Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin

Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin June 10, 2015

STOSToday’s post is by Karl Giberson and is adapted from his newly published Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World

Giberson teaches Science & Religion at Stonehill College and a key figure in the science/faith dialogue. His other books on on the subject include Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in EvolutionThe Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World and (with Francis Collins) The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.


The notion of a moral boundary separating good from evil frames early Christian disputes about the meaning of Adam’s sin. Their reflections on the nature of sin were largely considerations of where to draw this boundary.

Was everybody evil in the same way, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn suggested when he penned these memorable lines: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart”?  Or did sin emerge from entirely different sources?

Were the white lies told by everyone to protect other’s feelings rooted in the same human flaw as the cruelty of the Roman executioners who made sport of killing Christians? Perhaps simple human imperfections could account for the former, while the latter needed something more dramatic, like demons, which seemed to be everywhere in the early Church.

Paul had famously connected Adam’s sin to Christ’s death suggesting that the latter erased the former for everyone—white liar and executioner alike—but the nature of the connection he drew was ambiguous and admitted different interpretations of what happened when Adam sinned. It would be centuries, in fact, before Augustine would explain this connection as “original sin,” insisting that Adam’s transgression was passed on to everyone.

Augustine, we might say, moved the boundary between good and evil until it ran through everybody, and not merely in the space between the good guys and the bad guys, between the Christians and their persecutors.

The key question on the table during the centuries leading up to Augustine was: Do we differ from the pre-fall Adam because he sinned? Did he pass something down to us making it impossible for us to avoid sin? Or do we have the same chance to avoid sin as Adam did?

This was a lively question and early Christians were of two minds. On the one hand, we may all be like Adam and Eve in our capacity to resist temptation. The story of Adam may simply be our story, reflecting the real challenges—but not impossibility—of resisting temptation. Adam was a primordial Everyman, falling short despite his best intentions, a dramatization of what we would have done in his situation and what we must avoid in our situation.

On the other hand, God’s response to Adam’s sin was not confined to Adam. The ground was cursed. Abel the farmer must have had a harder time of it because of his father’s sin although no mention is made of this. Childbirth became painful for all women—not just Eve—and serpents were reduced to crawling on their bellies. Adam’s descendants clearly lived in a different world and possibly were different from the first man.

Did Adam do something that changed him in ways that were passed on to his descendants? Are we now powerless to resist temptation? Or are we still free to not sin, and live perfect lives, as the Genesis story suggests was the case for Adam?

Hebrew reflections prior to Paul suggest that Adam passed nothing on to his offspring. Subsequent sin—Cain’s murder of Abel, the wickedness of Noah’s generation or the folly at the Tower of Babel—is never described as inevitable. Adam’s sin is never mentioned again in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is very curious, given the importance now attached to it.

Paul, as we now see clearly, embellishes the Adam story in ways that certainly stretch the “authorial intent” of the writer(s) of Genesis. He saw things in the story—or maybe read them into the story—that nobody else had seen. But Paul nowhere suggests that Adam’s unfortunate choice was made by a “pre-fallen” human. And, significantly, Paul also does not argue that subsequent human sin is inevitable because of what Adam did.

The four “biographies” of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—written years after Paul’s letters all deal with good and evil but they set up the tension as between Satan and Christ, not between a sinful nature and knowledge of the good.

Adam, by these lights, seems to be the first sinner only in the sense that Neil Armstrong was the first human to step onto the moon. Something extraordinary occurred when Armstrong took his “one small step for a man” but that event certainly did not transform humanity.

In contemporary debates over the historicity and theological significance of Adam we would do well to distinguish the Adam of Genesis, the Adam of Paul, and the Adam of Augustine. We must certainly avoid reading Augustine’s Adam back into Genesis as if that is our only interpretive option.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bev Mitchell

    “Paul nowhere suggests that Adam’s unfortunate choice was made by a “pre-fallen” human.” If we could just grasp this simple point. Then it might not be considered too simplistic to think of humanity, in all our God-given freedom, and our qualities/responsibilities of divine image, and yet incompleteness, as unavoidably tempted to put self first. Unavoidably distrustful of God, because we, ourselves, feel like we should be god. This is our state, our condition. It’s a mindset, a heartset, than only the Spirit of God can show us the way through to the other side. Our situation, out of the box, is to assume that we are responsible for defining the limits of good and evil. Apart from God’s Spirit, we have no clue regarding our complete unpreparedness to take on such a task. Simply based on our lack of knowledge alone, it seems we should be able to figure it out, but, in ourselves, in our own limited wisdom, we cannot. We need to learn (not re-learn) to trust God. Presumably, only beings with our mental abilities have this debilitating trust problem. It seems to be part of us, part of all of us.

    • I think that the Hebrew texts never mention the “sin” of Adam any further than Genesis is because that ‘story’ served its purpose and was no longer necessary to the Israelites. Been there, heard that! Move on.

      Of course the Garden story is myth or blended myth probably taken from the Babylonians. Their myth tells the story of humanity’s movement from hunter-gatherer to agriculture. As the Israelites moved into an agrarian culture as they settled the hills of Judea, they needed a story that addressed this and, as customary, wove YHWH and Obedience into its re-telling.

      A clue to the struggle that the the writers of Genesis had with formulating a creation-of-man in the likeness of God story is evident in the dual creation stories in that Book.

      The Jews were content will all of that, it seems, but not the Fathers of the Church. Sin needed to be stressed most probably because it became a tool of power over the laity. Not surprisingly, as in a Ponzi Scheme, only the Church could forgive sin. Tidy circular process.

      Original Sin twisted out of Original Blessing. Only organized religion could master that sleight of hand.

      • Bev Mitchell


        Are you responding to my comment? It seems that your comment would be better places as a response to the initial post.

        • archidude

          Bev could you elaborate a bit more on the concept of a”pre-fallen human?” You mean that because we were created in the image of God, we have always had the predisposition to want to be god or jealous of God? From the beginning God had sought to have us as his own possession, but we have resisted until the presence of Holy Spirit after the ascension?

          • Bev Mitchell


            Thanks for the questions. First note that “pre-fallen human” is a phrase from Giberson, not me. The quote indicates that he thinks there is no such creature, and I agree. The way his sentence reads may have caused some confusion on this point.

            As to my comment, you more or less understand my point.

            But I don’t think of the Spirit of God as being in any way restricted to post-Pentecost. Clearly, Pentecost was a newer, fuller revelation of the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit of God, like the Father and the Son, are forever active. But, you are correct, since Pentecost, it is our resistance to the Holy Spirit that keeps us too focused on ourselves and, especially, on our own strengths and abilities. Yielding to the Spirit, accepting his gifts of grace and faith, allows us to open up to and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. The road to greater spiritual maturity can then begin, and can continue, probably indefinately.

