Continuing now on our reflection about the Darwinian revolution and the issue of evolution, the issue of natural science in relationship to the Christian Gospel and Christian faith and Christian theology, we want to continue now with our meditation on the text of Genesis. This will be the ninth reflection in the series on the Darwinian revolution and the third one about the book of Genesis. We began looking at Genesis with chapter one, and we reflected upon the account of creation in chapter one to the second chapter, the fourth verse. That’s the first account, and we call it the Elohist account, because in that account God is called Elohim, which means God; it’s actually Hebrew plural, but it’s the word that in English becomes “God,” in Greek Theos, in Latin Deus, in Slavonic Bog. This is God.
In that particular account we have the six days. We have God calling everything good. We have God separating light from darkness. We have him separating the waters over the chaos. We have him bringing forth and calling forth from the earth all the kinds of plants and trees, each in their kind. “Let the earth put forth vegetation.” Then we have him dealing with the heavenly planets, the sun, the moon, the stars. Then it goes on to the waters bringing forth the swarms of the living creatures, and the fish, the birds, sea-monsters, all kinds of things that swarm in the waters. The waters bring forth these forms of life. The earth brings for the vegetation; the waters bring forth the living forms. God sees that it’s good, and then after God brings forth all the living forms of creatures—the beasts, the cattle.
Then finally he makes human beings in his own image and likeness, male and female, to have dominion over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the earth, and that man who is made in God’s own image according to God’s likeness, male and female, God blesses them and commands them to be fruitful and multiply. And that’s the first commandment out of the mouth of God that he speaks to human beings. He blesses them and he tells them, “Be fruitful and fill the earth.” And God sees that everything is very good, and everything that has the breath of life within it.
Now, the second account that we reflected on is called the Yahwist account sometimes, because God is called the Lord God, Adonai Elohim or Theos Kyrios or Kyrios Theos in the Greek, the Lord God, Gospod Bog. So this is the different account for different theological purposes, to make different points, to have different aspects of the revelation of God inspired by God. We have these various traditions that now are committed to writing. Most scholars think that these were actually committed to writing about the fifth century BC, perhaps after the Babylonian exile. The sources are Mosaic. The sources are ancient, but the writing is a little more recent.
This could lead us to make a comment on the fact that these books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—are called the Pentateuch, which simply means the five scrolls or the five books. They’re usually called the books of Moses. For a long time, it was a tradition that Moses wrote them with his own hand, or when he was going to die, he turned the pen over to Joshua, who then described Moses’ death. But I think that it’s not necessary for us to say Moses necessarily wrote them, as long as they’re Mosaic authorship; they’re coming from that time, around the name of Moses, through whom this law of God is given. Of course, some sticklers will say in St. John’s gospel Jesus said about Moses, “Moses wrote of me,” and the questions that you see: Well, he wrote all five books. But not necessarily. Moses may have [written] of him. Certainly the Ten Commandments were written of God, and Moses wrote them with his finger, according to the Pentateuch. It seems pretty clear that Moses must have written something.
But in any case, the putting of this all together is at a later period. The same thing is true of the New Testament. The Sermon on the Mountain, the Christian Torah, the five writings that comprise the Gospel according to St. Matthew, nobody was there with a tablet or a recorder recording Jesus when he was preaching. It’s obviously put together by the author just like Jesus’ speech at the supper in St. John’s gospel. It seems very clear that that was put together by the author. But we Christians believe that it was absolutely historical and absolutely from the mouth of Jesus and absolutely accurate. Someone gave me a newspaper article this very morning about St. John’s gospel where someone wrote to the newspaper saying, when people say that St. John’s gospel is showing Jesus as the divine Son of God and so on, and then they quoted C.S. Lewis, who said, “Either he’s the Lord, or he’s a liar.” Well, somebody wrote in and said that may not be the only choices. He could be the Lord or a liar, or it could be legendary. It could be legendary. It could be not from Jesus at all. It could be made up.
I think I mentioned already, relative to Charles Darwin, how before he was even married, his wife asked him to read those chapters in St. John’s gospel, and he said, “They’re very beautiful, but Jesus didn’t say them.” Here our position would be very clear: Jesus said them, but not necessarily in the actual forms in which they’re written down in Scripture, because the Scriptures are written down by evangelists. They’re written afterwards. They’re written by those who remembered. Now, we would say everything is historical, but it’s not history. In other words, it’s rooted in historical… It’s not simply mythology or legends in the sense that legends aren’t true.
