THE stumbling blocks of unbelieF
In the August 2002 issue of The Christadelphian Waymark, we examined the teaching of the Endeavour magazine that the Genesis account of the formation of Adam and his wife presents a “metaphor,” designed to teach a literal reality which is very different from what is described within the pages of Scripture. So, it is claimed:
“Now we have ample evidence of prehistoric man hunting and gathering and living a nomad existence in caves and other primitive dwellings for hundreds if not thousands of years before the emergence of the Adamic family and many of their cave drawings depict them hunting animals long since extinct until relatively suddenly these Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) people began to be replaced by Neolithic (New Stone Age) people, who replace the hunting and gathering mode of existence with a settled agricultural and stock-raising form of living, which correlates with the calling of Adam ‘from the dust’ (i.e. from the desert of Mesopotamia) into the well-irrigated ‘Garden of Eden’ ‘to dress it and to keep it’. Suddenly, a ‘help-meet for him’ (metaphor ‘close to his side’) was found, presumably from the same source, i.e. the local population, the same people who Cain feared would all want to kill him because he had murdered his brother Abel” (Endeavour, June 2002 Page 39,40).
The proposition therefore, is that the formation of Adam from the dust of the ground is a metaphor to describe the literal the calling of Adam from the desert regions of Mesopotamia – and the formation of Eve is likewise a metaphor for her being brought from the same source. But as we pointed out in August, the supposed literal events outlined here simply do not match the descriptions of Genesis, even taking the record to be metaphorical. Adam is there depicted as being formed from dust, not emerging out of it. The record speaks of his formation as an event distinct from his being placed in the garden – whereas the literal counterpart, would require requires both to be the same event. Moreover, there is no literal counterpart to the “metaphor” of breath of life being breathed into his nostrils. And the formation of Eve is described in a totally different manner—an entirely different “metaphor” is employed, to teach that she has identical origins as Adam! Significantly, no attempt is made to define what the “metaphor” of a rib being taken out from Adam in his deep sleep specifically relates to!
We find, however, that the latest issue of Endeavour continues the same theme, denouncing a child-like acceptance (Mat 18:3) of the early chapters of Genesis as they stand. In an article entitled, Eden—The Difficulties of Literality, we are told concerning Genesis 2:18-22 (the finding of a help suitable for Adam):
“This is obviously a fable. Even today, with all our experience, no one presented with a great herd of animals for the first time could think of, and, even more difficult in the absence of writing, remember names for them. Since Adam was (presumably sexually) a male, this procedure was unnecessary, for obviously he was designed to live with a woman … surely the solution is that chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis all have the features of a parable” (Endeavour, December 2002, p 5).
Notice, there are a number of assumptions smuggled into this paragraph, in order to give it seeming plausibility: “in the absence of writing” “no-one … could think of, and … remember names”. What proof is there that Adam could not write? What proof is there that he would be incapable of remembering all of the names? He was created in a pristine condition – a “very good” state. We are in a fallen state, at the end of 6000 years of degeneracy. His physical state was different to and better than ours, the record describing his death at the age of 930 years (Gen 5:5) far, far longer than the most long-lived men today. Why should he not also have an improved mental capability, when compared to ours? Men today can show remarkable feats of memorising complex details – why should we assume that a man in his original “very good” pristine state did not have this ability? It is more probable that unlike those so many years into the fallen state of men, Adam was capable of using all of his brain. He may well have been able to remember the names he bestowed, better than the greatest zoologist of our day. This nature of ‘difficulty’ illustrates that the theory of metaphor is a proposed solution to problems that exist only in unfounded suppositions.
This idea of Adam being called out from Mesopotamia and an already existing race of men features again in this article, with the book New Light on Genesis by William Todd being cited as it’s source. The writer continues with further claims:
“The snake, with its stealthy and unseen approach, is aptly used as a metaphor for temptation. If Jesus taught a new way of life by parables based on scenes familiar in his time and country, is it wrong to suggest that God taught his people about life through a prophet by a parable based on scenes in Mesopotamia?
But this is only the beginning of the difficulties of literality. Is it conceivable that the whole future of the human race should be determined by a single decision by one couple, immediately after their creation, a couple who had had no experience whatever of life, or moral instruction, and to whom no opportunity of repentance was given? …
The snake brings another set of difficulties with it. It is impossible for snakes to speak. They do not have the brain power. Human beings only develop this ability when brought up from a very early age in a human-speaking environment” (p 7).
