Jesus and Paul were not Literalists when it comes to Genesis 2-3

Jesus and Paul were not Literalists when it comes to Genesis 2-3 March 6, 2013

It is interesting how some modern readers simply assume that ancient individuals and authors shared their supposed literalism, and their focus on facts and history and science, all of which are thoroughly modern concerns.

If we look at what Jesus is depicted as saying about Genesis 2 in the Synoptic Gospels, he points to the story about God making two people out of one, and then goes on to talk (as Genesis does) about two becoming one flesh. Not literally being, but becoming. And then, even though it is a story that is literally about the rejoining of what God has cleaved asunder, the conclusion drawn is the opposite, that what God has joined no human being should cleave asunder.

That is not literalism. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is an interpretation that appreciates the story's symbolism.

So too Paul illustrates his lack of interest in the literal details of Genesis 3. In that story, sin could be said to enter the world through two people. Yet Paul says in Romans 5 “by/through one man.” He is reading the Adam story a particular way, as a foil to the story of Christ.

Once again, that is not literalism. It is a reading for which the literal details of the story are of less importance than the symbolism that Paul wishes to draw out from it.

This is very clear when one reads the text in a manner informed by ancient conventions of writing, reading, and interpretation. The only reason it seems to some modern readers that Jesus and Paul were literalists is our tendency to assume that those we consider authorities say what we think they ought to say.

I strongly recommend taking a closer look. Jesus and Paul were literally not literalists.


"Under the old covenant (ten commandments), people were (and still are) racists and sexists. For ..."

Was Jesus a Racist?
"Reconciliation is a two-way street, restoring a broken relationship between two people. God does indeed ..."

Forgive Us Our Debts, Not Repay ..."
"Excellent. God is not, and does not want to be, an accountant; keeping a ledger ..."

Forgive Us Our Debts, Not Repay ..."
"Don't confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Jesus tells us to forgive people who sin against us, ..."

Forgive Us Our Debts, Not Repay ..."

Browse Our Archives