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Intellectual Integrity and Faith? 7 – Romans 5 (RJS)

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Romans 5:12-21 proves to be one of the key texts in any discussion of science and faith these days, and the problem hits full force with v. 12:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– (Ro 5:12 NASB)

The issue of course is death – what is this death spread to all men through the sin of Genesis 3?

Our scientific understanding of the world leads us to conclude that the earth is old – some 4.6 billion years and the universe older still (ca. 14 billion years). We are impressed with dinosaurs that lived and died long before mankind appeared on the scene. There is an massive array of evidence for an evolutionary mechanism for creation that relies on time and the cycle of life.  How does this reconcile with Romans 5?  For the next several posts we will look at NT Wright’s commentary on Romans, specifically Romans 5:12-21 in The New Interpreter’s Bible : Acts – First Corinthians (Volume 10)
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For the wages of sin is death – but what is the nature of this death?

The nature of death referred to in Romans 5 is a key issue.  The sin of Adam (whether  Gen 3 is literal-historical or mytho-historical)  resulted in death for all.  But this need not encompass all biological death – and did not entail a timeless primeval paradise. 

One of the interesting insights from John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 3 is that he apparently did not think that the man and woman were intended for eternal earthly existence.

For dust thou art. Since what God here declares belongs to man’s nature, not to his crime or fault, it might seem that death was not superadded as adventitious to him. And therefore some understand what was before said, ‘Thou shalt die,’ in a spiritual sense; thinking that, even if Adam had not sinned, his body must still have been separated from his soul. But, since the declaration of Paul is clear, that ‘all die in Adam as they shall rise again in Christ,’ (1 Corinthians 15:22,) this wound also was inflicted by sin. Nor truly is the solution of the question difficult, — ‘Why God should pronounce, that he who was taken from the dust should return to it.’ For as soon as he had been raised to a dignity so great, that the glory of the Divine Image shone in him, the terrestrial origin of his body was almost obliterated. Now, however, after he had been despoiled of his divine and heavenly excellence, what remains but that by his very departure out of life, he should recognize himself to be earth? Hence it is that we dread death, because dissolution, which is contrary to nature, cannot naturally be desired. Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change. (Gen 3:19 from Commentary on Genesis – Vol. 1, emphasis mine)

In his commentary on Romans 5:12 NT Wright reflects on Adam and Eve and the original sin:

Our knowledge of early anthropology is of course sketchy, to put it mildly.  Each time another very early skull is dug up the newspapers exclaim over the discovery of the first human beings; we have consigned Adam and Eve entirely to the world of mythology, but we are still looking for their replacements. What “sin” would have meant in the early dawn of the human race it is impossible to say; but the turning away from open and obedient relationship with the loving creator and turining instead toward that which, though beautiful and enticing, is not God, is such a many-sided phenomenon that it is not hard to envisage it at any stage of anthropoid development.  (p. 526)

This view of the original sin is consistent with the essence of Calvin’s …  something else was put in place of God. The Fall was real. Wright also reflects on the nature of death – the consequence of the sin:

One potentially helpful way of understanding the entry of death into the world through the first human sin is to see “death” here as more than simply the natural decay and corruption of all the created order. The good creation was nevertheless transient: evening and morning, the decay and new life of autumn and spring, pointed on to  future, a purpose, which Genesis implies it was the job of the human race to bring about.  All that lived in God’s original world would decay and perish, but “death” in that sense carried no sting. The primal pair were, however, threatened with a different sort of thing altogether: a “death” that would result from sin, and involve expulsion from the garden (Gen 2:17). This death is a darker force, opposed to creation itself, unmaking that which was good, always threatening to drag the world back toward chaos. Thus, when humans turned away in sin from the creator as the one whose image they were called to bear, what might have been a natural sleep acquired a sense of shame and threat. (p. 526, emphasis mine)

Both of these men advance a variation of a view here that is not commonly taught in our churches, at least not in my experience – but an interesting view to consider.  The death of Genesis 3 and Romans 5 is not a limiting of earthly existence, but a change in the nature of the end and the entrance into eternity.  And entry into eternity – following sin and the introduction of “death” – is through Jesus Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection. In neither view – Calvin’s or Wright’s – does it appear that the “death” following the primal sin entails the introduction of biological death into the animal world, this already was part of the picture. 

If this seems strange, consider the words of Jesus in Mt 22. Adam and Eve were “given in marriage” and commanded to be
fruitful and multiply, yet we are told in Mt 22:30 (parallels in Lk 20,
Mk 12) “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in
marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”  The resurrection, the age to come, does not seem to be a reproduction of Eden – it is something else, the next step in God’s plan.  The creeds, the scripture, affirm a bodily resurrection – to what would have been.

Does this make sense? What is the nature of the death of Genesis 3 and Romans 5?



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Dan

posted February 19, 2009 at 8:15 am


Seems that there’s more to be said. Paul seems to use the word “death” in reference to Christ and to the crucifixion. The suffering and death of the cross are put in a parallel position to the suffering and death of Romans 8. The whole creation groans, not just the human spirit. And this groaning is linked to Adam and the fall. Just seems like we have to understand just about everything Paul said differently from what the text seems to naturally imply.
I also find all of 2 Peter relevant, though maybe a bit off track. Peter argues that scripture is not of the interpretation of the prophet – it is of the Holy Spirit. Then he relates false prophets to the “story” of Noah and the Flood and the “story” of Sodom and Gomorrah. He compares those who “scoff” at the promise of the second coming with those who “deliberately forget” the formation of the world by God’s command and the destruction of the flood.
My point is that it just seems the whole testimony of the New Testament seems to require a stricter reading of the early chapters of Genesis. I know that RJS is convinced science has forever settled the matter of origins and common descent and folks like me are foolish imbeciles for disagreeing. But I just don’t see that this approach to reconciling scripture to that worldview can work without severing the meaning of significant portions of the New Testament from the words and context on the pages.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 19, 2009 at 8:32 am