            As for original human beings, as we emerged we became ‘in God’s image’. One meaning of this complex idea could be that we became spiritually able to imagine the existence of right and wrong, but too spiritually immature to know how to properly make use of this realization. Our problem then became, and remains, who to trust. Do we accept that only God is equipped for this work, or do we trust only ourselves? Scripture is clear that, from the beginning, we are advised by the adversary not to trust God in such matters. Our spiritually immature choice is to believe this lie. The rest, as they say, is history.

          • archidude

            “‘Our problem then became, and remains, who to trust.” . . . . Yes, or to which voice will we listen (i.e. to those who have ears to hear) Thanks Bev!

  • Dr. Enns and Dr. Giberson,

    As I just said over at Pastor Jordan Cooper’s “Just & Sinner” blog: “Karl Giberson, writing at Peter Enns’ blog today, is playing with fire – particularly in our current cultural context – by undercutting the biblical doctrine of original sin. Meanwhile,
    Pastor Jordan Cooper (whose book Christifcation actually contains a ready reply to Giberson and Enns on this issue)…”

    Although I do not go into detail about this in the post there (the post is actually about how all philosophy is morality and teleology, and that this, and other things, are tacity known truths), Pastor Cooper shows how from the Church Fathers prior to Augustine that they certainly followed Paul in Romans 5 regarding man’s sinfulness in Adam.

    “Adam’s sin is never mentioned again in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is very curious, given the importance now attached to it.

    Paul, as we now see clearly, embellishes the Adam story in ways that certainly stretch the “authorial intent” of the writer(s) of Genesis.”

    I think these words are fundamentally disastrous for the Christian faith. The church has *always* seen the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, as being inspired by God – and as fundamentally truthful and reliable. No, it is very clear that Adam and Eve and the creation were “very good” before the fall and not so afterwards, as is evident from their losing their innocence – realizing they are naked, that they run from God, and having children in their own image. Passages from Gen. 6 and 8, in addition to passages from the Psalms and Jeremiah, are utterly clear about the inborn nature of man’s sin – even if many persons did not see this clearly as they should have (as we also note that it seems absolutely clear that Jesus says that persons should have seen what was clearly there in the O.T. about Him in Luke 24 as well).

    Christians would be better served by scholarship that stays within the bounds established by Scripture itself and the church as regards the inspiration of Scripture.


    • How would scholarship serve the church if it were only permitted to affirm what the church already believes?

      • Phil,

        What the church already believes is true. This does not mean scholarship could only affirm these things, only that it, if it is good scholarship, will not assert things that contradict what is true.


        • Well, considering the church’s beliefs have changed over history, I’m not quite sure where your confidence is that now we finally have everything figured out without error, but I can certainly understand how, once you’ve decided the church has finally arrived at that point, that all scholarship should say the same things.

          I just disagree with your fundamental premise and am unclear on what evidence you would turn to in order to substantiate it, given the very clear history of doctrinal development over time.

          • newenglandsun

            It should be considered that Nathan is actually a member of a far more tradition-based church than most churches are these days and hence, would tend to stray toward a more historically based Christianity…albeit Lutheran, the more conservative Lutherans these days are far more closer to Catholicism in their theology than most Protestants.

            With Protestantism assumed as a “full” form of Christianity as well as other variants of Christianity such as Catholicism and Orthodoxy, it is easy for many “progressive” (whatever progressive means these days) Christians to assert that “the church’s beliefs have changed over history”. Doctrine has developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I don’t dispute that, but this is more like saying that the Church’s beliefs have blossomed (like a seed from the early days to a flower today) over history.

            Concerning the part of scholarship, I think I would agree with you, Phil, on this. Not all scholarship needs to agree with official church teaching though but the Church is not a community of scholars. It is the body of Christ and one need not be a scholar to be a Christian. In fact, scholars are probably the hardest to convert to the Truth of Christ because they want their own ideas to be the correct ones (putting God in a box) as opposed to letting God be God.

          • Well, I’m not sure I’d say Protestantism is the full blossoming of Christianity, and although I appreciate Luther’s desire to stop some of the corrupt practices of his time, I’m not sure he helped us out too much in other ways.

            If Nathan were an RC, that would throw me some, but Lutherans of all people should be ready to qualify a statement like, “What the church believes is true.” Even on the RC side of things, you’d agree that the early church fathers weren’t exactly lockstep on a number of issues, right? I guess we could debate how different you have to get before we consider doctrine “changing.”

            Your point about the church not being a community of scholars is well taken.

          • newenglandsun

            They weren’t particularly lockstep according to Catholic theologians because the doctrine hadn’t fully developed. The full revelation had yet to blossom and it continues to blossom.

            I agree that Nathan should better qualify his statement from a Lutheran perspective as well as I firmly contend that Protestantism betrayed quite a bit of historically established doctrine when it walked away. It abandoned much of the sacraments of the Church and the ancient traditions of iconography and essentially tore down the Eucharist, leaving it as a mere “symbol” at worse, and consubstantiation at best.

          • We probably agree a lot on the Protestantism thing, although I am one.

            But isn’t what you described with the blossoming thing tacitly saying that the church grows in her understanding over time? And if so, isn’t it risky to put a stake in the ground and declare that everything the church believes today is true?

          • newenglandsun

            I think of it more as petals on a flower. The Church might have had one petal at first but it grew more petals. For instance, we had to fight Arianism, Iconoclasm, anti-Marianism, etc. We have the traditions of the Church with the councils that have been decided upon by the Church.

          • But did you fight Arianism? Twenty some odd bishops including Eusebius represented the position at Nicea. Nicea looks more like multiple groups of Christians with multiple viewpoints debating until the issue is decided by that erstwhile theologian Constantine. It’s not like the Council of Nicea was held to deal with the heresy of Arianism.

            It’s attractive to think of Christianity as a historically unified body of consistent orthodoxy through the ages that, on occasion, is by schism rent asunder or heresies distressed, but I personally am not convinced this is historically accurate.

            Even in my own tradition, the Westminster Confession of Faith is not some unified statement of Protestant orthodoxy. It’s a product of a variety of views debating in one building, and what makes it into the document is the product of compromise, politics, and sheer numbers. It reflects who won.

            I think a lot of what we consider “historical Christian orthodoxy” is really more the history of who won than the history of what just about every Christian believed at any given time.

