In this video conversation, N.T. Wright talks about the story presented in Genesis 2 and 3 and offers some important insights on the functionality of the text that in many ways transcends its literal narrative.
Wright begins by noting that while there are divergent views on the date of authorship of Genesis—with some scholars attributing its authorship to Moses, thus dating it c. 1500 B.C., and others dating it around the third century B.C.. Regardless of its actual date of composition, however, Wright is most interested in the way in which Jesus’ antecedents would have read the text in the period right before the New Testament.
He asserts that any Jew from the period of the Babylonian exile to the life of Jesus reading the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden—and their ultimate expulsion after violating the terms of their covenant with God—would have identified with the story on a deep level. These readers would have thought “this is our story” because Israel had repeated this experience.
In the Adam and Eve narrative, humankind was given a gift—a wonderful identity and a wonderful place in which to exist. Their failure to uphold the terms of their agreement with God results in their exile from the Garden. In kind, through Israel, God offers an opportunity to remake that human project. He gives them their land and identity—and in return, they are to follow his commandments. When they fail, like Adam and Eve, they are exiled from the land.
Readers of Genesis who focus simply on the smaller, literal picture—that is, the number of days of creation and whether there is evidence in the text pointing to an old or new earth—are in effect not reading the complete text. To fully appreciate the richness of the text, we should think about the functionality and reception of the text as opposed to solely the words on the page.
As you watch this, listen especially closely to the section beginning at 2:25. Here, Genesis 2 and 3 are placed in the context of not just the exile ("we blew it again"), but in the context of the answer to this problem as described in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Acts, and by Paul. Has the unity of the Scriptural message ever been put more succinctly? This, perhaps, is N.T. Wright at his very best.
For a related discussion, see our recent entry by Pete Enns: "Adam is Israel".