Dan,
I’m about to go to class. Is the conflict with what the NT says or with what we think the NT says? There’s a difference here that I think makes a huge difference.
The question is this: Does science, at times, inform us in such a way that our reading of the Bible is shown to have been all along? I’d like to know how you respond to that question.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 19, 2009 at 8:41 am


Growing up in the Church of the Nazarene (I’m now PCUSA), a decidedly Evangelical experience, I was taught from the pulpit, in Sunday School, and in the home that this death was a type of spiritual death, not a physical one.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 19, 2009 at 8:47 am


I meant to ask if there is possibly a difference between a Wesleyan Arminian view of this passage versus a Calvinist and Reformed view.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 8:51 am


Dan,
The fall was real – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is what sets things right. And the idea I am putting forward here is not new, dreamed up as a response to “science.” This is why I started off my discussion with Calvin.
I think that this view of death makes a great deal more sense of much of scripture – including 1 Cor. 15.
And yes – it is also more consistent with what we have learned about the nature of God’s creation.



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Bprjam

posted February 19, 2009 at 9:52 am


I think this makes total sense, and I agree with the idea of a spiritual death. However, I also see the spiritual death of “the fall” as more of a defection from the trinitarian life. For this reason, I see “death” as used in Genesis 3 and Romans 5 as not just related to the postscript of biological function, but as having serious implications for our “life” (which encompasses our biology).



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DMH

posted February 19, 2009 at 9:54 am


Dear Scot,
It seems to me RJS is behaving very much like the ‘NeoReformed’ with her arrogant and scornful attitude towards those in the scientific community who don’t agree with her conclusions on origins. There seems to be no respect, no grace in listening and discussing with those she dissents with.



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phil_style

posted February 19, 2009 at 10:00 am


DHM,
For the sake of clarity, I tihnk it wise for you to provide some specific examples of this “arrogance and scronful” attitude.



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Travis Greene

posted February 19, 2009 at 10:02 am


Interesting to look at fictional responses to this question. For instance, in Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet”, the intelligent races of Mars, who never fell, do die. But for them it’s nothing to be feared. Sometimes they are killed by predators, or accident, but usually of old age, and it is a peaceful part of life.
Similarly, Tolkien described death as “the gift of man” in comparison to the elves, who were immortal but never passed beyond the material world (or something like that…it’s a little confusing). Humanity’s gift (death) was to transcend the world, to ultimately go where the immortal elves could not. The gift of humanity was twisted by Middle-Earth’s version of Satan/the fall into the doom of men, something to be feared.
Still, all this makes me think about the Resurrection in an unfallen context. If the Resurrection (both Jesus’ and the final one, which in some ways are the same thing) is how God defeats death, was it always part of the plan? Or can we have any way of even theorizing about that?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 19, 2009 at 10:15 am


#7 DMH
Huh?
There is an email link for Scot under “About Jesus Creed” in the right column. Seems to me that would be a better place for a complaint then lobbing an unsubstantiated grenade in the middle of this discussion.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 19, 2009 at 10:35 am


Following Wright and others, I believe that the New Creation is both continuous and discontinuous with our present creation. It will be a material existence but in some altered state.
Jesus is the new Adam. We will be raised like Christ and many believe we will bodily characteristics like Christ. Post-Resurrection Jesus seems to have the ability to walk through doors, and I mean literally through doors. Will we have some material existence that is both continuous and discontinuous with our present experience?
That leads me to a possibility (complete and utter speculation) about Adam and Eve. If we take the idea of being “formed from the ground” as evolution, and then one day God “breathes life” into a particular pair of humans, what were they like? Were they more primitive versions of ourselves or were they actually something more? Upon sinning, did the devolve back into the lesser existence from which they had been lifted but now with conscious knowledge of their mortality. (And in the words of Woody Allen, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.”) Maybe our resurrected bodies are a restoration back to what was intended.
Again, pure speculation, and with little bearing on the theological significance, but it is something I’ve reflected on.



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ChrisB

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:04 am


“But this need not encompass all biological death – and did not entail a timeless primeval paradise.”
Really? How do you know?
Anyway, a good many evangelicals take “death” in most of Romans to mean spiritual death, so the death due to sin could well be simply that. You also have to consider that, if the death mentioned in Gen 3 was physical, the serpent was right — they didn’t die that day.
In the relevant part of Rom 8, it says the creation was subjected to bondage and decay, but it doesn’t specify who subjected it, when, or what exactly that entailed. We read that and connect it to physical death and Adam’s sin, but the text doesn’t specifically make that connection.
I think the text does allow us enough room to suggest that Adam’s death was spiritual, not physical, and to think there might have been physical death prior to that moment.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:08 am


ChrisB,
What do you think of Calvin’s view in the quote from his Gen 3 commentary?



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Barry

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:25 am


I really appreciate this discussion and this is my first post. I have recently been in conversations with family and friends regarding whether Genesis 2-3 is literal-historical or mytho-historical (family says former, friends say latter) and whether that makes a real difference for a disciple of Jesus (more pointedly, whether one is a Christian if one treats Genesis differently than literal-historical). The discussion often hinges on the veracity of the NT in comparison to Genesis (cf. Dan #1), the nature of sin and the “solution” to overcoming sin.
I have always associated sin with death mainly due to teaching on Paul’s assertion that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23). During the course of a textual survey of sin, I ran across the following text in 1 John 5
“If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. hat suggests “there is sin that does not lead to death” (v. 16-17 – TNIV).
It appears that sin and death (spiritual or otherwise) may not be as closely connected to each other as I imagined. Ironically, taken on its own terms (rather than reading back into it from the NT) Genesis doesn’t speak of “sin” per se until we get to the story of Cain and Abel. And God’s final remark* in Gen 3 seems to indicate that death was part of the natural cycle in Eden (similar to #9 Travis).
*”The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”



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Mark OD

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:27 am


I appreciate Tolkien and Lewis’ fictional allegory of the fall and what “death” means, but how do we understand what it means historically? In other words, what did the sin of Adam do to change the world in which we live?
I can imagine that before the Fall, man was intended to die only to pass on to the next life, into heaven/God’s kingdom, without pain or sorrow. Lewis illustrates this idea with the death of the Hross in “Out of the Silent Planet.” Following the Fall, death has a sting, but is this sting only psychological? What new realities were created by the “death” introduced by Adam sinning? How might we flesh this out?



