Does the gospel require the doctrine of ‘the fall’?


And we’re back after a blogging hiatus with more thoughts that might disturb some people.

I was participating in a discussion about evolutionary creationism on the blog of Rachel Held Evans, (look out for the actual article when it’s ready, it will probably very interesting)  and one of the subjects that always comes up in such discussions is that of the fall. The line of reasoning is that without the litteral story of Adam, Eve and the apple there would be no gospel at all, but I’m affraid that I don’t get the problem here…

Let me sayfirst that I myself have no problem at all with 6-day creation, nor do I have any problem with the idea of evolutionary creation. I do think that the scientific evidence points towards the latter, but by no means does that mean that one of those options is right and the other wrong. Au contraire, I don’t believe that modern science is capable of telling us how the world was created at all, since the visible world comes from the invisible. Investigating the traces left in the material world will never give us a complete view, but if the traces lead us to an old earth and universe, and biological evolution, it’s okay to me. But it will never be the whole story, and the whole story is outside the scope of science, and bigger than we can comprehend…

So I’m inclined to see the first chapters of genesis as a symbolic story to tell us in a poetic way about something that cannot be said in straight and exact ways and modern scientific discours. I would say the same about the story of the fall. The whole forbidden fruit story kinda seems symbolic, but still it says something real: man has at some point rebelled against God, and now we live in the reality described.

That ‘fallen’ reality is clear to everyone: this world in in the hands of the powers of sin, death and distruction. We see it everywhere if we open our eyes, and experience it every day. The power of sin is working inside of us, and also from the outside against us. This is so clear that I don’t believe anyone can deny this. So I’m always surprised that people need to use genesis to explain why we need salvation, just point to anywhere and you’ll see why…

Now we could have a discussion about Augustinian original sin, or ancestral sin. The first says that the sin of Adam is in some way transferred to all his descendants, the second one says that Adam had in his sin polluted the world, which brings all people born into this world under the influence and power of sin. I tend to the second, which makes me probably a bad protestant, but I don’t even see a problem for Augustinian Christianity without the story of the apple being litteral history, let alone non-Augustinian theology which does not place such an emphasis on the idea of ‘the fall’. Wheter or not we know what happened, we see the state the world is in and it’s not a good one, and Jesus came to solve that, and did solve it. Do we really believe that?? Or do we think Jesus came to solve some abstract ideas and man-made theological problems?

Jesus did defeat death, evil, sin and Satan in his death and resurrection, so the problem solved is bigger than the one the apple story explains anyway!

Wait here!

Did I just say that the problem solved is bigger than the story of the apple and the fall?

Yes I did. The hope we have as Christians is the New Heavens and the New Earth, in which all evil will be eliminated. So no more sin, no more death, etc… The whole problem of evil being undone by the work of Jesus; like I said earlier. That is the whole story of Christian salvation. The source of evil here is in a way irrelevant, if we look to explain it in a historical analytical way like we Westerners like to do it; but what we can say is that it defenitely lies outside of God. The whole story of redemprion, culminating in the incarnation, life, teaching, example, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus is about God doing something against evil, and in the end eradicating it.

So evil is NOT from God, but what God is fighting against. And this evil has something to do not only with the fall of men, and the whole apple story, but with evil powers of which the origin isn’t explained in genesis either (the ‘snake’ is just called a snake, not even identified with satan except by the writer of revelation, and why he is evil is explained nowhere)

There’s more going on about evil than the fall of man anyway, and we don’t know that much about it… There are speculations about the fall of Satan, but we don’t have anything really clear about it in the bible.

So what are my shocking conclusions? The first one is that we don’t need a litteral story about the fall of man to see that this world is burdened by sin and evil and in need of the salvation Jesus brought, but we just have to open our eyes, and the second one is that the problem solved by the salvation Jesus brings is a lot bigger than what the apple story explains… The apple story might explain how those forces of evil infiltrated mankind, but not where they came from.

Any additional ideas anyone?

Shalom

Bram

7 responses to “Does the gospel require the doctrine of ‘the fall’?

  1. There is much that you say that I agree with: that “the whole story is outside the scope of science, and bigger than we can comprehend…”, that “the problem solved is bigger than the one the apple story explains”, and that “the whole forbidden fruit story kinda seems symbolic, but still it says something real”. I would agree “that we don’t need a litteral story about the fall of man to see that this world is burdened by sin and evil and in need of the salvation Jesus brought”, however, I would suggest that the symbolic story we do have in the Bible is grounded in a literal experience that was symbolized. From a literary standpoint this makes a lot of sense. Good stories, even highly allegorical ones, are based in real experience. The reader connects to the symbols because of a shared common experience.

    Having the symbolic story of the fall based in real experience also makes sense from a Biblical standpoint. The stories told in the Bible, from Abraham leaving Ur to Jesus’ miracles and parables are all treated as if they were based on real experiences. They are treated as real experiences that communicate spiritual truths. The problem that we have in the 21st century is that we don’t connect with the real experience that is behind the symbolic story of the fall. We sort of get the meaning of the story, but I doubt whether we really understand the symbols and what kind of experience they are based on. Without understanding the context of the fall story, I believe we limit how the story can speak to us.

    Which leads me to the question of can we dispose of parts of the Bible because we don’t understand them or don’t feel like they speak into our context? Now that we have ‘eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ should we say that our knowledge of evil is irrelevant? Does knowing about evil ever help in defeating evil? Can we really be wise as serpents and innocent as doves? And if God creates the angels and the universe ex nihlo doesn’t that imply that everything came from him? If so, where does that leave us in interpreting evil and it’s source?

