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This essay suggests that Genesis 2-3 is not saying what we often assume. The narrative of Genesis 2-3 is often understood as a catastrophic fall account where Adam and Eve’s sin result in a loss of immortality and subsequent physical death for all humankind. However, the story does not mention sin let alone original sin, accentuate a fall, or understand God’s Genesis 2:17 death punishment as literal physical death.

The narrative of Genesis 2-3 details the story of God creating a perfectly ordered world, which included Adam, and his union to Eve.  The story describes how Adam and Eve are deceived by a serpent and subsequently reprimanded by God, a punishment that results in their banishment from the Garden of Eden.  Often identified as the ‘fall account,’ Genesis 2-3 are thought to accentuate the connection between sin and death.  A common deduction made concerning this connection is that disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted in their loss of immortality and ensuing physical death.  This essay will attempt to examine the relationship between sin and death, while concurrently providing a rationale for the sermon presentation piece that addressed the connection.

 

THE ASSUMPTION OF LITERAL DEATH

The command from God refrain from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 2:17 is ascribed the consequence of ‘certain death’.  The text is not explicit concerning the common assumption that Adam and Eve’s sin assigned them to mortality and literal death.  However, the relationship between the pre and post sin state of humans appears more ambiguous than assumed.[1] The inevitability of physical death appears to be an accepted certainty of human existence from the beginning.  God formed Adam from the dust and the dust is also his final destination.[2]   God also named the first man, adama, meaning earth.  The connection between humans and the land beginning with the first person is a continual theme in Genesis. The redactor appears eager to remind the exiles of their connection to the land. This ongoing theme introduced in Genesis 2-3, that humans are created from the earth, to cultivate the earth, and finally return to the earth,[3] may suggest that despite the warning from God of certain death should his command be broken, Adam and Eve’s sentence may not be physical death as a returning to the earth had previously been recognised as their final destination.[4] 

 

SIN RESULTS IN THE DEATH OF SEPERATION FROM GOD

Rather than the consequences of sin resulting in physical death, Genesis 2-3 may illuminate the association of sin with an alternative concept of death, namely separation from God.[5] Expanding further, separation from God is the demise of the intimate relationship between the creator and his created at the intrinsic level of the heart or the soul, rather than the body.[6]  Inter-testament Jewish literatures’ response to Genesis 2-3 appears comfortable holding the notion of death in a multi-perspectival way.[7]  The point of humanity’s deviation from God commences in Genesis 3:1-5.  The serpent appeals to Eve’s independence, casting doubt on God’s motive for commanding they refrain from eating from the tree and rejecting the notion that they would certainly die.  While the first humans reside in intimate proximity to God, they lack knowledge, the acquisition of which Eve perceives as an attractive prospect.  The serpents appeal to eat from the tree offers Eve the one thing she doesn’t have.[8]  The forbidden tree, however, while increasing knowledge, does not further the bond with God but causes alienation from him.[9]  The narrative implies that taking responsibility for good and evil does not result in immediate physical death but rather a divorce from God and banishment from his presence.[10] This separation as a notion of death is further illustrated in Genesis 4. Cain appeals to God concerning his sin punishment, equating his exile from God’s presence and the land to death.[11]  The redactor is a forthright in suggesting to Israelite exiles the connection between disobedience and the curse of toil as well as the punishment of exile.[12]

 

HUMAN FALLIABILITY ENSURES WE ALL COMMIT AN ORIGINAL SIN

As can be seen, the connection between sin and death can be interpreted as an association between human fallibility and banishment from God’s presence.  While Genesis 2-3 does not use the word sin, it first occurs in Genesis 4:7, it is implied due to the disobedience to God’s command.  Arnold summarises the purpose of Genesis 2-3 to be, “an explanation of the common experience of all humans in alienation, guilt and death.”[13]  The nature of humanity possesses a proclivity for error that subsequently results in separation from God, culpability, and predictably death.  This same tendency is witnessed in Adam and Eve, they appear as ordinary mortals and the template of humankind.[14]  This approach to the text reduces the likelihood of interpreting Genesis 2-3 as a catastrophic fall that subsequently cursed all humankind.  Importantly, the human proclivity for wrongdoing does not mitigate the reality of the consequences that ensue.  God judge’s the serpent, the woman and the man in Genesis 3:14-19 with punishments including male dominion, painful toil, painful childbearing, and exile from the garden.  Despite the penalising, God extends mercy and offers protection.  Genesis 2-3 reveals that estrangement from the creator may alter the relational intimacy and proximity to God, but it does not void the relationship.  For example, God covers Adam and Eve with garments of animal skin (Genesis 3:21).  While guilt is evident, grace is extended by God.[15]  The redactor reassures the audience of God’s continual association with his created humans despite their independence and fallibility.

 

The Genesis 2-3 connection between sin and death may pertain to more than the loss of immortality and subsequent physical death because of sin.  The relationship between sin and death may be better understood utilising an alternative notion of death, namely relational separation from God.  A deeper exploration of Adam and Eve’s error could possibly deepen the understanding of the concept of sin.  Furthermore, analysis of Apostle Paul’s writings on sin, Adam, and immortality (Rom 5:12-21, 1 Cor 15:12-58) may further illuminate the connection between sin and death, specifically while considering sin as separation from God rather than literal death and immortality as possible through Jesus, as opposed to the assumed state of humans prior to Genesis 3.

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “Creation and Fall.” In The Bonhoeffer Reader, by Clifford Green, & Michael DeJonge, 210-260. Minnieapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.

Brodie, Thomas L. Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010.

Carr, David M, and David M Carr. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

Schmid, Konrad. “Loss of Immortality? Hermeneutical Aspects of Genesis 2–3 and its early receptions.” In Beyond Eden: The Biblical Story of Paradise (Genesis 2–3) and its Reception History, by Konrad Schmid, & Christoph Riedweg, 58-78. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

[1] Konrad Schmid, “Loss of Immortality? Hermeneutical Aspects of Genesis 2–3 and its early receptions.” In Beyond Eden: The Biblical Story of Paradise (Genesis 2–3) and its Reception History, by Konrad Schmid, & Christoph Riedweg (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 60.

[2] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 64.

[3] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 58.

[4] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 62.

[5] Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 140.

[6] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 140.

[7] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 68.

[8] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 61.

[9] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 140.

[10] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 61.

[11] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 62.

[12] David M. Carr and David M. Carr. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010), 191.

[13] Arnold, Genesis, 73.

[14] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 145.

[15] Brueggemann, Genesis, 60.