          • newenglandsun

            Constantine did not decide that the Trinity would be the accepted doctrine. Who teaches this historical ideas any more? No one really knows. All we know is that there was the Council of Nicaea (presumably organized by St. Constantine to unite Christians), Arianism was refuted, afterward, Arianism tried to infect the Church again, the Council of Constantinople was held, Arianism was repudiated again.

            No, I did not fight Arianism when it first arrived but I fight against Arianism today just like my ancestors in the faith did because my Savior is God, not some created being, and God became a man so that I might become god. I repudiate Arianism because when I taste the Eucharist, what I taste is not the body and blood of a creature but the body and blood of God who became man.

            I am not saying Christianity was an “historically unified” body at the very outset. This would go against historic evidence as we have it and refute my blossoming flower ecclesiology. As St. Paul writes in the New Testament, “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10)

            I believe the reason why the Church needed councils in the first place (starting with the Council of Jerusalem in Acts) was that the Church was trying to figure out what to do with so many divisions and how to unite it. Thus, the councils that the Church agreed upon post-council (a council doesn’t become ecumenical until the Church declares it so) needed to be made in order to establish genuine Christianity from the false prophets (such as Arius) who arose.

            So which councils to accept is the real question? My godmother would say just the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (the first two ecumenical councils). It’s what most of the ancient Christian denominations hold to as well (Assyrian Church of the East, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, etc.). My own particular church, in an effort to re-align with a more authentic Christian orthodoxy, accepts the councils which both the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics affirm–all the way up to the seventh.

            Do I think that the councils reflect who won the debate over orthodoxy? Not at all! I think the councils reflect accurately what is orthodoxy because they all take us back to the one starting point of the Christian faith–Christ and the Church. Some accuse me of heresy for venerating icons and praying the rosary to which I always reply with–“Well, these saints I pray to are a part of something bigger than me and you–Christ’s body. The Ever-Virgin Mary carried the Truth in her womb for nine months. Why do you reject this communal experience that the Church has established over the years?”

          • Phil,

            Not opposed to all doctrinal development, but that happens in attaining a greater and more robust understanding of that clear word that does not change.


          • What would be an example of “that clear word?”

    • Daniel Pape

      Are you saying it is “disastrous” to deny our inherent sinful nature? Or is there something especially compelling about the doctrine of original sin that is necessary to frame our understanding of the human condition?

      If it is the first, then I am unclear as to how the doctrine of original sin singularly establishes our sinful nature. Jesus proposed that nobody is good except God alone. Does that descriptor apply to Adam prior to him eating the forbidden fruit? If we understand Paul to logically follow this idea by saying that all have fallen short of the glory of God, then does our lack of goodness explain our propensity to sin? If so, then a perfectly good Adam would never have been able to sin.

      Before this goes further, I think it is necessary to clarify the terms we are using. I use the term “sin” to refer to our failure to properly reflect God to creation. Having been made in his image, it is our most proper state to be that reflection. Therefore, if we fail to reflect God, then we also fail to be that which we are: truly human. This idea is implicit in our speech when we refer to cruel acts as inhumane. To further define sin, I would characterize it (at its most basic level) as pride. We pridefully usurp God of his position as lord of all things when we choose to reflect ourselves instead of reflecting Him.

      Even in that description, sin requires freedom of choice. If we are free to image God (to be truly human), then we are also free to sin. Would God have it any other way? Is it not likely that creation (including Adam) would be described as very good even though Adam had free agency and therefore the propensity to sin? I would argue that Adam was truly human (not an argument for the historicity of Adam) and a free moral agent. Therefore, his sin was a reflection of the human condition that characterizes all of humanity. God was clear what punishment would befall humanity due to this act, and the idea of original sin was not included. Ezekiel 18:20 speaks very directly to the idea of inherited guilt. Even if we are to understand Paul as adhering to the idea of original sin, he seems to equally argue that it is no longer in play (Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22). As he ascribed the death of all humanity to Adam, he also ascribed the life of all humanity to Christ.

      • Daniel,

        To your definition of sin I would simply add what Luther says: lack of fear, love, and trust in God (did God really say?). I disagree with your interpretation of Paul, as do many pre-Augustinian church fathers (see the Cooper book mentioned).

        “a perfectly good Adam would never have been able to sin.”

        One simply need not – and in fact should not – insist that God created (or especially needed to create) the best of all possible worlds, because one can posit an immature, yet, pure “very good”, as well as a mature and pure “very good” (which would in fact ultimately be more desirable).

        Regarding the nature of love, C.S. Lewis said:

        “In order for love to be genuine, the agent has to have the ability
        to choose not to love. Unless there is freedom of one’s will to either love someone or hate them, it isn’t really love.”

        It seems strange to say about one as great as Lewis, but Pastor John Fraiser, in an excellent blog post, points out some very real problems with this argument. That is why I propose the following instead:

        “Only freely given love is genuine love. Love that is forced is not
        free, and therefore not genuine love. In that case, we might as well be robots.”


        • Andrew Dowling

          Ha, Luther. There’s a guy who never ran roughshod over Scripture with his own inclinations /biases

        • Daniel Pape

          I feel like you’re making my point. For Adam to have been a moral free agent, he would have been captive to the same human condition that affects us all. His sinful nature was evidently already in play as part of his humanity. Therefore, our sinful nature was not created by his sin, it is merely a part of the human condition.

          It is fruitless to hide behind church fathers as if their mere names invoke a defense, especially in this instance since early church fathers did not at all agree on the idea of original sin. Clement proposed that we inherited a poor example from Adam, not our innate sinful nature. When arguing against infant baptism, Tertullian postulated that our propensity to sin was not itself a sin that required the forgiveness of baptism. Even Justin Martyr (who argued for infant baptism) believed that sin originated in humanity’s free will. He understood the sin of Adam to be merely the prototype of personal sin.

          If nothing else, Paul was clear in his assertion that the effect of Christ on humanity undid the effect of Adam on humanity. He even went so far as to refer to Christ as the new (or second, or last) Adam. Surely the sin of Adam isn’t more far-reaching than the righteousness and faithfulness of Christ. Although he alluded to original sin, Irenaeus echoed Paul’s sentiment. He wrote, “[Christ] furnished us… with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam – namely to be according to the image and likeness of God – that we might recover in Christ Jesus.”

          It’s fine to disagree, but I would appreciate hearing how Paul’s statements in Romans 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 should be understood as not undoing the (supposed) effect of Adam. I add “supposed” because Ezekiel 18:20 still stands in opposition to the idea of inherited guilt when it reads that “only the one who sins shall die. The son shall not be charged with the sin of the father…”

          • Daniel,

            “His sinful nature was evidently already in play as part
            of his humanity.”

