Scriptural Reasoning and the Garden of Eden


Scriptural Reasoning (SR) is an open-ended practice of reading- and reasoning-in-dialogue between scholars of the three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). This international journal is designed, written, and edited by undergraduate and graduate students. –

©2006 Society for Scriptural Reasoning

Collated and reproduced from:

The Student Journal of Scriptural Reasoning

Volume 1, No. 2 — May 2007

Scriptural Reasoning and the Garden of Eden

Leah Angell Sievers

Associate Editors
Laura Eve Engel
Caitlin Golden
Emily Gravett

Introduction: Scriptural Reasoning and the Garden of Eden
Laura Eve Engel, University of Virginia

Genesis 2:2-3: The Filling and Emptying of Literal and Imaginative Spaces
Leah Angell Sievers, University of Virginia

Freewill, Salvation, and the Fall
Matthew Semanik, University of Virginia

To Till the Earth—Man’s Purpose and the Garden Story
A. J. Kornblith, University of Virginia

For the Sake of the Body
Peter Kang, University of Virginia

Conclusion: Reasoning Inside and Outside of Eden
Laura Eve Engel, University of Virginia

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

Introduction: Scriptural Reasoning and the Garden of Eden

by Laura Eve Engel

Knowing where to begin the process of scriptural reasoning did not come easy for our group when we initially sat down to discuss Genesis 2 – 3. Though we each had a basic concept of what was at stake—that we had come together, members of Jewish and Christian backgrounds, to discuss a specific text with a nod to but not solely in light of our respective traditions—the knowledge that we would each be expected to generate a paper topic from this session made the road to pure scriptural reasoning a bumpy one. Several of us had done our homework, and came prepared with preconceptions and partially researched theses about the text in question, ready to discuss and defend our assertions at length. It was an essential, humbling moment in our scriptural reasoning process when, after delving immediately into outside sources concerning our half-formed ideas about the text, we realized that we had neglected to examine the text closely together. Leaving behind the complex thoughts we had prepared at home, we began anew with Genesis 2:4, reading slowly together, and pausing to reflect as a group as gap after gap emerged in the text.

We hit our first snag immediately in Genesis 2:4 – 2:7. We were troubled by the lack of temporal linearity in these verses, specifically concerning where the creation of man fell along the presented timeline. The verses read:

When the LORD God made earth and heaven—when no shrub of the field had yet sprouted, because the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil, but a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth—the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. [1]

Those of us from Jewish and Christian backgrounds were equally perplexed by the ambiguity of the timeline in these verses. Reading the verses together, we sifted slowly through the plain sense of Genesis 2:4 – 2:7, and accepted this as a premise upon which we could all agree: that these verses imply that man was created after God created the waters but before God created the vegetation. Conversely, however, verses in Genesis 1 assert that man was created on the sixth day, while “the earth sprouts vegetation”[2] and “the gathering of waters”[3] occur on the third day. Our desire for the chapters to be consistent with one another led us to posit that man was created on the third day, but that man was not made in God’’s image until the sixth day, as the description of the creation during the sixth day reads: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.”[4] Having reached this point together, we were still puzzled by what now appeared to be a troubling gap in the description of the third day. We spent a great deal of time attempting to sort through the plain sense details in Genesis 1 and 2, piecing together a rough outline that merged the two creation stories. We did not arrive at any one conclusion, but the process of picking the verses apart using notions of linear, temporal logic upon which we could all agree left us feeling vulnerable concerning the text, and curious to return to our traditions to discover what outside Jewish or Christian sources had to offer with regards to these issues. Throughout the course of our discussion, we happened upon a number of issues that were troubling, complex, or which simply required more probing. As we widened these gaps as a group, possibilities for individual interpretation emerged, and by the end of our intensive reading of the two chapters, each of us had prioritized a theme to further explore on our own.

This journal issue consists of four highly individual perspectives on Genesis 2 –- 3, inspired by intensive group reading and reasoning, but influenced appropriately by the personal nature of choosing what, for each individual, was the most compelling or problematic gap in the text. For Leah Sievers, the gaps themselves were what fascinated her: during our discussion, her comments tended towards pointing out the motion within the text of Genesis 2 – 3, specifically the momentum of emptying and filling that seems to dominate these chapters. In her article, Leah juxtaposes creation with sin, “the filling of the earth with life” and “the momentary emptying of the earth of goodness”[5] to emphasize this process, as well as concludes that it is this process of filling and emptying that creates the potential for healing the world. Her article draws on moments in the text that we discussed as a group —the flow welling up from the earth, the removal of Adam’’s rib to create Eve— and elaborates upon them in a way that both references our group work and adds a fresh perspective. Due to our intensive study and discussion of the text together, we may appreciate her argument that much more fully because we understand the origin of its premises. We were present as the ideas that were to become her article were born, so to speak, and as a result feel that much more intimately connected to it.

For Matt Semanik, a different gap in the text needed filling. Matt chose a unique, discussion-inspired approach to this text: he was compelled by the notion of free will as it relates to Adam and Eve’’s agency in Genesis 2 -– 3, as well as how free will relates to salvation from a Christian perspective. In our group reading of the text, we discussed the nature of Adam and Eve in the garden. We wondered whether they were human beings with agency, or rather the embodiment of logic or compassion, or perhaps even vessels for the blueprint of civilization and society. Matt’’s article speaks to the emphasis we put on this issue, and the gap we widened in our discussion, and his article draws on New Testament sources to scratch the itch of uncertainty with which our discussion left him. To do this, he turns to Matthew—“ – Yet not as I will, but as you will”[6]— to emphasize a relationship between free will and salvation, arguing that Adam and Eve do not have active agency until they eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and bad, at which point they are able to act, yes, but must also sacrifice paradise. When Jesus sacrifices his will for salvation, Matt argues, this is equivalent to returning to Eden, where humans have no agency, but is subject instead to God’s will. For Matt, reading Genesis 2 -– 3 through New Testament scripture was a crucial part of his scriptural reasoning exercise.

Adding his interpretation to the mix, A. J. Kornblith focuses on the processes of cultivation found within Genesis 2 – 3. His article stems from an interest in what it means that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden “to till it and tend it,”[7] and what tilling and tending might involve, both literally and figuratively. A. J.’s interpretation draws from our group discussion of a possible parallel between Genesis 1—“and God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’”[8]—and the transformation that occurs when Adam and Eve eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad: “Now… the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad.”[9] From this parallel, A. J. posits that the garden served as a “training ground” for Adam and Eve to learn how to cultivate: the earth, their relationships with one another and with God, and ultimately, to cultivate society itself. The notion that perhaps God intended for Adam and Eve to eat from the tree and thus become fully realized in the likeness of God supports the idea that God was preparing them for a greater task. Similarly, perhaps, our group reading and discussion was a training ground for interpretation, and it prepared A. J., as well as the rest of us, to engage in a sustained, intensive reasoning with the text in our articles.

Of all of us, Peter Kang seemed to enter our reading of this text with the most specific direction in mind. Personally affected by what some considered to be justifiable gender inequality in his family’s church, Peter was inspired by 1st Timothy, which uses the garden story as a means of justifying the subordination of women. Peter came to our discussion thinking about reading Genesis 2 –- 3 in relation to the New Testament, specifically as it related to 1st Timothy, and shared this idea with us. His sensitivity to this issue added a dimension to our reading; as we examined notions of culpability in the eating of the fruit, we were aware of their reverberations in the New Testament and in the world today. Peter’s article focuses on reading the New Testament with a critical eye, catching and attempting to resolve contradictions within scripture, and demanding that the New Testament remain faithful to the intention of the scripture it cites, such as in the case of 1 Timothy. In this way, he examines and attempts to heal some of the damage created by gender inequality in his own church.

A number of troubling gaps emerged in our discussion of a short but rich section of text. Throughout the course of our discussion, it became clear that we were not so much filling these gaps as widening them, putting pressure on the initial fissure and prying, each from his respective angle, at the troubling word or verse, until we had created spaces together. The group task was to widen these spaces and allow room for further exploration and interpretation; the individual’s task became to fill these collaboratively widened spaces with unique interpretations, with help from her unique background and tradition. We hope that these four perspectives will provide a cohesive and yet refreshingly various look at Genesis 2 –- 3.


[1] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2003) Genesis 2:4 – 2:7. All subsequent biblical citations taken from this text.

[2] Genesis 1:12.

[3] Genesis 1:10.

[4] Genesis 1:27.

[5] Sievers, Leah. Genesis 2:2-3: The Filling and Emptying of Literal and Imaginative Spaces.

[6] Matthew 26:39. (According to Matthew Semanik’s Freewill, Salvation, and the Fall.)

[7] Genesis 2:15.

[8] Genesis 1:26.

[9] Genesis 3:22.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

Genesis 2:2-3: The Filling and Emptying of Literal and Imaginative Spaces

by Leah Angell Sievers

Genesis 2:2-3 comprises the well-known story of God’’s creation of the earth and the story of Adam and Eve, and it also includes one of the Hebrew Bible’’s most tense moments: when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is puzzling that in these two chapters, beautiful, paradigmatic moments of creation coexist with the dark, foreboding moments of Adam and Eve’’s defiance of God. If God’’s intention is engrained in the text, however, then it is crucial to explore why He chooses to marry creation —the filling of the earth with life —and sin —the momentary emptying of the earth of goodness. Examining Genesis 2 and 3 through this pattern of filling and emptying demonstrates that although sin does create new dilemmas in the world, those dilemmas are nevertheless what create the momentum through which universal reparation can occur.

The initial ripples of this momentum occur in Genesis 2:4-6, which offers a description of God’’s creation of heaven and earth; surprisingly, this description portrays earth as a stark and barren land that is quite unlike the newly green, recently “sprouting” earth described in Genesis 1. The text of Genesis 2 states that “no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted,”[1] emphasizing that no vegetation exists but implying through repeated use of the word “yet” that vegetation will come. In this passage, the earth is therefore expressed through words that simultaneously indicate both starkness and bounty. The text gives a reason for why the land is barren but full of potential: “because the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil.”[2] The earth is dry and unproductive because God has neither brought it rain nor someone to work the land. At first these two reasons for the land’s barrenness seem logical. Of course the land is unproductive if it is neither watered nor cared for. At the same time, the passage directly indicates God as being responsible for whether or not there is rain for the earth. Until God sends rain, there is no rain. Man’s presence on the earth and ability to till the land are secondary to God’’s decision about rain, for if it does not rain, the plants do not grow, there is nothing for man to till, and thus no need for man. Why would God withhold rain from the land? Why wouldn’t he send rain right away to allow the land to flourish?

