Genesis with N.T. Wright
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.
To join the discussion, see the blog post "On Genesis 2 and 3" on Science & the Sacred.
For a related discussion, see our recent entry by Pete Enns: "Adam is Israel".
The question of when Genesis 1 was written is itself hugely controversial. Today I think you'd find a spread of scholars going way back to some who say Moses wrote it whenever that was, 1500 BC, based on earlier traditions, perhaps, right through to some who would say it was actually written in the third century BC or something like that. I'm quite interested, whenever it was written, in the way people would have read it in the period immediately before the New Testament.
The people who are Jesus' antecedents, as it were, how are they seeing a text like this? It seems to me quite clear. Here's a story about these people who are put into a wonderful garden, given commands, given responsibilities, and then they blow it big time and they get kicked out. Any Jew reading that, in the period from the Babylonian exile right through to Jesus, is going to say, "Uh-uh. This is our story." And then they'll say, "It looks like the backstory of our story," in other words, the connection between Adam and Eve in the Garden and their being kicked out, to Israel in the land, then being sent into exile, I think that's the thing that most would strike me.
What is really important about the beginning of that is that this was gift. This was not just that they happened to stumble upon this lovely place. There is a good God who gave them this good place to be, and that somehow Israel has recapitulated. That's a big word which theologians use which basically means they've done it over again in their own way. This is like the pattern repeating again. Israel has done it again. And that's actually what the whole of the human race did.
The big story which is there is that humans are given that identity as wonderful creatures within a wonderful God-given world, and that, nevertheless, they blow it. That Israel was called to be the people through whom God would remake and redo that project, and they've blown it as well, which then sets you up for the question, "What happens next?" Unless you've got that double picture in mind, there are all sorts of stuff in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Paul, et cetera, which you just never understand. People often just come with a little bit of it. And if people then say, "What really matters about Genesis is precisely how many days it took and precisely how young the Earth is," et cetera, I'd say, "It doesn't feel to me as though you're reading the text," or, "You're reading something that you have turned the text into rather than the text itself."