            How exactly am I helping you make this point, which I disagree with?

            Yes, I believe Justin, Tertullian and Clement were incorrect. Other fathers are better and more compatible with Augustine, who is *clearly* more compatible with Paul.

            “the effect of Christ on humanity undid the effect of Adam on humanity…”

            Sure, and this is efficacious in those who believe, not those who don’t – even as we are still sinner saints as well (Rom. 7 and Gal. 5).

            The Ezekiel passage is clearly talking about how God was going to judge particular actual sins. Original sin is not really addressed here. Believers who have faith are able to fight against original sin, and to decrease in actual sinning.

            Hope this helps.


          • Daniel Pape

            This is the confusion I hoped to avoid by attempting to define sin. We are talking about two different things. I had not been distinguishing between original sin and actual sin. What I meant is that for Adam to have “actually sinned,” he must have been as subject to the human condition as the rest of us. If it helps to explain, think of the “human condition” as theologically functioning in the place of “original sin” (for those of us who deny original sin). I believe we were created as truly human and, therefore, were subject to the human condition from the beginning (as was Adam). To that point, Ezekiel speaks to guilt. If guilt cannot be inherited, then any guilt associated with Adam’s sin cannot be inherited.

            Concerning where I felt like you were making my point: you note that creation didn’t need to be perfect to be described as “good” and “very good”; you also note that genuine love must be characterized by freedom of reception/response. This supports the idea that to be “truly human” is to be characterized by both imperfection and free will. Therefore, the propensity to sin is intact within the human condition without the need for original sin to play a role. In other words, free will and imperfection are all that we need to be able/likely to sin. As you clarified, Adam was created as imperfect without already possessing sin. He was also created with the ability to sin (due to him being human). Therefore, if the human condition set the stage for Adam to “actually sin,” then it serves to reason that the human condition does the same for us.

            All of which brings me back to my original question: what is disastrous about replacing the idea of original sin with an admission that we are human and prone to make mistakes by design? Are the two ideas not theologically interchangable?

          • Daniel,

            I said “[one can posit] an immature, yet, pure “very good””

            That can still mean without sin.


  • newenglandsun

    There’s some good points made in this article about the concept of original sin but I don’t think we can simply just do away with it as a doctrine of the Church. Original sin is ultimately a mystery, and, like all mysteries, cannot be effectively explained. I would state that original sin is ultimately a condition we are born into of having to bear the guilt of all humanity because we are part of the humanity. It is a human condition of realizing that we have all fallen. Again, varying theologians would differ on exactly how to explain it but I would agree with Solzhenitsyn. I would further state that humans do have the ability to resist temptation like Adam, however, I wouldn’t state this refutes the idea of man wrestling with an internal sinful nature. God created man “very good” which does not mean he created them “perfect”. He created the Tree of Life in order to enable them to receive the gift of ultimate divine perfection completing the image of God but man rejected and chose the wrong tree. Metaphorically or literally, however you take it.

    “Paul’s letters all deal with good and evil but they set up the tension as between Satan and Christ, not between a sinful nature and knowledge of the good.”
    Not exactly. In fact, Romans 7 heavily shows Paul’s struggles with his own internal nature–specifically Romans 7:15 “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” There is both conflict between man and himself, Christ and Satan, and man and Satan. It is a holy warfare that Christians enter into and must fight. From my own personal experience as a cutter, I would state that our own selves can end up as our worst enemies fighting against all of our allies at times even. I’ve even cussed at friends for not letting me cut myself.

    (Note: Apologies to feminists for not using “gender neutral” language–I really don’t know why we get so worked up when “man” is used in a general sense when all of humanity is meant. Man can often be used to abbreviate for humanity.)

    • Rick

      Regarding Romans 7, some see that as Paul reflecting on his pre-conversion life. Just thought I would mention that view.

      • newenglandsun

        That view nearly led me to rejecting my baptismal vows because I immediately fell into sin very shortly after my baptism (which is why I agree that Confession is a sacrament as well). I think (know) that view is incorrect and is a demonic heresy (something which destroys the mystery of faith) which should be heavily repudiated ASAP.

    • It’s possible that, in Romans 7, Paul is referring to himself as a representative for Israel. For example, in that same chapter, Paul talks about how he was alive apart from the Law until the Law came, which describes Israel’s history, but not his individual history.

      He also talks about how he didn’t covet until the the Law came that forbade coveting. Once again, that could describe Israel’s experience, but probably not Paul’s individual experience.

      So, when Paul talks about the struggle of doing the things he hates, but not doing what he wants to do, he may be talking about Israel’s experience under the Law as opposed to his individual struggle.

      • newenglandsun

        I suppose that’s one way to interpret it though I think it’s more likely he is referring to himself as humanity as a whole. It’s the interpretation I came upon from my experience attending Byzantine Catholic liturgies. When we read the words of Paul saying that “Christ came to save sinners of whom I am the first”, they apply this passage to themselves before they receive the Eucharist. I think you are right that St. Paul is not just referring to himself but I don’t think he is talking just about Israel either but rather the whole of humanity.

        • I could see that. I’m a little more pulled toward an Israel-centric interpretation because of how heavily the Law factors into the experience he’s sharing, but I wouldn’t go to the stake for that.

          • Norman

            Phil, I believe your instinct is correct. This whole episode from Rom 5-8 is IMO Paul’s commentary on Genesis 2-3 including his inability to handle the tree of good and evil, At the end of Rom 7. He sees himself as Adam and Israel. And yes Adam is Everyman but first and foremost he is a covenant man in a faith relationship with God as Israel is as well. Adam is the story of Israel. The Gentiles don’t come into the Everyman model until they embrace God and according to Paul both groups become the one new faithful humanity through Christ, the last Adam. Eph 2:12-…
            I believe Paul presents us the picture of Adam as the first Christians understood him theologically and narratively. Whether later Christians like Augustine comprehended Paul and sin accurately is questionable IMO. Also I think our modern perspective is to apply to much Greek laden philosophy to the equation.
            We are safer studying Adam from the 2nd T perspective. There’s plenty of material on Adam from that era if one isn’t inhibited looking beyond later days cannon material. After all the Jews who rejected Christ are the ones who set aside material like Jubilees and Enoch which heavily influenced the NT writers.

          • This is pretty much where I’m at. Adam’s story is Israel’s story, and Paul employs it to communicate to the Jewish believers that both Jews and Gentiles alike are under condemnation for sin.

            I think the doctrine of original sin as traditionally formulated is a little less narrative-historical and a little more Western philosophy, but I do appreciate the idea that humanity’s original rebellion has echoes/ramifications through all our generations.

