Classical Figures in the Creation and Fall Narratives

Anthropopatheia is the name of the figure used to describe the ascription of human passions, actions, or attributes to God. Interestingly enough, at the time Bullinger was writing his Figures, another term for this was Condescension. Readers of the BoM will be familiar with the idea. Anyway, consider Gen 22:7

The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

This figure clearly establishes God as the agent behind man’s “livingness,” but just as clearly doesn’t really describe precisely what happened. The author of the Fourth Gospel, no dummy he, caught right on and used the idea again, this time for the origin of the life one leads as a disciple:

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

Both the LXX Gen 2:7 and Jn 20:21-22 use the verb emphusaō to describe this use of divine breath to impart life.

Then there’s the ever-popular Gen 2:9 with its reference to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In this case, I don’t agree with Bullinger, who translates it as a hendiadys: “tree of evil enjoyment.” (Bullinger, Figures, p. 659)

My preference is to read it as a merism, that is, a figure in which the poles of something are named in place of the item or action. For example, if I have “looked high and low,” it means that I have looked everywhere.

In this case, the tree of knowledge of good and evil becomes the tree of knowledge of the entire moral spectrum. And if knowledge takes a gloss as “experience,” then Adam and Eve are about to enter a life which will include experience across the full range of the moral spectrum. It’s certainly something that would make you wise!

Finally, consider that little interaction between Eve and Satan in Genesis 3, with special attention to Gen 3:5

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Now look at what God has to say in Gen 3:22

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.

How shall we read this business about “the man is become as one of us?” Is it serious, that is, to be read literally, in an “indicative” mood? Or is it irony? Does J/E (right?) really think that man can become “as one of us?” Wasn’t Adam much more like God before the Fall?

  • Mogget

    E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible,originally published in 1898 by Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode in London, republished in 1968 by Baker: Grand Rapids, MI.

    LXX–> the Greek version of the OT; in this case the version I am using is Ralfs.

    Hendiadys–>a figure in which two words are used, but only one idea is meant. One of the two words expresses the idea, while the other acts to qualify it. The two words are always from the same part of speech i.e., two nouns or two verbs, and are, if nouns, in the same case. Another example might be the expression “fire and brimstone.” Did God send two separate things, or just burning brimstone?

    J/E –> Jahwist / Ehlohist; a reference to the idea that the creation doublets reflect the theology of their authors. The name itself comes from the preferred title(s) for God in passages so attributed.

  • J. Watkins

    Nice post. I love tackling thngs like this (though I am still woefully undertrained in my Greek). J/E (if there is such a thing) might have thought this was ironic but the real irony would be that apparently God was serious. Very interesting idea about the tree with fruit representing the range of the moral spectrum. Deserves some more thought.

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