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ChrisB

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:39 am


RJS,
That blurb sounds like he’s suggesting we’d all be assumed (like Enoch) rather than die, and that doesn’t give us much to go on for the question of pre-human death.
It’s an interesting notion, though.
As is Wright’s. I can imagine in some alternate world some guy leaving a party early saying, “Hey, guys, I’m going to die at 12:15, so I really should get on home. See ya in 20 years or so.”



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Rick

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:41 am


Your Bible is clearly broken! Throw it away!



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dopderbeck

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:47 am


This is good stuff, I think. It hearkens farther back than Calvin in the Tradition. For example, check out Athanasisus, On the Incarnation of the Word. Athanasius said that humans were “by nature mortal.” However, prior to sin, they were capable of immortality because the “likeness” of God would “stay [their] natural corruption.” Athanasius, Irenaeus, and some other ante-Nicene fathers saw Adam as having been made in a state of “childhood” — in other words, with an active task to accomplish, a goal of growing into the divine nature (“theosis”), not in a sort of stasis. The Fall put man onto the wrong path, away from theosis and towards dissolution. Christ’s atoning work is the victory over this dissolution and the restoration of the pathway to theosis.
Of course, Athanasius, Irenaeus, et al. did not have an evolutionary model of creation in mind. But, this “eastern” perspective can be helpful in rounding off the (also important) Augustinian tradition in which the Fall became more of a loss of initial perfection.
Shameless plug: a little review I did of On the Incarnation of the Word: http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog/?p=747



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:52 am


dopderbeck,
Thanks, I was pretty sure Calvin didn’t invent the notion – but didn’t do the research (yet) on the development and history of these ideas.



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James Robinson

posted February 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm


Comments are valid but, I feel God gives us the abilities to strive for better than death. The lack of strive through the golden rule brings about death. The greatest of His commandents were to love one as you love yourself. Sounds easy but the hardest thing one will ever do.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 19, 2009 at 12:40 pm


#18 Dopderbeck
“…a goal of growing into the divine nature (“theosis”), not in a sort of stasis. The Fall put man onto the wrong path, away from theosis and towards dissolution. Christ’s atoning work is the victory over this dissolution and the restoration of the pathway to theosis.”
I like the way you put this.
“Shameless plug”
And I expect the shamelessness was a consequence of the fall. :-)



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brandontmilan

posted February 19, 2009 at 12:45 pm


So I am trying to finish up my BA in Religion at Liberty Online. Although I had almost finished at my former school, I was forced to take a few classes at Liberty that I had not anticipated. One was a “Creation Studies” class. Another was a book study on Genesis. Instead of being more convinced of a literal 6 day creation, I think I am more convinced of something else after hearing all of the arguments.
One of my biggest problems is this commonly held belief that carnivorous and predatory animals were initially created to eat only plants. That seems suspect at best and ridiculous at worst. In other words, I could never reconcile that death in any form did not happen before the fall.
Its good to see that some people are trying to take what we know about the world through science seriously.



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Travis Greene

posted February 19, 2009 at 1:04 pm


ChrisB, “Hey, guys, I’m going to die at 12:15, so I really should get on home. See ya in 20 years or so.”
I like it. Or something more like “Well, about time for me to hit the road…bury me out by the elm tree, kay?”
Or to borrow from the 7th-Day Adventists, maybe it would just be a sleeping kind of thing until the end (the Resurrection? Would there still be something analagous to Judgment Day in an unfallen creation?)
dopderbeck, good comment. We should all be reading more Athanasius.



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ChrisB

posted February 19, 2009 at 1:04 pm


Not entirely unrelated:
Scientific American tells us how Darwin proved there is no god using finches.



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dopderbeck

posted February 19, 2009 at 1:36 pm


The early Church believed it was possible to have some ongoing fellowship with saints who had died, particularly martyrs. In the famous Passion of Perpetua and Felictas, for example, there is a description of Felicitas’ vision involving the martyred Perpetua resolving a dispute between living clerics. Roman Catholics, of course, continue the practice of praying to saints.
Now, those of us who are protestants might have all kinds of valid questions and criticisms of such practices. But we do need to at least acknowledge that the barrier between “this world” and “heaven” has historically been seen as more permeable even in the Christian tradition than it is for many of us today.
So what would it have been like for human beings (homo divinus) without sin? Would the naturally corruptible human body have been renewable through technologies God would have made available? Would the human “mind” or “soul” have been capable of perpetual existence in a sort of God-given computer memory buffer (both “transhumanists” and some participants in contemporary faith-and-science dialogues speak of such possibilities today)? If our friends and loved ones passed on to “heaven” — to a differently-embodied existence — would those still on “earth” have been able to fellowship freely with them (is the “sting” of death primarily emotional separation?)?
It is as much speculation as is any effort to describe the details of the New Jerusalem. I think that, on the basis of scripture, we have to say that yes, somehow, what we experience now as “death” would have been very different absent sin — such that we would not call it “death,” with all that word implies for us. Yet I think that, on the basis of what God has graciously allowed us to learn so far about the history of life on earth, some of the ways in which we have historically imagined that difference — as a physical paradise lost, a radically different physical order — seem clearly to have been mistaken.
So it seems to me that the question isn’t how to resolve some “conflict,” either by tossing out the science or tossing out the scriptures. The question is one of imagination. Do we have the imagination to consider other ways in which the first sin of the first homo divinus changed the potentiality available to humanity?



