the salvation oracle of Is 26 19
19 your dead will live, their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy! For your dew is as the dew of the morning dawn (of the light of life), and the earth will give birth to the dead (departed spirits).
This salvation oracle, as it’s called, continues the same promise of swallowing death forever from Is 25 7. It expands on this promise that the LORD is going to abolish death. The text promises that the dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
their corpses shall rise
This is talking about physical, flesh and bones bodies being raised from death. In other words, their corpses will get up from the dead. That is the word that’s being used here in the Hebrew.
in the dust is a reference to the fact that having been buried, their bodies have crumbled to dust.
This is nothing less than a promise of the resurrection of the body – the resurrection of the dead – that goes along with and is part of the renewal of the whole Creation. See resurrection notes in Is 25 8.
This, we will see, is absolutely central to the biblical story but often people in our contemporary society manage to screen it out. In other words, the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to save your body.
Many liberal scholars have said that the OT people didn’t know anything about the resurrection or the life to come, that the OT people thought that when you were dead, you were dead. Is 26 19 shows us that is not true. It shows us these liberal theologians are dead wrong. The resurrection was taught already in the OT.
This understanding flows into and corresponds with what scholars call ‘biblical anthropology’, the knowledge of who we are as human beings vis-á-vis the Bible.
Biblical anthropology is not just the study of human cultures and artifacts. When used in philosophy and theology, biblical anthropology has a much broader definition – biblical anthropology addresses your understanding of what it means to be human. Biblical anthropology addresses the knowledge of who we are as human beings vis-á-vis the Bible. Everyone has an anthropology. Your anthropology is crucial because it’s going to determine what you believe about yourself and about others. And, it’s going to determine how you live.
Aspects of biblical anthropology to which theologians point that can be drawn out of the good Creation of this Ge 1 26-28 text include:
1. In human beings as they were originally created you have what theologians call an original solitude. Refer to Ge 2 18-20 notes.
2. The second big theological concept that theologians find within the Ge narrative is original unity. Refer to Ge 2 21-24 notes.
3. You have an original righteousness that’s going on here. (It’s also called original justice or natural righteousness.) The obverse of original sin is this original righteousness.
Excursus (This excursus ‘lifted from’ Ge 1 27 and placed here.).
Now we go to the story of humanity’s Creation which leads into a reading of some key passages from the story of the “Fall”. We’re going to talk about two key truths about this state of humanity made in the image of God that are there in the text and which have been expressed in the Church’s teaching through the centuries.
Original righteousness See the salvation oracle of Is 26 19 for this discussion.
These two key truths are often missed which means the text is often misunderstood.
Humanity was made in the image of God to be in communion with God, to share God’s holiness, righteousness and life. We call this, for short, original righteousness. See this discussion below.
Regarding the second key truth, was humanity created mortal or immortal? On the basis of the text the theologians of the Church say neither one. Instead, humanity was created with conditional immortality. See this discussion below.
Original righteousness – iustitia originalis – is the theological term for the perfect righteousness of Adam and Eve before God at their Creation in Ge 1. Human beings were created in fellowship with God with original righteousness and possessing the glory of God given to them as creatures made in the image of God. Original righteousness was the way that humans could be fully human in relationship with God. In other words, human beings were not made broken and sinful and alienated from God. They were made in full communion with God and in communion with one another so that finally they had an original Beatitude (meaning original blessings through grace). [See just below.] Original righteousness was not just some legal, right-standing with God. Instead, this was a communion of love in which humanity was created with God. Humanity was created in a state of original righteousness, holiness and blessedness, sharing the goodness and life of God, and so on.
Now there is an important truth underlying the story as it’s told, and we’ll see these as we go through the story.
Original righteousness was necessary. Original righteousness was not static, magical nor stationary but instead original righteousness was a divine, supernatural thing. Within God’s good Creation there was the concept, the truth, the reality that this original righteousness needed to be confirmed within Adam and Eve through their free act of union with God through faith and love.
So original righteousness was something that needed to be confirmed and it was something that could be lost – because human beings had been made in the image of God with free will, self-determination. The image of God was all about this union with God. If this union with God was something that was programmed into humanity so that they could not but do that, what kind of true union of love with God would that have been? It wouldn’t have been a true union! It couldn’t have been!
When humanity was created with this original righteousness, it was something that we will see in the text and something which the theologians have always taught. Original righteousness was something that needed to be confirmed by humanity’s free act of faith and love. Only then would it become something permanent, indissoluble and everlasting. In the original Creation original righteousness was something that hung on the thread of a condition. That condition was that it needed to be confirmed by humanity’s free act of love toward God.
We must understand how that fits with our image of Godness and our free will. Had it been any other way, it would have instead been something magical in which there would be no room for a free act of union and love with God. And, were that to have happened, we would not be truly, fully human. Instead, it would have been programmed into us so that we could not but do God’s will. We’d have been created as automatons, as puppets doing God’s will because that’s how we’d been programmed by God in Creation. But God didn’t create us that way. Instead, God created us with original righteousness, an original righteousness which needed to be confirmed through our free union with God through faith and love.
Hence, this original righteousness is an important part of the story. Original righteousness needed to be confirmed and it could be lost.
Regarding the second truth being discussed in Ge 1 27, was humanity created mortal or was it created immortal? On the basis of the text the theologians of the Church say neither one. Instead, humanity was created with conditional immortality. That is, humanity was created with the capacity to live forever. Humanity was created apart from death. Adam and Eve were created not mortal; they did not know death; death was not in the world so they could have lived forever.
But, humanity was also created not immortal. It was not as if no matter what they did, they would never die. This all goes back to the first truth – the original righteousness in which they were created had to be confirmed by the people’s free act of union with God.
If it were confirmed, then they would share in the immortality which belongs only to God.
If they were to fall from that original righteousness, then they would lose that ‘not mortalness’ and become subject to death and mortality.
