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Adam in Genesis verses Adam in Romans Ch 5

Question & Answer


Q: By Gerwyn

In looking at how the Jews see the Adam and Eve story – that it was a story of taking responsibility and moving out of innocence etc. How does this reconcile however with Paul ( a Jew) in Romans Ch5 where he appears to take on a more traditional even literal approach with Adam and Sin entering in, The Fall etc. ?

A: By Carl Krieg

Dear Gerwyn,

Your question is whether Paul was a literalist, and to answer that it helps to unpack the various dimensions involved. First, we can ask what the author of the Yahwist narrative in Genesis had in mind. Did that person intend that the story be taken literally, and if not, what does it mean? Second, what did Paul have in mind when he used this story? What was he trying to show? And thirdly, are we obligated to agree with the Yahwist and/or Paul as we seek to understand who we are and who God is?

Let’s start with the last question. The focal point of the Christian life is Jesus of Nazareth, who he was, what he taught, what he did, and how we today walk in that path. What the Yahwist thought millennia ago may be helpful in that enterprise and what Paul thought also may be helpful. Whether or not Paul was a literalist is set within the context of whether we are literalists, and if not, can we disagree with Paul, whatever he says? Put otherwise, is the Bible the absolutely inerrant and authoritative word of God? Historically, we should note that this concept of biblical inerrancy initially arose after the Reformation in the period known as Protestant Orthodoxy, and was a factor in the Thirty Years war, in which about 8 million died.

I’m not sure what Paul had in mind in Romans chapter 5. In fact, I have always found much of Romans confusing. But the larger question is whether or not Paul, whatever he had in mind, could have been misguided or wrong. Although fundamentalists would howl and scream, any open-minded Christian today has to be open to that possibility. Lots of liberal church members feel as though they have to “struggle” with the meaning of many biblical verses that seem to support anachronistic perspectives. Personally, I have given up on struggling to reconcile certain biblical verses with Jesus-discipleship, and simply assume that different people at different times dealt with different issues from a different perspective. Just because someone or some group along the trajectory of church history placed those writings in “the book”, does not give them absolute authority. Just because the First Letter of Timothy prescribes that wives should be subject to their husbands does not require that we should accept that as God’s will. The same holds true for Paul. Just because his letters were so important in the development of the early church that they eventually assumed the authority of scripture, does not require us to accept his views as God’s will. Whether he was a literalist is not as important as whether we are literalists.

Given that, it is nonetheless informative and helpful to try to understand what in fact Paul had in mind. I personally find it extremely improbable that Paul actually believed that the human race started with two people named Adam and Eve. Certainly he does believe, however, that human beings easily give in to a distortion of their humanity and that Jesus came to show us what it means to be truly human. Adam and Eve are symbolic of the problem, and set the stage for Jesus. That’s the second question.

This brings us to the first: what was the Yahwist describing in that story about Eden? For a full analysis I refer you to my book, The Void and the Vision, and also an article in entitled Eve, Adam, and Self-Transformation. The idea is simple. That which is forbidden is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a phrase that means the equivalent of top to bottom, left to right, in other words, everything. The pair are warned not to act as though they know everything and to assume that their view of the world coincides with what the world really is. But that, of course, is exactly what they do. They eat the fruit.

They represent everyone. As we go through life, we each develop our own little “world”, inescapably and universally, and that parochial, egocentric perspective distorts our appreciation of and understanding of the real world and interferes with our ability to love our neighbor. In heart and conscience we all at some level are aware of this distortion, and by who he was and said and did Jesus casts God’s light into that self created world.

~ Carl Krieg

About the Author
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith, and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Norwich, VT.

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