Dave B.’s recent post regarding the Sunday School curriculum’s fourth lesson of the year, the one about Adam and Eve, got me thinking about one of the drawbacks of the LDS Church’s efforts to correlate doctrines and teachings: it divorces concepts from their textual context, reading modern LDS theology into ancient texts, as if those concepts would have been there all along if only those pesky scribes hadn’t conspired to remove them. A result of those efforts is that we don’t fully appreciate the text for what it actually says and thus are hindered when later efforts build upon the original text. In this case, the efforts to “Christianize” Adam and Eve rob us of seeing the way a 1st century CE Jew such as Paul understood the Genesis story. Consequently, we miss the context in which Paul viewed the atonement of Jesus Christ, and thus fail to understand the message of his epistle to the Romans, for it is in that epistle that the overarching story of Adam, Abraham, Israel, Jesus Christ, and the new Israel is told.
So, I want to take some time to review how the story of Adam and Eve fits into the overall message of the Old and New Testaments, and ultimately how that story helps us understand the atonement of Jesus Christ and our place within God’s kingdom.
To do so I’d like to begin in Genesis 1:26-27:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The typical LDS interpretation of these verses is to assume that God made us look like he does – humanoid; however, I’d like to suggest a slightly different interpretation, one taken up by Paul in his epistles: that to be created in God’s image is to reflect his traits and attributes into his creation. Remember that the Garden of Eden was a place where mankind and God could meet. God could walk among his creation and talk with Adam and Eve face-to-face. It was a place where heaven and earth were in contact. Traditionally, that was the role of a temple, a place where God could come among his people. As a result, the Garden of Eden could be thought of as a sort of temple. Keep in mind that the consensus among mainstream biblical scholars is that the Hebrew scripture (the Torah, or the first five books of the Christian Old Testament) was compiled sometime around 700-600 BCE and reworked/modified during the Babylonian exile using oral tradition. Thus the Jews would have been familiar with the common practice of the surrounding cultures of the time to place an image of their god within the temple of that god. The image was the embodiment of that god with characteristics reflecting the attributes of the temple’s god. So it was with Israel’s God, who placed his image (Adam and Eve) within his temple (the Garden of Eden), expecting that his image would accurately reflect his attributes for all the world to see. In short, the vocation of Adam and Eve was to be the image bearers of God within his creation, and since Adam and Eve are representative of all of humanity, it is our vocation as well.
Of course, human nature being what it is, Adam and Eve took different vocations upon themselves, symbolized by their partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Hebrew underlying the word good means beauty, prosperity, the yield of the land (as created by tilling, etc.); while the word translated as evil means of little worth. In other words, by choosing to partake of the fruit of that tree, they were leaving their vocation (to represent God) and were seeking their own vocation: to create and manage God’s creation according to their own desires. God then explained to them the consequences of their newly selected vocations. Thus, by abandoning their God-given vocation as image bearers, mankind had “fallen” from his lofty state and was in need of rescuing.
God next covenants with Noah, a new “adam” (a Hebrew word for mankind) in an attempt to reboot mankind, getting mankind back on track, but it isn’t long before Noah’s posterity has become wicked (choosing their own vocation), a symbol of the general state of all mankind since, according to the myth, all of Noah’s posterity populated the earth.
It is with Abraham and Sarah that God again attempts to work with mankind and orient them to their original, lofty purpose to be like God. They are a new Adam and Eve; barren, but promised innumerable posterity; without a home, but promised a land of milk and honey; wanderers of lowly station, but promised a royal priesthood. They are to pick up the torch dropped by their forebears and, in return, all the nations of the earth would be blessed through their posterity.
Eventually, through wickedness and neglect of their vocation, Abraham and Sarah’s posterity would be forced by famine out of their promised land and become enslaved in a strange country (Egypt), repeating the fall of Adam and Eve. That posterity, the people of Israel, would be redeemed from their enslavement by a savior-like figure in Moses, receive a renewal of God’s covenant along with a new land of promise, and take upon themselves the original vocation of their fathers: to be image bearers of the true God. They were given a law that, if perfectly kept, would allow them to avoid sin and, through their covenant with God, show the entire earth that the God of this creation is true to his word, never giving up on those he has called to bear his image.
Of course, we know that Israel failed at their vocation. They failed to keep the Law of Moses perfectly, thus becoming ensnared by sin. They also became obsessed with law-keeping, purity, and, exclusivity. They believed they were God’s chosen simply by lineage, blind to the fact that God could raise up seed from stones.
Nevertheless, God was again true to his covenant and revealed to all the world his image bearer, by anointing this Christ with the Holy Spirit and declaring him to be God’s son. This man, born of Israelite lineage, a son of Abraham and Adam, reconstituted the people of God by calling a new Israel – twelve new tribes as symbolized by the calling of twelve new apostles who would take this image bearing vocation to all the world, creating a spiritual posterity.
It is this Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, who perfectly adhered to the vocation of bearing the image of God. He perfectly embodied the attributes of God and, in so doing, revealed the nature of God to all the world. Jesus did what God would do and, in so doing, fulfilled the vocation of Israel. His radical, scandalous message of love would lead to his death at the hands of the power structures of his time who, by killing/destroying the image of God, demonstrated their rejection of God’s vocation. Jesus, by submitting to this and taking God’s presence to the most shameful place of the community (crucifixion at Golgotha), demonstrated that God’s love reaches even the most traitorous, shameful, sinful sections of society, and that those who wish to be greatest in God’s kingdom must do as Jesus did in bearing God’s image of love to all the world.
In Romans 3:2-4 Paul says the following:
For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!
He then describes the role of the law in helping to bring sin to a central location, a place where it could be fully and finally crushed under the heal of God’s servant. In verses 21-22 Paul makes the message clear:
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
To Paul, it was through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that the righteousness of God is revealed. That word here translated as righteousness, δικαιοσύνη, is a tough word to adequately translate into English, but it generally refers to judicial responsibility with a focus on fairness; juridical correctness with a focus on redemptive action; to follow through in equity with one’s expected responsibility; to keep one’s covenant. In other word’s, despite our failure to be true to our vocation, through Jesus Christ God was true to his covenant with us. As Paul further describes, Jesus is the true Abraham and Adam. Through Adam all of us have died and fallen; and through Jesus all of us are redeemed from our enslavement to sin. Just as Adam’s transgression affects us all, the grace of God through Jesus Christ likewise is a free gift to all.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
It is Jesus who showed us the perfect way to bear the image of God. He has called us to follow him and accept our vocation as God’s image bearers. This is the Kingdom of God. It is the fulfillment of the plea to obtain God’s will on earth, as it is in heaven; to again bring heaven and earth together so God’s presence, through the lives of the members of his church, remains active in his creation as it was in the beginning.
It is not a story of how Adam and Eve were Mormons just like us, able to fit into a ward in Draper. If that model works for you and brings you closer to God, then I suppose that is the point of it all; however, I want to make some space for those who, like me, don’t see 21st century Mormonism in the text and want a way of looking at the overarching story that stays true to the text, traditions, and beliefs of Israel, Paul, and early Christianity; who see it differently than what the product of LDS correlation has given us. To us, it is the overarching story of Adam, Abraham, Israel, and Moses; and how Jesus revealed the righteousness of God, ushering in a new creation. It is the story of Israel embodied in Jesus. It is the story that we must die to the old creation and be born into the new through baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit. It is the story understood by Paul and Jesus’ first disciples. It is a beautiful story.