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Bprjam

posted February 19, 2009 at 1:36 pm


Two things:
First, RJS posts:
“The sin of Adam (whether Gen 3 is literal-historical or mytho-historical) resulted in death for all. “
I’m not sure I read the Romans passage that way. The passage says we follow Adam “because all sinned”. I read it as more of an observation than a cause and effect statement. For instance, if I’m ignorant of gravity, and my buddy jumps off of a cliff, it is reasonable to say that because my buddy died, then everyone who jumps off the cliff will die. It’s not that this friend invented the cause and effect that now applies to us all, it’s just that through his example, we now all know that jumping off a cliff results in death. Hence “BECAUSE all have sinned”, not because of Adam. In my reading, Paul is saying “death came to all men BECAUSE WE ALL JUMPED OFF THE CLIFF.” (For better or for worse, science makes such inductions all the time.)
Am I misreading the text?
Second, RJS posts:
“The death of Genesis 3 and Romans 5 is not a limiting of earthly existence, but a change in the nature of the end and the entrance into eternity. And entry into eternity – following sin and the introduction of “death” – is through Jesus Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection.”
Is the proposal that “the fall” affected only entry into eternity, and not how we function during biological life? My reading of the Biblical message is that God is actively trying to change the way we live (e.g., life to the full!), and entry into eternity *almost* seems secondary.
So, if we assume that physical death was already a given for Adam (cf, Athanasius, Iraeneaus, Calvin, and Wright), that the death in Genesis 3 was a spiritual death, and that spiritual death has implications for how we pass into eternity, does that mean Genesis 3 doesn’t have implications for our biological lives? I suppose I’m not following the intent of the quoted statement above.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm


Bprjam,
On your first point – this depends on the doctrine of original sin, and what you think of this doctrine. It has been read differently by different people. We will discuss this a bit more in a later post on Romans 5.
On your second point – I think that Gen 3 does have implications for our biological lives. But the fall in Gen 3 did not limit otherwise limitless human existence in Eden – life on earth was temporal. I think that Calvin would say that the fall put man back as a creature of the earth, an animal with decay and death. In fact he says roughly this in his commentary on Gen 2:17:

But it is asked, what kind of death God means in this place? It appears to me, that the definition of this death is to be sought from its opposite; we must, I say, remember from what kind of life man fell. He was, in every respect, happy; his life, therefore, had alike respect to his body and his soul, since in his soul a right judgment and a proper government of the affections prevailed, there also life reigned; in his body there was no defect, wherefore he was wholly free from death. His earthly life truly would have been temporal; yet he would have passed into heaven without death, and without injury. Death, therefore, is now a terror to us; first, because there is a kind of annihilation, as it respects the body; then, because the soul feels the curse of God.

So perhaps the death was spiritual with biological implications for humans (but not for animals). The solution for humans then – to restore us to God’s original plan – is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not trying to wrestle with every question in one post – but to suggest that “death before the fall” is not quite the problem that some seem to think.



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Ben Wheaton

posted February 19, 2009 at 2:16 pm


It’s an intriguing question as to what actually happened in those days; perhaps a possible answer might be found later in the text? What about the fate of Enoch? Might it have been that mankind would have “died” like he died before the fall, and Enoch was given special grace because of his life of “walking with God?” This is just a speculation, obviously, and there is no direct connection in the text; but still.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 19, 2009 at 3:07 pm


In Genesis 1 and 2, humanity was given a mission. Fill the earth and exercise dominion. By filling the earth, God’s image is reflected throughout the earth. But the ideas of dominion and “tilling” the earth carry with them the idea of taking things from a lesser state to a higher state. God seems to be suggesting that creation is good but not finished.
If humanity, through whom God plans to achieve his idea of a better creation, departs from the plan, then indeed all creation will suffer. It is pregnant with possibilities but no one can bring it to delivery. It seems to me this is one way to view the impact of sin on creation.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 3:23 pm


Michael,
Good point – the consequences were not for humans alone, but extended to creation as well. I think this is consistent with Wright’s thinking and Scot’s as well. The fall had real consequence in relationship to God, and others of course – but also in our relationship to the world – and thus real consequence for the world.
Genesis as mytho-historical doesn’t mean Genesis as “fairy tale” – but it does mean that the truth is not tied to a literal interpretation of the details of the text.



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BeckyR

posted February 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm


What does the hebrew word we use as death, mean? Is there any hint there whether it is bodily corruption or spiritual. And likewise for the Greek.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 4:14 pm


BeckyR,
I don’t know – but perhaps someone else will. Scot may be able to help here.
But I don’t think that it matters – the real question just now is whether death is brought to all creation on account of the Fall or to humans alone. Death brought to humans on account of the fall could be physical or spiritual or both (although I tend more to the position that it is spiritual).



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Dan

posted February 19, 2009 at 5:53 pm


Scot #2. “Is the conflict with what the NT says or with what we think the NT says?”
I know I am a mere serf jousting with scholars, but I think your question is exactly what I am getting at. What does the text say? What I see in these discussions seems like a lot of speculation about what the text “might” say, but I’m not sure those are drawn from the text itself. The inner logic of Paul’s linking of Adam’s death to the death and suffering of Christ and the inner logic of Peter arguing against false prophets by appealing to decidedly “out of the natural order” events such as Balaam’s donkey, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Flood seem to get set aside in favor of what “might be possible” if one accomodates scripture to the conclusions of natural science.
“Does science, at times, inform us in such a way that our reading of the Bible is shown to have been all along?” If I follow the question, I’d say yes science plays a role. We use archaeology, history, extra-biblical sources to help understand the culture in which the Bible was written. But we still, in the way conservative Biblical scholars have long approached things, need to not violate the grammar, logic and context of the text itself. The outside sources can illuminate, but must not dictate – must not force the text to say something foreign to itself.
So I guess what I am looking for in all these discussions is this: What is the exegetical case for saying the New Testament writers understood the death wrought by Adam’s sin as something other than a curse upon both the spiritual and physical creation? What is the exegetical reason, from the text itself, to say that Paul’s use of “Death” to describe the cross and “death” to describe the consequences of sin are in fact unrelated to physical death? Even if it is true that the account in Genesis 1-3 has poetic qualities that suggest something mytho-historical, what is the internal Biblical case that Jesus, Peter and Paul understood it as less than real history? That they saw Adam and Eve as in a different category from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? I personally don’t see that in the text of the New Testament without pulling the word “death” out of the context of the whole picture.