However, by the way, in the Christian tradition, the term “legend,” simply legenda, it meant a reading. It meant reading of a writing. A legenda is a reading of a graphē, of a scripture. You have a reading of scripture. But what we believe—this is Christian faith—is that what is there is historical and it’s true and it’s real, and when it’s ascribed to Jesus Christ, then it really is from Jesus Christ, but certainly not in the form in which we have it in the writings, because the writings are written later and they’re written by various authors, and they’re written to make various points. Sometimes things are brought together and they’re gathered together and then they’re put down. We would say that this is what we actually see in the Bible generally and what we see in Genesis when we have these two stories next to each other in the beginning.
Now we reflected on the first story; we reflected now on the second narrative, the second revelation, revelatory story. When I say “story,” I want to repeat: I don’t mean fiction. I’m using “story” like you find the word historia, history. The “story” meaning what is given to us in this narrative form. Here we claim that it is true and it is inspired and it’s the word of God, but it’s the word of God given to us through the intermediaries of human beings, who were inspired. They are the inspired authors, but the authorship is theirs. The ultimate authorship is God, but he has the human instruments through whom this is made known in various forms for various purposes.
The second story, where God is called the Lord God, we see that Adam comes—there’s no Adam; it’s just man—humanity comes first, and he’s formed from the dust and put in paradise, the garden of Eden which is paradise; it’s in the east. He’s fashioned by God. The trees are in the garden. He can eat of all of them. The tree of life is in the middle of the garden, and then there’s that tree of the knowledge of good and evil that man is forbidden to eat. Then it speaks of the known world, the river coming out of paradise and the four rivers of the earth. That was considered the entire world at that time. Then God puts man in this garden and God commands the human to eat of every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then he says, “When you eat that tree, you’re going to die the death.”
Then you have the narration of the creation of Eve. It’s not good for man to be alone. He needs a helper according to him, similar to him, being exactly what he is but of a different, distinct form, and that is the isha who is fashioned from the ish, the woman who is coming from the man, and God fashions that woman from his flesh to show—this is the Hebraic way of showing—that she’s of the same nature as Adam. She’s of the same humanity; she’s of the same flesh. She belongs to the very same category of reality that Adam does. She is what he is. Of course, the first story says that God creates humans in his own image and likeness, male and female. Now you’ve got the male and the female; you’ve got the man and the woman, and they’re placed in the garden.
Now we want to continue. We want to continue reflecting on the Genesis scripture. We come to the third chapter. We come to the third chapter, and at the beginning of the third chapter, the serpent is introduced. This is what’s written. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” So he’s considered a wild creature, this serpent. Of course, serpents and snakes generally are considered very particularly in various mythologies of the Middle East and so on. The serpents have a kind of a double meaning. They’re terrifying, they’re fearful, they can destroy you, but also they can heal you.
For example, in the Pentateuch, Moses lifts up the serpent in the wilderness, and everyone looks at that serpent and is healed. Then in the New Testament, in the gospel of St. John, it’s written, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and people looked upon it, so the Son of man must be lifted up and the whole world must look upon him whom they have pierced, and then looking upon him (Jesus Christ, being raised up), they will then be healed and be saved.” So there’s this ambiguous meaning about serpents.
Serpents in the ancient world again were considered quasi-divine beings, like waters, like the sun and the moon, like certain trees. It was kind of the sense of an uncanny power that belongs to the serpent. Then the serpent was connected to wisdom. Even Jesus uses that in the New Testament: “wise as a serpent, meek as a dove.” So there’s a kind of a wisdom connection to serpenthood. And it’s going to be this kind of ambiguity that we’re going to see in this serpent.
So you’ve got the serpent, but then it says, very clearly, “More subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” That’s the RSV, “more subtle”; “more cunning” is what the Septuagint is translated, and “of all the wild animals,” it says in Greek. Not “wild creature,” but “wild animals,” because the breath of life is in that serpent.
But here we want to notice and note clearly. It says God made that serpent. There you go again. It’s a creature. It’s not divine. It’s just a creature like any other creature. There’s nothing divine about it. It can be used for all kinds of symbolism, but it still is a wild creature, a wild animal, that God made. So here again you have this de-mythologizing. The myth of some kind of special powers in serpents and so on, it’s now destroyed. God made it. It’s a creature. Very clearly called a creature. So you have the de-mythologizing again.
