Several of the recent Adult Bible Study Guides seem to revisit the same stories and texts. The year started with a focus on the book of Hebrews. Then a few months later while learning about the crucibles of life, we again spent a week going over the same texts and concepts. This week, we explore the story of the fall. About six months ago on April 2, 2022, we read this about Genesis 2 and 3:
Amid all that God had given our first parents in Eden also came a warning: “ ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ ” (Gen. 2:16, 17, NKJV). This warning against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil shows us that, though they were to know good, they were not to know evil.
We certainly can understand why, can’t we?
And, too, the threat of death attached to the warning about disobedience (Gen. 2:17) would be fulfilled: they would die (Gen. 3:19). Not only forbidden to eat from the tree, they also were driven from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24), and thus had no access to what could have given them eternal life as sinners (Gen. 3:22).
This week, the lesson goes over the same texts but introduces a new concept. For October 2, the ABSG states:
From the perspective of human logic, the argument of the serpent sounded much more convincing than did the word of God. First of all, there was no evidence in the natural world, so far, of the existence of sin and death. Second, the serpent was actually eating the forbidden fruit and enjoying it very much. So why should Eve restrain herself from doing the same? God’s command seemed to be too restrictive and senseless.
Unfortunately, in deciding between the two conflicting statements, Eve ignored three basic principles: (1) human reason is not always the safest way to evaluate spiritual matters; (2) the Word of God can appear to be illogical and senseless to us, but it is always right and trustworthy; and (3) there are things that are not evil or wrong in themselves, but God has chosen them as tests of obedience.
The April lesson (primarily contributed by Jacques B. Doukhan) focuses attention on the existential meaning of the story. In a different direction, this week’s guide, Alberto R. Timm, finds in logic a danger as seemingly dire as the sin itself.
Timm’s second point especially seems to ignore the long history of biblical scholars applying reason to the work of understanding the meaning of words and stories. Unfortunately, the new associate director at the General Conference’s Biblical Research Institute (BRI) seems to be playing with a few well-placed words himself to make a hermeneutical point: “The Word of God can appear to be illogical and senseless to us, but it is always right and trustworthy.” Those who oppose monarchs and slavery have had to argue against just such dogma.
Come let us reason together. Various ancient biblical stories can appear illogical and senseless to us. Interpreting them in the revelation of Christ has helped many Christians interpret the Bible in ways more right and trustworthy. But not all.
In the BRI’s newsletter, Reflections (72), from October 2020, Mario Veloso, former Associate Secretary of the General Conference, reviews the BRI’s word on interpretative issues that involve questions of emphasis, logic, and the problem of . . . yes, Christ. He writes,
In several postmodern approaches it is no longer the biblical text as such that is authoritative and has the final word, but it is the reader in front of the text who determines its meaning. This amounts to a massive shift in the interpretation of Scripture where ultimately the reader constructs the meaning of the text. This leaves us with no control over its ever-changing meaning. Even with a Christ-centered hermeneutic—as appealing as it might sound to some ears—where Christ becomes the hermeneutical key to interpret the meaning of Scripture, we ultimately end up with a canon within the canon and finally practice some form of content criticism where the content of Scripture is criticized, even in the name of Jesus.”
For Christians, Christ is not a canon. He is the living revelatory Word of God. In the 2017 issue of Spectrum’s journal, Chuck Scriven writes on this deceptive attack on the human mind in an editorial titled “Reading and Misreading the Bible.”
“Plain reading” without “critical” assessment is verifiably disastrous, principally because it prompts fixation on fragments of Scripture that, taken apart from their immediate or overall context, offer seeming support to one or another of our prejudices. This way of reading, let’s remember, gave us Bible-backed anti-Semitism and genocide in Europe, Bible-backed apartheid in South Africa, Bible-backed slavery in the American South. It’s tiresome to have to constantly repeat the point that these doctrines depended on the “plain reading” of small bits of the Bible, just as it is tiresome to have to bring up, again and again to plain readers, such a passage as Psalm 137:7, 8, where the beleaguered poet screams revenge against Israel’s “devastator” Babylon. For this poet, payback, even against children, brings happiness. “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” Would a “plain reading” of these words, without help from our “critical” capacities, be at all edifying? If my finger fell by chance on these verses, would they be directly in- structive for what I think of God or how I live my life?
The quarter’s primary contributor, Timm, like many at BRI (known recently for its anti-women’s ordination apologetics), spends a lot of this week’s lesson blaming Eve for using her brain.
But this is an old problem, and it’s not even a good literal reading of the Genesis text. Nor is it consistent with the ABSG canon. Going back to the April canon, to quote from Doukhan again, shows where the sin is—lies, not logic:
Note also that the serpent does not argue immediately with the woman, but he asks a question that implies that he believes in what the Lord has said to them. After all, he asked: “ ‘Has God indeed said . . . ’?” (Gen. 3:1, NKJV). Thus, even from the start, we can see just how cunning and deceitful this being was. And, as we will see, it worked too.
Doukhan, who is also the general editor of the official Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary, adds a key question: “If Satan was able to deceive a sinless Eve in Eden, how much more vulnerable are we?” All humans sin, but logic is not the big problem.
Don’t blame Eve’s literally perfectly reasonable mind.
Kay Bonikowsky, who went to the fundamentalist Bob Jones University and is now a pastor after getting her MDiv from Multnomah University, goes further in identifying the problem of blaming Eve and turning her into an opponent of God.
If you accept that Eve was totally deceived, and ate out of ignorance and in good faith, her answer is truthful. “The serpent deceived me!” It’s true. Eve believed eating was for the best because of Satan’s lies. Satan deserved the blame. Without his slick words, Eve would have continued in obedience. By placing Satan as the source of her sin, the serpent becomes her enemy. And rightfully so.
God confirms Eve’s answer is true. To the serpent He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman; and between your offspring and hers.” Genesis 3:15
God recognizes that in naming the serpent as the reason for her sin, Eve had declared war against the source of evil, Satan. Eve is not God’s enemy. She is Satan’s enemy. Enmity occurs because one party is resisting another. They are at odds. They want differing things. The “woman” fights back. She is Satan’s curse. The woman’s descendants would be at war with Satan’s children
As she, plus Hebrew scholar Doukhan, and plus Scriven all point out in each of these examples, figuring out what anything ultimately means includes humanity and divinity. Too many of our current Adventist leaders practice a myopic hermeneutic. Zoom out. Stop the proof-text fragmentation. The Bible, more than anything else, is a long and deep record of God and humans communicating. At best it equals a relationship. Some might call it reasoning together.
Here’s a convo I had with Chuck Scriven in 2020 during which he talks specifically about how Jesus as the Word of God is key to understanding the Bible.
Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum
Title image: Adam and Eve at the Foot of the Cross, c. 1647, by Claude Mellon (public domain)
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.