Original Sin 9 – The Adventures of Dumb and Dumber

Let’s return to Genesis 4 and begin to consider the arc of the whole narrative. I think that’s important because often today, especially in modern evangelicalism, that arc is either abbreviated or almost entirely omitted.

If you listen carefully to the problem, the solution, and the narrative connecting the two in much of evangelicalism today, you will hear something like this. The problem, disobeying God’s inviolate and sacred Law, is established in Genesis 3. The story then jumps to Romans in the New Testament where, using a couple of sentences, the guilt for the sin of Adam is said to be inherited by all human beings and that guilt cannot (for reasons that are never really explained) be forgiven by God. Instead, someone has to pay the debt we owe, but since we are human and finite, we cannot pay an infinite debt. (Of course, the explanations for the manner in which either Adam’s single act or our finite acts become an infinite and unredeemable debt are a bit tenuous themselves.) And since we owe a debt we cannot pay, we are all condemned by God.

Therefore Jesus becomes human in order to die on the cross. As a human being, he can die. And as God he is able to pay the infinite debt we had no ability to pay. The resurrection demonstrates that God accepts Jesus’ payment. And finally, to the extent it’s considered at all, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost marks the seal on that payment. It cannot be revoked.

Beyond its overly simplistic nature — reality, not to mention God, isn’t that simple — the fundamental problem with that particular narrative is that it omits most of the actual narrative of Scripture. It distorts the shape of that narrative significantly in an attempt to make it somehow fit within the confines of the above framework. Even the climax of Romans, the text in which much of this modern evangelical narrative tries to root itself, loses its context and thus most of its meaning. What should be the climax of the text of Romans becomes a parenthetical discussion. The Gospels themselves tend to be reduced to narratives that exist almost solely to establish the historical setting for the Passion of Christ.

However, the creation narratives are  in reality followed by the narrative of Genesis 4-11. There are varying ways to read these texts. I’ve found some intriguing insights at Just Genesis and if you are interested in such things commend that site to you. I’ve heard Scot McKnight describe Genesis 4-11 as “the adventures of dumb and dumber” and in some ways that seems like an apt summary description to me. But this narrative ends at Babel. That should not be overlooked. Instead of one people with one God, humanity consists of many peoples and nations with many gods. And this is the ancient state of man.

And though it’s a bit of an aside, that brings us to an important point regarding most of human history. Those of us in the modern West are highly conditioned today to regard faith or religion as an individual, private choice that each person must make for themselves over the course of their lives. But that image does not describe most of humanity. In the ancient world (and still to some extent in many parts of the world today) gods were largely tied to place and/or people groups and nations. If you were born in a particular place to certain parents, then your god or gods were largely determined by your birth. That was never an absolute, of course. From time to time, people did shift from one religion to another. And, of course, new religions did arise (though they too quickly became tied to some people or place).

Household gods (like we see in some of the early scriptures) were tied to the household and moved with the household. But if the gods were taken or if you left the household, then those gods were now removed from you and you needed other gods. It’s a very different lens for interpreting reality and if you try to read our Holy Scriptures through the modern, highly individualized spiritual lens, you will misread them.

If you have not read and understood one aspect of Pentecost as the healing of Babel, then I would suggest that you have missed an important part of the arc of the story of God and man. In fact, you may be too focused on the question of guilt and forgiveness and not enough on the themes of healing and restoration. I would suggest that the latter are actually more central to the narrative of the Holy Scriptures than the question of guilt. We’ll continue to explore the narrative arc of scripture tomorrow.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 22, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink


    Thanks for referencing Just Genesis. You are correct in saying that an accurate reading of Romans (and Hebrews, and the Petrine and Johanine epistles) requires that we understand what Genesis says. That means paying attention to the Kushite cultural context of the material, not making it say whatever I as a 21st-century American thinks it says.

    Evangelical reductionism has been a problem, certainly. Scot McKnight’s description of the ruler-priests of Genesis 4 and 5 as “dumb and dumber” is a perfect example. These were Jesus Christ’s ancestors who believed the promise that God made to their ancestors in Eden (Gen. 3:15). Further, the line of Cain (Gen. 4) and the line of Seth (Gen. 5) intermarried exclusively, as was the custom for the Horites. Analysis of the kinship genealogical data in Genesis shows us the pattern. http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/03/pattern-of-two-wives.html

    Another problem has been the tendency of Evangelicals and Catholics to rely on what the rabbis have written in the Talmud. To cite but one example… the rabbis insisted that Melchizedek was “the Great Shem” and refer to him as Shem-Melchizedek (a term not found in the Bible). This is an attempt by rabbis to make him more plausibly Jewish. The rabbis had to try to explain how a priest of Jerusalem should be given tribute by Abraham. Abraham wasn’t Jewish either and he was a descendant of Shem (and Ham, since the Horite lines intermarried exclusively as the Genesis genealogies reveal). Melchizedek was a Jebusite ruler-priest. The Jebusites originated in ancient Kush and migrated east into the land of Canaan. They also migrated west into Nigeria.

    So, between reductionism by Christians and myth weaving by the rabbis, it is a great challenge to figure out what Genesis actually says. I’ve spent over 30 years doing exactly that, drawing on the disciplies of linguistics and cultural anthropology.

    God bless you!

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