam traditions.

The next step, then, is beginning to return to our time. What must we say about the creation of the world, about humanity, about “The Man” and “The Woman” whom we meet in the early chapters of Genesis?

We will not be able to provide a viable answer to that question if we are unwilling to ask it with integrity for our own day and time.

Bounded-set Christianity has not place for the question at all. Ironically, those most committed to history are least willing to learn from it. Yes, the earth does circle the sun; and yes, Christianity survived this knowledge. But conservative Protestant Christianity, in particular, refuses to be chastened by the mistakes of the past, and continues to insist on the absolute necessity of data that science has repeatedly disproved.

The question, as I see it, is not whether this scientific information is correct, but rather how we will articulate faithful Christianity in light of it.

We are downstream and there is no swimming back.

Ed. note: the author got so caught up in the “Trajectories and challenges” part, he forgot about “ethics.” What does all this have to do with how we act as Christians? Come back tomorrow and find out!

On the Day You Eat of It…

Adam did not live to be 1,000.

He could not have.

He died in the prime of his youth at 930 years old.

Why could he not possibly have lived to be 1,000 or older? Simple.

“On the day you eat of the tree you will surely die,” God had said. And, “With the Lord… a thousand years is as a day.”

Thus, he had to die before reaching 1,000 years, which would be the end of the day on which Adam ate the fruit in the heavenly reckoning.

Q.E.D.

The source of this delightful reflection on the life and death of Adam is Jubilees 4.

Adam–Firstborn of All Creation?

In the Apocalypse of Abraham, the patriarch sees a vision of Adam and Eve in paradise. He sees them intertwined with each other, being fed grapes by a dragon-like creature.

The failure of Adam and Eve is a cause of great consternation to Abraham: why did God create these people, give them dominion, only to ruin humanity upon the earth (23:12)?

Here is the divine answer:

And he said to me, “Hear, Abraham! Those who desire evil, and all whom I have hated as they commit them–over them did I give him dominion, and he was to be beloved of them.”

Adam, it seems, was not the firstborn of all human creatures. He was created to be the ruler of the human creatures who committed all sorts of evil. He was given dominion over sinful humans, in order to be loved by them and thus, it seems, draw them to obedience to Israel’s God.

This underscores two things.

First, an most generally, it reinforces the idea that the story of Adam has to be read as part of the narrative that defines the specific people of Israel. It was written to introduce their story and is best read as such an introduction. If we read it as simply about humanity our reading is too thin.

Secondly, it is good for us to realize that long before “scientific” concerns started giving people reason to reread the Adam narrative, early Jews were reading it differently from what we see as the “normal” or “straight” reading. Adam and Eve did not have to be read as the first humans ever to come on the scene. Early Jewish readers “knew” that Cain had somewhere to go, a people to go to, after he killed Abel.

Whereto? To the people whom Adam and Eve had been created to rule and bring into conformity with the will of God.

Please note, I’m not saying that this is the correct reading of the text; rather, I’m suggesting that it shows us a couple of important things. One of these is that the story of Adam precedes stories of Davidic kings and messiahs a story about a representative human ruling the world on God’s behalf. The other is that such a recognition can lead to a reading of Gen 2-3 that sees Adam and Eve entering a story that is already well underway–and that this did, in fact, happen before there were scientific pressures pushing anyone in such a direction.

Complementarian Interpreations of Creation

Over the past week or so we have been revisiting the creation narratives of Genesis 1-3. In reading them, I suggested several indications of how especially Gen 1 but also Gen 2 could be read as indicating a basic equality between male and female. They share in the rule of God in Gen 1, the woman is “helper” to the man as God is “helper” to Israel.

But the NT reflections on the creation narrative tend toward a hierarchical reading.

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul appeals to creation. Echoing Gen 2, the passage reads:

7 A man shouldn’t have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is man’s glory. 8 Man didn’t have his origin from woman, but woman from man; 9 and man wasn’t created for the sake of the woman, but the woman for the sake of the man. 10 Because of this a woman should have authority over her head, because of the angels. (CEB)

Conflating the two creation stories, 1 Cor 11 assigns the image language to the man in particular: he is God’s image and glory, derived from God, as God’s son, it would seem. The woman, derived from the man (made from his rib) is created for the man’s sake (an allusion to her as “helper”) and is his glory.

In this passage, Paul uses Adam’s being “first” in creation as the basis for an argument that dress in public worship should reflect the hierarchy of God/Christ over man, and man over woman.

Thus, Paul gives significant weight to a hierarchy based on creation order here. But even as he does so, we should notice that the role of the “subordinate” is considerable: man is God’s glory. Woman is the man’s glory.

But more significantly is that Paul is not willing to give creation the last word. Even more important than creation is life “in the Lord,” i.e., the life of the redeemed community in Christ:

11 However, woman isn’t independent from man, and man isn’t independent from woman in the Lord. 12 As woman came from man so also man comes from woman. But everything comes from God. (CEB)

More significant than hierarchies is mutual interdependence on one another, and mutual dependence on God.

While Paul has used a complementarian reading of Gen 1-3 to argue for certain dress codes in worship, he does not give that reading the last word. There is a mutual interdependence that comes into the narrative both because of creation (both the idea of man’s birth through woman and our mutual dependence on God) and because of our having been united to Christ.

Two things are significant here, as we think about how the Adam and Eve story helps us understand how the world is versus how it should be.

First, Paul himself does not give merely a hierarchical reading of Gen 1-3. He also gives an egalitarian reading when he appeals to birth and mutual dependence on God.

But even more importantly for those of us who are committed to reading the Bible as a narrative, it is the Gospel that finally will not allow hierarchy to stand. Who we are “in the Lord” transforms our understanding of mutual interrelations, so that it no longer makes sense to say, “Here is man, who simply rules over his wife and family.” Now mutual interdependence and dependence come to the fore, such that both depend upon the other–a kind of relationship in which there can not, for long, be any sense of one ruling the other.

This picture of a redeemed humanity, of an order of new creation that does not simply affirm a first-creation subordinationism, is the picture in which fits Paul’s statement in Gal 3:28: there is no longer “male and female”–a precise echo of Gen’s statement that God creates them “male and female.” In the Gal 3 context, the paragraph is undermining hierarchies of superiority whereby one would have to become like the other to be fully a part of the kingdom of God.

Paul’s new creation theology will not allow him to give a creation-based hierarchy the last word. Even if he does not work it out with full consistency in his own letters, he tells us how the story is supposed to play out. If male is first and therefore female is his subordinate based on creation order, then in new creation we must affirm that something has been transformed–there is no longer “male and female” in this hierarchical sense.

Thus, even if the NT contains complementarian readings of Gen 1-3, the very gospel story it tells demands that we reread the eschatology anticipated by those stories as an end in which male and female are not only of equal worth, but equally positioned to serve as God’s under-rulers in God’s Kingdom.