By the way, we have to add if we’re talking about natural science, as a creature, it can be studied. Scientists can study snakes. They can study different kinds of snakes: water snakes, boa constrictors, pythons, whatever kinds of snakes there may be. There are some snakes that are friendly, and there are some snakes that are dangerous. Snakes belong even to very many cults in primitive religion. I just saw on television the other day an end of a movie about people working in Africa, and when one of the persons dies, one of the customs that they have is that they release snakes into the water to swim away and somehow to take the person’s life with them, back into the elements. So the serpent has an incredible symbolic value. Also we should mention that in some traditions it’s connected with sexuality: the serpent, the snake.
But in any case, saying all those things, the serpent says to the woman, “You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said: You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden.” Then it’s even added here: “Neither shall you touch it lest you die.” So not only can you not eat it, you can’t partake of it, but you can’t even touch it; you’re not supposed to touch it. So you have this tree with the fruit. By the way, there’s no mention of any “apple.” It’s not like eating an apple. It’s the fruit, and “fruit,” of course is a generic term. It means what is growing off that tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You don’t get near it; you don’t touch it, you don’t eat it. And the minute that you do, you will die the death. “Lest you die the death.”
But then the serpent, who, according to Scripture is the liar from the beginning—because the serpent here is going to be the image of Satan and the devil. In fact, in the book of Revelation, you even have a very specific text at the end of the Scripture where it speaks about the serpent, the ancient serpent, being the dragon and the devil and Satan. For example, in Revelation 20, it says, “The angel coming down from heaven seizes the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years and threw him into the pit.” We Christians think those thousand years are the age of the Church, until the Church then apostatizes itself, and then the devil is let loose and everything becomes total chaos again. I sometimes think that’s the time we’re living in right now. I think that the Christian era is over, because it’s over when Christians apostatize, and what we have now is massive apostasy, but that’s another story; that’s not for here.
But you have that serpent there, connected with the devil and Satan. It would be connected also in holy Scripture with what is called earthly wisdom. For example, in the letter of James in the New Testament, the author says that there is a “wisdom of God.” There’s a wisdom of God that belongs to God, but then there is also what he called a “wisdom not such as comes down from above.” I’m reading from James now. “Not such as comes down from above, but a wisdom that is an earthly wisdom, filled with jealousy and selfish ambition and boasting and falsehood.” Then James says, “This wisdom is not such as comes down from above,” but he calls it three things: earthly, psychic, and demonic. Earthly, psychic (meaning that which belongs to living things), and demonic. I think that’s a perfect description of this serpent in the Genesis story, perfect description of the Genesis story.
This is how it’s called in Greek. There is this wisdom that is epigios, on the earth, crawling on the earth. Psychikē, that’s as opposed to spiritual, psychic. It means just simply “living”: it’s just a living being. In the old King James translation, they translate it “sensual”; in the old RSV, they translate it “natural.” I think both of those are pretty bad translations. What it simply means is that which is simply confined within its creaturehood, which is not open to the spiritual, to God. It’s earthly; it’s psychic, psychikē, it’s just living; and then daimoniōdēs, demon-like, demonic. And that’s exactly what that serpent is. It’s earthly, it’s crawling around the earth; it’s a creature that’s a living creature but it is not open to God, it is not doing what God wants; and it is certainly demonic. So you have this snake lying to Eve.
The serpent says to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw the tree was good for food and it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and she ate it, and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
It seems like her husband is just standing there next to her this whole time. He’s not somewhere else. It seems like he’s right in the scene except he’s totally silent. Then they both eat of it, and then it says: “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Their innocence is lost. The glory of God is gone. Shame enters in. “And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons to cover themselves.”
Meditating on that particular passage, we have to just think of some things that are really important here. Again, I want to just repeat: this is simplistic, this is superficial, this is just getting the issues on the table. We’re not going into very great depth here, and all of this needs to be studied very carefully, but what we just want to see immediately, which we cannot miss even in the most superficial reading, is that the serpent lies to the woman. But he lies the way evil always lies. Here all of the holy Fathers say this. There is no such thing as a complete and total lie that doesn’t involve some truth. The lie is always a twisting of truth. Generally speaking, all the holy Fathers—if you read, for example, Maximus the Confessor’s, let’s say for example, the Centuries on love, he says this in so many words. He said: Every evil is a perversion of truth. It’s a misuse and abuse of something good. Even a serpent is good. Even the devil is good as created by God, but then becomes evil by lying, or as St. Paul would say, by refusing to give God glory, doxa, and gratitude, thanksgiving, for its existence.
