2 after Trinity Sermon


Trinity 2 – Stories of the Beginning Today’s OT reading is a portion of the famous story of Adam and Eve from Genesis. What most people forget is that there are two stories which attempt to explain the origins of humanity in Genesis, the second being the recounting of God’s work in creation through the 6 days of Creation until on the seventh he rested. Not so surprising you might think to have more than one explanation, after all this was a very long time ago in a part of the world which was largely without science, or many of the explanations about our origins we have come to as the millennia have passed. There is a most wonderful book by the American theologian and biblical scholar Elaine Pagels called Adam Eve and the Serpent, and reading it opened my eyes to a fascinating detective story surrounding these two stories which I want to share because it leads us into really interesting questions about the purposes of stories in scripture. Let us start with an often forgotten truth, not all stories were ever intended to be read as literal truth, they were devices for explaining things hard to understand, but considered important for people of faith. Adam and Eve were not real people, there was no garden of Eden, and that is not to deny the bible, that is to read it as it was intended to be read. A few simple facts from the story itself confirm this, if they were real they had a problem, they only had sons, and so a fairly poor start to creating a human race. However, when those sons grew they married women – well where did they come from, who were their parents? You see the point? And there is much more we can leave for now, I just recommend you read it all again with a different eye. The simpler story of God as creator is much earlier in date, possibly 400 years or more earlier, and it makes a single claim – that God created the heavens and earth, and all living things upon it, and lastly he created people, and wished that all creation would be both fruitful, and importantly once finished God looked at His work and was pleased with it. God had created both a wonderful home for His creation, but endowed it with all that was necessary for life to thrive, and for abundance to be their lot. The Adam and Eve story scholars believe to have been written at the time of the building of the second Temple, roughly the 7th century bc, and importantly around the same time that King Josiah was seeking to reform his kingdom. Josiah was keen on codifying laws, setting in place rules and hierarchies that would make ruling his kingdom easier and less open to question. It is this mindset that is the background to the story of Adam and Eve. For here the story isn’t one of God being pleased, for within the paradise of Eden there was a trap, namely the so-called tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Josiah wanted not just to explain where creation came from, but was anxious to answer the age-old question of where sin came from too. That is not an unreasonable question to try to explain in an origin story, it is more that answer he came up with that is problematic. For in this version of creation God first created only man, and according to the story realized he needed a companion – which if you think of it rather misses the point of how Adam could have been the founder of the human race without her? Then God creates woman, not as he created Adam, but from a rib, so in this story man is from God and woman comes from man, when in fact we know that the phenotype of humans is actually female, in scientific fact men are something of an aberration of the female. Then the story decides to have the question of sin answered as – well you knew it – the woman leading the man astray, although the serpent is seen as tricking the weak and feeble woman, and they both get caught as possessing the forbidden knowledge, sign of which is that realize for the first time that they are naked. Their shame at their nakedness is a metaphor for their having seen their sinful shame before God. So far from God seeing His creation and concluding that it was very good, in this story He sees only their willful disobedience, and the scene is set for the history of humanity trying to make good this eternal wrong, Eve of course representing womankind is cursed with the pains and perils of labor and childbirth – which at best seems unkind and worse is yet to come as the sin of these two people is seen as tainting the rest of humanity forever, what is called original sin, inherited by every human at birth from then onwards. At best a very severe understanding of sin, and being set up to fail seems a very unreasonable action on God’s part. But Josiah had established a hierarchy, Adam was subject to God, and Eve was subject to Adam, and despite neither having existed this became the answer to the origin of sin. But did it? Genesis is the first book in the bible, and this story, which has come to drown out the simpler more positive story of the creator God, you would think would then be the explanation that informed the rest of the OT. But the fact is that Adam and Eve are never mentioned in the OT, not a single prophet, the psalmist, nor any of the writers of the OT ever mention this story, So how can it have been the accepted explanation? The truth is that two people are really responsible for it becoming a more central idea. It was St Paul, that highly educated pharisee with a clever theological mind who first talks of Jesus as the second Adam, most likely to explain the incarnation rather than to lay any claims to this story in all its implications. And later in the 4th century St Augustine, who in his youth had been quite the lad, and become fascinated by a sect called Manicheism, which liked to see the world in stark terms of black and white, good and evil and so forth, went on to expound this story as it fitted well with his own search for forgiveness and an explanation of the origins of sin. For him and afterwards original sin became a focus of answers to this question, where even new born babies were understood to be born with original sin, and where in a world by then very definitely ruled by men, the subjugation of woman to man seemed as natural as salve to owner and child to parent and so forth. Not until the early twentieth century did women have any rights to speak of in marriage or property, and not until that century unfolded did we start to question these assumptions. So to me at least a fascinating detective story with a serious point. There was a book written in this vein called ‘Was Eve Framed’, well you might guess I think she was in this story, and that it has suited an unequal view of the world to let this continue for far too long. I prefer the earlier, simpler more hopeful story, and as neither to me claim literal truth, then considering what are the consequences of reading them that way, is indeed an important and timely challenge. - Amen