Neither one of ‘original righteousness’ and this ‘‘original’ conditional immortality’ are just magical and never be lost. They must be confirmed by a free act of love and faith toward God, and both of them could be lost – the original state of righteousness and the original state apart from death. So you have something like a conditional original righteousness and a conditional image of God and a conditional immortality.
We can see from this discussion how crucial our free will is. God takes our humanity seriously. Because we are human beings made in the image of God, be are made to love God. But it’s impossible to conceive of a creature who is able to love God, who is also not able to turn from God. The way the Bible tells the story affirms that this image of God is all about are free act of love in unity ourselves to God. It’s not magical; it’s supernatural. It’s not something we were programmed to do; it’s something that this pre-Fall humanity must freely choose to do – to unite themselves to God. We see how this worked itself out in Ge 2 7-17.
End of Excursus
Theologically, original sin is the condition of sinfulness in which all persons share and which is caused by the sinful origins of the race through Adam and Eve in the “Fall” of Ge 3. That is, original righteousness was lost through the “Fall” into sin in Ge 3 when humans became dehumanized. Theologically original sin consists of the loss of original righteousness and the distortion of the image of God. The Meta-Sin is to disconnect yourself from God. Theologically this is called the loss of original righteousness.
You see original righteousness being discussed with the classical theologians such as Augustine and so on. In our own time we don’t express it as well in our teaching that the “Fall” was actually a fall from this original grace and glory given to human beings in God’s good Creation. It was a loss. In other words, there was an original righteousness and holiness and glory that was possessed by the first human beings made in the image of God but that was lost in the “Fall”. This supernatural state of holiness and grace and glory was lost in the “Fall”. That is what was restored in Christ but even more fully and greater because …
This next part to some may seem a little more controversial because we don’t talk about it as much as we should. You see in all the classical theologians, especially Irenaeus, that there is a sense within Ge 1-2 that there was a process going on in which Adam and Eve were created in original righteousness and justice and holiness and glory. But because of that Adam and Eve also had access to the tree of life (that we read about in Ge 2 9; Ge 3 22, 24) of which they never partook. Then, when Christ came, we, through communion with Christ, partake of that tree of life to which the first human beings never had access because they fell from grace before they could eat of the tree of life. That seems to be clear in the narrative of Ge 3 where it reads in v 22 … less they put forth their hands and take and eat of the tree of life and eat and live forever. But in Christ, and we especially see this in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we read in Jn 6 51 He who eats of this bread will eat and live forever; … This is actually an echo of Ge 3 where it reads 22 … less they put forth their hands and take and eat of the tree of life and eat and live forever. Now, through Christ, we have access to the tree of life. Not only is the original righteousness and holiness and justice and glory restored, it’s restored in an even greater way than what was available to even Adam and Eve before the “Fall”.
4. … so that they have an original Beatitude (which comes from the Greek word maka,rioj). This is expressing a profound concept that is unique to the Bible. The first human beings had original Beatitude (meaning blessing through grace) because they had original righteousness. In other words, they had this gracious relationship with God established in Creation, and now they had lost that.
Within every philosophy and world view outside the Bible evil, sin, suffering and death are a part of the way things always were and always will be. Within the Bible human beings were created with and original righteousness – in communion with God and with one another. And, with original Beatitude death was not in the picture. That is, human beings were made to live forever. All of this, of course, changed with the “Fall”.
Many religions and faiths (and some people wrongly think this is true of our Christian faith too) … many religions and faiths suppose that the real me is my soul, and that the goal is to rid myself of my body and go to heaven with God with my soul. For example, according to Platonic philosophy the body is just an excrescence, something we don’t really need nor want. The soul is our real humanity. Plato himself had a famous pun, a nice little rhyme which summed this up in one of his dialogues, sw/ma sh/ma sma sma “The body is a tomb.” [See full discussion in Lecture AChy JW file in folder Ware – Ancient Christianity folder.]
However, the understanding of Creation within the Bible is that human beings were created both body and soul. Further, both body and soul were good because they were part of God’s good Creation. So when God did his work of salvation to restore and renew our humanity to save us, it involved not just our souls but also the restoration of our bodies. Hence, from that understanding comes the understanding that the dead must first be resurrected – the concept of the resurrection of the dead.
So we can see from these OT scriptures, and more that I’ve not included, that we have this promise already in the story behind the Story that God will bring about this renewal and restoration of all Creation and raise the dead in order to save our bodies, bodies which were created by God and which are, therefore, by definition good! True. They were now fallen but they had been created good.
Notice how the ultimate promise corresponds to the story behind the Story where we see a foreshadowing of the ultimate story. All these things in the story behind the Story are types of the full reality. So notice that in the story behind the Story the Exodus comes to its full fulfillment when you have God’s people dwelling in God’s land and God dwelling among them. The fulfillment of the story for all humanity is God’s people in God’s land.
But notice how the promise has expanded because in the old promise the promise was this one particular land, the land of Canaan. Now the promise for God’s people and the ultimate promise is expanded; it’s the whole earth, the whole created order; and raised from the dead God’s people dwell with God in this new creation, body and soul. [Later in the story we will talk about how Jesus came to save our souls and our bodies and the whole created order.] So we have this promise already in the story behind the Story that God will bring about this renewal and restoration of all Creation and raise the dead!
Promise IV – The renewal and restoration of all Creation and Promise V – The resurrection of the dead
With these two components of our biblical hopes and promises often is the case that our cultural presuppositions that we put on the Bible get in the way of really seeing what’s actually in the Bible and what centuries and generations of readers have always seen and known. In other words and unfortunately, in our modern culture the hope of most in the Bible is to leave the created order and go away to a non-creational sphere which we call heaven. That understanding is foreign to the Bible. The biblical hope is nothing less than the bodily resurrection of the dead so that they might share in God’s renewal of the whole created order, heaven and earth.