The teaching here then, is that there was no literal serpent that tempted Eve to transgress; rather, the serpent is a metaphor for temptation. But what Bible evidence is cited to support this point? Actually, none. Several questions and assumptions are raised as a substitute for evidence – which we shall proceed to consider. The main question is, if Christ taught in Parables, is it wrong to say that the early part of Genesis is a parable? – the implied answer being that no, it is not. The logic however, is flawed. If Christ taught in Parables, would it be wrong to say that King David was not a literal king? Or that Abraham was not a real man? Or that the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorra never actually happened, but was only a parable to describe how the Lord views wickedness? If Christ taught in parables, why shouldn’t these be parables? To state the case is to demonstrate the unreasonableness of it. One reason is that it is plain from both the context of the relevant passages – and other references of Scripture – that these men were real, literal men. That Sodom was a real, literal place that really was overthrown in the way described. And as we shall see, the same is true of Adam, Eve, and the serpent.
WAS THE SERPENT LITERAL?
The teaching that the serpent was not a real creature, whilst it is presented as solving problems, actually creates more serious problems and insurmountable difficulties. It directly raises the question as to where and when sin entered into the world, and death with it. It therefore also has a direct impact on the work of salvation through Christ, for if we do not understand the origin and nature of sin and death, neither will we understand the nature of their ultimate removal by Christ.
Supposing that there were a race of men existing before Adam, at what point did they become dying creatures? When did the first sin take place, and what was it? The Bible declares emphatically that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), and as there are none of those men alive today, those men must also have been given death as the wages of their sin. The Bible again emphatically declares that “… in Adam all die …” (1 Cor 15:22) – whereas the theory with which we are being presented demands that not all die in Adam, some died out of Adam, dying perhaps, even before he was born.
Upon further consideration, we find that not only is the origin of sin and death hidden by the haze of metaphorical speculations, but also the origin of man. Where did man come from? If the opening chapters of Genesis are merely parabolic of a man and woman being called out from Mesopotamia, Yahweh has left us with no record of our actual origins. Interestingly, the Bible does give a description of a man being called out from a similar area, to go to the land of Canaan in the case of Abraham (Gen 12), yet this description bears no resemblance to the account of Creation.
The Bible is very plain; Adam and Eve were the first humans:
“Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female …” (Mat 19:4)
“Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Tim 2:14)
Notice the words used here; Adam was the first formed, not the first called from somewhere. Or in the words of Messiah, he was “made … at the beginning”. Again, the Apostle describes:
“the first man Adam” (1 Cor 15:45)
According to the Apostle Paul then, Adam was not a representative of an already existent race of men, but was “the first man”. And Eve is not presented in Scripture as being a member of family that existed long before her, but rather, “she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). None of these passages leave scope for anything else but a literal formation of the first human pair from the dust of the ground – as detailed in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Scripture is also emphatic that sin entered into the world through the transgression described in Genesis, and death came as a consequence of that sin:
“… by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin …” (Rom 5:12).
“… Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim 2:14).
Both sin and death entered into the world through the first human pair.
The writer of Endeavour asks: “Is it conceivable that the whole future of the human race should be determined by a single decision by one couple, immediately after their creation, a couple who had had no experience whatever of life, or moral instruction, and to whom no opportunity of repentance was given?” …
But notice here how the Genesis account is distorted in order to provide a loaded question. “No experience whatever of life”? The record gives no indication as to how long after their formation Adam and Eve transgressed. It may well have been a period of some years. “no … moral instruction”? But they were instructed to obey a particular commandment—and they were also instructed in the consequences of rebellion. Aside from which, there is nothing in the record to suggest they were not instructed by the Angels on a whole host of matters. “And to whom no opportunity of repentance was given?” But their sin was covered! An animal was slain to cover their nakedness! Although dying, they did surely die as the righteous law of Yahweh required, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that Adam and Eve will not be in the Kingdom. They were given as much scope for repentance as we are – and it is quite possible that their sin being covered, they were indeed forgiven even if the consequences of their actions could not be removed until the appointed time in Christ.
The Scriptures do show, as proved above, that the future of the human race was indeed determined by the transgression of their first parents – but certainly not “a couple who had had no experience whatever of life, or moral instruction, and to whom no opportunity of repentance was given?” which description is a pure fabrication of the author, and not found within the pages of Scripture. Again, this is a fictional “difficulty” which finds no existence in fact.