          • newenglandsun

            I wonder if “the Law” isn’t necessarily just a Jewish law here as earlier on in Romans, he talks about the law is written in everyone’s heart (see Rom. 2:15). I don’t think St. Paul is explicitly talking about OT Law all the time when he writes about the law. I think he is talking about explicitly divine law when he talks about the law has revealed his sinfulness.

            “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” (Rom. 7:12)

            But as he develops in his discussion of the Law, we see that he struggles to keep the law. Without the law, he is ignorant of right and wrong and is in infantine ignorance. But with the law, he is seen to go into a struggle with it. I’m not certain if an Israel-centric interpretation is correct here. But then again, we’d be Biblicists if we just debated this, now would we?

          • I don’t know. Wrestling with complexity is kind of the opposite of Biblicism. As long as we aren’t just throwing around proof texts and going, “Problem solved.”

            As for Rom. 7:12, note the preceding verses. The Gentiles, who do not have the Law, are doing the works of the Law. This is in contrast to the Jews who have the Law but do not keep it. The larger point is that Jews are no better off than Gentiles when it comes to being condemned under sin, and having the Law does not help them – it makes their problem worse.

            Coloring my interpretation is the idea that the core issue in Romans is: what’s up with all these Gentiles converting with so few Jews converting? Romans has a lot to say about how the Gentiles could possibly be considered the people of God and heirs to Israel’s promises as well as how God could be faithful to his promises to Israel when so few of national Israel are actually receiving them.

            The Law is a central issue here, because it was a primary marker of God’s elect. The Jews had the Law, the Gentiles didn’t. Here, Paul is basically saying, “Yeah, that’s great. And while these lawless Gentiles were actually doing the things the Law requires, the Law was sealing you up under condemnation.”

          • newenglandsun

            But then wouldn’t Christians also have the law such as when the Byzantine Catholics say that Christ came to save sinners of whom I am the first? If Israel, then the same could be said for the Church as it exists today and thus the Church must wrestle in the same way Paul did.

          • Oh, I think we do struggle in a similar way. We just don’t struggle with the Law. I don’t think it’s illegitimate to look at Paul/Israel’s struggle with keeping the Law and finding a resonance there with our own struggles to be obedient to Jesus – in the same way that it’s legit to look at David’s experiences in the Psalms and find a sort of “spiritual kinship” there and derive comfort from them even though we aren’t being hounded by Philistines.

          • newenglandsun

            I suppose it depends on how you are defining the Law. Are you referring to the Divine Law (Sermon on the Mount, etc.) or the Jewish Law as prescribed in Deuteronomy and what-not which even modern Jews aren’t entirely legalistic about?

          • Here, I mean the Torah, not the revealed moral character of God and/or the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus.

    • Judy Buck-Glenn

      When you say “I don’t know why WE get so worked up when ‘man’ is used in a general sense…”, what you really mean is “I don’t know why PEOPLE NOT ME get so worked up…” “Man” is used to “abbreviate humanity” because men are understood to be the representative human beings, while women are a mere subset of humanity. In short, it is men who really count. And if you don’t comprehend why that bothers many women, you might need to work on your empathy. Is it really that much extra effort to type “humankind” instead of “mankind” or “human beings” instead of “man”? I realize it may be a couple more key strokes, but–if it helps lift the burden of millennia of being considered second class from more than half the human race–isn’t it worth it?

      • newenglandsun

        I think that’s a little bit of an unfair accusation against me. I don’t think women are “second-class citizens” at all. I just don’t see a need to be bothered over “mankind” vs. “humankind”. “Adam”, BTW, is the Hebrew generic for humanity and yet “Adam” is understood to be a male in the Bible. Why does this not offend you and yet my preference for the term “mankind” over “humankind” does? Do people who say “Hey guys” to you when you are in a group of men and women mixed bother you? Does the Spanish language, which uses words such as “amigos” when referring to a mixed group of men and women who are companions rather than “amigos y amigas” bother you? So why should my preference for using “man” when I’m referring to all humanity upset you? This is completely unreasonable.

        Also, when I use “mankind” instead of “humankind” I have no intention to “demote” half the human race to second-class citizens. It is the feminazis that read that in. My own particular church prefers to use the KJV in its liturgy, which does not use the “gender neutral” language that the feminazis want to pressure everyone into using. NONE of the women at my church feel like “second-class citizens”. More like, I don’t know why feminazis think that their gender is being attacked when “mankind” is used generically rather than “humankind”.

        Further, aren’t you the one who rambles on about how you are a member of the clergy as if to demote laity to second-class citizens? Aren’t you kind of the pot calling the kettle black here? This is precisely why I am neither a feminist and am anti-clerical.

        • Judy Buck-Glenn

          I have never “rambled on” about being a member of the clergy. I have mentioned it in passing, when I thought it was relevant for other reasons–not to vaunt my supposed “superiority” (which is not something I feel) over lay people. That is in your head, not mine. Nor was I taking YOU to task for regarding women as second-class citizens. I was saying that the use of male-gendered language for millennia reflects an assumption that the representative human being is male, and women are an add-on. Consider for a moment what it would seem like if I asked you to use “woman” instead of “man” to refer to people in general, and “she” as the generic pronoun for all human beings. Do you get it now?

          Of course men are “people”–that is a neutral term. You misunderstood my point–which is not that you as part of a “we” wonder but that you as one who does not share this feeling in the least wonder why others would feel this way. I did not know if you were male or female.

          • newenglandsun

            It may seem to you like a “mention in passing” but to me it feels like you are stating it as an act of superiority as if to flaunt your clerical status. I cannot speak for others. If your username was Rev. Judy Buck-Glenn, I really wouldn’t care as that would be your title and there would be absolutely no need for you to say that you were clergy. My issue is that you seem to just throw it out as if to flaunt.

            Going back to the issue–IFF it was gramatically correct to use the terms “she” and “woman” when referring to all of mankind, then I would also use that. My point is that I simply don’t see how using the term “mankind” instead of “humankind” when “man” is ultimately generic in much grammatical uses (along with “he”–it’s simply the way grammar developed–I’d never use “it” to describe the whole of humanity) can be seen as demoting women to second-class citizens as the women in my own church don’t see it as demoting to women either.

            You mention you are an Episcopalian priest. That’s cool. I’m a Continuing Anglican in the ACA. I think you would find it beneficial to go through the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer which my own church uses and no woman there has ever complained about and see it utilizes terms such as “brothers”, “man”, “mankind”, etc., and rarely (if ever) uses “gender neutral” language as most people (who are not radically feminist when it comes to grammar) understand these terms to already be gender neutral enough so long as the right assumptions are being made.