God’s promise is this: With the resurrection of the dead YHWH, Israel’s God – in an act of unfathomable, unthinkable, indescribable and miraculous divine power – will give life to the physical, flesh and bones bodies of his people, even though they had been long decayed in the earth. YHWH will raise them from the dead and grant them new, indestructible, imperishable and everlasting life in the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in this renewed Creation. With this promise God tells us that our physical, flesh and bones bodies which die and decay, or which are otherwise destroyed, will be renewed, restored and raised from the dead to life. God’s people will be raised in the same human bodies in which they were created but then glorified so that those bodies are no longer subject to sickness, suffering or death – things that will be banished from the new Creation. That is, they will be made like humanity was meant to be, made to dwell forever with God. This biblical anthropology is so different from what our culture has to say about death.
This is the promise of the resurrection of the dead. Wow! This is beyond amazing! No other story has that kind of climax to which it looks forward. This is what Isaiah was talking about in Is 25 7 when he described God abolishing death. So it’s not an idea where God gives people a consolation prize in the face of death. Instead, it’s YHWH destroying death by raising the dead bodily from the grave. This is the climax of the story within the Bible, within the prophets; the climax is that God is going to renew the Creation, raising his people even from the dead. The God of Israel is going to conquer even death itself.
– – –
Ge 3 is all about idolatry which says “you can be as God.” According to the biblical perspective idolatry overturns this divinely, wondrous relationship between creature and Creator, this relationship in which alone the creature can flourish knowing the true Creator God who created them. But this is overturned when the serpent says in v 5 … you shall be as God, knowing good and evil. So the entry of evil, sin, suffering and death into God’s good Creation is painted by the author of Ge 3 as beginning with idolatry.
Although he comes to us in the guise of a serpent, here we have the first mention in the Bible of another creature, Satan, whom we’ll see throughout the story. This serpent appears suddenly in the story. Ultimately Satan (the devil) stands behind this serpent. [This passage doesn’t actually equate the serpent with Satan although later readers do that. By the time of Jesus’ day they were assuming that the serpent was somehow manipulated by Satan or that the serpent was Satan.]
The serpent is this supra-personal power of evil. He is far more crafty and exalted than humanity is. There is very little information available about how the devil became the devil. It’s clear in Scripture and in the Church’s teaching that Satan was a fallen angel. This is the same principle by which humanity was created good. Still, humanity could either be confirmed in that goodness through a free act of will, or humanity could fall from that goodness. Just as humanity could fall from goodness, so also apparently that applies within the angelic realm. As such, Satan was an apparently very powerful angel who had now fallen through its own free act of will. And Satan took many angels with him.
This concept within the Ge account of humanity needing to be confirmed within the goodness of God in the image of God helps us to understand the angels as well. While Scripture never gives us a full account, Scripture clearly implies that the unfallen angels have been confirmed in their goodness and in their connection with God. On the other hand, the fallen angels have been confirmed in their fallenness. So we seem to have the same sort of concept of free will working in all of these higher beings, the angels as well as in humanity. So Satan is a fallen angel.
Still, it may not be theologically correct to give the devil the status of personhood which only comes from God. God has given personhood to human beings because we are made in the image of God so maybe we should call Satan or the devil ‘quasi-personal’.
Remember from our discussion above that within the Christian theological paradigm we have the tree main branches of Christianity: Catholic; Orthodox and traditional Protestant. Within the Christian theological paradigm the question of the relationship of Ge to modern scientific theories of evolution is an open question but of which there are two main views: 1. the incompatibilist approach and 2. the compatibilist approach. Both approaches have an equally high view of scripture.
The incompatibilist approach understands Ge 1-2 to be describing, in no uncertain terms, an instantaneous Creation, not a Creation that took place over long ages through a process God used. This instantaneous Creation is sometimes called “special creation.” On the other hand, the compatibilist approach has an equally high view of scripture but takes a different position on the relationship of Ge 1-2 to evolutionary theory. The compatibilist understands Ge 1-2 and scientific theories of evolution including a great age of the earth as being compatible with the teaching of Ge. In other words, Ge does not rule out a developmental creation process in which God was the Creator. It’s just that he did that through the means that scientists have looked at and said it was an evolution.
Most of the time the incompatibilist theologian would say this text about the serpent is giving us a literal account of an amazing thing that God did because of the unique situation with the first two human beings. Satan actually used a serpent to speak through.
On the other hand, the compatibilist would normally say the serpent was a symbolic or pictorial element. It wasn’t that the first sin occurred through a serpent. That was just the chosen way the divinely-inspired author chose to talk about the “Fall”.
So there is a distinction between the incompatibilist and compatibilist approaches as to how much is non-literal, pictorial and symbolic – not only the seven days of Creation – but other elements too.
Notice also that this Satan is an enemy of God. So within this wonderful story of the Creator God there is only one Creator God. God has no rivals. Yet there is a created being who is now an enemy of God. And, because he’s an enemy of God, Satan is therefore an enemy of humanity. Because Satan is an enemy of humanity, he sought to lure the first human beings into turning from God so that they could not be confirmed in God’s life and goodness and holiness.
As the enemy of God, Satan first questioned what God had said and then in v 3 Satan out right called God a liar.
The serpent offered something beneficial – knowledge – but it was falsely beneficial because at the same time Satan did not reveal that that knowledge came with an unacceptable cost. One of the ways that Satan operates is by seduction, by offering something of value, or at least seemingly of value, which has really too high a cost. The other way that Satan operates comes by affliction, by coercing as we see in Jb. Even when Satan coerces, there is a seductive aspect to the ways of Satan. Satan employs any and all means to turn us away from God.
Again, in the story behind the Story we have: Act I = the good Creation in Ge 1, and here in Ge 3 we find ourselves in Act II = the “Fall” of humanity – in which human beings seek wisdom, truth and life from another god, apart from the one, true Creator God. There is an inner logic here, too, because if there is one, true Creator God, then seeking life, truth and anything else apart from that one, true Creator God has to be something that is going to go bad. “This is just not going to end well.” And it doesn’t.