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Glenn

posted February 19, 2009 at 6:15 pm


Michael your quote, “Jesus is the new Adam. We will be raised like Christ and many believe we will bodily characteristics like Christ. Post-Resurrection Jesus seems to have the ability to walk through doors, and I mean literally through doors”, reminds of Lewis and Willard. Perhaps our new body will be more physical than it is now. Jesus walked through doors not as a ghost, but rather the doors were ghosts in comparison with his resurrection body.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 6:25 pm


Dan,
That is a great question – and I doubt if we will agree entirely at the end of the discussion. But I would like to separate two things – we can (and will) discuss Adam and Eve later, but today I will concede them as historical for the sake of this discussion.
I don’t think that the NT case to attach the death introduced by the sin of Adam to all death of all living animals is a strong case. The Garden was not intended to be a stationary state, it was the beginning of a process. I think that a very strong case can be made that the death introduced on the sin of Adam was the biological and spiritual death of humans alone. That if Adam had not fallen, animals would have died, but humans could have passed into heaven without death – like Enoch for example. In particular this is what Calvin thought – and science played no role here.
Thus the NT case for a young earth does not seem very strong to me. This case usually hinges on the issue of death before the fall.
What do you think about this issue alone?



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 9:36 pm


Dan, Let me try again a little differently
What is the exegetical case for saying the New Testament writers understood the death wrought by Adam’s sin as something other than a curse upon both the spiritual and physical creation?
Wright certainly thinks that the original sin brought a curse upon creation. I agree with this as well. I think that it is a root doctrine – mankind through adam (and we may disagree on “adam”) rebelled against God and the result has physical consequence for all mankind and all of creation. I think that Michael actually put it quite well in #29. It also has consequence in the death of humans, and in the absolute necessity of the atoning work of Christ. But I do not think that Adam or anyone else would have lived forever on earth in the garden if there had been no Fall.
What is the exegetical reason, from the text itself, to say that Paul’s use of “Death” to describe the cross and “death” to describe the consequences of sin are in fact unrelated to physical death?
The victory over death is the resurrection – and this is the key element in Christian doctrine and in all of Paul’s letters, especially Romans. I think that Paul’s use of death does mean human death. I do not think it means all animal death and that this conclusion is read into the text on the basis of outside assumptions.
Also, we have life in and through Christ – and that has very real impact here and now, but the victory over death is, for all so far and likely for us as well, in the age to come not in the present age. If the victory is in the age to come – perhaps the impact of the death introduced by the fall also related primarily to the age to come.
Even if it is true that the account in Genesis 1-3 has poetic qualities that suggest something mytho-historical, what is the internal Biblical case that Jesus, Peter and Paul understood it as less than real history?
This is a big question and one we will come back to – but it is likely that we won’t agree.
I don’t think it is significant in the discussion of the age of the earth because I don’t think that the issue is addressed specifically in the text of the NT. But perhaps someone will correct me here. What Paul may have thought outside of what he actually put in the text doesn’t matter. I certainly don’t think that he was inerrant in all of his thoughts and opinions, and I know of no doctrine of scripture that suggests that he was. Of course Adam and Eve are in the text – and this will warrant more discussion.



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Dan

posted February 19, 2009 at 10:24 pm


RJS #35. If one holds to the view that animals might die a peaceful death before the fall, as was suggested by some above in the vein of C.S. Lewis space trilogy, I would not make that in and of itself a test of orthodoxy. But I have trouble accepting that myself. The New Testament, if read as an internally consistent unit, doesn’t in any way seem to suggest that kind of view to me. Particularly Romans 8 where the “whole creation” groans and seeks to be released from bondage to decay. How did the whole creation come under bondage? What started the decay? And to the main point, what is the exegetical case that the New Testament writers felt that the death of Adam was unrelated to a curse on creation? Is there a difference in the greek terminology between “death” as relates to Adam and “death” as relates to the crucifixion? To “death” as we experience it? Did the death of animals in Hebrew sacrifice have no parallel to the death of humans as a result of sin? Would that not destroy the very image conjured by the phrase “the wages of sin is death” and that only by the shedding of blood are sins forgiven? You see, it isn’t just Genesis, it is the whole scripture that I have to wrestle with, and I don’t see the separation between animal death and human death clearly portrayed anywhere in the text. The whole creation is in bondage to decay.
As for “young earth” I am not closed to the idea that the Hebrew word for “day” might mean something more than 24 hours. I’m not going to debate the late Gleason Archer or Walter Kaiser or others on ancient Hebrew. There are ways of seeing the universe as old without violating other biblical images of creation and the fall. But what do you do with Peter’s comments about Noah, Balaam’s talking donkey, Lot, and the world being deluged with water? Were those miraculous interventions by the author of the laws of nature into a world where those laws do not bind Him? Or did Peter think those things were “mytho-historical”? If Peter’s point was that the “prophecy of scripture” is a “sure word”, and on that opening argument he makes the case that denial of creation and the deluge is a dangerous thing, then it seems we have to deal with the reality of what Peter has said and not what we wish he had said. We either have to say Peter was wrong or make the words mean something other than what the most natural reading would imply, and that’s where I think we get into an intellectual trap.
To be clear, I don’t mean to be completely locked into rigid interpretations of matters where scripture is less than clear. But it does seem to me that the New Testament treats Genesis 1-11 as historical in the same sense it treats Genesis 12-50 as historical. There were a real Adam and Eve and their disobedience led to a curse upon the created order. I don’t see from the text itself a way of separating early Genesis from later Genesis without creating a significant hole in one’s overall approach to scripture that can cause a lot of leakage. Once words start to mean what they don’t seem to say, a lot of mischief seems to follow.
But if you can convince me that the original intent of the authors, (Paul, Peter, and the gospel writers who quoted Jesus) was clearly to think of Genesis 1-11 as something other than an account that had roots in historical events, then I would bow to the intent of the writers. I just want to see it rooted in exegesis and not in a need to reconcile the text to current secular, naturalistic models of things that might have happened 4.6 billion years ago.