This serpent, this demon figure, wisdom of this age, it’s a perversion. It’s basically a perversion. It’s a lying; it’s a deceit. But it’s always a deceit that somehow is subtle, and that serpent is called subtle or cunning, because it knows how to twist truth. It knows how to twist truth. It’s like how the holy Fathers teach that in every heresy, there’s a certain truth, but it’s twisted. It is emphasized in a wrong way. It affirms things and denies other things, and therefore becomes error. So there’s always this perversion, and that’s why in the Bible the devil is called the liar from the beginning, he’s called the accuser, and he’s called the deceiver, he’s called the twister.
Diavolos, that very word, “devil,” in Greek, it means that which pulls apart rather than brings together. By the way, etymologically, the opposite of the word devil, diavolos, is symbolos, symbol. A symbol is the opposite of a devil. That’s why we call the Nicene Creed the Symbol of Faith. It integrates things and pulls everything together. It doesn’t pull them apart. It doesn’t just pick and choose certain parts and then distort everything and lie. But this is what every evil is, and this is what the serpent does.
It’s interesting. He says, “You will be like God. If you eat it, you will be like God.” Here we know, and this is a classical teaching of ancient Christianity, we are created to be like God. It says it în Genesis itself. We’re created in the image and according to the likeness of God. We’re not God. Oh, we’re definitely not God. We’re creatures. We are not God, but we were made in God’s image. And Christians will say, “who is Jesus Christ, who is God.” Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, who is God himself, in human form. Jesus is not just like God; he is God. But we’re created to be like God, and to become like God by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, God’s Word, in communion with the one God and Father who is the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.
The devil here is very subtle. He says, “You will be like God.” Well, weren’t we supposed to be like God? Well, of course we’re supposed to be like God. We’re made in God’s likeness, to be like God. This is such a powerful teaching of our Christian Church Fathers, especially of the earliest periods. St. Basil the Great says, “What is a creature?”—“What is a human being?” rather. A human being is a creature who is created by God’s good will, by God’s grace, by God’s good pleasure, to be by grace and God’s power everything that God is by his very nature, by his very being as God. He said a human being is a creature with a commandment to be divine, to become divine, genisthe theon, become divine. This is a classic teaching of the ancient Christian Fathers, and they insist, of course, that this is finally fulfilled and becomes possible through Jesus Christ. But we have to be redeemed and saved and healed for it to happen, because we’ve been screwed up from the beginning, and that’s what we’re reading about right now.
The devil lies to the woman. The woman takes the fruit. She eats it and gives her husband to eat it. And at that moment, they become mortal. They are going to die. They don’t drop dead right then and there. Some people say, “Well, they said you would die the death and they didn’t die; they kept on living,” but their life after eating that fruit was no longer life. It was sinful existence until they did finally die and return to the earth, and they would die. They became mortal. You might even say that if you touch this, if you eat of it, you will become mortal. You will not be able to keep yourself alive. You will go down into Sheol. You will return to the dust. And that is exactly, according to this narrative, what happens, as we will see.
But what we want to see now, and we want this question now, is: what does it mean to partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? What does it mean? Here I would actually say that in my opinion there is no one explanation about what that means. It certainly means sin. It certainly means disobedience to God. It certainly means listening to the devil. It certainly means perpetrating an act by which you kill yourself. It certainly means that when you do this you commit spiritual suicide, and you even commit physical suicide, because it makes you die physically.
But what was the sin? What’s going on here? Here I would say that, very simplistically and quickly, there’s basically two modes of explanation here. One is that this act simply symbolizes any sinful act, because in Hebrew “to know” doesn’t mean abstract knowledge. Adam and Eve could have imagined what was good and evil even without sinning. Human beings who are good could imagine what evil is. I could imagine somebody killing somebody, without ever having killed anybody. And even if there hadn’t ever been anybody who was killed, if I saw two human beings, I could realize and imagine that one could kill the other. One could be mean, one could be ugly, one could be stealing, one could be doing all kinds of unjust and unrighteous acts relative to each other. We know that abstractly.
But in Hebrew the word “know,” it means something you know by actual experiential, existential experience. You experience it. For example, in Hebrew, the word “know” is the word for sexual intercourse. When it says, “Abraham knew Sarah,” it didn’t mean he had a clear theoretical, abstract definition of Sarah. It meant he really became one flesh with her and knew it. So I think that you can say pretty much—and this is certainly very traditional—that the act symbolizes any sin by which you actually do evil, where you know evil by experience; you do it. You not only know about it, think about it, but you accept that temptation and you actually submit to it, and then you know the difference between good and evil. You know the difference by experience, and knowing evil by experience means that you know that then you become shamed, you lose your innocence, you alienate God, your relationships are broken with all of reality, and you ended up curséd, sinful, and dead and returning to dust from which you were made. You know that by experience; it’s no longer an abstract idea.