In vv 4-6 the people believed that they would become wise apart the Creator God so they sought wisdom apart from the Creator God, and that made them partake of the tree of life (in Ge 2 9). The woman sought to be wise apart from God but she got disconnected from God and therefore she lost all. v 6 … and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise …. Within the context of the Ge text, that is the worst foolishness in which you can engage.
Notice that in Ro 1 21-22 Paul echoed Ge 3 4-6 – the “Fall” of humanity – in a very unexpected, enriching and sophisticated way. Paul brought out the “Fall” of humanity as he recalled Ge 3. Paul told us that because human beings sought wisdom apart from the one, true Creator God, they became dehumanized and disconnected from God by idolatry. In other words, all of this led to dehumanization, this structural idea in which human beings, who were made to worship God, had turned from God and lost their humanity. Their humanity degraded. Dehumanization flowed directly from the disconnection resulting from idolatry. That is, we are human beings made in the image of God and if you become disconnected from God because of idolatry, you lose your humanity. You become progressively dehumanized and you do dehumanizing acts.
Additionally, deep down those living dehumanized lives know they should be living another way so they experience guilt. For instance, Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves and so on. Then all of this sin of Adam and Eve gave rise to evil, darkness, suffering and death which had entered the world – through human sin and idolatry. We came under the punishment of death. Further, this dehumanizing behavior is replicated in the lives of each individual human as they live lives which seek goodness, wisdom and truth apart from the Creator God. That’s what idolatry is from the biblical perspective so it makes good sense that Paul echoed Ge 3 in Ro 1 21-22. Idolatry is seeking goodness, wisdom and truth apart from the Creator God.
Notice how Ge is saying the same thing as Paul. At the heart of all evil and wickedness is humanity’s disconnection from God – idolatry. You shall be as God, knowing good and evil v 5. Throughout the Bible – whether we are talking about the “Fall” of humanity, about the reason why Israel was sent into Exile or whether we are talking about Paul’s discussion of the entire human plight in Ro 1 – notice how idolatry (worshiping something other than the one, true Creator God) is always at the heart of that – turning away from God, not trusting in God.
Satan’s implication here with the words you will be as God was that wisdom should be what she sought – to be wise. Here the serpent was directly contradicting what God had said. We have a contest at work. Satan was in effect saying, “Do not trust God. God is not faithful and honest with you. God knows that if you eat of this tree of this knowledge of good and evil that you shall be as God.”
Notice that this act of disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve was ultimately much more than an act of disobedience. Instead, it was an act of rebellion against God. They were not merely committing some act they should not have committed. Rebellion was and is the central sin. They fell for the lie of Satan that they would be as God. Therefore, instead of worshiping God, they were seeking to be as God.
This sin will be central throughout the Bible. It’s the sin of sins, the core sin, the meta sin, the sin behind all sins – the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is much more than falling down before the icon of some false god. Idolatry is anytime we make something other than the one, true Creator God our god. If we make something other than the one, true Creator God our god, that is the sin of sins. Idolatry resulted in humanity’s “Fall”. It wasn’t eating the apple! Although we use the apple just for fun, it wasn’t an apple on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Scripture never says it was an apple. Instead, eating from that tree was an act of rebellion against God. It was siding with the enemy of God who, ironically, was their enemy too but whom they chose to follow rather than to follow God! It was an act of rebellion, an act of idolatry.
Ironically, in a way by entering into a communion with God we are becoming like God. In Chrismation we become like little Christs. And here the author is saying ‘no. That is not the way for you to become like God. Here’s a different way to become like God.’ It was the ultimate satanic double switch in which what God had promised was to be in communion with his people who were made like God in order to be filled with God’s love and life, to be made immortal like God, to be deified. That’s what the image of God is all about. Yet humanity fell for this false, satanic version of being made like God.
Act II of the story behind the Story introduces the whole dilemma of what theologians call the “Fall” of humanity which is the distortion of God’s good Creation. However, in the context of the story we are going to see that the “Fall” is best understood as creation’s reversal. Act II is fundamentally the dramatic, polar reversal of Act I – the undoing, the marring, the fracturing, the ruining, the reversal of God’s good creation – the move from goodness to evil, from light to darkness. The “Fall” took God’s good Creation and made it broken. The “Fall” is Creation’s undoing. The “Fall” undid God’s good work in Creation, both for humanity and for all Creation. They are intertwined. Hence, in the “Fall” we are dealing with the whole of God’s good Creation. This is the “Fall” of Adam and Eve and the entrance of evil, sin, suffering and death into world – for the first time.
So the “Fall” leads us further into the whole biblical story, the story in which the work of God is meant to restore and renew Creation. So how did things get undone? It began when the hearts of humanity turned from the one, true God to idols. So there was this sort of “un-conversion” which took place. Humanity undid its relationship with God. The cosmic claim the Bible is making is that the tragedy began with humanity. All of the suffering and death in the cosmos was the result of human rebellion against God.
While there are many other things that can be said about the “Fall”, there are key points that will be important later in the story so we’ll first focus on those. All of our later biblical writers of the old and new testaments will insist the “Fall” of humanity involved human rebellion against the Creator God, and this particular rebellion involved the core sin behind all sins, idolatry, in the full biblical sense. In other words, idolatry doesn’t have to necessarily involve “falling down before the statue of some sort of god.” Idolatry, the source of all other sins, is worshiping anything other than the one, living, true Creator God as your god. Hence, at the heart of the “Fall” is this concept of human rebellion, of idolatry – which is the core human problem from the Jewish perspective and from our perspective as Christians. This basic human rebellion against God, this idolatry, is, within the biblical view, the source of all evil, suffering and death which has now invaded / entered God’s good creation. Therefore, the world as we know it is not the world as it was intended to be. It was not the world of God’s good Creation.