Perhaps God withholds rain because he has a source of water in mind other than rain. Genesis 2:6 states, “but a flow would well up from the ground and water the whole surface of the earth.” This passage suggests that the water that will nourish the land does not come from above; instead, it comes from deep within the earth, and it will spread out across the land. If the amount of water that comes up from the earth is voluminous enough to cover its “whole surface,” then the well of water is quite deep, and the water that comes from the well is enough to flood the earth. Why would God choose to flood the earth from within instead of bringing a rain, as the text originally suggests?

It seems that God withholds rain because He specifically wants to water the earth through a flood. There is a reason why God needs to bring water out of the earth instead of out of the sky. In order to determine why God wants to do this, it is helpful to remember that the well and the flood are discussed in the text against the backdrop of a barren, dry earth that is waiting for water and for man. God is working with two opposites, then: the dry expanse of earth that the text describes first and the deep, wet hidden well that the text describes second. The two opposites complement each other, though, because the earth needs the water. Whether the water needs the earth remains to be seen, however, as there is no hint that water is anxious to come to the surface in the way that the earth seems anxious for the water. At the very least, the text establishes a pattern here, a pattern of filling and emptying. For example, the earth is waiting to be filled with water and with man, while the water is being emptied from the well in the earth. The world that God is creating appears to have gaps in some areas that are waiting to be filled from the richness of other areas, and He chooses to teach this lesson by withholding rain in favor of the flood.

In addition, here God is also using the flood to establish His authority. He promises rain but instead waters the earth through the more drastic measure: flooding. God wants to demonstrate that He can be both moderate (rain) and forceful (flooding) in how He manages the earth. Even though Adam and Eve do not yet exist and cannot witness the extent of God’’s powers, God needs to practice His leadership. The reader too is involved here, for she is forced to confront early on God’’s seemingly contradictory nature.

Maybe God wants the earth to experience flooding and barrenness to find another way of showing that good can come out of extremes. For example, Genesis 2:7 links back to Genesis 2: 4 and 2:5, revealing the central reason why God leaves that dry, dusty gap in the earth at all instead of immediately filling it with rain or floodwaters. The passage reads, “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” God wants to make man out of the dust, so he does not want the earth to be wet right away. There is simply something in the gritty, dry earth that God needs in order to make Adam, and for some reason He wants Adam to become “a living being” in this dry, empty context.

God does not want Adam to live on a dry earth, however, for Genesis 2:8 teaches that God creates the garden of Eden for Adam. The creation of Adam is therefore the catalyst for the earth’s enrichment: until God creates him, there is no vegetation. Adam is the hinge upon which the emptiness and fullness of the earth turns. As such, Adam serves as a repository for God’’s hope for the world. God seems to want His earth to thrive, but he is unwilling or unable to realize this desire without Adam. Once He creates Adam, He is free to be creative with His design of the earth. Genesis 2:9 demonstrates the extent of God’’s hopefulness and creativity regarding the earth, for it explains that “from the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.” God creates a garden that is not only full of aesthetically beautiful plants and trees but also full of flora that produce food to sustain Adam —as long as he “tills and tends” it. In creating this kind of environment, God ensures Adam’s happiness with his new home, and He ensures Adam’s survival. When God plants the trees of life and of knowledge of good and bad, however, he also ensures that Adam will face challenges. At the very least, for example, it can be said that the mere existence of the tree of knowledge of good and bad teaches Adam that there are differences in the world. Even if he does not understand good and bad, the tree asks Adam to contemplate the idea of difference. The lingering question at this time is then about why God wants Adam to learn about difference.

Much of Genesis 2 tries to answer the question about why God cares that Adam learns about difference. First, God wants Adam to learn about difference as a way to foreshadow Adam’s expulsion from Eden. The text explains that Eden is connected to four other lands, so it is therefore different from those other lands if only by comparison. As it is written, God creates “a river [that] issues from Eden to water the garden, and then it divides and becomes four branches,”[3] each of which leads to a different region. The presence of these other regions implies that there are places to live other than Eden, but it is unclear whether Adam knows that the river in Eden eventually splits into several branches. At the very least, God wants the reader to know that Eden is not isolated; it is connected to a world beyond itself. Most importantly, God uses the other regions to serve as more examples of the significance of difference in His world.

Second, God cares that Adam understands difference so that he will obey His commands. When God places Adam in the garden, He gives him specific directions, stating, “Of every tree in the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”[4] Here God relies upon Adam’s being able to discern the difference between certain trees, the difference between good and evil, and the difference between life and death. If Adam cannot do this, then he cannot tell the trees apart, cannot understand that good and evil are not the same, and cannot understand that death is the opposite of his current status. Unless God gives Adam the capacity for understanding difference, Adam has no way of learning difference without the process of trial and error. The pattern of fullness and emptiness in Genesis 2 appears again here, for there is no way to know how fully God creates Adam. He creates him from utter emptiness, but how full of knowledge does He make him? If Adam is not particularly full of knowledge, then he cannot follow God’’s commands about the differences between certain trees and from which ones he should or should not eat.

Third, God cares that Adam learns about difference because He wants him to appreciate Eve. God’’s creation of Eve implies that He thinks Adam needs help, for he says, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.”[5] God decides that Adam should have a companion, but He is clear that this new person is not just a companion but a “helper.” Eve has a vocation before she is even created: to help Adam. God designs her to fill a void that He sees in Adam’s life , so she can be viewed as someone who enriches and brings fullness to Adam and by extension to Eden. Eve possesses the greatest capacity to enrich Adam’s life, for God creates her specifically to serve this purpose. It is Adam and not Eve, however, who names all of these new creatures, demonstrating that it is he first and foremost who understands difference enough to distinguish between creatures. This moment also demonstrates that when God creates Adam, He imbues him with extraordinary creative powers. In so doing, God places the utmost confidence in Adam, for in the act of naming each creature, Adam creates a vision and a hope for it, —a tall order. Adam’s lack of a name himself means that his creativity is even more extraordinary here: he is giving to others what he does not have and does not know from personal experience. In not giving Adam a name yet asking him to name the creatures, God challenges Adam to imagine— to imagine what force lies behind a name— and to fill others with specific identities when he is devoid of one. Adam is merely an anonymous man, but he is a bright, imaginative one, and it is within the context of this intelligent, visionary Adam that Eve is created. If Adam is so wise and so uniquely creative, then the fact of his needing a helper is even more curious. If he is so smart, why does he need help? Curiously, God is emphasizing the need for partnership over even the power of unique intelligence.

If a man as unique and as powerful as Adam requires a particular kind of helper, then God must send Adam the uniquely fitting partner: Eve. As Genesis 2:21-22 explains, God takes from Adam a portion of his side to create his partner, Eve. Adam states confidently, “This one at last/ Is bone of my bones/ And flesh of my flesh./ This one shall be called Woman,/ For from man was she taken.”[6] Ironically, that which fills the gap in Adam’s life comes from within Adam himself, just as earlier, the water that ultimately floods the dry earth comes from that earth itself. God is again demonstrating that emptiness can be filled by that which is hidden deep in the original source. For example, God fills an empty universe with a world, the idea for which lies deep within Him. God fills the barren earth he creates with water, which emerges from deep within the earth to fill the empty earth with water and thus vegetation. God fills His newly lush earth with Adam, whom He creates from deep within His mind and from the primordial dustiness of the barren earth. God creates Eve from the depths of Adam’s body, thus positioning her as the living fullness of what is now the emptiest part of Adam: an unspecified amount of the side of his body.

Until Adam and Eve meet the serpent and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they live with no awareness of the emptiness that is inherent in their relationship. They “become one flesh,”[7] living happily as husband and wife, unaware that they are naked and seemingly unaware of much other than their daily existence in the garden. When Eve speaks with the serpent, however, it becomes clear that Adam and she are not leading a completely blissful, ignorant existence. They have evidently been discussing God and his rules for the garden, for Eve tells the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.’”[8] Eve has no way of knowing this information unless Adam gives it her, for nowhere in the text thus far does God speak directly to Eve. Evidently Adam recounts God’’s rules of the garden to Eve, but in what way does he deliver the information? Does he present the information to Eve as mere facts, as a dire warning, as gossip, or as a plea? How fully does Adam address Eve’’s lack of knowledge about the garden?

Given that Adam eats from the tree not directly but through Eve when she hands him a piece of the fruit that she is eating, it can be said that perhaps he does not deliver the rules of the garden to Eve as a warning or as a plea. It even seems most likely that he is disrespectful of God, maybe telling Eve about God’’s rules in a way that suggests that they are rules about which God cannot possibly be serious. In what other context would Adam and Eve completely disregard God’’s wishes?

The serpent’s wily ways mislead Adam and Eve, so his role here cannot be dismissed.

Keeping the textual pattern of filling and emptying in mind, the serpent represents an abyss in the garden. The most clever part of the serpent’s disguise is his form: the fact of his appearing to be a serpent almost completely obscures the way that even a brief conversation with him can cause one to fall into an abyss of denial of and disrespect for God. The serpent represents the cavernous, empty nature of a world without God, a world that Adam and Eve cannot understand without the serpent/abyss as a foil, for they are born into a world full of God. They do not know life without Him, so while they should be more initially respectful of Him, they also do not have a comparison by which to evaluate Him. The serpent provides this comparative opportunity for Adam and Eve; ironically, though, this opportunity allows them to become more human, more thoughtful, more wise. Before the serpent, Adam and Eve follow God unquestioningly. Now, under the influence of the serpent’s wiliness, they finally seek to fill their lives with more.