So the interpretation would be: the participation of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil means doing an act by which you kill yourself; doing an act which is contrary to reality. It means sinning. And the word “sin,” both in Hebrew and in Greek, hamartia in Greek, it means to miss the mark. You miss the mark, you deviate, you get off the way, you fall, you were in an exalted position and now you collapse. You become impure. You were pure and now you’re impure.
And all language about evil presupposes a fundamental good. You can’t miss the mark unless there’s a mark. You can’t fall unless you were elevated. You cannot become impure and stained unless you were first clean. You cannot deviate unless there is a via, a way. You cannot commit anomia, transgression, unless there’s a nomos, which is a law. All the words about evil presuppose a primal good. Even more modern terms, like “alienation,” a Marxist term, or “estrangement.” Well, you can’t be estranged or alienated unless there’s a homeland; unless you’re at home you can’t be alienated. So there are no words for evil that do not presuppose in their very utterance a fundamental and preexisting good.
So here the interpretation of tasting and touching that tree would be an existential act of evil. Whatever it is, it’ll kill you.
Another interpretation that you find in Gregory the Theologian and Ephraim of Syria is an interesting one. They claim that tasting and eating of this tree meant mystikē theologia, that it meant mystical theology; it meant really growing up and becoming divine and godlike through purification and keeping of the commandments. So their theory was that at some point God would have let humanity taste and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They gave it a more, what you might call Hellenistic interpretation, a Hebraic interpretation. They say: yeah, they were just not allowed to eat it yet, because they were still primitive. They hadn’t kept the commandments. They hadn’t been tested.
But had they been tested, had they kept the commandments, had they [given] God glory and thanksgiving and spread paradise and cultivated the earth, they say, perhaps at some point they would have been allowed to participate in that tree, which they even call contemplation or theology. It was kind of the tree of theology that neophytes can’t have. Neophytes have to have milk; they can’t have meat yet. So their idea was that there would have been a progression and then they would have been allowed to participate in that tree which would have been deification.
But you might almost dare say that their understanding of the sin was that humanity went way beyond where they were. They tried to be greater than they were. One of my students once made a pun and said, “They bit off more than they could chew, and it killed them. They choked on it.” In other words, they weren’t ready to have that experience. So premature theologizing, premature contemplation, trying to get into mystical secrets of God before you’ve even kept the commandments and increased and multiplied and filled the earth, that was coming in the future.
Well, I don’t know. I frankly don’t find that too plausible of an interpretation, but what is plausible about it is that it’s still a sin. Whatever they did was existentially a sin, and it broke them. It corrupted them. It made them mortal, or, to put it more accurately, it made them to lose their immortality that they would have had in communion with God by keeping his commandments. So this is what we find there. So then they are then realizing what they have done. They’re realizing what they have done. Then the text continues.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
So they hide from God now. They hide from God. They can’t open themselves to God. They can’t be with God. They have to hide from God. They’re ashamed. They’re naked.
Here some scholars point out that this is very much the kind of the way that the hagiographer, the holy writer, deals when he speaks of God as Yahweh, because Yahweh is close. The Lord is with us; he’s walking with us. He’s in our life. He’s in our face. He’s not sovereignly out there on some cloud somewhere. You might dare say he’s not the Most High God only any more. He’s certainly the Most High God, but now he’s involved in the nitty-gritty of our life. He’s walking with us in the garden, and we’re hiding from him.
Whenever anyone is sinful and shamed, they always hide from the face of God. Remember how it said about Jonah? That he was fleeing from the face of God. Whenever we sin, we’re ashamed and we flee from the face of God. So they’re fleeing from the presence or the face of God among the trees.
Then the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you, Adam, man? Where are you?”
And that’s the first question that God asks human beings in the Bible. It’s the first direct address of God to man. “Where are you?” Here when we read the entire Bible, we know what man can answer. He can say, “I am hiding from your face because I am curséd. I am sinful, and I am dead. I am just dead. I’m gone. I can’t look at you. I’ve lost my glory. I’ve lost my innocence.” And then man says, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Afraid, naked, and hiding. And then the Lord God says, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
And then the man, of course, wants to get out of it, and he says, “The woman whom you gave me to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” So you have the first passing of the buck in human history. When we sin, we want to blame someone else. We don’t take responsibility. Here somehow this man is even accusing God. “The woman that you made from my side, the woman that you gave to be with me. This woman who was supposed to be my helpmate, like me, she’s the one who led me into it.”
