On Genesis 2 and 3

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February 27, 2010 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

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".

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.

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Norm - #5472

February 27th 2010

Wright is correct to note how the second Temple era Jews understood Genesis differently than we do. It is clear that Ezekiel in using the Tree metaphor from the Garden to signify the Nations as participants in the Genesis account was comfortable reading it differently than literalist do. He also points to the Messianic coming of Christ as a time when the land will again become like the Garden of Eden. He’s not talking about a physical land in the manner that modern day dispensationalist do but was pointing to the Spiritual land that Christ would establish.

Eze 28:13 You (Tyre) were in Eden, the garden of God… On the day that you were created they were prepared.

Eze 31:3 Behold, Assyria was a cedar … its top among the clouds. … 8-9 The cedars IN THE GARDEN OF GOD could not rival it… NO TREE IN THE GARDEN OF GOD was its equal in beauty.  (9)  I made it beautiful in the mass of its branches, and ALL THE TREES OF EDEN ENVIED IT, THAT WERE IN THE GARDEN OF GOD.

Eze 36:33 On THE DAY THAT I CLEANSE YOU FROM ALL YOUR INIQUITIES, … the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation …  And they will say, ‘THIS LAND THAT WAS DESOLATE HAS BECOME LIKE THE GARDEN OF EDEN


Stephen Barkley - #5473

February 27th 2010

Why did I never put those two exiles together before?

Thanks.


Craig Robinson - #5489

February 27th 2010

Confusing word usage and writeup at the beginning. He begins by talking about the dating of Genesis 1, and then jumps into the Garden account of Adam and Eve.

My understanding is that most source critics understand that Gen 2 & 3 belongs to some of the earliest literature, while Gen 1 is one of the last things written.  What he says about Gen 1 is correct, but when he jumps straight into Gen 2 &3, it makes it seem like the same dating applies to those chapters as well. This is incorrect.

Now I do not agree with the source critics, but nonetheless, the 300 BC. date belongs to Gen 1, not Gen 2 & 3.


Bob R. - #5492

February 27th 2010

Craig 5489,

I understood Wright to mean that no matter when you date the Genesis account, he feels that the important thing is not the dating but how the generations immediately preceding the Jesus era would have seen their own national experience of disobedience, loss of the land, and exile in the light of Genesis. In other words, Wright hypothesizes that they would have seen their own exile as a type of Edenic exile, and thus the story of Adam & Eve, for them, becomes their own story.

How we read the New Testament, similarly, becomes our own story with the eventual restoration of Eden by 2nd Adam. His comments on dating were simply introductory to his hypothesis that the Bible is to be read not merely as someone else’s story, but as our own. We miss that point when we focus on things like young earth or old earth, what the days meant, etc.


Pete Enns - #5495

February 27th 2010

If can throw my opinion in here, I think Bob R. is correct, even if a tad more clarity from Wright would have helped.

Entirely co-incidentally, my next post on Tuesday is titled “Adam is Israel” where I suggest that seeing Israel’s history and exile in the Adam story is embedded in Genesis. I’ll be interested to see how others will see this connection.


Rev. Scott Mapes - #5509

February 27th 2010

Great discussion so far.  I believe that the central insight noted here is critical in understanding the Genesis account as it was intended to be understood.  The irony of some “literal” interpretations is that they actually impose upon a text (like the Genesis creation accounts) a function and a purpose that were not likely intended.  The function of Genesis 1-3 for the faith community surely has more to do with faith development than it has to do with scientific history and theory.


Craig Robinson - #5513

February 27th 2010

Bob, I understood his point which I agree with to an extent. I was just trying to clarify the date issue. It wasn’t stated very clearly.


Scott Jorgenson - #5553

February 28th 2010

For whatever its worth, note that Wright cited a range of dates, from that held by traditional conservative scholars (Mosaic authorship around the time of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings), to around 300 BCE by which I think he is alluding to the most extreme elements of the “biblical minimalist” camp.  The biblical minimalists date the whole Hebrew Bible as post-exilic, so even Genesis 2-3 to some of them might be perhaps as late as 300 BCE.  Neither extreme represents the majority view among biblical scholars today, and I don’t think Wright was claiming that either was a mainstream view.


Dan - #5578

March 1st 2010

To quote the often referenced Augustine:

“Yet no one ought to suppose either that these things were written for no purpose, or that we should study only the historical truth, apart from any allegorical meanings; or, on the contrary, that they are only allegories, and that there were no such facts at all, or that, whether it be so or no, there is here no prophecy of the church.

“…And since this is so, if not even the most audacious will presume to assert that these things were written without a purpose, or that though the events really happened they mean nothing, or that they did not really happen, but are only allegory, or that at all events they are far from having any figurative reference to the church; if it has been made out that, on the other hand, we must rather believe that there was a wise purpose in their being committed to memory and to writing, and that they did happen, and have a significance, and that this significance has a prophetic reference to the church, then this book, having served this purpose, may now be closed, that we may go on to trace in the history subsequent to the deluge the courses of the two cities—the earthly, that lives according to men, and the heavenly, that lives according to God.”


Jerry - #5587

March 1st 2010

Anybody likes the music as I do?? Anyway, this is a great post! I had previously understood that the promise land is equal to the sanctuary, but I’ve never made the connection between Adam and Eve leaving the Eden with the exile of the Jews. This has gotten my juice flowing!


MC - #5591

March 1st 2010

Dan,

“In “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis” Augustine took the view that everything in the universe was created simultaneously by God, and not in seven calendar days like a plain account of Genesis would require. He argued that the six-day structure of creation presented in the book of Genesis represents a logical framework, rather than the passage of time in a physical way - it would bear a spiritual, rather than physical, meaning, which is no less literal.”

Is this your contention then in quoting him?

Augustine had no beliefs that would lend themselves to an old earth or evolution:

“Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been… They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.”

– Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past, The City of God, Book 12: Chapt. 10 [419].


Alice C. Linsley - #6008

March 6th 2010

The story of the first man and women in the garden finds its closest parallels to the origins stories of west central Africa, which is where Abraham’s ancestors came from.  Read more here: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2008/07/genesis-creation-stories.html


BC - #6792

March 14th 2010

It has been asserted many times that the writing and reading of Genesis by pre-enlightenment peoples was influenced by a primitive understanding of the physical world. Post enlightenment reading of Genesis is done in culture based on literalism. We have gained a so-called ‘real’ understanding of the physical world, by observation and analyses, that is literal or scientific in character. This in turn has created a modern, literalist culture. No wonder we have both atheistic and fundamentalist literalist readings of scripture which distract and steer us off the mark when attempting to understand what scripture continues to say to each new generation.


John Warren - #19224

June 27th 2010

How does he know that there’s this good God who put Israel in a good place?  Words!  So whence comes the innovators authority to pick and choose?  How does sticking with the literal words mean you’re not also in tune with the overtones and backstories?


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