          • Judy Buck-Glenn

            There is a French idiom that translates “Don’t beat water with a stick”, intending to express the utter futility of certain endeavors. You are invincibly unconvinceable on all points, I will give you that!

          • newenglandsun

            There is a Spanish saying, “Adios mis amigos y amigos”. Never mind, that would be a violation of Spanish, sexist grammar, it’s just “Adios mis amigos”. I just read a quite hilarious scholarly (believe it or not) article from a feminist perspective on how chess is sexist. I would definitely say that French idiom applies to feminists as well.

          • Chris Falter

            The queen is the most powerful piece on the board, how could it be sexist? In fact, the queen is the strongest fighting piece, while the king cowers behind a wall of lowly pawns.

          • newenglandsun

            Yeah…the feminist writer thought it was sexist because the king is the most important piece forcing the queen to do its dirty work.

            I’ve played many opponents who simply resign after their queen is dead meat. Of course, I do perform the Legal trap myself on a lot of people…perhaps the fact that one can simply “exchange queens” as if their exchanging real women or perhaps that one can win without their queen on the board? But I think that calling a game sexist is just childish if you ask me.

            I’ve read plenty of scholarly bullshit, don’t get me wrong, Ph.D. doesn’t mean “piled high and deep” for no reason. But this was/is the most humorous article I’ve ever read. Author concludes with “queens should leave the chess board!”

            Sure the queen is always “helping the king” with his “problems”. Yesterday, I was playing a blitz game with someone and my king was fending off check after check as it marched itself down to my opponent’s end of the board to help my queen checkmate my opponent.

          • newenglandsun

            Here’s from a game I played that literally lasted nine moves where I ended up winning my opponent’s queen quite forcefully and they resigned at move nine after their queen was dead meat (showing also the importance of women which the feminist writer of the article missed!).

            I had the black pieces and my opponent had the white pieces.
            1. e4 d5 (Scandinavian defense) 2. e4xd5 Qxd5 3. Qf3?! (if black accepts early queen exchange, white ends up with better development after knight takes queen) Nf6 4. Nc3 Qa5 5. a3 Nc6 6. b4 Nxb4 (it is possible to take knight but then rook is dead meat) 7. Bb2?? (better move would have been Bd3 then knight takes bishop and queen takes bishop and white is better) Nxc2+!! 8. Kd1 Nxa1! 9. Bxa1?? (better move would be moving king to light square or getting queen off of f3 square because black then played…) Bg4!! (queen is absolutely pinned–can take bishop but then knight takes queen) 0-1 (white resigned after tragically losing the queen)

            Incidentally, I had another game recently in which the Scandinavian defense, Mieses-Kotrc gambit variation was used in which I won the game in 20 moves after forcefully winning my opponent’s queen. I had the white pieces and my opponent had the black pieces.
            1. e4 d5 2. e4xd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. b4?! Qxb4 5. Rb1 Qa5 6. Bc4 c6 7. Qf3 Nf6 8. Nge2 Bf5 9. 0-0 e6 10. Re1 Nbd7 11. Nf4 Qc7 12. d4 Bd6 13. Nxe6?! Bxe6 14. Bxe6! 0-0-0? 15. Bxd7+! Rxd7 16. Qf5! Bxh2+! 17. Kf1 Kb8? 18. g3 Bxg3?! 19. f2xg3 Qxg3?? (much better move would be either moving king off the h2-b8 diagonal or the queen off that diagonal because of…) Bf4+!! 1-0 (black resigned–queen is lost)

          • newenglandsun

            And another game I played today which proved the feminist writer wrong about her assumptions of chess where the queen is always “helping her man”…
   (click “play as guest” and you will be directed toward the game to which you can scroll through the moves)

            The king was the first piece I had developed into the fire here! It confused my opponent quite sufficiently that he lost the game on time (though it was a blitz game and the position results in a forced mate in four for black with the following: 42. Kc2 Qxa1!! 43. Qf7+ (or Qe8+) Kxf7 (or Kxe8) 44. b4 Qb2+!! 45. Kd1 Qxd2#!!).

      • newenglandsun

        Also, you say “When you say “I don’t know why WE get so worked up when ‘man’ is used in a general sense…”, what you really mean is “I don’t know why PEOPLE NOT ME get so worked up…””
        Are men not people?

  • Kevin Thomas

    I feel like sin has a propagatory nature to it; our sin affects other people and ripples out to humanity. We see that in patterns of oppression and violence in nations and communities or even parents passing on their vices to their children. Sin keeps getting passed down, and one could say it started with Adam (or proverbial Adam). I suppose a difference between Neil and Adam is that while Neil didn’t cause more people to end up on the moon, Adam’s sin affected Cain, and Cain’s sin affected his children, and so on and so forth until I started doing awful things like talking back to my mom.

    • Ross

      I wonder if the corollary of that is that good is also propagatory, or is there some reason that sin outweighs good? Being a bit of a pessimist I tend to see the propagation of sin a lot more than the other.

  • Father Thyme

    > …challenges—but not impossibility—of resisting temptation…

    How would it fit in your theology if a man claimed that, even though tempted, he had not sinned and thus experience no guilt?

    “I have never felt guilty of my ability. I have never felt guilty of my mind. I have never felt guilty of being a man. I accepted no unearned guilt […] We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.”

    John Galt (Atlas Shrugged, 1957)

    • Bev Mitchell

      With respect to the most original of sins, the first sin, Genesis seems to be illustrating that we always yield to the temptation to not trust God — even for just judgement. As Paul put it:

      “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” 1 Cor 4:4 NIV

      I don’t usually agree with hitting people with one liners from Scripture, but this whole passage from Paul summarizes several things mentioned or alluded to in the comments, so it is in this context that I offer the quote.

  • Kim Fabricius

    I presume Karl would agree that his thesis here, put so rivetingly and succinctly (much obliged!), is actually pretty old hat. OT scholars have long been aware that Pauline, let alone Augustinian, readings of Genesis 3 are eisegetical, if nonetheless deeply, deeply theologically and existentially momentous (cf. Luther’s take on Paul’s sola fide vis-à-vis the contextual insights, historical and biblical, of New Perspectives on Paul scholars). But I guess the news hasn’t yet been heard by many ostrich-like American conservative evangelicals, or if heard, denied or suppressed due to the disturbing cognitive dissonance it may cause, particularly (yes) if they are hermeneutically strung out on authorial intention.