Then the Lord God says to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent beguiled me.” So man blames the woman and woman blames the serpent. “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” And then God addresses the serpent. So you see the same thing that is happening there. Sometimes the question is raised: Is it really the woman who is basically at fault more than man? In St. Paul you get that impression where it says the woman sinned first and then man, she ate first and then gave it to man. I think that there is a theological point there. The woman was even shaped by God from the flesh of Adam, the flesh of the male, in order to be his helper, his helpmate, to let him be a godly creature, to let him love and know God and glorify and govern and do all the things that man could not do alone because it was not good for him to be alone.
So the woman fails in her calling. The woman is supposed to enable and empower man to be a man, to be a human being, to be in the image and likeness of God, and to do it together. But St. Augustine, also commenting on this and on a little bit of, you might almost say, a humorist way, he said, but if we’re going to blame the woman, that she failed in her calling and she didn’t do and be for Adam, for man, what she was supposed to be, well, what about man? He was supposed to be together with his woman. He was supposed to govern over her. He was not supposed to listen to her when she’s listening to the serpent. Then Augustine says in some sense you could be more sympathetic with the woman, because she was deceived by the devil, by the spirit of this age, by a cunning, subtle, earthly, psychic, demonic power that’s symbolized in the serpent. She listened to a powerful evil—but the man listened to his wife. The man listened to his woman; the ish listened to the isha.
But I think in a sense it’s futile to start pointing fingers and who’s to blame. They did it together. And traditionally it’s always called the sin of Adam; it’s not called the sin of Eve. It’s called the sin of Adam. Adam is ultimately responsible or equally responsible with woman. They are responsible together. As St. Paul will write in the New Testament, you cannot think of man apart from woman, nor woman apart from man. They belong together, and together they are humanity. They’re supposed to act together in obeying God and doing God’s will and making world a paradise and cultivating paradise, but that doesn’t happen.
Then God says to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the cattle and above all wild animals.” So the serpent is still an animal. Whatever he symbolizes, he’s still an animal. “And upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” As James will says, he’s earthly, he’s on the earth. Then he says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Some people will see here—this is an ancient Christian teaching—the first announcement of the Gospel of Christ, because the woman’s child will crush the serpent. The woman’s child, ultimately, will crush the serpent. It’s a promise to the woman. Many people think that woman he’s talking about is the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, and the enmity is between that woman, the real Eve, and the old Eve.
Then to the woman he says, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband. He shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, you shall not eat of it. Curséd is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, the earth out of which you, earth-creature, were taken, because you dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So you have then the mortality, and then the world is no longer paradise. The world is no longer paradise. So what happens is they’re put out of paradise. This is how that third chapter ends.
The man called his wife’s name Eve (in Hebrew it means the mother of the living, and it says:) because she was the mother of all living.
Here, of course, in Greek she’s simply called Life, Zōe.
And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
There’s many interpretations of those garments of skins. Some of the more Hellenistic, Platonistic Church Fathers think that’s our body of flesh in its fallen form. We’ve lost of our glory. We’ve lost the incorruption in which we were originally made. That we now are hungry and thirsty and we go to the bathroom and we have no power over our body of death, and that is symbolized by these garments of skins. We become fleshly. In other words, we’re turned over to our animal nature. We’ve lost somehow the presence of the divine spirit in us.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Now lest he put forth his hand also to take of the tree of life and eat and live forever, therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken, and he drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
What’s that all about? Here we will say, and probably it was said the best in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which we serve in our Orthodox Church ten times a year—we serve it during Lent on Sundays, we serve it on Holy Thursday, on Christmas Eve, Easter Eve, Theophany Eve, the feast of St. Basil the Great: ten times a year we serve this Liturgy, and in that Liturgy it says very specifically—this is what it says. It says that God created human beings, male and female, in his own image, and he placed in paradise, a paradise of delight, in which they would enjoy communion with God through the keeping of the commandments. So paradise is that condition of man where we enjoy God and all of God’s good creation through keeping the commandments.
But then it says: But when man disobeyed God and listened to the serpent and failed to keep the commandments, then St. Basil’s Liturgy says God put him in this present world. He’s put out. He no longer experiences creation as paradise. That paradise remains as that symbol, that condition of delightful communion with God in the keeping of his commandments, but Adam and Eve are no longer there. We’re in what is called “this present world,” St. Basil calls it. Then, being in this present world, we are given over unto death, and we become mortal and we die and our world becomes corruption and then all these consequences of that sin come to humanity.
