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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: January 2010

I’ve been attending a new church for a while, and I’m guardedly optimistic that this one could be as good of a match as I could ever hope to find. There was an orientation class of sorts to help new people know more about the church, and that 3-night class was held each of the past three Wednesdays.In the second class, a woman asked the intriguing question as to why the tree in the Garden was forbidden in the first place. Why did God tell Eve not to eat from the tree?This is a rather interesting question! Of course, if you are a Calvinist, these types of questions have no interest for you. Calvinists have no problem believing God planned for the race to fall from the beginning, so there needn’t have been any reason for the tree being verboten. It could just have been the needed statutory law so that humanity would fall as part of God’s overarching plan.I’m not a big fan of that view, though of course I cannot claim it is utterly impossible. I don’t think the Bible gives us enough information to be certain as to the wherefore behind the law given to Adam and Eve, but perhaps we can take a guess…We are told in Genesis 2:17 that God explained to Adam “On the day you eat of the tree, you will surely die.” The tree from the beginning is called “The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.”

One then asks the question: Why does having knowledge of Good and Evil cause death? Angels have knowledge of good and evil, and they do not die. What is the linkage between this knowledge and the death? If the linkage is “God said not to do this, and you did it, so you are punished,” then that gets us no further into understanding why the tree was off-limits in the first place. If the death was not a punishment but a natural outcome, then it is a reasonable question as to wonder why.

We get another piece of information later. People often say that sin caused the death directly, but the view of Genesis 3:21 is rather different. That verse indicates God threw Adam and Eve out of the garden explicitly because it would have been possible for them to (otherwise) gain immortality by eating from the tree of life.Based on Genesis 3:21, one could claim that God, for whatever reason, did not want Adam to be BOTH immortal AND aware of good and evil. Perhaps this was to separate humanity from the angels or perhaps it was for some other reason. Who knows?Paul references the fall in Romans 5:12-14, and my claim is that Paul refers to spiritual death there (which explains why God was not wrong for saying “on the day you eat of it, you shall die”)With this in mind, I’m venturing to give as a conjecture that we were told not to eat from the tree for our own benefit. As Paul discusses in Romans 5, the thing that causes death is not sin itself but sin going against a known law. He separates “sin” in general from “rebellion.” Thus, while people sinned after Adam and before Moses, they were not “rebelling” against God, thus their spiritual depravity could not be blamed on their own sin but must have come from Adam’s.

Note this is a very important point for Paul. He is making a case for all being saved in the same way: through Christ. And part of the way he is arguing for this is to say that all were thrown into spiritual death through the action of one person, (Adam) so it makes sense that all could be healed by the action of one person (Christ). This is why he speaks about people sinning after Adam but not “sinning in the way Adam sinned,” which he calls “transgression” or “Rebellion:” The sin against a promulgated, declared law.

So, if that is the case, perhaps the idea is that, without knowledge of good and evil, humanity would be “sinning in ignorance” whenever someone did something wrong, and those sins are still sins but do not cause separation between the person and God. That is the big difference between the type of sin Adam did (and later the Jews did after receiving the Law of Moses) and the type of sin people do in ignorance: outright rebellion against something you have been told by God not to do leads to a spiritual weakening and separation from God.

Note that there was plenty of sinning going on prior to Adam and Eve eating the apple. Eve appears to lie to the serpent about what God had said (changing God’s command from “do not eat” to “Do not even touch”), the Jews would have considered Adam and Eve’s nakedness to at least be shameful if not an outright sin, and both Adam and Eve committed covetousness before ever eating the apple [that is what covetousness is: the desiring of something that is not yours to have.] Indeed, I think covetousness was considered the father of all other sins by Jews for this reason [and note Paul’s description in Romans 7:7-12, which is related to this whole topic of the danger the law poses.]

Anyways, I think it is an interesting question and one pretty open to discussion, what do you guys think?