That is, human beings who were made in the image of the one, true God to know and love God then turned from this same one, true Creator God. Instead of having this relationship as the human being created in the image of God with their Creator, the people substituted something else for God, thereby breaking that relationship with God, falling for the line of the serpent in Ge 3 as Eve and Adam did.
5 you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
One of the multiple ironies of the story and of the human condition is that people were made in the image of God to be in relationship with God, and yet these same people turned from God. That made it all the more heinous when they turned to idolatry in order to worship something other than this Creator God in whose image they were made.
Hence, the dilemma from the sub-beginning of the biblical story – Act II – as we see here in vv 4-6 stems from idolatry . The judgment that always follows from that is automatic. Since human beings were made in the image of God, we were created to “run” on God, so to speak. Our fuel is God. We were created to be in relationship with God. If, as made in the image of God, we rebel against God and worship something other than the one, true God, if we ourselves seek to be as God, that is idolatry, and that breaks our humanness apart. It dehumanizes us. In other words, that is not just an offense against God. That also breaks us as human beings.
St. Athanasius nicely summarized the three results following from idolatry.
*1 There is the loss of the original holiness and righteousness which human beings have and which enables relationship with the one, true Creator God. There’s this disconnection from God. The biblical account says ever thereafter human beings are disconnected from God and need to get reconnected. Still, it’s more than that according to Athanasius.
*2 There is also death. Opposite to the promises of the serpent, Adam and Eve did surely die. Idolatry, this turning from God, this disconnection from God must lead ultimately to death in every form. Ultimately the Bible is saying physical death is in the world as a result of human rebellion against God. Not only is there human death but there is …
*3 Cosmic futility, decay and death. The whole creation is subject to futility, decay and death.
Again, here in the story behind the story we have:
Act I = the good Creation in Ge 1-2, and now we find ourselves in
Act II = the “Fall” of humanity in Ge 3 – in which human beings seek wisdom, truth and life apart from the one, true Creator God.
So we have two things going on here – 1. the “Fall” of Adam and Eve, the first human beings, and 2. the entrance of sin and death into the world. Therefore, it’s important not to trivialize the “Fall” as if it were just about eating some ‘apple’ in the Garden of Eden. It was way more than that.
Adam and Eve – humanity – chose to get disconnected from God through idolatry. The serpent said ‘you shall be as God’ and they fell for that. Notice that they turned from loving and trusting in this one, true God. Then, as God had forewarned them, death ensued. That is, this good Creation which was made to be one of life everlasting and of goodness instead became this world filled with suffering, with evil in which each human life ended tragically in death. This idolatry affected all of Creation but it began with humanity.
When we talk about this mystery of evil and death in the world, the Bible has something unique and important to say. All other philosophical and religious viewpoints attempt to explain what theologians call “the problem of evil” as somehow being a part of the way things really are. In these other philosophies and religions, evil is just a part of how things really are. Whether with process theology or with Plato or whatever, evil is in the nature of things. Hence, with them, evil is now, always has been and will always be.
However, the Bible has something crucial to say about evil that doesn’t take away the mystery of it. How was it that a serpent was there in the Garden of Eden? How was it that God has allowed human beings to fall? It seems to have everything to do with God creating human beings in his image, human beings who had free will. But still there is a lot of mystery involved in it. That is, within the biblical world view there is no evil in Ge 1-2. Then, evil comes through the rebellion and fall of humanity in Ge 3. So within the biblical world view evil was not a part of how things were and always had been. In fact, evil was theologically speaking an intruder into God’s good creation. Because of this human “free will” given by God as his image bearers – made in the image of God, humanity turned from God in Ge 3 and brought evil, sin, suffering and death into the world. The “Fall” therefore set the stage for the rest of the biblical story. Evil, sin, suffering and death were now in the world as intruders. They had not been a part of God’s good Creation but had now entered the world with the “Fall” of Ge 3. It’s clear in Ge 1-2 that human beings were made to live forever, with God in God’s good Creation. But these intruders had now entered the picture.
Therefore, another aspect that had entered the world was this alienation from God, idolatry. With the “Fall” the serpent had tempted them with the words you shall be as God. Idolatry is worshiping anything other than the one, true Creator God as your God. In turning away from the worship of God all Creation was now broken, and, as such, the intruders of evil, sin, suffering and death were now in the world.
While we’ve known of Adam and Eve and the “Fall” from childhood, still this is radically unique because within this biblical world view/story, the world as it is now is not the world that the Creator God intended it to be. There is a disjunction. This world of evil, suffering and death is not the world as it was created to be; it’s the world that has become undone, ruined, marred, and reversed through the “Fall”. It’s the world now fallen into evil, sin, suffering and death as a result of human rebellion. Within the biblical framework death is the negation, the reversal of life. Only within the biblical world view and framework following the “Fall” are evil and death intruders into God’s good Creation. Neither evil nor death was a part of God’s good Creation at the beginning!
Death entered a Creation that was made to just be filled with life. Therefore, only in our biblical story or world view is the world as we know it now not the world as it was created to be. Look at any philosophy or world view and only within the biblical world view is the world you know now not the world that it was created to be. If you think about it, unless that is true, there can be no hope whatsoever.
So that’s what theologians mean when they say God is not the author of evil. On the other hand, in many religious systems God is the author not only of good but of evil. If, as in these other religious systems, that were the case, there could be no hope because the ultimate reality would that God would be the author and source of not only good but also of evil. And while this doesn’t remove all the mystery, it’s nevertheless very crucial that the Bible says that God is not the author of evil. In fact, evil entered into the world through human rebellion – leaving us with this world filled now with evil, sin, suffering and death as a result of human rebellion.
Death, of course, brings an end to all human things and all human hope. So what would God do about these intruders? What would God do about this alienation from God? How was God going to take his image-bearing creatures who had now turned themselves into idolatrous enemies of God and redeem them? Could they even be redeemed and brought back to God? How would God accomplish that? The whole biblical story from this point on will be all about the important theological concept of redemption, another concept unique to the Bible. With redemption God will redeem humanity, conquer evil, defeat death and bring about his original purposes for Creation. Ge 1-3 sets up the story of redemption.