    We know the end result of Christ triumphing over evil. And we know that Christ works through us. Instead of avoiding questions of the origin of sin and evil, what if we put our knowledge (and lack thereof) at the service of Christ so that he can more effectively defeat evil and sin? When we understand the psychology of how/why we sin, our prayers are more effective in combating the way evil gets a hold of us. If we understood the source of evil and sin, wouldn’t we be more effective in letting Christ uproot sin and evil from our lives and in the world?

  2. It is interesting that the Biblical text does not talk much about the Fall. It is vertically unheard of in the Old Testament while the New Testament references are limited to Paul’s argument in Romans that all of humanity needs Jesus not just the Jewish people. Yet for some reason the modern church tends to place a lot of focus on that one event…. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem to add up…

    Recently I was preaching on the first few chapters of Genesis as part as an overview of the entire Bible when I realized that the goal or mission of God was the same BEFORE and AFTER Adam and Eve left the garden. It has not a surprise to God nor did He have to change this plan because of the actions of this couple. When God first made them, He gave them a mission to take His glory out of the garden (the Holy of Holies where God walks) through the land of Eden (inner court) and to cover the entire planet (the outer court where the people come to worship). This same mission continued after Adam and Eve left the garden and can be seen in the ministry and focus of Jesus Christ.

    So, no – I don’t feel threaten by modern science or by the theory of evolutionary creation (granted, I don’t think evolutionary creation answers all the questions and, therefore, I do tend to hold to the view that there really was one couple created by God in the beginning). =)

    • I suspect that one of the reasons Paul goes back to the story of the Fall is that he is trying to make the gospel message universal to the human race rather than specific to the Israelite people. He spends a lot of time arguing against Jewish religious law and the attempts to convert gentiles into Jews. By basing the story of salvation in the universal problem of sin created by the Fall, he goes beyond the ritual purity rites, beyond the obligation of the covenant, to the crux of the problem of pride.

      What we want to be saved from/to is going to determine how we frame our gospel story.

  3. Hey.

    Does “the Gospel” require the Fall? I’m going to put aside defining Gospel right now and move right along.

    What is the Fall? Well, we could over-analyse it. We could point out that for the Garden of Eden to exist and have gates and for Adam and Eve to leave it, there must’ve been something outside of it. What was that world like? Was it still “in waste and void” or in a fallen state, and were Adam and Eve created to bring Paradise to the rest of Creation? How long were Adam and Eve in the garden before they fell? Was the Serpent really Satan? Wasn’t there death because Adam and Eve ate fruit that bore seeds, and in biblical language seeds changing actually “die”?

    How does Genesis relate to similar Near-Eastern accounts of creation (and no, not Enuma Elis; the near-eastern account was much more common than that. Sorry, 19th-century pan-babylonists)? How does the Fall represent a cultural shift over from hunter-gatherer to pastoral nomadic/neolithic to civilization? What does it mean to die? Did God, as St. Ireneus proposed, create physical death as an act of mercy to limit Man’s ontological death and destruction? Did not the angels Fall before man?

    That we have the ability to ponder such things is so wonderful! What glory has God given to us that we have the creativity and the curiosity and the means to seek the truth of such mysteries. I have my opinions and they will change, and I won’t give them here. What I’ve just demonstrated is that there is no way to pin down the Fall in some sort of biblicist manner. It cannot be done, nor was it ever meant to.

    What the Fall tells us is that we have entered into the human condition. And to be in the human condition, whether what we call the human condition is natural or unnatural, what it means is that we are at war. We do battle with ourselves, with principalities and powers, with passions and with judgment, with tribalism, with isolation, with individualism, with hatred, with fear and with doubt.

    Do you need the Fall? Yes. The Fall is part of the Gospel; knowing about the Fall is Good News in and of itself. The Fall tells us that where we are is not where we’re supposed to be, where we should be, or where we have to be. The Fall tells us that something got messed up. The Fall tells us that “before you are fire and water; stretch forth your hand to whichever you wish”. And that we’ve been swimming around in the fire thinking that’s all there is. We had lost the battle.

    And this is the Good News: The King has entered His Triumph, the enemy is in retreat. We can lift our Holy Ark and its Holy Word within and say, as the ancient Hebrews did when lifting the Ark of the Old Covenant in battle: “…Let His Enemies be Scattered!”

    In the Orthodox Church on Holy Saturday, an ode to Christ is sung that re-capitulates all of humanity in His own Triumph. This is the truth of the Fall and how it is overcome:

    “Christ: Do not lament me O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the son conceived without seed in your womb. For I shall rise, and be glorified with eternal glory as God, and I shall exalt all those who magnify you in faith and love.

    “Mary: O Son without beginning, in ways surpassing nature was I blessed at your strange birth, for I was spared all travail. But now beholding You, my God, a lifeless corpse, I am pierced by the sword of bitter sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified.

    “Christ: By my own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of Hades tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: For on the Cross as God have I struck down my enemies, and I shall rise again and magnify you.

    “Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for Hades, the enemy, has been despoiled. Ye women, come to meet me with sweet spices: For I am delivering Adam and Eve with all their offspring, and on the third day I shall rise again.”

  4. Theodore A. Jones

    “Any additional ideas?” Yep. But you won’t like em.

  5. Theodore A. Jones

    Thanks for the promo.

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