The atoning work of Christ is paralleled and contrasted in Scripture with the fall through Adam: “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22) – words which would be meaningless if in fact, not all die in Adam, for in that case he would not be the progenitor of the human race. And again: “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5:18,19). The comparison would be rendered void, if it were not by one man that condemnation came, of if it were not in Adam – one man – all die. In order for the argument to hold sound, the point of comparison must exist in fact; just as through one man sin and death came, so though one man, justification and life comes.
Bro Ron Abel, in his book Wrested Scriptures raises a number of pertinent objections to a non-literal serpent which it is appropriate to reproduce here:
“There is a relevant comment by Paul on the subject in his writing to the Corinthian Ecclesia. He says: “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). The full force of Paul’s argument requires a literal serpent in the Garden of Eden.
His argument rests on parallels:
Serpent lied (Gen 3:4)
Serpent was subtle (Gen 3:1)
Eve was seduced (2Cor 11:3)
Eve’s fall was disastrous (1 Tim 2:14)
False teachers lied (2Cor 11:13)
False teachers were beguiling (2Cor 11:3,13)
Corinthians in danger of being seduced (2Cor 11:3)
Corinthians in danger of disaster (2Cor 11:30)
The full force of the parallels requires a literal serpent. If the serpent were merely a symbol of Eve’s unworthy thoughts, then Eve (created “very good” (Gen 1:31) was tempted within, yet the Corinthians (fallen descendents of Adam) were tempted from without. What force would there be in Paul’s allusion to the serpent?
If the primary enticement came of the woman’s inner fleshly insubordination to divine law, then how could it be said that she was made “very good”? The next logical step required by those who hold a non-literal view of the serpent would be to have God condemning in Christ, (the seed of the woman) what He had Himself created—the “nature” which Eve bore. Adam described as “very good” could not say as did Paul “in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). Nor could he speak of “the law of sin” which is “in my members” (Rom 7:23).
Sometimes stress is placed on Gen 3:15 where the seed of the serpent (sin) is symbolically portrayed. It is then reasoned that the preceding verses referring to the serpent must also be symbolic. To suggest this is to miss the point that a symbol must have it’s basis in prior fact. The symbolic use of the serpent elsewhere in Scripture is intelligible because of the literal serpent in the Garden of Eden.
The Endeavour article continues:
“ … why should God determine the history of mankind by subjecting this inexperienced, atypical, couple to a test which would determine the fate of all their descendants? Especially as there is no record of their having any instruction, moral or otherwise. As for the snake, it couldn’t not have spoken, not only because it lacked the necessary brain power and experience, but also the essential physical organs (larynx, tongue, teeth, lips, glottis and pharynx). Nor do snakes have ears to learn with as babies do. … All this confirms that the account must be a parable. To crown it all, the sequel shows that the event could not have been at the beginning of time. Adam and Eve’s son Can was a farmer, but even today we do not find farming among very primitive peoples. They are hunter-gatherers.”
But as we have already stated, there is no record of Adam or Eve not having instruction. To suppose they did not is to raise a “difficulty” with no substance or supporting evidence. And “as for the snake”, true snakes cannot talk today. Neither can asses. But Balaam’s ass did speak, for “the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet” (2 Pet 2:16).
If a speaking serpent is too much for the faithless to believe in, what about the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? And the Tree of Life? Were they literal trees? If not, what were they metaphorical of? What about the Garden of Eden itself—was that real? The article takes certain parts of the narrative, transforming them into metaphors and elements of a parable, yet neglects to take all the details into account, and explain the parabolic significance of them all. But we ought not be surprised that the writer disbelieves the account of things as given by the Creator, for he rejects that entire portion of scripture as being His Word:
“It is generally believed that Moses wrote it under the direct inspiration of God, who revealed the facts to him and therefore guaranteed their accuracy. It is clear now that Genesis is largely based on human accounts or beliefs of what happened and is not necessarily part of a divinely communicated history of the world. This does not discredit it, but it means that we have to exercise our judgment as to what is literal. What then of the story of Eden? … I would suggest that it was a parable from some later date, in circumstances we cannot be sure of”.
“It is clear now …” but upon what evidence? Nothing tangible has been placed before us. In the absence of even the slightest evidence from Scripture, baseless assumptions and loaded questions have been presented instead, in a persuasive style to beguile the reader. When we consider the Genesis account alongside this article therefore, we find no “difficulties of literality” in Eden, but we do find the stumbling blocks of unbelief.
Beware, “lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2Cor 11:3).