The serpent also provides Adam and Eve with the opportunity to add more layers of depth to their relationship. When God confronts Adam and Eve, asking, “’Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat,’”[9] Adam blames God for creating Eve as his helper and then blames Eve for his actions, and Eve blames the serpent for tricking her. Here Adam shows unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions; on the other hand, Eve is frank. She does not accuse the serpent or Adam; she reports: “’The serpent duped me, and I ate.’” Although Adam and Eve are guilty here, neither of them, however, is more clearly at fault than the other. God makes Eve for Adam to help him, not to mislead him. Adam relays God’’s rules to Eve, so if she does not understand them in the way that God intends them to be understood, then Adam is partially at fault. Similarly, Eve does indeed know the rules of the garden to a degree, so the serpent cannot entirely be blamed for her eating the fruit. Adam and Eve hurt each other when they are so quick to avoid responsibility for their actions, but at least their willingness to cast blame onto others and away from themselves serves as a model of how couples should not act. Their hurtful behavior also serves as a reminder of the emptiness that binds them together, for the empty spot in Adam’s rib aches unless he and Eve work together to fill it through positive actions as a couple.

In addition, God responds to Adam and Eve’’s fall into the abyss by filling their lives with difficulty. God curses them with the pangs of childbirth and the toil of the field, and in so doing He teaches them once and for all about difference. It is only through falling into the abyss, however, that Adam and Eve come to understand the difference between living in Eden and living in the harsh, everyday world of difficulty and pain. Fortunately, they also come to understand God better, for they witness His desire to create a certain balance in the universe, as though His pattern of filling and emptying various components in the universe is more about redistribution, sharing, and balance than about gaps and inequalities. The foremost example of God’’s yearning for balance comes at the end of Genesis 3, when God shows forgiveness to Adam and Eve when he makes garments for them and clothes them. Even though He is angry that they eat the fruit and become aware of their nakedness, he does not wish for them to be embarrassed or uncomfortable, so he clothes them. In another act of forgiveness, God banishes Adam and Eve from Eden to protect them against eating from the tree of life; perhaps He also banishes them to prevent them from eating from the tree of Life. If they eat from the tree of Life after God states that they will die one day, then Adam and Eve could potentially have less confidence in God. They could see Him as misleading and confusing, asking why they will now not die when God had said that they would. In this light, that which He takes away from them (Eden) is actually a gift of freedom, the freedom to live out life as God ordains it for them: it is a life full of pains, yes, but it is also a life full of God and His for balancing good against the bad.

In their book A Commentary on Genesis: The Book of Beginnings, Martin Kessler and Karel Deurloo demonstrate another way in which God uses His goodness to balance out the bad and fill a potential emptiness in the universe. In an explication of Genesis 2:7, Kessler and Deurloo write that “the dust of the [earth], like powder blown about, covering everything with a thin layer, but which is easily blown away, illustrates the vulnerability of human existence. If God does not give him breath, the human is subject to death.”[10] Here the authors suggest that the dust God uses to make Adam is inherently weak and unstable, just as Adam and Eve prove to be when confronted with the serpent. Without God, the human languishes in this instability and succumbs to death. Adam and Eve eventually succumb to death, but they do so because it is part of God’’s protective plan for them. Kessler and Deurloo imply that death occurs only if God does not give breath to the human, but death can occur even with God’’s breath if God knows that death is in one’s best interest. The authors are correct to link God to human immortality because God’’s plan for Eden does include a tree that can cause one to live forever. They are incorrect, however, to posit death as the evil, Godless endpoint, because in Genesis 2 and 3, God clearly thinks that death is an appropriate end for Adam and Eve. God uses his power to give and take away breath from mankind as an act full of benevolence designed to protect them from eternal life, which He evidently views as empty, inappropriate, and wrong for them. As Kessler and Deurloo do ultimately explain, “In all of his questionable independence the human cannot appropriate life for himself. Human life will remain a gift of God.”[11] By taking away their access to the tree of life, God gives Adam and Eve the gift of Himself.

According to Rashi,[12] Adam and Eve desperately need this gift of Godself and God’’s help, for he portrays them quite negatively. First, when God creates Adam and the many other living creatures, Rashi writes: “animals and beasts are also called living souls. But, the one of man is the most alive for he additionally was given intelligence and speech.”[13] Here Rashi tries to answer the question about how fully God creates Adam, as he explains concisely that God gives Adam “intelligence and speech.” These are generally positive attributes for a person to possess; ironically, for Adam they increase his culpability regarding the eating of the fruit. If Adam is indeed intelligent and can speak well, then he should be fully capable of understanding, communicating, and obeying God’’s rules. Ideally he should also be wise enough not to try to cast his own responsibility for eating the fruit onto Eve, but intelligence and eloquence do not necessarily always make a person a “mensch.” Just because God makes Adam smart does not mean that Adam can fully comprehend complex differences like the difference between good and bad, so the question of how well Adam can discern difference and how culpable he is still remains largely unanswered. This unanswered question about Adam’s intellectual and emotional makeup represents an enormous gap in the text that is thus far unfilled.

Rashi attempts to fill this gap in the text when he discusses Adam and Eve’’s modesty. He writes,

They did not know the ways of modesty to distinguish between good and evil. Although he [Adam] was given the wisdom to call [all the creatures] by name, he was not imbued with the evil inclination until he ate from the tree and the evil inclination entered him and he was able to distinguish between good and evil.

Here Rashi attests that Adam and Eve are each endowed with particular kinds of knowledge from the very beginning, but he also attests that they lack certain kinds of knowledge too. He suggests that they do not understand modesty enough to discern the difference between good and bad, which in this case equates to being unaware of one’s nudity or not. Perhaps their lack of understanding in this category results from their being born into a world in which nudity is the norm and in which there are no clothed beings against which they can evaluate their nudity. As far as modesty is concerned, difference regarding nudity is simply nonexistent in Eden because awareness of nudity and of sexual urges that accompany nudity does not yet exist. Rashi also teaches that although Adam is highly intelligent, intelligent enough for God to trust him with the task of naming the creatures, he is not intelligent enough to comprehend bad until he eats from the tree. In this light, Adam’s interpretation of God’’s commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad becomes increasingly complex. How would one interpret the commandment “Do not eat from this tree” if one cannot understand the idea of the negative repercussions of an act? If an act is simply performed or not performed without understanding of consequence, then by extension there is no understanding that one’’s acts can be judged. If there is neither good nor evil, then performing a certain act must stem only from personal choice, from the desire to do a certain thing or not do it. Adam has no interest in the trees in the garden until Eve presents him with the piece of fruit, and if he doesn’t understand God’’s injunction against eating as negative, then why wouldn’t he eat? Eve would certainly eat too, if Adam tells her in a matter of fact way that God doesn’t want them to eat from a certain tree but cannot expand upon why. This new picture of Adam and Eve as being special, intelligent, and slightly deficient in interpretive, inductive reasoning demonstrates that God needs them to fall into the serpent/abyss so that he can transform them into models of moral decision-making for future generations.

In addition to casting Adam and Eve in a negative light regarding the tree, Rashi continues to portray Adam and Eve in a negative light when he describes Eve’’s creation. Rashi writes, “And he slept… and He took. So that he not see the piece of flesh from which she was created and be repulsive to him.”[14] Here Rashi takes an almost surgical approach to Eve’’s creation, describing the place of the removal of Adam’s side as “the place of the cut”[15] and suggesting that the removed flesh might be “repulsive” to Adam if he were to see it. Seen through Rashi’’s eyes, the removal of the side seems violent and aggressive instead of supportive, loving, creative, and divine. It is almost shocking to consider that Adam might be anything but overjoyed at the thought of the creation of his helper, especially because God is her Creator. It also difficult to consider anything about Eve repulsive even though she eats from the tree. Rashi solves this problem when he explains that “Adam attempted to find [a mate] amongst all the animals and beasts and he was not satisfied with them until he discovered Chavah.”[16] For Adam, Eve is superlative, and Rashi chooses an extreme way to describe her creation so that the reader of the Genesis text does not take for granted the momentous way that Eve appears on the earth. God creates her in an unforgettable way that cannot be duplicated by humankind, and through her He fills His near-empty universe with the possibility of future generations.

In the end, the truth that emerges from Genesis 2:4- 3 is a combination of a plain sense reading of the text and the Rashi interpretation. Rashi’’s identification of Adam as being supremely intelligent speaks to the fact of his naming all of God’’s creatures, and it partly answers the question of how fully God creates Adam. The answer here is that God makes Adam intelligent and inventive. Rashi’’s indication that Adam does not know evil before he eats the fruit, however, explains that God’’s creation of Adam’s intelligence does not include an interpretive sense of difference. Adam can engage in a plain sense understanding of difference, for he can see that the animals are different from one another, and he knows that Eve is separate from him. He cannot, however, interpret God’’s explanation of the different trees beyond the plain sense, so he cannot develop a moral understanding of acts or a moral consciousness about difference until he eats the fruit. In this light, his fall and expulsion from the garden can only be viewed positively, as it is only through falling into the abyss that Adam–and Eve–can develop the morality that they must model as parents to God’’s future peoples. Genesis 2:4- 3 employs the concept of filling and emptying to embody God’’s implication that if there is an emptiness in one part of the world, there lies an equal and opposite source for filling it in another part of the world. This constant redistribution creates the ultimate vehicle for healing: the idea that there is always a source of compassion, energy, and fullness even for the most barren, arid, empty soul.


[1] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2003) Genesis 2:5. (All biblical citations are taken from this text.)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Genesis 2:10.

[4] Genesis 2:16-17

[5] Genesis 2:18

[6] Genesis 2: 23

[7] Genesis 2: 24

[8] Genesis 3: 2-3

[9] Genesis 3: 11

[10] Martin Kessler and Karel Deurloo. A Commentary on Genesis: The Book of Beginnings (New York/ Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2004) 43.

[11] Ibid, 57.

[12] Avrohom Davis. I Bereshis: The Metsudah Chumash/Rashi (Lakewood, NJ: The Israel Bookshop, 2002)

[13] Ibid, 23.