    What remains for Karl to examine — and I hope he will do so with similar lucidity — are the issues Professor Jame Barr explored in his seminal The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality (published in 1992!). Barr’s basic thesis: that the narrative of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden “is not, as it has been commonly understood in our [Western Christian] tradition, basically a story of the origins of sin and evil, still less a depiction of absolute evil or total depravity: it is a story of how human immortality was almost gained, but in fact was lost. This was, I need hardly remind you, the reason, and the only reason, why Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden: not because they were unworthy to stay there, or because they were hopelessly alienated from God, but because, if they stayed there, they would gain access to the tree of life, and eat of its fruit, and gain immortality: they would ‘live for ever’ (Genesis 3.22).”

    Only now do things get interesting — and when you consider that “immortality” here does not mean life after death but life without death, very interesting indeed.

    • Kim,

      “But I guess the news hasn’t yet been heard by many ostrich-like American
      conservative evangelicals, or if heard, denied or suppressed due to the
      disturbing cognitive dissonance it may cause, particularly (yes) if
      they are hermeneutically strung out on authorial intention.”

      Well, yes – divine authorial intention. It is called “God’s Word” after all… What the church has always believed… until the last 2 centuries or so…


      • peteenns

        Kim can handle herself here Nathan, but all this “what the church has ways believed” rhetoric is startlingly self-confident and won’t gain much traction here.

        • Kim Fabricius

          Nor, Nathan, will the biblical ventriloquism of “divine authorial intention”.
          Oh, and Pete, Kim is a he!

          • Peter, Kim,

            Well, in that case, I really would be interested in suggestions directing me to works that refute what I was saying…

            In particular, are there some references from church fathers – and books that cover these – from the first 500 years of the church that should cause me to not be so confident?


          • Chris Falter

            Based on Pete’s interview with Giberson, it seems like Giberson’s book “Saving the Original Sinner” is just the work you’re looking for.

          • Chris,

            Well, I don’t know. I am looking for evidence in the first 500 years that some early church fathers did not see the Scriptures primarily as God’s very own words. Does any such evidence exist?


          • Chris Falter

            I’m not sure what you’re driving at Nathan. Saying that the Bible is God’s very own words doesn’t settle debates over hermeneutical approaches and the genre classification of various passages. Could you clarify the goal of your question?

            In the meanwhile, you might find these two essays interesting:


            Howard Van Till, professor of physics at Calvin College, wrote them on the doctrine of creation in Augustine and Basil the Great. These fathers’ hermeneutical approach to Genesis figures heavily in the essays.

          • In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul distinguishes between his commands and the Lord’s commands.

          • In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak from Troas. Probably not the very words of God, there.

      • Andrew Dowling

        You are claiming divine authority for certain interpretations of the text, not the text itself

        • Andrew,

          No, I am saying that the text is basically a letter of God to His Church – apart from questions of interpretation.


  • Rick

    I think the Eastern Orthodox focus on the consequences of earlier sin is more in the right direction. We, and the world, are impacted by sins of others- mentally, emotionally, biologically, etc…
    They also seem to hold to the “good” more than in the West.

    • Kim Fabricius

      Yes, the Greek Fathers have a much more optimistic anthropology than the Augustinian-Western tradition. While they agree that all human beings were involved in Adam’s primal sin and that it has profoundly affected our nature, they deny both that Adam disseminated his actual guilt to posterity and that our free will is altogether lost; crippled rather. That is, they see sin more in terms of moral weakness, deprivation (deprivatio) than wickedness, depravity (depravatio). Moreover, they understand the ultimate tragedy and predicament of the human condition in terms of death rather than sin.

      So original sin, yes, but not as we in the West know it, Spock.

      • newenglandsun

        In the Catholic sense, guilt is actually deemed as consequential of being a part of the human race as well which is why Eastern Catholics and Western Rite Catholics don’t pick fights about each other’s interpretations of original sin because they are understood to be emphases on different aspects of the consequences.

  • James

    Is this his or your adaption? Anyway, I am suspicious of any adaptation of complete works in a few short paragraphs. Giberson touches on a very delicate theme (“original sin”) that requires great care in unpacking. It is being reconsidered currently because of recent scientific light shed on biblical text. Well, not that recent as the issue of religion and science existed in Aristotle down through Augustine and medieval times to the so-called Scientific Revolution, to say nothing of Darwin or Dirac. No, we mustn’t fear the light of (relatively) pure science, but embrace it and focus it on inevitable changes of expression in Christian faith today. I like what I’ve read of Giberson in the past and look forward to his latest offering.

  • Ross

    Just thought I’d say an excellent post this one. It really does open up the thoughts I have always had about, what, why, how etc. I think it is great to just explore all these possibilities without having to hem them into doctrinal necessities.

    Maybe like others I find it dreadful that I am not perfectly good and am weighed down with the shame of the “bad things I have done”. I’m not sure how this is fuelled by the influence of “Christianity”. But is difficult to feel good about oneself if you have perfection to compare to, particularly if we are all under “Adam’s sin”. It can actually be hard to shoehorn the love and forgiveness of God in there if I cannot be good and can only be seen as good due to someone else’s actions.

    I wonder how the Jewish principles of “Yetzer ra and Yetzer tov” fit in here (evil inclination and good inclination) and the choices we make to follow one or the other. Some may dismiss this as “salvation through works”, but the NT does seem to talk about our actions actually meaning something in the eternal doo-dah-wotsit.

  • Roger Hull

    I propose that we think of original sin from a Darwinian perspective. In that view, I see original sin as selfishness. Selfishness can be a survival tactic. Think of a newborn. A newborn is very selfish which enhances the possiblity of survival. Selfishness infects all of us from birth. It’s part of our DNA. Part of our life task is to recognize that we are not alone in the world and to develop a consideration of others. Sometimes that may mean we don’t get what we want.

    • Have you read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene? It’s interesting in both biological and philosophical aspects.

    • Andrew Dowling

      A paradox of being is that we are naturally predisposed to be both selfish and altruistic.

      • Roger Hull

        You are right Andrew. I’m not sure if altruism is part of our DNA or if it is epigentic and “kicks” in later.

  • Do some large brained mammals that live in social groups also resist temptation?

  • Men and women are “sinful” because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species.

    Consider the “anger reaction” in vertebrates. We all lapse into angry outbursts from time to time. This is to be expected, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isn’t much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce. Having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response is not our “sinful” fault; it is part of the way our brains evolved to function.