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Dan

posted February 19, 2009 at 10:37 pm


RJS. I must have sent a posting at the same time you were sending #36. FWIW, the age of the earth is not a critical issue to me in and of itself. No central doctrine rests on that question, but it is important in the sense that may suggest an approach to the text.
I am more concerned with the historicity of Adam and the fall, because soteriology is completely affected by that.
I cannot help but think of the bloody sacrifice through the entire Old Testament, and I have to wonder, what OT Jew would have divorced the understanding of animal death from the fall and human sin? Seems like a pretty natural inference and not something that was “read into the text based on outside assumptions.” Seems like seeing animal death as normative and NOT related to human sin is far more likely to be based on outside assumptions.



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RJS

posted February 19, 2009 at 11:01 pm


Dan,
I think I understand your position better now, and I don’t think that we will agree on what it means for scripture to be inspired, and this is a key issue here for you.
But we will likely agree on the atonement, the saving work of Christ, to a large degree, despite fundamental differences in how we get there.
But I always learn from conversations on this blog.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 20, 2009 at 12:09 am


#37 Dan
Dan, I go back to the analogy I made, and that RJS used a couple of posts back, of parents telling a four year old where baby brother came from. You can make up a stork fairy-tale or you can give a simplistic imprecise story that is technically inaccurate but sufficient for the mind of a four year old.
What you cannot do is go through a detailed discussion of sexual intercourse, how the genitals function, what sperms and eggs are, how cells divide and specialize according to DNA, etc. This is so far beyond a four year old?s comprehension it would overload his or her mind. What the four year old needs is a simple narrative that answers their fundamental question about who this creature is and why he is here, thus revealing how the new born should be related to.
Now does this four year old talk about the story of baby brother?s origin as fact? Yes. Does he or she believe it to be fact? Yes. Is it fact? Not exactly. And with age and maturity the child will grow up to see that while things were factually far more complex than the narrative he/she had been given the narrative did its job of answering the essential questions.
Language and stories are not math. While a math equation is the same in every culture or language, language is not. We can?t lift a discussion about primeval events within a Middle-Eastern pre-scientific culture directly into a Western post-Enlightenment scientific culture any more than we can lift a four year olds birth narrative out of its context into the university medical school class on obstetrics.
I fully believe that the scripture is an inspired and authoritative witness to God and his interaction with the world written by and to particular people in particular socio-historical contexts. It was not written to us. Every time we read scripture, we are ?listening in? on an inspired authoritative conversation for that context. That context has to be paramount in our minds as we interpret and apply. We can?t move these narratives from one culture to the other like a math equation.
Did the biblical authors talk about Genesis 1-11 as historical events. Yes (as best I can tell), and so does a four year old talk about his parents? birth narrative as factual reality. I suspect the issues surrounding the historical details of the fall may be beyond our ability to comprehend, much less a pre-scientific culture. We may all be four year olds in this regard. The story we?ve been given is sufficient to our needs.
You wrote:
?But if you can convince me that the original intent of the authors, (Paul, Peter, and the gospel writers who quoted Jesus) was clearly to think of Genesis 1-11 as something other than an account that had roots in historical events, then I would bow to the intent of the writers.?
And my point would be that you have imbued these authors with authority they could not possibly claim for themselves on the historical qualities of Gen. 1-11. It is like imbuing the four year old with authority and saying you will only believe the scientific explanation if it can be shown that the four year old actually knew he was not dealing with precise historical facts and knew his narrative was mytho-historical. What it reveals is our presumption about what role history played in the minds of these divinely inspired authors, not anything about the texts themselves. It is possible for God to have given a mytho-historical narrative that the NT writers related to as we would to historical events without creating any violation of the integrity of scripture.



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phil_style

posted February 20, 2009 at 4:06 am


Dan, RJS,
It’s nice to see that people with different approaches to this issue can still both discuss it in a friendly manner. I commend you both for being willing to engage each other here.
Thanks,
Phil



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Dan

posted February 20, 2009 at 8:02 am


Michael #40 writes.
“And my point would be that you have imbued these authors with authority they could not possibly claim for themselves on the historical qualities of Gen. 1-11″. It seems to me they claimed exactly that authority as apostles who spoke the revelation of God. But then…
RJS #39 wrote “…I don’t think that we will agree on what it means for scripture to be inspired”
That’s essentially the rub.
But your analogy of the explaining birth to a four-year-old is not convincing to me for this reason. We are not dealing with what the writers of the New Testament did NOT tell us about genetics, astronomy and physics. We are dealing with things they did tell us about what they could understand in their context – death, suffering, corruption, the virgin birth, the resurrection, historical events vs allegory and parable. First century apostles certainly could have understood the difference between the myths of the Greek gods and goddesses and the exodus as an historical event. No one is arguing that the text of scripture explains quantum physics. The question is simply what did they intend to say and were they correct.
And if men were “carried along by the Holy Spirit”, one would think that if they meant Genesis 1-3 to be understood as a parable or allegory or a mixture of myth and history, they could have written that way, they could have said “we don’t know exactly what happened ages ago, but the important thing is that God created…” and that would have had the ring of truth. All I’m arguing is that they very intentionally wrote in a manner that indicates Adam and Eve were parallel to Abraham and Isaac as historical figures and Adam was parallel to Christ as a representative of humanity. If we are told “if Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain” then it seems logical according to Paul that the fall was an historic reality which Christ’s resurrection served to remedy.
But if inspiration does not refer to the text, then I don’t think there will ever be hope for settling this or any number of matters.