[14] Ibid, 28.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, 29.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

Freewill, Salvation, and the Fall

by Matthew Semanik

“Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Many people, especially Christians, are familiar with these words in one form or another. They are from Matthew 26:39 and they embody Jesus’ willingness to die for our sins. But why did they have to be spoken? The answer can be found in Genesis 2:4 through Genesis 3, the story of the first sin. Those two chapters depict life in Eden before Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. Within that story, not only do we see the first sin, and evil enter the world, but also we see man gain free will at the same time. Freewill does not exist until after Adam and Eve commit the first sin, and by being saved through Jesus, we achieve a relationship with God that resembles the garden of Eden before the first sin. Therefore, when Jesus died for our salvation, He gave up His free will because that was the state of man before the first sin. Jesus showed that, by relinquishing our freewill to God, we can have a closer relationship with Him that resembles the relationship between Adam and Eve when they were first in the Garden of Eden. Christians believe that Jesus is the way to God. However, if to be saved by Christ, one must give up his or her freewill, then do we truly have freewill? Is it really our choice to be saved if in the end we do not have the ability to choose salvation for ourselves?

The garden of Eden before the first sin is paradise. Evil has yet to enter the world, and Adam and Eve are happy to do the work God tells them to do. Therein lies the problem. God tells Adam and Eve what to do. Chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis do not reveal any kind of choice in the matter. Adam tills the soil and takes care of the land only because God tells him to do so. Adam cannot choose not to work the soil. Adam may have realized that the soil would not produce vegetation if he did not tend to it, but it does not occur to him that there is an option not to till the soil. The same is true of Eve. She works the soil because it is the task that God gives to her.

There are many places in Genesis chapters two and three where the language used shows that Adam and Eve have no free will, including Genesis 2:8, Genesis 2:15, Genesis 2:21-22, and Genesis 3:20.  All of these verses have language that shows that God is in charge and that Adam and Eve have no say in what they do. Without reading chapters two and three from a particular religious perspective, the text still shows that Adam and Eve do not make decisions for themselves until they eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.

Genesis 2:8 says, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” The key words used are “God” and “put.” There is no mention of where Adam himself wants to go. God creates the whole world, and knows that it must need vegetation. Why could Adam not chose where he wanted to live on the Earth? Certainly, the Garden of Eden is special because it is the place that God chooses, but Adam still has no say in where he goes. Adam does not venture outside of the garden to see the world. He has no way of knowing whether outside the garden of Eden is better than the inside. He stays inside the garden because that is where God places him.

In Genesis 2:15, the verb used is “took”: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Again, there is no indication that Adam has any choice about where he can go on Earth. Verse fifteen shows more than verse eight, adding the fact that God has a specific purpose in mind for Adam. Adam does not have the ability to choose whether he wants to tend to the garden because he does not have any freewill, yet.

Next, in Genesis 2:21 and 22, God takes as He will from Adam. “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” Adam feels no pain and does not even know what happened to him, but he still has no say in what is done to his own body. If Adam had any free will, he may have been reluctant to give up a piece of himself. Also, in verse twenty-two, we see Eve’’s lack of freewill as well. She is brought before man and told that she is his partner. She has no choice whether she wants to accept Adam as a partner, and Adam lacks that very same choice about Eve. No other partner is apparently suitable for Adam, but Eve is because God puts them together.

In all of the above examples, the verbs used are in the past tense and it is God who performs all of the actions described. The Garden is God’’s creation in which He does as He wills, but the fact that man has no free will in the Garden of Eden does raise some questions. For example, if the Bible says that we are created in God’’s image, and if God has free will, then why does man not have freewill in the Garden of Eden? Should not being created in God’’s image give man that attribute? A simple reading of the text suggests that the answer to these questions is no. In Genesis chapter one, God creates everything and sees that it is good. Nowhere does the Bible mention either love or purpose for the world. God is happy with His creations, but the Bible does not say that He loved His creation. The same can be said about chapter two. We see man’’s purpose in the world, but we do not have any idea what God has in mind for the world itself. This means that man is not created in God’’s image at the beginning because man did not have free will.

In Genesis 3:5 and 3:6, sin enters the world. Along with sin, freewill enters the world: “‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” In verse five, the serpent speaks to Eve. He tells her that she can eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad is edible. Eve still does not have free will at this point. There is a shift in the language of the verses in chapters two and three at this point, but man still does not have free will. Whereas the verses before tell how God makes the decisions and acts on His own will without man having any say, in verses five and six, Eve acts on the will of the serpent. The serpent tells Eve that it is okay to eat. Eve does not make that decision by herself. She does as the serpent tells her because she has no free will. Adam takes the fruit from Eve and eats it because she offers it to him. He has no free will either. Adam hears the serpent’s argument, and he too does as the serpent and his wife want him to do because he has no free will. He does not have the opportunity to say no.

After this event, however, man does acquire free will. The story continues as Adam and Eve realize their nakedness and choose to cover themselves. Adam and Eve feel shame, and they choose to hide themselves from God when He is in the garden. Man now has free will. He can act on his own desires and— in theory —not have to listen to God anymore. The serpent says in verse five that Adam and Eve will know good and evil and that they will be like God because of it. Does this mean that they were not like God when the Bible says that they were created in God’ image? The two ideas about man’s state at the time of creation seem contradictory. However, in Genesis 3:22 it says, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” God speaks in this quote. It seems that man is not created in God’’s image immediately as the simple reading of the passage in Genesis chapter one suggests. The use of the word “now” implies that man has no free will before eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. It also implies that God knows that man would eat of the tree and gain free will, because it is God’’s intention to create man in His image. The simple reading cannot give an answer to this problem.

Even Adam and Eve’’s names show the lack of freewill before they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad and committed the first sin. Genesis 2:20 is the first mention of Adam’s name as Adam. Before that verse, he is always known as the man. His name is given after the section concerning the naming of the animals. God gives Adam the task to name all of the animals, but there is no command to make a name for himself. The passage makes no mention of Adam’s desire to give himself a name either. The Hebrew word for Adam is the same for earth and the more generic man because that is where Adam originated. He is made from the earth, and he is a man. The Bible does not make it explicitly clear that Adam is first created as man (he is simply a being), but because woman has not yet been created, it is possible that he is created as man. Regardless of whether Adam is truly man, a simple reading of the language used in the verse does not support the idea that Adam named himself. There is never any mention of Adam’s desire for a name. He does not desire a name because he did not have the ability to choose a name for himself.  To do that, Adam would need free will. The Bible also does not explicitly say that it is God who gives man the name Adam, but it can be safely assumed that God named Adam. Eve does not receive her name until after she and Adam eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. By now both Adam and Eve have free will and they can make decisions for themselves. However, Eve does not name herself. Adam gives the woman the name Eve. God does not give Eve a name when she is created just as God does not specifically name Adam upon his creation. Without free will, the names do not matter because Adam and Eve would not have been able to choose the names for themselves. The fact that it is Adam who names Eve is significant to this argument. It is merely a progression of God’’s naming of Adam. God names Adam who he creates, and Adam names Eve who has been created from him. The fact that Adam names Eve is important. It is another example of Adam exercising his freewill. Now that he is able to make decisions for himself, he can decide what is important to him, including giving Eve a name, and he is able to choose Eve’’s name, as the verse twenty-one shows.

Christians tend to read God’’s plan into the stories of the Old Testament. They prefer to believe that God has a plan for all events to take place because that same plan leads to the salvation of all humanity. The plan that Christians refer to is Jesus. From a Christian viewpoint, there are over six hundred messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Some, like Genesis 3:15 are less obvious. This verse says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God speaks to the serpent in this verse, giving it punishment for involvement in Adam and Eve’’s disobeying of God. A simple reading shows that Eve’’s descendants will have dominion over the descendants of the serpent. It does not initially appear to be anything of great significance, but Christians read those words as if they are very significant. Part of seeing God’’s plan in the Old Testament is seeing where and how Jesus is implicitly mentioned. Verse fifteen is an example of one of the places.

From a Christian standpoint, all of these examples present the idea that man’s relationship with God in paradise is closer without freewill and show that when freewill enters the world, man is banished from paradise. Therefore, when Jesus prays to God in Matthew 26:39, His prayer only makes sense if man is not created in God’’s image at the very beginning. The prayer reads, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus has freewill, and He chooses to relinquish His freewill for the salvation of all of mankind.

Theological interpretations put even more emphasis on meaning in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. Philo, a Hellenized Jewish philosopher, discusses the purpose and meaning of the garden of Eden. Philo does not discuss free will in his writings, instead focusing on virtues. Philo discusses Moses’ views of the garden of Eden. in F.E. Peters’ book Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Philo discusses how the trees in the garden of Eden are representative of the virtues that God places within the soul of man (Peters 119-121). The four rivers dividing the Eden are also representative of virtues. The rivers stand out because these virtues are the most essential, and they are used to provide a notion of what is good. The last part of Philo’s passage discusses how God’’s wisdom is the source of these virtues. If someone read this text looking for free will, then this last part would be the most essential because it shows the source of all the virtues as God, meaning that God designs the way that humans act and react. This is the approach that Augustine takes in his response. The trees in the garden of Eden are representative of the saints who in turn represent virtues important in Christianity. The four rivers represent the four Gospels of the New Testament. The tree of life in the middle of the garden of Eden is another mention of Christ in the Old Testament, and finally, the tree of the knowledge of good and bad is “the will’s free choice,” as Augustine puts it.

For Augustine, Genesis 2 and 3 do not just tell the story of the introduction of free will into the world alongside sin. The two chapters are in fact devoted to the idea that free will comes into the world and that this introduction is a part of God’’s plan because it is represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and bad from the beginning. Augustine continues in his response to Philo, “For if a man despises the will of God, he can only destroy himself…” Another way to put it would be to say that if a man wants to be with God, he must give up his own free will; otherwise, the man’s relationship to God will be tainted. Augustine recognizes the need for man to relinquish his free will to be with God just as Jesus exemplifies in Matthew 26:39

In group discussions of Genesis chapters 2 and 3, we focused on the language used in the verses, and what a plain sense reading of the text said. To do this we had to try to forget everything that we had learned about the chapters from our own traditions. I had always been taught that the “he” of Genesis 3:15 was Jesus. However, the plain sense reading does not make any specific reference to Jesus, so I could not read the verse effectively from my learned perspective. By bracketing these kind of beliefs, new possibilities of meaning opened up to me. Before our meetings, I believed that freewill was essential to salvation. After going through a plain sense reading with the group, the texts in chapters 2 and 3 told me something completely different. I found that giving up freewill is essential for salvation.