So we are now in the “Fall”, and, unfortunately, rather than being confirmed in God’s life, righteousness and holiness, humanity had instead turned from God. Instead of being able to share in the tree of life, humanity had now brought death into the world. So what were the consequences of Act II, the “Fall”?
1. The image of God was marred, fractured, etc.
2. Death entered God’s good Creation.
3. The cosmos itself became subject to futility and death.
1. The image of God was marred, fractured, etc.
It’s clear in the biblical text – and the Church has always taught – that the image of God as the result of the “Fall” was effaced. It was marred, ruined, distorted, spoiled. But the Church’s theologians have always said that the image of God was not entirely lost but it instead had been terribly marred and so on. So the image of God in its fullness had been lost, and it needed to be renewed and restored.
This state in which the image of God in us had been ruined, distorted and spoiled is called within Christian theology either:
1. The ancestral sin – See Orthodox Study Bible p 7
2. The original sin
Original sin is the sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God and chose to follow their own will rather than the will of God. As a consequence, they lost the grace of original holiness and became subject to the law of death. Further, sin became universally present in the world.
Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, ‘original sin’ also describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world and from which Christ, the “new Adam,” came to redeem us. See paragraphs 396-412.
Original sin does not mean it was the first sin! Our English language confuses the situation here because people always get the wrong impression. Most people think original sin means the first sin committed by Adam and Eve but that’s not correct. Instead, original sin comes from the Latin word for original.
original sin peccatum originalis the sin of origin. See also biblical anthropology discussion in Is 26 19
Theologically, original sin is the condition of sinfulness which all persons share and which is caused by the sinful origins of the race through Adam and Eve and the “Fall” of Ge 3. Theologically it consists of the loss of original righteousness (see Is 26) and the distortion of the image of God.
Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated as sin with many shades of meaning. Theologically, sin is the human condition of separation from God that arises from opposition to God’s purposes. It may be breaking God’s law, failing to do what God wills or rebellion. It needs forgiveness by God.
What happened in the “Fall” is called within Christian theology original sin (or ancestral sin), not because it was the first sin, even although it was ‘the first sin’.
“Original sin” is not a sin which one commits. Original sin is instead the lack of that original holiness and communion with God which the first human beings had but which was lost in the “Fall” of Ge 3. Original sin is this deprivation of the supernatural life of God which the first human beings had, and it’s this deprivation that is the source of actual sins. That is why it is called “original sin”. That is, original sin is the state of spiritual death resultant from the “Fall” from which all our sins have their origin.
Hence, original sin is the sin of origin. Original sin is the condition of all human disconnection from God and from one another. All human evil, all the terrible things that humans do and the horrors in which they find themselves come from this original sin. Original sin is the sin that leads to our sinfulness. All other sin has its origin in the original event, original sin. Original means here of origin; it does not mean first (sin). Original sin is what gives origin to all the rest of sin.
Because of the choice of the first humans, Adam and Eve, because humanity was never confirmed (see Ge 2 9 and Is 26 19) in the image of God, the image of God was ruined, spoiled and distorted in humanity. Thus, all human beings who descend from Adam and Eve are born with a sinful condition. Hence, original sin refers to our sinful condition. Therefore, within this biblical framework, people are not what they were created to be. Through this original sin people have become broken. It’s not that they are no longer made in the image of God as if the image of God has been erased. But no longer are they in the image of God with the image of God working like it should. Think of a toy that is broken but doesn’t appear broken. It’s still a toy but it’s no good.
Original sin is a disease; it’s the origin of all other sins. It’s our sinful condition in which we are separated from God, bereft of God’s life-giving energies of God, bereft of the life-giving communion with the Holy Spirit that the first human beings had. It’s this sinful condition that separates us from God’s life, from God’s holiness. It’s from this sinful condition that all our individual personal sins spring. Original sin is a condition, a disease from which all our sins spring through the further instigation of Satan and his demonic hosts who are active in human wickedness and sin ever after the “Fall”. Original sin has a 100% penetrance meaning it’s expressed in all people in all times.
Some theologians call original sin the Meta-Sin. For example, physics is how the physical universe works while metaphysics is what is the total context of everything. How does the physical universe fit into all of reality? So the Meta-Sin is the sin behind all sin.
As such, the Church does not teach that unborn children or newborn infants commit actual sin. However, it does teach that all of us are born with original sin. That is, all of us are born with this deprivation of the divine life. This is the source of sin – and of physical death – which afflict every human being. That is why Jesus teaches in Jn 3 that we “must be born again of water and the Spirit” in Jn 3 1-15.
And because of all this, the Church, therefore, teaches: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and to be brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1250).
And therefore the Church teaches that Christian parents should baptize their children to unite them with Christ and the new life he came to bring: “The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1250). In other words, to refuse this gift from God for one’s child is to act contrary to the will of Christ. “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk 10). Baptism is the starting point of the new life in Christ. Once baptized one should grow throughout life through growth in holiness (sanctification) and in communion with God. Further, it will all be finally perfected in the resurrection of the body at Christ’s second coming.
What about infants who die without baptism? The Church teaches that God has bound us to baptism, but he has not bound himself. We know that children are saved (that is, brought into the kingdom of God and united with Christ) through holy baptism. We also know that God can save without baptism, for which we have many examples such as the thief on the cross and the martyrs who died for their faith in Christ before they could be baptized.
Therefore, we entrust unbaptized infants to the infinite mercy and mysterious workings of God. The Church teaches this: “As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the little children come to me, do not hinder them,” (Mk 10 14; cf. 1 Ti 2 4) allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1261)
Now, what took place between the first human beings and God that was so catastrophic? What did Adam and Eve do and then what resulted from what they did within the biblical framework? At the heart of this original sin are four things:
1. They outright rebelled against God. God said “A”; they said “not A.” God said “Don’t eat” and they said “eat.”
2. They failed to trust, doubted and disbelieved. Implicit in the Ge account was this relationship of love and trust between God and humanity. Humanity was the image bearers of God and so everything was all about knowing and trusting their Creator God. This rebellion was a kind of distrust.
