Original Sin Returns 2 (RJS)
The scenario sketched in our previous post leads to a deep question for Christians. How should we understand the Fall and Original Sin? Is the Adamic fall history or myth ??? albeit myth conveying theological truth? Is Adam everyman or was the Fall a unique and personal event? If the fall was an historical event how is original sin and guilt inherited?
Henri Blocher, an evangelical theologian who has held positions at Faculté Libre de Théologie ??vangélique in France and at Wheaton College in the US, explores just these questions in his book Original Sin. In the series preface to “Original Sin” D. A. Carson calls Blocher a theologian of the first rank, one who is steeped in the reformed tradition but not chained to it.
Blocher is a proponent of the Framework interpretation of Genesis 1-3. His 1984 book “In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis” argues that the days of creation refer by analogy to God’s work and the account in Genesis is a literary framework describing God???s work in creation, not a literal historical account. Blocher does not hold to a young earth — or even a recent appearance of homo sapiens sapiens, admitting an age of 40,000 years or more for the human race. Blocher’s discussion of Original Sin then holds out hope for progress in thinking about this important doctrine of the faith. He thinks through this doctrine through scripture and with tradition. In his own words: “We treasure tradition not by servile adherence to it, but by, as it were, sitting on the shoulders of fathers and elder brothers who were giants indeed, and thus do we hope to be granted the grace of seeing even further and ever more clearly (p. 13).”
Blocher’s book is short, a scant 135 pages, but deep; the kind of book that requires much careful thought and discussion. Once through only scratches the surface of his thinking. In this book he discusses the scriptural basis for the sinfulness of man as universal, natural, inherited and Adamic. The key passages of Genesis 3 and Romans 5 are then discussed in much more detail. Finally Blocher presents a discussion of original sin as the key to human experience and original sin as propagated and broken. The final chapter proposes new ways of thinking about the propagation of original sin and the guilt of mankind from birth.
In his discussion of Genesis 3 and then Romans 5 Blocher defends the essential historicity of the Adamic fall, while recognizing that the story of Genesis 2:4-3:24 “makes use of pictorial, symbolic language as it recounts the story of origins, and this requires a departure from a rigid literal reading (p. 41).” Genesis 4 presents a non literal description of the consequence of sin and the establishment of human culture. Genesis 5 reflects not an historical genealogy, but a literary device to bring the story forward. The links represent a digest of history.
Blocher begins his discussion of the Adamic event with the observation: “The affirmation of the disobedience in Eden as a real event or occurrence at a specific moment in time has been part of the church dogma from the start; this could hardly be disputed. I submit that it is an essential part, which we would be wise to maintain (p. 37).” Given his view of the text of Genesis, why does Blocher defend the essential historicity of the Adamic fall? As far as I can see this position is defended for reasons based on both theology and scripture.
First ??? Blocher’s reasoning is not based on tradition as much as it is based on theology. The Adamic event is an essential part of church doctrine because it defines the problem as the willful rebellion of mankind against God. This rebellion results in guilt. The action of God through the atoning work of Christ is to wash away this real deserved guilt. If there is no Adamic event there is no rebellion and there is no need for the atoning work of Christ.
Second ??? the Adam/Christ link and the reality of the Adamic rebellion is embedded in the arguments of Paul and in the thinking of the Church. To deny the Adamic fall is to deny the authority of scripture. This is not a matter of genre or a matter of irrelevant detail. The Adamic rebellion is told in the form of story. To recognize the literary form of Genesis does not deny the inherent theological truth of deliberate rebellion initiated at a specific time by the initial humans created in the image of God.
Third ??? there is no real reason to dispute the existence of Adam as the first theological man and progenitor of modern humans. Science cannot disprove the existence of an original couple from whom all humans descend ??? even if this couple was embedded in a small community of beings similar in body ??? but not touched by God to be “created in the image of God.” The science can be consistent with just such a proposal, albeit some 100,000 years ago. Such a scenario also gets rid of such traditional conundrums as where did Cain (or any of the other children of Adam and Eve for that matter) find a wife?
What do you think? Is Blocher right – does Christian orthodoxy depend upon the historical reality of the rebellion of Adam and Eve? How should we understand this?
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