Then it says that an angel of the Lord is guarding the tree of life. Here St. John Chrysostom and other Fathers point out how awful it would be for us to try to participate of the tree of life when we are broken and curséd and corrupted and sinful and dead and mortal. Then the mortality and the death and the sin would go on and on and on. It would never be put to a stop. Here, of course, the New Testament and all of Orthodox Christian liturgy will say that paradise is restored when Christ comes, and then the tree of life is the cross, and the fruit that we eat from the tree of life is the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus. When in our churches we put the cross in the middle of the church, the church then becomes paradise. Even on our crosses on the bottom—there’s Slavonic crosses that on the bottom, under Jesus’ feet, on the crucifix it says “MLRB”: the place of the skull, where Adam’s grave is, has now become paradise.
But paradise is restored by Jesus Christ, the Savior. But paradise is not able to be entered by human beings as long as they are in their sinful and mortal state. That is the meaning of this, and that cherubim with flaming sword is guarding. In our churches on Christmas and other feasts we sing—on Christmas particularly—“Now the cherubim is moving from the gate, now it’s open, now we can re-enter paradise, now we can participate of the tree of life, now we can experience life as paradise again,” but that only takes place through the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the glorification of Jesus Christ, who is the real Adam. The old earth-creature is not the real Adam; he’s a type of Christ who is the real Adam. And the real Eve is Mary. The real Eve is the one who gives her flesh to the Word of God when he’s incarnate.
So here you have this expulsion from paradise, and now we’re in this present world. Now just one or two more things—for today. Sometimes people speak about Adam and Eve in paradise and what they were doing, what they were doing in paradise before they fell, before they rebelled and went against and contrary to God. My opinion is, and even some Church Fathers’, they speak a little too facilely about how Adam and Eve were living and how they might have lived and how they might have reproduced and how they might have been before they got the garments of skin and all that kind of thing. I think that is theologoumena; that is theologizing.
But if we stick close to the holy Scripture and the Church’s liturgy, I think that what we have to see and one of the main theological teachings of this particular passage of the holy Scripture—Genesis 2 and Genesis 3—is that there is no history of the unfallen Adam and Eve in paradise. Not a word is said in the holy Scripture about what they do there. They receive all their commandments there. If they stayed there, they would be able to never die. They would not be corrupted. But it’s a potential. It’s a command given to them which they blow from the beginning, and I think that’s one of the main meanings of this story: that humanity sins from the beginning. Whoever humanity is, wherever humanity is found, wherever it emerges on the planet earth, there is sin there right from the beginning.
In other words, the humans have not fulfilled their calling from their very first act. Their very first act is to listen to the wisdom of the world, a serpent and the devil and Satan, the deceiver and the liar, and to screw up and destroy and corrupt their life and to make it return to the dust. That’s the clear teaching if you read the text as it’s written.
It’s interesting: I found once in the lives of saints a very interesting thing, in the Prologue of St. Nikolai Velimirović. He makes a comment on St. Caesarius, who is on March 9. You might want to read this in the Prologue. St. Caesarius was a physician. He was the brother of St. Gregory the Theologian. He was also a theological writer, although we don’t have any of his writings, but he’s a canonized saint of the Church, he’s the son of St. Nonna, he’s the brother of St. Gregory the Theologian. Here St. Nikolai Velimirović in the Prologue, he says that among the things that this St. Caesarius, Gregory’s brother, tried to answer was the question: How long a time did Adam and Eve spend in paradise before their expulsion? How long a time? Then he writes:
Some have determined the time to be six hours, others 24 hours, and still others three days. St. Caesarius was of the mind that the length of time was 40 days, because, he said, our Lord fasted 40 days in the wilderness, and during that time he was tempted by the devil. Since the old Adam could not resist the temptation of the devil in the abundance of paradise, the New Adam resisted the devil valiantly in the hungry and thirsty desert of the wilderness.
So here you have a very interesting type of Christian reading of the Scripture. You have St. Caesarius reading the Old Testament, Genesis, in the light of Christ. Then, of course, in the Bible, everything that takes place takes 40. 40 is a symbolic number of a totally completed action. Even in our Orthodox Church to this day, things take 40. It takes 40 days to be born, 40 days to die, 40 days of Lent, 40 days from Resurrection to Ascension, 40 days after childbirth—everything is 40. Then Jesus is tempted in the wilderness and resists Satan, resists the serpent, as the New Adam, and does not listen to him. So St. Caesarius has this theological idea. Well, it certainly wasn’t more than 40, because he gave in and was tempted, this first Adam, and blew everything and screwed up and destroyed the whole world.