    Christian apologists object that such a purely biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on long evolved biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domning’s “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologists’ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

    Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

    Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animal’s lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

    • Andrew Dowling

      Not sure why a concept of “sin nature” couldn’t be rooted in biological realities. I’m not an advocate of original sin myself, but resorting to saying certain ‘sinful’ actions have roots in evolutionary development doesn’t speak anything to whether or how more cognitively advanced beings, such as ourselves, can designate certain actions to be good or bad.

  • chrijeff

    But, so far as we know, Armstrong WAS the first human to set foot on the Moon. So the point would be…what??

  • W Kumar

    I have been a Christian (evangelical) for most of my adult life and Christian history, and theology, is something that I have always loved. I see both as the handmaidens to faith. The former shows us where the Church has been, and the second is how we learn to communicate, and understand, what it is we are supposed to believe in.

    However, the more I learn about the world of science, and of history, I find my faith challenged at times. Not to the degree where I feel like abandoning faith (though I went through that stage in my early 20’s due to post teen angst), but in terms of how I am supposed to understand it. In other words, when I said I have “faith” what exactly am I saying? What do I have faith in? Which interpretation of the Bible is mine?

    I was raised to believe in Creationism. However, I now see that evolution is real and that Creationism is incorrect. Where does that leave me? How do I continue to accept an evangelical narrative if I already do not believe in one of the core tenants of the evangelical movement? In other words if Adam and Eve were not real, and it seems correct to say that they were not, does that leave a foundation for conservative evangelical faith?

    The comments here show that there are no easy answers. If anything, they show that no one really has an answer and that it really comes down to faith. What do we choose to believe and why do we believe in it?

    • Ross

      For me I wonder how “core” the historical fall is to a real faith and walk with God? There are those who see it as “essential” but I wonder if its importance has actually grown in recent history. One line of reasoning goes that without the “historical fall” we are not in need of “redemption” and bang goes the “core” of faith.

      Christian faith is often compared to, or called a “journey”. Part of this journey is re-evaluating how we react to what we know. Early on we may have a brief or simplistic understanding of God and ourselves, as we grow this changes, or else we stay as “children”. In a couple of places I have mentioned that although our view on what the “fall” may or may not have been it doesn’t necessarily change where we are and that we are “fallen” living in a “fallen” world. As an analogy, if we are all clinging to driftwood in the middle of the ocean, it doesn’t particularly matter if we were on a sinking ship, got thrown in, or deliberately swam out there, we could probably all do with being rescued. OK, analogies are always pretty limited and can’t hold up to much scrutiny, but to what extent does “believing” or “knowing about” the fall really effect what needs to be done to counter-act it.

      There seem to be many voices, on both sides of the argument, stating that without a real historical fall, then Christianity crumbles away and is pointless. There are many, like myself who don’t actually follow that line of argument, still see a real need for a relationship with God and earnestly seek Jesus.

      In terms of what the “core” of our faith should be, I’d say is that God visited us in the person of Jesus, was crucified and rose again, which we have to do “in trust without seeing”, which is what millions have done since the fact. Our views on “the fall”, “the trinity”, “St Paul’s motivations and inseam” are at best secondary to living our lives in the light of Jesus’ incarnation and call.

      • W Kumar

        “There seem to be many voices, on both sides of the argument, stating that without a real historical fall, then Christianity crumbles away and is pointless.”

        I once read an NPR article about Christians accepting evolution and one of the comments on that story was written by a supposed atheist. The commentator asked why he or she should accept Jesus if the “fall” of Adam never took place. Not only theologically, but factually as well. If Adam and Even never existed would it be too much to ask if Noah never existed or if David and Solomon also never existed? The point, I believe, was that the foundation of Christianity was shaky at best without Adam and Eve being historical figures.

        How do we respond to this? I agree, on a spiritual level, that Adam and Eve don’t have to be historical characters in order for me to have faith. However, on a intellectual level, I don’t know how to explain this or even defend it. That is the question I am facing.

        • Peter Wolfe

          “The commentator asked why he or she should accept Jesus if the “fall” of Adam never took place.”

          From my view I don’t need Adam&Eve to be real to know I need someone (Jesus) to rescue me. I sin because I am a sinner not because of Adam&Eve. Look around your local context, look around the world – for sure we(I) need rescuing.

          • newenglandsun

            I know many Catholics who say Adam and Eve need to be real in order for original sin to be real. I personally don’t find this necessary at all.

    • AHH

      You are right that there are no “easy answers”, but in the opinion of this Christian scientist MOST of the questions raised by science for “traditional” evangelical theology are not too difficult either. It does mean moving away from naive “magic book” approaches to the Bible that expect it to be a perfect science textbook, and it means recognizing “nature” as a tool that God can use rather than pitting natural explanations and God as mutually exclusive opposites.

      You should know that many have walked this ground before you, and come out with an evangelical faith that may not maintain some of the most conservative elements (like “inerrancy”) but keeps what really counts, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Good resources for this journey can be found at, and in books like The Language of Science and Faith by Giberson & Collins, Origins by Haarsma and Haarsma, I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution by Denis Lamoureux, or Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World by George Murphy. For dealing with the Bible in a better way, our blog host Pete Enns has written helpful books The Bible Tells Me So and The Evolution of Adam.

      • W Kumar

        I am well familiar with Biologos and I have read it, along with some of its publications, over the past few years. I also am reading the Evolution of Adam as well (something I should have pointed out in my comment). Thank you for the kind and mature words. It is good to know that there are others with the same questions who are willing to look for the answers no matter where they lead.

    • Paul Bruggink

      Re “What do we choose to believe and why do we believe in it?,” one possible easy answer is the Apostles’ and/or Nicene Creeds, neither of which have anything to say about Adam & Eve, the Fall, biblical inerrancy, the age of the earth, or how God created it. To sort out the hard part, AHH made some excellent recommendations.

      In addition, Johnny V. Miller & John M. Soden ask and answer a very interesting question in their book “In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context”:

      “How can I trust the Bible if it does not mean what it says?” which they rephrase as “Can I trust the Bible if it does not mean what I thought it meant from my context when I initially read it, before I understood what it would have meant to the original readers?”

      • W Kumar

        My apologies. I didn’t see your reply until now.

        “one possible easy answer is the Apostles’ and/or Nicene Creeds, neither of which have anything to say about Adam & Eve, the Fall, biblical inerrancy, the age of the earth, or how God created it”

        One could argue that later Christians (Protestants and evangelicals in one case) could have been inspired later about such truths. Of course, this begs the question as to how, and why, such inspiration takes place. This is a question that goes to the heart of the matter which is why does theologies, and doctrines, develop in the way that they do.

        • Paul Bruggink

          Now you’re above my pay grade, although I’m reasonably certain that the development of doctrines has been well investigated 🙂