I had never before looked at Genesis chapters 2 and 3 from anything but a Christian perspective. When we read over Genesis 2:21-22, however, our reading was very different. In my case, I read these verses and saw another example of how God did as he pleased with Adam because Adam had no freewill at this time. There was also mention of these verses as an example for the theme of emptiness and fullness that runs through chapters 2 and 3. I had never seen this theme before, but after hearing it, I began to look for it and found more examples that I could use for my own findings about freewill.

When I searched Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for texts on Genesis chapters two and three, I had already determined a plain sense reading of the chapters, and I knew where my own thoughts stood both before and after our group discussions. I still was not clear on mainstream views about Genesis chapters two and three, however. Reading through Peters’ book, I did not expect to find sections with so much about the imagery in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. I had heard before that the tree of life was a representation of Jesus, but I had never given any thought to what the other trees could represent. However, Philo’s take on Genesis chapter two struck me as a logical point of view; if Philo is correct, it would mean that it does not matter where Adam was on Earth. Wherever he was, he was learning how to be human and how to be close to God. The virtues that Philo relays are what Adam learns by tending to the trees. I found Augustine’s interpretation of the same text even more logical because Augustine’s words are more applicable to my own life. He speaks about the trees as saints in the same way that the trees were virtues for Philo. Each point is exactly the same, but Augustine makes more sense to me because of my Christian background.

From a Christian standpoint, there are many examples of the lack of freewill before sin entered the world, and there are also examples of acts of freewill after sin enters the world in Genesis 2 and 3. Even a plain sense reading of the language used in the chapters supports this idea. Before reading the text with my group I had no idea that it would be so full of meaning for me and everyone else. Without the insights of the others in my group, I would not have found as much to support my topic. I still cannot answer whether freewill is necessary for salvation or if salvation must be relinquished for salvation, but these two chapters have certainly brought me much closer to the latter.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

To Till the Earth -– Humanity’s Purpose and the Garden Story

by A.J. Kornblith

When read in terms of plain sense, the story of the Garden of Eden found in chapters two and three of Genesis seems to be quite unambiguous in its meaning. Man, only recently created by God and given an easy life of ignorant bliss, throws it all away by breaking God’’s commandment to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad. Transgression and punishment lay at the heart of the plain sense reading, enabling subsequent generations to blame the misdeeds of the man and his wife (later Adam and Eve) for the toils and drudgery they must endure in everyday life. It is as though man were placed on earth for the sole purpose of enjoying the bounty of God’’s creation and was forced to suffer the hard task of laboring in the outside world only because of his transgression

Far more about the role man is to play inside and outside of Eden can be deduced from the garden story itself. Several instances in the text indicate that God places man in the garden of Eden not as a passive observer but in order for him to be an active participant in caring for the garden. Even though it may not be necessary for the garden’s survival, God sets man apart from the rest of creation and assigns him this special task. This action will prepare man for the similar but far more arduous task he is to face when he must care for the rest of creation outside of the garden and prevent humanity from perishing in the process. That God prepares man for this task even before he transgresses suggests that perhaps the duty of caring for the whole earth, and not just Eden, actually belongs to man the entire time.

In Genesis 1:26, God first mentions man when he says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[1] From this initial reference, it is already clear that God intends to set man apart from the rest of the created world. Previously, every creature created is referred to only as part of a category, such as “birds that fly” or “cattle, creeping things and wild beasts of every kind,” (Genesis 1:25). God not only places man in a category by himself, but also considers his creation before actually creating him in the next verse. Furthermore, God “created man in His image,” suggesting that God instills some part of the divine in man (Gen. 1:27). This reading is consistent with Gen. 2:7, which also refers to man’s creation, saying, “[God] blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Rashi interprets this verse to mean that man’s “body [is made] from earthy matter and his soul from heavenly matter.”[2] This inclusion of the heavenly in man sets him apart from the rest of the created world. Such distinctions by no means make man comparable to God, but the division between man and the rest of creation is important because of the specific role man is to play in that creation. God commands man to “be fertile and increase; fill the earth and master it,” signifying in even starker terms man’s uniqueness in God’’s eyes (Gen. 1:28). Both what mastering means and how man will know how to accomplish it remains unclear.

The nature of the role that God crafts for man becomes more comprehensible when a portion of the creation story is presented differently in chapter two. The text states, “When the LORD God made earth and heaven— when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted … the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth” (Gen. 2:4-5, 7). In this retelling of the story, the creation of man precedes the appearance of at least some of the earth’s vegetation. The text gives two reasons for the lack of greenery prior to this point: “because the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil” (Gen. 2:5, emphasis added). This portion of creation, the vegetation of the field, is dependent not only on natural resources such as water from God but also on the direct action of man. God remains the creator, but the implication is that without man to act as a caretaker the created vegetation would be unable to survive or grow. Man must depend on the resources that God has given him, but the vegetation is also dependent on both God and man concurrently.

Other passages suggest that creation’s reliance on man as caretaker extends far beyond the grasses and shrubs of the field. When God first situates man in the garden that he planted in Eden, the text says, “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” (Gen. 2:15). The word “to” in the last clause of the verse can mean that God positions man in the garden for the purpose of functioning as its caretaker rather than as a passive occupant. Were the final clause not included, we would have no clues as to what man would actually be doing in the garden. The phrase “to till it and tend it,” however, suggests that man will be involved in the same kind of active caretaking that the text spoke of in 2:5. The text also implies that by placing man in the garden, God expands man’s caretaking role for the grasses and shrubs of the field to include “every tree that was pleasing to sight and good for food” as well as “with the tree of life … and the tree of knowledge of good and bad” that God plants in Eden (Gen. 2:9). For a being that has just been created, man is being entrusted with big responsibilities by God. Man will spend his time in the garden tending to it and keeping it alive rather than sitting idly by while God does all of the work.

This does not suggest that God is incapable of looking after the garden or any other part of creation without man’s help, but rather that God designates the care of the garden to be man’s purpose for the time being. The task is likely not a terribly arduous one, as there is no indication in the text that Eden is anything short of a paradise. Life in the garden is bountiful and man could probably survive even without working, but God chooses to train him by teaching him skills he will later need when he must survive outside the garden. The important point is not the complexity of the task, but rather that God assigns it to man at this early stage in man’s history, before any transgression occurs. God commands man to “rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth” and also gives man “every seed-bearing plant that is upon the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit,” but only on the condition that he tends to them effectively (Gen. 2:28-29).  The image of Eden as a training ground becomes more convincing here. Only when man is outside the garden will he be able to fulfill God’’s commandment, but as long as he chooses to work within the framework provided by God by adhering to his commandments, God will allow him to continue a comfortable existence within the garden.

The way that the text characterizes the arrival of the woman lends further support to the proposition that God places man on earth with the specific purpose of caretaking in mind. God pronounces, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him” (Gen. 2:18). First of all, it is not immediately clear why it is “not good” for man to be by himself. While he may feel somewhat lonely, the text neither explicitly states this reason nor gives any other. Additionally, God’’s promise of a “helper,” as opposed to some other word choice, indicates that the man has a task to perform that requires someone else’s help.

If we assume that the task with which the woman is to assist is the tilling from verse 2:15, a whole range of new possibilities emerge. In addition to the vegetation in the garden, man now has another project to till or cultivate: his relationship with the woman. This is essentially the beginning of society or of relationships. God sends man a helper so that he (and she) may grasp the first vestiges of not only individual relationships but also societal collaboration. Again, such skills may be of questionable use inside the garden, but outside of it they will be invaluable if he (and she) is to survive and still fulfill God’’s commandment to till and tend creation.

This conclusion is solidified by the verse “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The relationship between the man and the woman will be the first marriage, but it is not yet official. For the man still remains in the garden under the care of God, who is often paternal, and it is arguable that he still enjoys the free bounty of the earth, which is often seen as maternal in religious texts. The verse provides a template for the marital relationship that will become necessary outside of the garden. For now, the man and the woman may become familiar with the relationship and practice it within the garden’s safe confines. Once outside the garden, the man and his wife will have to cling to one another to survive, as the text says, but God ensures that when they are forced to do so, the practice is not completely alien to them. Thus it is not surprising that only the woman is capable of being a “fitting helper,” since her role entails not only assisting the man with the task of caring for God’’s creation but also preparing the foundation of human society (Gen. 2:21).

In an earlier scene, God instructs the man, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat, but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die” (Gen. 2:16-17). The violation of this prohibition by the woman at the snake’s urging and the man’s subsequent participation in the transgression signal the end of the pair’s comfortable existence. What it does not signal, however, is the immediate enactment of the punishment that God promises will befall the man if he (or, presumably, his wife) disobeys God’’s commandment; God does not immediately kill either the man or the woman. Instead, the concept of death explicitly enters the world for the first time.   In detailing the punishments that will befall the man for his actions, God says, “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground —For from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). It is plausible that man forfeits some form of immortality that he might have enjoyed had he remained in the garden, and this idea fits the meaning of 2:17.

God still intends for the man and woman to play specific roles in caring for creation, whether they are immortal. An important component of their punishment, however, is how their roles in tilling the earth will fundamentally change. Just as it is unclear before whether death is present in the world prior to the transgression, it is similarly uncertain to what extent (if any) childbearing is a necessary part of survival in the garden. Now, however, there is no doubt of its importance, as God says to the woman, “I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing. In pain shall you bear children” (Gen. 3:16). While in the garden, her role in the tilling process is to assist in the care and repair of creation and to help the man cultivate the beginnings of human society and relationships.  God now gives the woman a new primary responsibility: literally growing and cultivating the entire human species. Perhaps recognizing both “the positive and life-affirming aspect[s] of the new reality,”[3] “the man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20).