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RJS

posted February 20, 2009 at 8:57 am


Dan,
I think that the text is inspired by the Holy Spirit – but that Paul tells the true story in the context of his understanding. God’s word through human hands and minds. We will agree that scripture is inspired, but not exactly what this means.
2 Peter and Jude are interesting books. They are part of our canon – and thus part of the word of God. Yet Jude refers to events as real that are not part of scripture but come out of apocryphal texts with which he was familiar. Does this mean that we err when we don’t consider these as parts of scripture? How does this fit into your view of inspiration?



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Travis Greene

posted February 20, 2009 at 9:41 am


Paul probably thought the earth was flat too. And for a very good reason; the earth looks flat from our perspective. But we know better.
So we’re left with three options:
1. Reject our faith, and embrace materialism/scientism/atheism (no theology)
2. Reject science, reason, and experience, and believe that God created the earth and living creatures in a way that would trick us into believing in evolution/a very old earth, but then gave us Genesis as some kind of weird test (bad theology, with the side-effect of impeding mission)
3. Reconcile what we see in the good world God made with what we find in the Good Book God wrote (the task of theology).
Now, I am no scientist. Frankly, I take it on the authority of people like RJS that the earth is old. But I’m also guided by what I do have some specialized knowledge in, which is literature and storytelling. And it’s a little hard to describe, but the first parts of Genesis feel mythic in a way that 1st Samuel or the Gospels simply do not. It’s not at all that I think God couldn’t make a talking snake or make a tree with magic fruit that grants the knowledge of good and evil. It’s that those kinds of elements are hallmarks of mythology, story, and poetic imagery. And the story tells us exactly what we need to know: why sin fills the world, and we find ourselves separated from God, each other, ourselves, and the rest of creation.
The Gospels, on the other hand, are prose. The writers go out of their way to show us that though the Resurrection has supernatural elements (Jesus walking through doors and so on), it’s also in many ways spectacularly mundane. Jesus shows up and broils some fish. People touch him. He’s factual (as well as deeply symbolic).
So I don’t think we have to worry that accepting Genesis 1-3 as mytho-historical means that the gospel will become just a nice inspiring story that isn’t true. The NT writers saw Jesus. They didn’t see Adam. That they might have been mistaken (though, imho, not in any way that matters) about the latter throws no doubt on what they said about the former.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 20, 2009 at 11:30 am


Dan #42
I hope I?m not coming across as belligerent or pushy. I really appreciate the opportunity to hear how others are wrestling with the issues and to learn how to better articulate what my own thoughts.
You wrote:
?We are dealing with things they did tell us about what they could understand in their context – death, suffering, corruption, the virgin birth, the resurrection, historical events vs allegory and parable.?
I with you up to that last point in that sentence. Let me say more about what has influenced my thinking.
Kenneth Bailey is a theologian who has spent most of his life living in the Middle East trying to gain insights into how the Middle Eastern culture of Jesus? day functioned. He then tries to read scripture through those eyes. One of his central observations is the considerable difference between how modern Westerners and NT Middle Easterners, not to mention present day Middle Easterners, teach and learn about the forces that shape our lives.
In the west, we analyze the pieces of our reality and assemble a description that systematically explains how the pieces come together. Then we add stories to illustrate the point or make analogies to help clarify for those who didn?t quite grasp the logical connection of the pieces.
Bailey insists that it is just the reverse in Middle Eastern culture. A collection of truths is assembled into narrative. The interaction of the characters within the story creates a world the listener enters into. The listener wanders in and out of the roles of the characters as they deal with events within the story. The story creates an interconnected set of relationships of truths that are engaged as an organic whole, not as discreet units of a machine or system. The dissection of the story into discreet logical concepts for analysis was supplemental to the story which was the theological teaching.
This is where we get into the grave misunderstanding where we think Jesus was the Son of God who brought reconciliation to the world, but when it comes to theology, all he did was tell a bunch of engaging stories. Paul was the master theologian. Because of our cultural distance we are blind to the fact that Jesus? parables, stories, and deeds were profound complex theological teachings.
From a modern Westerners standpoint, the factuality of events is absolutely paramount to being able to build our mechanistic systematic conception of the truth. Not so for the traditional Middle Easterner. The question is whether or not the story relates truths in an organic interconnected reality that can shape and give direction to our lives. The precise factuality of events like those in Genesis 1-11 are secondary, if they are of any concern at all, to these hearers. Thus, when we say NT writers could tell us about ?historical events vs. allegory and parable,? as it relates to these primeval human events, I don?t know on what basis we would say that. The felt need for precise delineation is ours, not theirs.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 20, 2009 at 11:31 am


I?ll give one example where Peter appears to be talking about mytho-history as history in order to instruct the faithful. Peter writes:
?They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.? (1 Peter 3:5b-6a)
In only one inconsequential place in Genesis (18:12), that has nothing to do with obedience, does Sarah refer to Abraham as ?master.? We find occasions of Sarah granting Abraham?s requests but nowhere is Sarah characterized as obedient in Genesis. Surely, many of Peter?s audience knew this, yet Peter appears to be appealing to some common knowledge about Sarah, otherwise he would not be making the allusion. To what is Peter referring?
At the time of the NT there was a popular extracanonical work called the Testament of Abraham. This clearly non-historical book has Sarah relating to Abraham as would the good and proper Hellenistic wife of the NT era. This appears to be what Peter is referencing and he talks about as what appears to us to be historical fact about historical characters. Peter wants his readers to enter this story and have the readers bring their lives into conformity with the truth of the story. The story contains historical characters but it is not history.
Just as we can get a sense of how story worked in their culture I suspect the NT folks could probably get some sense of what importance precise factuality holds for us. Yet just as we would consider truth through stories esoteric, I suspect many NT folks would have considered our preoccupation with factuality esoteric. ?Historical events vs. allegory and parable? in dealing with ancient history simply wasn?t on the radar.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 20, 2009 at 7:46 pm


RJS
I forgot to find out one critical thing. Is the handsome young man in the picture yours?