3. They sought independence from God. When Satan said You shall be like God, that meant that they were seeking greater power and independence from God. Adam and Eve believed what the serpent said and not what God said. They rebelled against the Word of God because of what the serpent said because their temptation was that you shall be as God. They were seeking power and glory. The irony was that God was their Creator God and maker and they wanted to be independent. They wanted to be like God. They wanted to run the show like God does. They chose to not let God be God alone.
4. They were guilty of idolatry. They wanted to substitute themselves in the place of God. Idolatry is worshiping something other than the one, true Creator God as your god. They were their own idols; they were worshiping and trusting in something other than the one, true Creator God as their god. Since Ge 1 is true, therefore, as the result of idolatry, they had broken their relationship with this Creator God and as such death had to enter the picture. Because of their rebellion, mistrust and idolatry, death had to result. In other words, if God is the source of all life and if you disconnect yourself from God, the result has to be death. In the day you eat of it you will surely die. Ge 3 3.
2. Physical, bodily death entered the story.
Death gets talked about constantly. Originally, however, death was not meant to be part of God’s good Creation. Death was not meant to be part of God’s purposes for humanity. Within the biblical story death was not meant to be part of the picture in the beginning. Human beings were meant to be confirmed in this union with God and to live forever. On the other hand, were they to turn from God, the consequence would be death, and so it was with Adam and Eve as we see in Ge 3 17-19.
Hence, the cause of death was not God. God meant for there to be no death. Death entered through the enemy of God and humanity, Satan. So death entered the picture through human rebellion and disconnection from God. That is, humanity’s disobedience was the cause of death. Humanity had aligned itself with Satan. Humanity had been created to be overseers over God’s good Creation but they had now given that up to Satan through their rebellion against God.
As such, death was an evil, unwelcome intruder into God’s good Creation. It was almost as if humanity got frozen in the throes of this Meta-Sin. The Meta-Sin was to disconnect yourself from God. Theologically this is often called the loss of original righteousness. The first human beings had original Beatitude (meaning blessing through grace. See Is 26) because they had original righteousness. In other words, they had this gracious relationship with God established in Creation, and now they have lost that.
Death is something structural within the nature of reality. Separation from God must lead to death. Separation from God could only lead to death. God is the source of all life. Adam and Eve had separated themselves from that source of life. Death must, therefore, follow.
So God was not the cause of evil, sin, suffering and death. Instead, Satan and humanity were. It’s a structural thing. By having separated themselves from God, evil, sin, suffering and death had to follow.
Death is also a very important part of the story because the Church has always said that because of the “Fall”, death is also an act of mercy on the part of God. We see that in vv 22-23.
3. There were cosmic dimensions to the “Fall”.
The cosmos itself became subject to futility and death. The virus of the “Fall” extended to the whole cosmos because the “Fall” had cosmic dimensions. We’ll see more of this as the biblical story proceeds. Humanity having yielded to the power of Satan resulted in the cosmos being filled with satanic evil and suffering. In other words, just as humanity was now busted, the cosmos was now busted as well through human sin. Natural or physical evil had entered the cosmos – which within the biblical framework was not there before.
Something striking about the whole Christian world view is that among all the different philosophies and world views out there, only the Bible says the world as we know it today is not the world as God created it to be. That’s good news because the world as we know it today is a world enriched with wondrous good which comes from the Creator God but the world still pulsates with horrendous evil. All philosophies and religions other than Christianity say that the world as it is now is the world as it was created to be, as it always has been and as it always will be. There is no hope in any of those world views.
On the other hand, only the Bible says that the world as we know it now is not the world as it was created to be nor the world as it will be when God has finished with his reclamation and remaking project of the world.
So we’re about to head into Act III of God’s divine drama. This will be a story of God’s redemption of humanity, of God’s redemption of the cosmos. Redemption has an important meaning. Redemption does not mean scrapping Creation and getting something else in its place. It means taking what’s been ruined, marred and destroyed and reclaiming, renewing and remaking it.
Because all other religions believe that the world as it is now is the world as it always has been and will be, most stories you’ll hear from those philosophies and religions will be about how we must and how we can escape this world to some other world. That’s ultimately the goal, for instance, of Hinduism, to escape this deceptive, material world and to unite yourself and lose your personality and selfhood within this divine ocean.
The picture that will follow in Ge 4 and following is that of progressive dehumanization. Within this biblical framework it doesn’t make you more human to make yourself independent and get apart from this oppressive Creator God. It ends up being a Catch-22 because you end up dehumanizing yourself. So this original righteousness was the way that humans could have been fully human in relationship with God. They had now lost that; they were now dehumanized.
That what goes on in Ge 4-10. In these chapters the biblical author chose a whole series of episodes, apparently simply to reinforce the tragic character of what happened in Ge 3/ Ge 4 has the murder of Abel and the evil of Lamech. After the flood there is moral breakdown even in Noah’s family with Noah and his sons. All of this functions to reinforce this fallen, evil, dehumanized character of humanity. So by the time the author gets to Ge 10, he’s painted a dark and bleak picture. There is also the flood generation whose unrelenting evil leads to the flood and so on. Disconnection from God is emphasized. Then in Ge 5 we have the death of Adam and the death of all his descendants.
Remember that Ge 1-2 described this world as the Creation of God. Even in the flood you had this covenant that God made with humanity. The literary force of that is to lead the reader to ask, “How is God going to put things right again? How is God going to solve this insolvable problem that results because humanity was made with free will and because humanity was made in the image of God? Adam and Eve used that free will to turn from God and therefore to bring death and cosmic destruction into the world. How was God going to do that?”