The man’s role in tilling and tending the earth also becomes much more difficult outside of the safe confines of Eden. God says to him, “Cursed shall be the ground because of you; by toil you shall eat of it” (Gen. 3:18). His primary task transforms from the easy work of caring for a garden to the arduous labor of farming a field, which now he must do so simply to survive. But there is more at stake than survival. In 3:23, the text states, “So the LORD God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken” (emphasis added). Just as God places the man in the garden “to till it” in 2:15, he now sends the man and his partner out into the world with the same purpose. The difference is that because of God’’s anger with human disobedience, both the man and the woman’s tasks are now much more difficult than before, with the added sting of losing the possibility of immortality.

At the same time that God’’s temper flares, however, he also shows his capability for compassion towards his creations. As stated above, he already gives the man and his wife opportunities for working with the garden that surely prove valuable when they must farm for their own food in the wilderness. Having learned to till and take care of the garden, they are consequently capable of doing so elsewhere even if the conditions are significantly rougher. God also gives them a chance to become accustomed to one another, so that when they are more interdependent on each other for survival, it will not come as so great a shock. Furthermore, in addition to not immediately carrying out the punishment of death he previously promises to the man, God allows both humans to keep the knowledge of good and bad that they receive from transgressing.   On top of it all, God even provides clothing for the pair, who are now conscious of their nakedness, for it says, “And the LORD God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). God simultaneously shows his fury at being disobeyed and the consequences of disobedience as well as his capability for compassion and providing his creations with the tools necessary for survival and success. “The ‘punishments’ meted out by God to the man, woman and serpent,” notes commentator Joel Rosenberg, “are in effect simply statements of our normal biological realities…. To each of these woes there is a positive aspect, the most important of which is that without procreation, we (later generations) would simply not exist.”[4] Adam and Eve still have their purposes to fulfill as caretakers of the world. It is only now that they are outside of Eden that they can fully comply with God’’s commandment to “[be] fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it” (Gen. 1:28). As God says, “Now … the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad” (Gen. 3: 22). While it is for this reason that God expels man from the garden of Eden, at the same time the milestone marks the fulfillment of God’’s first declaration regarding man: that he be “in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Now that they are fully prepared to face the hardships of the world, Adam and Eve are sent out to fulfill God’’s commandments to till and tend to it. These two orders, to till and to tend, have separate but related meanings. The former implies an action involving preparation, cultivation and development, whereas the latter entails a process of repair. Adam and Eve begin these undertakings, but the tasks they have to perform remain relevant and necessary for mankind today.

Even in the literal sense, the act of tilling has several applications for Adam, Eve, and us today. First, the pair must farm the land in order to survive. They also have to farm effectively enough so that the species can grow and prosper, so that humans may eventually “fill the earth and master it” (Gen. 1:28). Today, humans have certainly filled the earth, and to a great extent we have either mastered or are in the process of mastering its many resources— for better or for worse. Nevertheless, we remain just as dependent on the earth as our ancestors were, although we may not be cognizant of the fact since most of us are accustomed to purchasing our food processed rather than producing it ourselves. With a much greater population on the planet, it is even more important that we marshal our resources and develop them effectively.

This leads us to the other tilling that Adam and Eve begin: the process of setting up or cultivating the early vestiges of human civilization. Eve’’s arrival in the garden allows the pair to model a marital relationship that eventually becomes the primary unit of society, and once they leave the garden they have to put this model into practice and develop it. As the population grew, the level of societal organization and complexity progressed accordingly from relationships between individuals. Our ancestors, beginning with Adam and Eve, prepared the earth for habitation like one prepares a field for planting, although they managed not only soil but society as well. Such actions are especially relevant to us because advances in communications technology have made the world smaller than ever before. Whole civilizations can and do interact with one another and no segment of the world can act as though it is completely cut off from the rest. These communications and the forces of change that accompany them have lead to extensive problems and disagreements. For example, a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad resulted in riots and violence across the Middle East. Our primary task in tilling is to develop norms for interactions between the diverse societies on this planet that now have no choice but to interact with one another. The bar for dealing with these problems has been raised as societies have become more complex, but human ingenuity combined with greater opportunities for cooperation have allowed us to meet the challenges set before us by God, and we have every indication, based on Genesis, that he will continue to provide us with the necessary tools to do so in the future.

Like the act of tilling, tending can also be applied both literally and figuratively. Adam and Eve have to remove the “thorns and thistles” that sprout in their fields if they are to cultivate their crops successfully (Gen. 3:18). For us today, however, many of the dilemmas that we face on this planet are of our own making. The most obvious example is the looming threat of global warming caused by our own industry. While certain high-ranking public officials may choose to ignore it, the damage we are doing to the planet will have lasting consequences for our children. We must tend to these problems and repair the damage done as best we can, lest we end up disobeying God’’s command to care for the earth.

Finally, tending also refers to the repair of societal injustices and the restoration of fundamental fairness to society when it is lacking. When God punished but did not destroy Adam and Eve, he was modeling the compassion and justice that we should and for the most part have incorporated into our societal laws. In our own country, human rights are by and large respected in the course of normal law, but this is not the case in many parts of the world. That is not to say we must launch crusades to rectify the injustice. Still, where we can, we have a duty to use reasonable methods to pull the weeds of societal injustice both at home and abroad. Politics is gardening on a local or global scale. Just as God gave our ancestors the capability to till and tend the earth on an individual level, so too has he bestowed upon us the aptitude to cooperate and make use of our skills as an entire species to develop and repair the entire world.


[1] JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003).   All other biblical   references are also from this source.

[2]Rashi Gen. 2:7-8

[3] Joel Rosenberg, “Bible – Biblical Narrative,” in Back to the Sources-Reading the Classical Jewish Texts, ed. Barry W. Holtz (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1984), 57.

[4]Rosenberg, 57.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

For the Sake of the Body

by Peter Kang

I would like to begin this discussion with a short autobiographical anecdote. Growing up in Christian Sunday School as a somewhat rebellious youth, I frequently incurred castigation for my boyish delinquency. When my teacher was a woman, often I would retort in nose-thumbing fashion with a quote from 1st Timothy and thus declare myself to be above reproach. Of course, this quickly landed me thumbed-nose in the corner of the classroom for the rest of the afternoon. However, during these times when I was becoming acquainted with the drywall of my church, I always had a smirk on my face— for I knew I had irked my teacher by pointing out, what we might now call, a “troubling text” in the Bible. This text reads:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.[1]

Now, roughly a decade later, this text no longer causes me to smirk, but rather to furrow my brow. I could not have known it at the time, but this dictate from Paul would later serve as a wedge that splintered the heart of my family’s church.

Two years ago, the pastor of my family’s church chose a female seminary graduate to fill an assistant pastor position. As is customary in my church, the potential candidate was placed in front of the congregation and the people were asked if they would accept her. The majority vote was no.

For many members of the congregation, including the pastor, this came as an incredible shock. In my mother’’s words, “It blew the lid off of something that I didn’’t even know was simmering.” Virulent debates ensued within the congregation during specially-called meetings. Like two clenched fists, the members of the body rose up against one another. One hand, which might be called a “liberal universalist,” argued that “times have changed” and that we now know that men and women are equal, thus it stands to reason that a woman can be called to the ministry just as men are. The other hand, which reacted in an orthodox “literalist” fashion, argued that the Bible plainly states that no woman should have authority or teach a man. Tempers rose, and families who had worshiped together in fellowship for years denounced each other as “not Christian.” Finally, unable to reach an agreement, close to forty families from the “literalist” faction left the church, convinced that the church was not “biblical” and therefore not Christian.

The church is still reeling from this trauma. Prior to the split, it was growing so fast that a new wing and an extended sanctuary had to be constructed to fit the swelling masses. Now, with familiar friends gone, no longer on speaking terms, the church is struggling to repay the loans that were taken out to pay for the now unused space.

I do not envision that this paper will fully heal the suffering of my family’s church, but I would like to offer it as a step in the direction of repair. Within the limits of this essay I will attempt to provide a reading of Paul’s verse in 1st Timothy that bypasses the bifurcation between “liberal” and “orthodox” interpretations. Focusing not on the dictum itself, but on the reason given for it, I will argue that this passage calls out for an interpretation that goes deeper than the plain sense. By placing this passage in relation to Paul’s other epistles, it can be interpreted as playing a part in an analogy based upon a typology. Interpreted in this way, the implications pertain not only to the role of women in the Church, but also to the relationship between Christ and the Church, the relationship between husbands and wives, and finally the practice of the Church as a body.

Viewed in light of Paul’s other writings, this passage in 1st Timothy calls out for a deeper sense interpretation for two reasons. The first is rather explicit. If Paul meant that women were not permitted to be ministers or deacons in the Church, this would contradict his own writing in other places, such as his commendation of Phoebe, a female deacon of the church at Cenchreae, to the Romans,[2] as well as his high regard for Prisca and Aquila, a wife and husband missionary team.[3] The second reason stems from Paul’s justification for the dictum. We must remember that Paul not only gives a command to Timothy, but he also reaches back into scripture to point out the reason for this command. Yet, his allusion to Genesis 2 and 3 in this passage seems to be in tension with his other references to the Garden of Eden story.

In the 1st Timothy passage, Paul seems to the place fault of transgression upon the woman, i.e. Eve, in contrast to Adam who “was not deceived.”[4] However, in his other epistles, Paul faults Adam as the first transgressor, through whom sin and death enter the world.[5] In these other passages, Paul makes no reference to Eve. Thus, in addition to the plain sense contradiction previously mentioned, this incongruity in Paul’s reasoning begs the reader to interpret the text beyond the plain sense. And in fact, Paul’s incongruous references to the Garden of Eden story provide us a place to start digging for a deeper sense interpretation.