Well, that’s a very nice theological understanding, but I think I have to honestly say, trying to speak the truth in love, that it is not a very well-crafted question: “How long?” because here in this story of Adam and Eve, you don’t have any question of time there at all. It doesn’t say how long, and it just says they were made, they were commanded, the serpent came, and they blew it, and they blew it from the beginning. I would say the theological point—and this would certainly agree with St. Caesarius and anybody else, and all of the Church Fathers would say—the whole point of the story is there is no uncorrupted, unfallen, immortal life of man that we know of, and there’s certainly none that the natural scientists can study. The natural scientist cannot study man as he was intended to be, man as he was created by the hand of God to be. That phenomenon no longer exists.
Here I like to say all studies of reality, and especially human reality, are studies on sinful people. For example, when you read scientists will say, I don’t know, 20% of human beings are same-sex attracted, therefore it’s natural to be same-sex attracted, homosexual. Well, I think the Christian answer would be, no, you can’t say that, because you’re not studying man in his natural state. Or, to put it more exactly, you are not studying man in his supernatural state that his natural state was supposed to be in communion with through the keeping of the commandments of God from the very beginning. Man lapsed back into simply being an animal, simply being a living soul and not a life-creating spirit.
St. Paul in Corinthian letter, the 15th chapter, he will say that exactly. He’ll say the first Adam was a living soul; the second Adam, the Man from heaven, who is Jesus Christ, is a life-creating spirit, because he is in communion with God the Father, he is divine himself, he is in human flesh, and he cannot die because he keeps all the commandments. If Adam would have kept the commandments, he not only would not have died, but Adam and Eve, humanity, if you put it more generally—if humanity had not sinned, human beings would have control of the whole nature. We would control tsunamis and earthquakes and floods and fires and swords. We would control the animals.
We’ll get to the death of animals and plants at some other time, because it seems that the death of plants was just natural: you eat them, they die, they grow up again, they die, they pass away, they’re cyclical—St. Irenaeus said that. Perhaps even the animal world was intended to be cyclical. Maybe the animal world was created so that animals would prey on other animals; they would eat each other and that’s how they would consist, that’s how they would exist. But one thing’s for sure. That’s not the teaching about human beings.
Human beings were made to have control over the whole of creation and by being in communion with God through the keeping of the commandments to make this world a paradise and to live forever and not to be corrupted and not to die at all. So man as we know man now, human beings as we know now, are curséd, sinful, and dead. They’re fallen. They’re corrupted. They’re perverted. They’re under the power of earthly wisdom. They’re listening to the serpent. This is the condition of humanity, and that’s what this Genesis story says. That’s why there has to be enmity between the woman and the serpent, and then she has to give finally birth to a Son who will crush the serpent and restore man to paradise, and that is even already foretold in this third chapter of Genesis.
But the Genesis story doesn’t end there, and we will speak again about Genesis when we continue to reflect on what happened outside paradise, what happened in what Basil called in the liturgy “this world,” where, when man sinned, God took him from paradise and placed him in this world where he struggles and toils and lives with all kinds of conflict and hostility with nature, with beasts, with sun and moon and water and stars and all this kind of stuff, and ultimately, no matter how great he can be in his technology over creation and how much he can learn from natural science, he still ends up dead, and the victory of fallen nature is triumphant.
So this is what we see already given in these first three chapters of Genesis, and the next time we will reflect a bit more up until the calling of Abraham, because we will see that the very first thing that happens in Scripture after Adam and Eve are outside of paradise, they bear children and they kill each other: Cain kills Abel, and that’s how humanity is: suicidal, homicidal, from the beginning. Adam and Eve commit suicide spiritually in paradise and even physically. They die the death. And then they reproduce children in their own image, according to their likeness, and from the beginning they kill each other. Then you have the pre-history of humanity and all of this rebellion against God. Then you will get to the point where finally God will call Abraham and begin his work of reconstructing healing, restoring, renewing, and ultimately resurrecting from the dead the humanity that he formed from the beginning, very good, in his own image and likeness, to live in a paradise which they reject by their listening to evil and end up in this world where the law of this world is curse, sin, strife, toil, futility, and ultimately death.
But, thanks be to God, that is not God’s last word. God knew that all this would happen. He created it knowing that it would happen, and that’s why the New Testament will say he created all of this knowing from before the foundation of the world that there would have to be the incarnation of the Son of God. He would have to become the real last Adam, and he would have to reverse the whole story, and from the pit of hell, from Sheol, recreate the world and make it again into paradise. So we will continue to think about these things.