Adam And Eve; Clergy And Lies

Adam And Eve; Clergy And Lies August 24, 2018

When Jesus spoke of the first man and first woman (he did not refer to them as Adam and Eve), when he spoke of Noah, he was pulling upon common language and common understandings of God as creator and human as storyteller.

Adam and Eve driven from the garden

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: It seems to me that Christians have really worked themselves into a corner with the Adam and Eve myth.  By reading it literally and positing that the serpent is Satan in disguise, their theology is built upon a premise that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But evolution and paleontology have proved, at least to my satisfaction and to the satisfaction of most educated people, that the Adam and Eve story is a myth, not a physical, historical fact.  

When you sit in church and the minister quotes from Genesis and says it is God’s word, implying it is literally true because it is stated as fact, you sit there and think you are being lied to.  The minister can’t possibly believe what he is saying.  That is a horrible feeling.  You know the New Testament is founded on a belief that the stories in Genesis really happened, but you have come to know they were Jewish origin myths, not history, and you are pretty sure your minister has come to that conclusion too.

If you concede they are myths, how does that undercut the New Testament?  For literalists, they will tell you if Genesis isn’t history then you can’t believe anything the New Testament says.  What do you say?   

Funny you should ask–my Roman Catholic-reared husband just asked me how Biblical literalists explained the existence of dinosaurs several million years ago. I told him that the proponents of the Young Earth/Adam and Eve created by God story believe that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. Scientific evidence to the contrary means merely that the scientists are wrong and God made it look that way to test the faith of humankind in the truth of the Bible.

And there, in a nutshell, is how one can hold to the literalist Adam/Eve story: Unilaterally declare that anyone who does not is wrong and is deceived by the evidence in front of them.

Thus, it is very, very possible that ministers do believe what they are saying. If they don’t, they should not be in the pulpit.

But here’s where I take a stand different from yours: I can read and declare the early chapters of Genesis as the Word of the Lord–and not insist those writings are literal descriptions of the creation of the world and humankind.

I can do this because I know those words are pieces of exquisite poetry, always meant to be read symbolically. They declare the extreme goodness of God and the world, a world which in some form or fashion, emanated from the hands (and don’t take that literally either) of God.

Those words also offer insight to the ongoing temptation by humans to trade the truth (the goodness of God) for a lie (God is not good—you don’t get to eat here!). They show very clearly the devastation brought by choosing the lie and discovering the shame and hiding that inevitably follow.

The need to take Genesis literally is a generally a modern phenomenon. Many early Jewish scholars also viewed those portions of the Bible as metaphor, as symbol, as holy, as true, but not as science or history. They could and did affirm their truth for what they are: sign-pointers to a Holy One full of goodness and creativity.

When Jesus spoke of the first man and first woman (he did not refer to them as Adam and Eve), when he spoke of Noah, he was pulling upon common language and common understandings of God as creator and human as storyteller.

It would be like me saying, “He treats her just like Rhett treated Scarlet!” That doesn’t mean I think there is a real, “literal,” Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara, but that I point to them and our shared knowledge of their story for a modern-day lesson.

Unfortunately, one the many evils the church has inadvertently committed was its decision to become decidedly anti-science. A great deal of this kind of repressive thinking sprang up during the time after the Roman Empire collapsed and that part of the world entered a time some call the Dark Ages.

Various invaders conquered much of Europe and destroyed many of its centers of learning. Much was rediscovered in the period known as the Renaissance. It was during this time of rediscovery that the Roman Catholic church, by then a hotbed of both corruption and superstitious practices, also upped its repressive practices of torturing anyone who might even consider thinking outside their box.

That legacy of superstition survives in the Biblical literalist world. That world sadly refuses to embrace the way that scientific discovery expands both our understanding of the world and our understanding of God.

Photo Credit: By James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902) (French)Details of artist on Google Art Project – igGZ-wF6_0XnlQ at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain

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  • The Mouse Avenger

    A very fascinating article…

    …but what if you’re someone like me–someone who believes in Adam, Eve, the Garden Of Eden, the fall of man, & all that stuff as literal, historical, actual things that happened, & you also believe in evolution at the same time?

    I mean, the two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, you know.

    (And, furthermore, what about alternate universes where dinosaurs & people DID live together at the same time, like in “The Flintstones”? Or where ‘characters’ like Rhett & Scarlett actually live, breathe, & otherwise exist in a corporeal fashion? Nobody ever seems to bring up those possibilities, either.)

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    Wow. Great article. Worth waiting for.

  • Stewart Felker

    I posted this on Facebook too, but just in the interest of full accuracy, the idea that early Jews and Christians didn’t think of Genesis as history is itself a myth.

    Very little of Genesis was ever frequently interpreted exclusively metaphorically.

    • Thank you. The idea that the bible is part myth, part copying error after 400 years, part a mix of history and Christian fable is rife on these sites; and it’s pathetic.

      • Steven Waling

        That doesn’t alter the fact that there is no history in Genesis.

        • Really? What was the name of your ape ancestor then?
          How did it escape the Flood that destroyed the earth?

          • Steven Waling

            The stupid gene’s obviously not been bred out of your family then.

          • Ok. Then let us all know your description of Genesis. This should be good.

          • Steven Waling

            I suggest you consult your local rabbi. It is, after all, the first book of the Torah.

          • Did it ever occur to answer the question? You said Genesis contains no history. I replied asking what you would call the history clearly contained in it. Your answer in non-responsive.

  • Brandon Roberts