Aside from this passage in 1st Timothy, wherever Paul speaks of Adam, it is always in relation to Christ in the form of a typology. According to Paul, Adam is “a type of the one who was to come.”[6] Hence he writes:

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.[7]

Now, if we posit that Paul does not give up this typological trope between Adam and Christ, which he uses in all of his other references to Adam, this would imply that his reference to Eve must also serve as a type —but for who or what? Another of Paul’’s references to Genesis 2 provides us with a clue. In Ephesians he writes:

He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.[8]

This “great mystery” is a reference to Genesis 2:24, which takes part in the story of Adam and Eve. And if Paul applies this “mystery” to Christ and the Church, this would mean that just as Adam is a type for Christ, Eve is a type for the Church.

Looking back to Paul’s dictum in 1st Timothy, we find that after making a slight translational change, this typology fits in nicely. The Greek word for “woman” in this passage, “gune,” can also mean “wife.” Similarly, the word for “man,” “aner,” can also mean “husband.” Thus, with this change the passage reads, “Let a wife learn in silence with full submission. I permit no wife to teach or to have authority over her husband; she is to keep silent.”[9] It therefore follows that the subsequent justification for this dictum is based upon a reference to the first husband and wife. However, if the typology between Adam and Christ, and Eve and the Church holds, then this implies that the dictum requires further interpretation. Reading it in light of the typology, the dictum can be read as part the analogy: the church is to Christ as wife is to husband.

If this is so, then the deeper sense of this passage could be seen as instructions for the disposition of the Church in relation to Christ. In other words, the Church should learn in silence with full submission, and it is not to think that it can have the authority or the ability to teach Christ. And this fits perfectly with Paul, citing Isaiah, who writes, “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”[10] Yet what does this mean in relation to the role of women in the church? Does interpreting the dictum as part of an analogy imply that women can in fact have authority over men and teach them? –No.

If the analogy holds true, it must apply in both contexts. In other words, if we are to understand the relationship between Christ and the Church as analogous to the relationship between husbands and wives, then this marital proscription must hold, otherwise the analogy would be nonsensical.

While at first this interpretation may seem no better than the so-called “literalist” reading, there is a surprising catch. For, because women may not have authority to teach men, this does not mean that the reverse is necessarily the case, i.e. men are given authority and the mandate to teach. In fact, this analogy implies that neither men nor women have authority or the right to teach the church. Of course this may seem quite strange, for if not a man or a woman, who is to have authority and the right to teach? Again, Paul provides an answer —Christ and the Spirit in his stead.

In Paul’s depiction of the apostles and deacons, the person filling these positions is never considered to have authority or power in themselves. Rather, Paul continually refers to himself as a servant and a slave, not only to Christ but “to all.”[11] Hence, one who preaches the gospel does not personally have total authority; rather, that person is a servant to Christ and to Christ’s body, the Church. As Paul writes, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’’s mysteries.”[12] Thus he chastises the factions of the Church who began making claims like, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos.”[13] According to Paul, he and Apollos are nothing; they are merely servants. Hence, he says, “Let no one boast about human leaders …all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”[14]

As for teaching, Paul certainly maintains that there should be teaching in the Church by a person, but this person is no human person. Teaching is one of the spiritual gifts bestowed upon the members of the body of Christ [15] by the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity —the promised Advocate who the Father sends in Christ’s name, who teaches everything, and who reminds the Church of all that Christ has said.[16] Hence, according to Paul, when one teaches truthfully, it is not in words taught by human wisdom but in words “taught by the Spirit.”[17] In fact, according to Paul, humans do not even have the power to pray on their own, but rather “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”[18]

Now, is the Spirit only for men? Surely not. In another reference to Genesis 2:24, (“the two shall be one flesh”), Paul writes that “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”[19] To be of one flesh with Christ is to be part of his body, i.e. a member of the Church. Thus, just as a wife is of one flesh with her husband, so too is the Church of one flesh with Christ, as his body. And though this body has many members, it is still one, and partakes of one Spirit.[20]

When thought of as a body in this sense, the implications for Church practice are quite different than what one might be accustomed to in a typical non-liturgical Protestant church (like my family’s). In such a church service, the congregation gathers together and might sing a few hymns, bow their heads as the pastor prays, and then listen to a half-hour sermon on the topic of the pastor’s choosing, finally closing with another hymn and going their separate ways. Of course this depiction is a touch oversimplified, but nevertheless, church services of this type appear to be discordant with Paul’s instructions for practice during church gatherings.

In contrast to the monologic style of sermonizing described above, Paul’s proscription for church practice appears much more dialogical. Like parts of a body, each member participates for the good of the whole. Yet, as Christ is the head of this body, there is no member who solely leads the other members. Rather, like eyes, ears, and hands, each member serves the others and plays an integral role in the functioning of the whole.[21] Hence, Paul’s instructions for church gatherings are akin to group discussions, with each member speaking in turn and allowing time for intelligible interpretations for the common good.[22] And according to his epistle to the Romans, Paul thinks that women can participate in this practice. Introducing the 12th chapter with “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters…” Paul writes:

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering, the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.[23]

Paul neither distinguishes between men and women in respect to the distribution of these spiritual gifts, nor does he claim that these gifts of the spirit are relegated to men. Rather, as he writes in 1st Corinthians, all members have their own function, given through the Spirit, which is for the service of the whole. Thus Paul tells the Corinthians, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”[24]

This mutually supportive relationship, or partnership, if you will, among the Church as a body brings us back to Genesis once again and to certain implications about marital relations. Just as the relationship between wives and husbands shaped our discussion about the Church and Christ, so too must the relationship between the Church and Christ shape our ideas about wives and husbands if the analogy is to hold. Again, Paul provides us with a place to start:

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.[25]

Now, according to the translator’s note in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, “The best understanding of head appears to be ‘source,’ rather than either ‘authority over’ or an ontological subordination or ‘chain of being.’”[26] If this is so, then the typology between Adam and Christ, and Eve and the Church holds, insofar as Adam is the source from which Eve derives, and Christ is the source from which the Church derives. And in both cases, the latter is formed from the flesh of the former. Additionally, Paul makes the analogy— Church is to Christ as wife is to husband— explicitly clear. Elaborating on this analogy further he writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”[27]

Though some might claim that this passage is misogynistic, due to its seemingly-unbalanced power relationship, when viewed in light of Paul’s other writings, this is not necessarily the case. In fact one could say that once in the relationship, each party is for the other. Christ is sent for the Church, and he “gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy”[28] and likewise, the Church exists for Christ. If we take this a step further, the two also exist for each other insofar as they become one flesh. Hence, according to Paul, “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”[29] As one flesh, there is no differentiation between “selves” and thus, ideally, no more self-interest. Thus, once married, the husband no longer exists for himself, but for his wife, and similarly the wife no longer exists for herself, but for her husband. Yet, as Paul writes, “He who loves his wife loves himself.”[30] However, this need not be seen as a contradiction, because she is one with his flesh. In other words, they share one body. Thus, in loving her, the man loves their shared flesh, which is himself; in the sense that his body as a husband is in fact their two bodies combined. Though Paul does not state it, we would expect that the relationship also works vice versa, i.e. she who loves her husband loves herself.

Now, there is one verse in our selected passage from 1st Timothy that has yet to be discussed —“Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”[31] In the plain sense, this is surely an odd soteriological claim for Paul to make. Not only does it seem to fly in the face of his arguments for justification by pistis Christou (“faith in Christ” or “faith of Christ”),[32] it is also incongruent with Paul’s advice that the unmarried and the virgins should remain as they are if they can, because of the “impending crisis.”[33] However, using the typology and analogy previously discussed, we can begin to locate a deeper sense interpretation of this verse.

Because this verse follows immediately after Paul’s explicit reference to Adam and Eve, in the typological interpretation, the deictic pronoun “she” can be seen as a continuation of Paul’s reference to Eve —the mother of all living, whose penance for her transgression pertains to the act of childbearing. Now, in terms of the analogy, it is perhaps not a coincidence that the pronoun shifts from the singular signifier “she,” to the plural “they.” (“She will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith…”). Hence, in reference to the body of Christ, the singular pronoun applies, but in reference to members of the Church, the plural form is required.

Yet, what does it mean for the Church to be saved through childbearing? Well, in the plain sense, a woman must lie with her husband and “become one flesh,” before a child can be conceived. In the deeper sense, the Church must also become one flesh with her husband Christ. In practice, this occurs through the Eucharist, which was commanded by Christ for the anamnesis[34] of him. According to Aquinas “the ‘spiritual benefit’ received in the sacrament ‘is the unity of the mystical Body,’” which echoes the words of Paul: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”[35]

In many interpretations, this unity with the flesh of Christ means salvation for the Church. As Paul writes, through baptism the Church is baptized into Christ’s death, yet through unity with the body, the Church shares in the Spirit and his resurrection.[36] Other interpreters argue that through unity with the body of Christ, Gentile Christians are able to participate in the covenant and promise given to Israel: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”[37] Hence Paul’s metaphor is that the Gentiles are like wild branches unnaturally grafted onto the root of the olive tree, which is Israel.[38] Yet, these branches are only made holy because they are attached to the holy “root” of Israel, which, according to the analogy, coincides with Paul’s claim that a heathen wife is made holy through a faithful husband.[39] In other words, the unworthy spouse is saved because she is of one flesh with one who is righteous, i.e. part of the body of Christ.[40]

However, if our analogy for 1st Timothy holds, then the Church needs to do more than become one flesh with Christ; it must also bear children. Yet what does it mean for the Church to bear children?

If Christ is the husband of the Church, then the children the Church bears would be children of God. Yet, in accordance with Paul’s writings, these children are not the product of procreation, but rather adoption. He tells the Romans:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.[41]

If the Church is to bear children of God, this means it has a duty to try to extend its community, so that others may be adopted into the body of Christ. This coincides with what Paul calls the “mystery,” that “a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.”[42] In other words, God has postponed the eschaton for the Israelites so that Gentiles can be incorporated into Christ’s body, thereby becoming adopted into Israel as “joint heirs with Christ” and thus gaining inclusion when “all Israel will be saved.”