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RJS

posted February 20, 2009 at 8:04 pm


Yes – about 5 years ago when he was 8 taken at Dinosaur National Monument.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 20, 2009 at 8:36 pm


I thought so. Very cool. Looks like a budding scientist.



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Pondering

posted February 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm


On the question of what “death” means in Genesis, we also need to keep in mind that the main consequence of the fall was that Adam and Eve were then barred from eating from the tree of life (whereas it appears that they could do so before).
That is, it seems plausible to me that Adam and Eve, before the fall, had the physical potential to die but were instead sustained by the tree of life (ie sustained by God and by His presence – see Revelation 21).
On the question of Sarah’s obedience to Abraham (post 46), I think, Michael, that you are working with a very limited definition of obedience (ie one which says “Man says to woman “You must do X”. Woman says “OK, I will obey and do X, even though I don’t want to”).
If you read through the whole of the Abraham story in Genesis, you will see that Sarah’s obedience as mentioned by Peter has much more to do with Sarah aligning herself with Abraham’s purposes, rather than her own, even to the point of pushing Abraham to try to hasten the fulfilment of those purposes by sleeping with Hagar (Genesis 16).



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Pondering

posted February 21, 2009 at 8:50 pm


(Continued from previous post).
For example, it is easy to imagine a non-obedient Sarah’s objections to uprooting herself and leaving her family behind in order to move to Canaan!
Thus, I see no need to rely on extra-biblical material in order to explain Peter’s statement,



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 22, 2009 at 2:30 am


#50, 51 Pondering
I too have wondered about the idea that denial of access to the tree of life could signify some change in status.
As to, “…you will see that Sarah’s obedience as mentioned by Peter has much more to do with Sarah aligning herself with Abraham’s purposes, rather than her own,…”
I find that a stretch. It strikes me as a rationalization being read back on to the text. She wasn’t aligning herself with Abraham’s purposes and no where is that said or implied. She aligned herself with God’s purposes. Nowhere is she seen obeying a command. People go along with each others lead all the time without it being obedience. Furthermore, there is no passage with her showing deference by calling Abraham master.
Peter Davids points out that Testament of Abraham, as well as some similar stories, were constructed they way they were precisely because Sarah appears not to show the appropriate deference by standards of Hellenistic Jews and some early Christians.



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Pondering

posted February 22, 2009 at 4:59 am


Re Sarah’s behaviour, my impression is that she was aligning herself with God’s purposes because they were Abraham’s purposes, rather than aligning herself with Abraham’s purposes because they were God’s purposes. She certainly doesn’t seem to have confidence that God will bring his purposes about, hence her attempt to force the issue in Genesis 16.
Obedience is not just a matter of obeying a command- it also encompasses loyalty and fidelity, which is quite different to merely “going along with” . Sarah’s enthusiasm for promoting Abraham’s cause throughout this account goes far beyond merely “going along with”, into taking active steps to bring about a result out of loyalty to Him.
Further, we would (or should) call Jesus master by reason of our own alignment with His purposes, and our own role in implementing those purposes, so there is nothing incongruous at all about Peter inferring Sarah doing so from the Genesis account.
If Sarah was not thought to showing appropriate standards of deference by the Hellenistic Jews and some early Christians, then it is the writers of the Testament of Abraham that have got it wrong, not Peter or the writer of Genesis.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 23, 2009 at 9:50 am


#53
I?m not sure I?m communicating my point well.
I?m not debating that aligning yourself with the purposes of one you are obedient to is a part of obedience. But it is also possible to align yourself with the purposes of an enemy because you have a common purpose. It is possible to align yourself with the purposes of another simply because you happen to like the same purpose. Aligning yourself with someone else?s purposes is not necessarily an act of obedience.
What is the context of 1 Peter 3? It was written to a largely gentile audience. The 1st Century world was a time where women in particular were abandoning the Greco-Roman gods for the liberating Eastern and Egyptian goddesses. All this was a threat to traditional Greco-Roman patriarchy.
1 Peter 3:1-2
?1 Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.?
The issue is women who have become Christians when there husbands have not. This was an act of insubordination. Peter?s instruction is an evangelistic tactic. Rather than insisting on the freedom, Peter wants women to adopt the traditional subservient role. Peter is calling up an example of supreme womanly servitude for women to imitate and this is why Sarah is such an odd choice.
Sarah does nothing exceptional that any other wife would not have done by the standards of the day. In fact, by her actions in Genesis 16 she is downright insubordinate. First she pesters Abarham into having sex with her slave ?And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.? (Genesis 16.2) The situation creates great grief all the way around. Sarai curses Abraham for having followed her instruction. This is hardly a model of the subordinate wife. Point me to the Genesis passages of Sarah calling Abraham master and exhibiting exceptional obedience.
You wrote, ?If Sarah was not thought to showing appropriate standards of deference by the Hellenistic Jews and some early Christians, then it is the writers of the Testament of Abraham that have got it wrong, not Peter or the writer of Genesis.?
I agree that the Testament of Abraham got it wrong and expect Peter thought it did to. The writer(s) of the Testament of Abraham and similar works did not believe the Genesis passages showed the proper deference. They didn?t want women to get the wrong idea. So they created these works drawing on the Abraham and Sarah story, except in their versions Sarah repeatedly calls Abraham master and obeys his every command, just as the model traditional Greco-Roman wife would. Sarah in the Genesis passages was much too independent for their tastes, thus the need to reframe her.
Peter says instead of insisting on your own freedom in Christ, adopt servanthood to the level of the Testament of Abraham model so as to win over your skeptical husbands.



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