The answer to that question literarily will be the Abrahamic covenant that we begin to read about in Ge 12.
Notice from the very beginning of the story, God’s plan and purpose is to dwell among his people. We see that in Ex 25-40 but we even see that back in Creation. As God’s people were turning from him, God was with them in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day which expressed the concept that God was dwelling with them.
Not only did the curse of death come on humanity but the ground was cursed. This is the third consequence of the “Fall” as taken from Athanasius. The cosmos itself became subject to futility. See listing above in v 7.
So not only human beings but all of Creation was subjected to suffering. Suffering had entered God’s good Creation because evil had entered God’s good Creation. Suffering wasn’t there at the start and it wasn’t meant to be there from the start. It wasn’t something ontologically existent, as something created by God. Instead, it was human beings taking what was good – their created ability to love God – and turning it the other way to hate God.
Man was formed of dust (Ge 2 7) but then by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground because from it you were taken for you are dust and to dust you shall return.
This is an important but subtle point about the biblical narrative and Christian theology. We all know that death entered the world through Adam’s sin. Here we see that. After the rebellion against God you have this sentence in v 19: to dust you shall return.
However, notice also that it not only says to dust you shall return but it also says for you are dust and to dust you shall return. Although death entered the world first through the sin of Adam, he did not have life within himself. He did not have the gift of immortality as we discussed above in Ge 1 27. Adam had the gift of conditional immortality. Within the biblical narrative Adam had to partake of the tree of life in order to have conditional immortality.
Returning to the arable soil from which they were made is the human condition established at Creation (Ge 2 7) and not part of the penalty for disobedience.
You are dust means the punishment also affects the man directly insofar as he is now mortal.
Death, which was never meant to be a part of God’s good Creation, had entered into God’s good Creation.
See vv 22-23.
Remember that there was the tree of life in the midst of the Garden. Adam was created with this soul life (Ge 2 7); he became a living soul. As long as Adam was in fellowship with God and partook of the tree of life, he had this immortal life given to him. But he did not have immortal life within himself. Instead, he had conditional immortality. He had to partake of the tree of life. When he rebelled against God, God removed the tree of life from their presence.
So theologians say Adam had a conditional immortality. True. Death entered the world through his sin but Adam was not made to be deathless. He could have continued to be immortal by partaking of the tree of life. That is, Adam became a living soul not having life in himself but instead Adam had a conditional immortality through partaking of something outside of himself, the tree of life. We see how important this is as the biblical story proceeds in Jn 1 1-4, 14. See notes there.
From Jn 1: Here we have, outside Creation, apart from Creation, transcending Creation, the ever living God. The mystery of the Trinity. The Word of God who is the son, who is both with God, the Father and who is himself God. V 4 Within the Son of God is life itself. He is the source of all life. Then see what happens in v 14. See Jn 6 32-33.
“This next part to some may seem a little more controversial because we don’t talk about it as much as we should. You see in all the classical theologians, especially Irenaeus, that there is a sense within Ge 1-2 that there was a process going on in which Adam and Eve were created in original righteousness and justice and holiness and glory. But because of that Adam and Eve also had access to the tree of life (that we read about in Ge 2 9; Ge 3 22, 24) of which they never partook. Then, when Christ came, we, through communion with Christ, partake of that tree of life to which the first human beings never had access because they fell from grace before they could eat of the tree of life. That seems to be clear in the narrative of Ge 3 where it reads in v 22 … less they put forth their hands and take and eat of the tree of life and eat and liver forever. But in Christ, and we especially see this in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we read in Jn 6 51 He who eats of this bread will eat and live forever; … This is actually an echo of Ge 3 where it reads 22 … less they put forth their hands and take and eat of the tree of life and eat and live forever. Now, through Christ, we have access to the tree of life. Not only is the original righteousness and holiness and justice and glory restored, it’s restored in an even greater way than what was available to even Adam and Eve before the “Fall”.”
We see angels twice within the narrative. We see the fallen angel, Satan, and here we see the good angels, the cherubim.
Why would God who loved humanity, God whose intent for humanity was everlasting life, why would God now keep them from everlasting life? God kept humanity from eating of the tree of life because were they to eat from the tree of life they would live forever separated from God. They would live forever apart from the life of God. They would live forever everlastingly separated from God’s life, God’s love, God’s holiness. They would live not knowing God and with their humanity now marred and ruined. It would be hell.
an act of mercy
Therefore, Basil, for instance, said to keep from them the tree of life was an act of mercy on the part of God. In fact, it sets up what will now transpire in rest of the whole biblical story. God kept humanity from eating from the tree of life because in doing so humanity would be forever separated from God.
Notice how this, too, fits with the larger story. God had created humanity in this state of original righteousness and holiness and in communion with God but that needed to be confirmed by their free act of love and faith toward God. Then, they could eat of the tree of life and it would be everlasting life with God.
On the other hand, to have eaten of the tree of life in their fallen condition would have been the greatest tragedy. Therefore, God kept them from eating of the tree of life.
We see here also that it was conditional. The tree of life was something of which they were to eat once they had been confirmed in the holiness and life of God. They had not been confirmed; therefore, God kept them from the tree of life. So the story all fits together; there is a wonderful logic to it.
So the “Fall” was the tragic marring of God’s good Creation. The rest of the whole biblical story will be about God’s restoration of God’s good Creation. That makes the biblical story which is the Christian story unique.
Whatever philosophy or religion you go to, you’ll find that philosophy or religion is talking about the evil of this world which we inhabit and how we can escape that evil. Only the biblical story acknowledges to the fullest extent evil, sin, suffering and death which infects the world. However, the biblical story is not about escaping this world but about how God is going to renew and restore his Creation and give us everlasting life with him.
As we dig into that biblical story we’ll discuss what the classical theologians of the Church call the divine economy. See this discussion in Lecture NT JW file at the ‘economic Trinity’.