This depiction finds a degree of support from 1st Timothy after a slight translational change. The Greek word for “saved,” “sozo,” can also be translated as “made whole.” With this change, the 1st Timothy passage therefore reads: “she will be made whole through childbearing.” Thus, in the context of our discussion, the Church will be made whole, (i.e. the full number of Gentiles comes in), through childbearing, (i.e. extending the body of Christ), so that others may be adopted as children of God. Yet, this requires that they, the members of the Body, continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. The implication here is that if this is not maintained, the Body will decay and fail in its mission to grow, and thus will not be made whole.

With this idea of the Church’s mission in mind, we can also understand Paul’s plea to the Corinthians: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”[43] The purpose of the Church is to extend the body of Christ, not to divide it. Hence in rhetorical fashion Paul asks, “Has Christ been divided?”[44] Yet now, more than 1800 years later, the Body is certainly divided. And these divisions signify a failure of the Church in its quest to be “made whole.”

Paul wants the Church to be united in the same mind, and this mind is the mind of Christ.[45] Thus, throughout his work he criticizes those who rely on human wisdom and are led to boast and judge others. Now, returning to the debate that tore my family’s church apart, it seems as though the two sides that rose up against each other—“ liberal universalism” and “orthodox literalism”— both failed to follow Paul’s commands.

The liberal faction privileged their own human reason and the contemporary wisdom of the world over the scriptural text. Thus they claimed that they now know that men and women are equal and subsequently brushed Paul’s dictum under the rug by claiming that it was historically contingent and no longer applies. The orthodox literalists also embodied the same faults, although in mirrored opposition to the liberals. They too privileged their human reason, insofar as they claimed to know the “true” meaning of scripture. Thus they rejected the notion of gender equality in the Church and supported this argument by claiming that the plain sense reading of a few verses were what Paul really meant, thereby ignoring the possibilities of intra-Scriptural interpretation.

To my understanding, during these debates, the Bible itself was rarely used. Rather, when it did play a role, it was used only for short citations in order to support arguments already in progress. Thus for example, our selected passage in 1st Timothy was used by the “literalist” side to argue for the “truth” of their position because “the Bible says it.” The liberals would then respond with arguments that appealed to reason, using examples from the past practices of the congregation. Thus they pointed out the fact that many women, including those with whom they were arguing, had been Sunday school teachers, music ministers, youth coordinators, etc. within the church in the past without problem. Additionally, having women fill these positions seems to violate the very same passages the literalists were citing. Tempers rose, and the judgments and denouncing began.

It is amidst the shouting of these two sides that we can hear the voice of Paul pleading with the church to submit to Christ, to stop claiming Christ’s authority, to listen and be silent. Do not presume to already know what the text says, “for who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”[46] Rather, the church should be unified in submission to the mind of Christ.

Yet how are we to know Christ’s mind? Paul tells us, “I have applied all this (not relying on human wisdom, claiming authority, and passing judgment) to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written,’ so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.”[47] In other words, read the scripture together, and do so with a fully submissive disposition. Do not impose your teaching on it, but rather submit to its authority. In accordance with Paul’s recommendation for the Corinthian church, give each person a chance to speak when they wish and allow adequate time for interpretation. And most importantly, “Let all things be done for building up”[48]; your motivation should be for the benefit of the Body.


[1] 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (all biblical citations are from the NRSV translation unless otherwise stated)

[2] “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well” (Romans 16:1-2).

[3] C.F. Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

[4] 1 Timothy 2:14.

[5] See 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and Romans 5: 12-21, in which Paul writes “Death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam…” (Romans 5: 14).

[6] Romans 5:14.

[7] Romans 5:17-18.

[8] Ephesians 5:29-32.

[9] 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 (my italics).

[10] 1 Corinthians 2:16.

[11] “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them” (Romans 9:19).

[12] 1 Corinthians 4: 1.

[13] C.F. 1 Corinthians 3: 4.

[14] 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.

[15] See 1 Corinthians 12.

[16] John 14: 26; Jesus tells his apostles, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

[17] 1 Corinthians 2:13.

[18] Romans 8:26.

[19] 1 Corinthians 6:16 (my italics).

[20] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the Spirit we were all baptized into one body,— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.”

[21] See 1 Corinthians 12:14-25.

[22] See 1 Corinthians 12: 26-31.

[23] Romans 12: 4-8.

[24] 1 Corinthians 14:26.

[25] Ephesians 5:22-24.

[26] The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, ed. Michael Coogan et al. trans. Theodore Bergren et al., (Oxford University Press, 2001), NT 283n

[27] Ephesians 5: 25.

[28] Ephesians 25:26.

[29] 1 Corinthians 7:4.

[30] Ephesians 5:28.

[31] 1 Timothy 2:15.

[32] I choose to retain the Greek for this phrase because I think the translational debate between using the objective genitive and the subjective genitive is very significant for Pauline interpretation; however, within the confines of this paper I will not be able to discuss it in detail.

[33] 1 Corinthians 7: 26.

[34] The translation as “remembrance” seems to miss the significance of this word. While there is no direct analogue in English, anamnesis means something along the lines of a “re-calling,” “re-presenting,” or “re-actualizing” a thing in such a way that it is not so much regarded as being “absent” and in the past, but rather is itself presently operative by its effects.

[35] 1 Corinthians 10:17.

[36] See Romans 6 and 8.

[37] Galatians 3: 29.

[38] See Romans 11.

[39] See 1 Corinthians 7: 14.

[40] Though I do not have time to explore this issue, based on this, it would seem that the benefits of being one flesh with Christ are vicariously extended to spouses of one flesh with the Church members, even if the spouses, as individuals, are not members of the Church.

[41] Romans 8: 15-17.

[42] Romans 11: 25-26.

[43] 1 Corinthians 1:10.

[44] 1 Corinthians 1:13.

[45] 1 Corinthians 2:16.

[46] 1 Corinthians 2:16.

[47] 1 Corinthians 4:6.

[48] 1 Corinthians 14:26.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

Conclusion: Reasoning Inside and Outside of Eden

by Laura Eve Engel

As to why we may ask such demanding questions of the Genesis text, University of Virginia Professor Peter Ochs remarks: “We ask because we are not angels, being at the same time smarter and more sinful.”[1] This seems to suggest that scriptural reasoning is a specifically post-Eden task, that eating of the tree of knowledge of good and bad is what enables us to now raise these questions, with some hope of beginning to answer them together. But what is this task? To what end do we ask such questions? According to Ochs, the answer lies in interrupting what he calls the “dialectic of Modernity”[2] in academic and religious thinking —that is, a polar model of reasoning that suggests that when academic and religious thinking are added together, they encompass all possibilities. The task of scriptural reasoning then becomes “to transform polar opposites into dialogical pairs —but not to replace them with some purported union of the two,”[3] pairs that when added together may encompass many possible options, but certainly not all. After our encounter with scriptural reasoning, this task seems familiar: in our intensive group reading, we demanded questions of the text where it seemed weakest, not in order to propose and then agree upon one or two ways in which to interpret the text, but to increase the possibility of varied interpretation by widening the gaps until they could be filled by all of us in some form.  In doing this, we broke down the notion of the either/or dialectic. This journal issue alone presents four related but varied ways of examining the text of Genesis 2 –- 3. We do not propose any overarching solutions to the problems within the text, but we have exhibited an ability to work together to put pressure on the fissures that exist within the text, until they are open to all of us to interpret.

Beyond its responsibility to break down this dialectical approach to reading and interpreting, scriptural reasoning is also an attempt to bring our reasoning together as members of three Abrahamic faiths with an eye toward healing.  The group setting in and of itself promotes healing, as it increases one’s awareness of others, and through discussion largely increases the level of respect with which one views dissimilar (if not opposing) viewpoints. In this journal issue, the articles gravitated naturally towards thoughts of healing, each of us concerned with how to bring interpretation into the modern world, to correspond with a desire for increased compassion and understanding. Leah’s response to healing reminds one of physics: where there is emptiness, there is an “equal and opposite source for filling it,”[4] which she suggests is a means by which we may all heal the world. Matt’’s notion of free will outside the garden also has healing implications, in that it speaks to the responsibility of the free willing individual to use that will in a positive way. This parallels well with A.J.’s notion of Adam and Eve tilling and tending the world as having been God’’s intention all along; God provides Adam and Eve with a model of compassion in a world that needed minimal tilling and tending before sending them out to cultivate society and tend to the problems that arise from it. Peter begins his article wishing to respond to a specific problem that produced a rift in his church community, and interprets New Testament scripture through the verses in Genesis 2 -– 3, in light of a desire to repair that rift. As a scriptural reasoning group, healing was on our minds and came through in our articles, and I would like to suggest that at least some of that common focus can be attributed to the process: that group reasoning increases one’s awareness of a diversity of ways to examine the text and, on a larger scale, the diversity of human beings. Sharing this process of reading scripture with others helps to emphasize the rifts as well as similarities that exist among individuals, which in turn can draw out rifts and similarities that exist on a grander scale. After navigating these full and empty spaces together, we are better equipped to tackle them outside of the scriptural reasoning group, doing what we can to draw on the energy that exists in those full spaces to repair the world.

Before Eve eats the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, she allows the snake to reason with her. The snake says: “You are not going to die, but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad.”[5] Eve considers this, likely weighing the information Adam conveyed against what she sees and hears with her own senses. When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took its fruit and ate.”[6] These lines seem to describe a reasoning process consisting of several premises: one, the tree is good for eating, that is, the fruit must be ripe; two, the tree is “a delight to the eyes”, that is, it must be visually attractive; three, that the tree is a desirable source of wisdom; and four, implicitly, that wisdom is desirable and good. All things considered, Eve reasons that it is good to eat the fruit, and does. She uses processes similar to that of scriptural reasoning in order to reason her way to the fruit. In The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning, Peter Ochs states, “God alone creates. We must not say this lightly, but we must say it: if SR is to guide us out of this century of destruction and out of the moribund structures of modernity, then SR must be infused with a divine spirit.”[7] If to create is divine, then it is fitting that we echo Eve’’s reasoning process towards eating the fruit of divine knowledge. And if, in fact, it was God’’s intention for Adam and Eve to eat the fruit so that they might enter the world for which Eden had been a training ground, it is through this process of reasoning that Adam and Eve are able to enter that world and begin to till and tend it. It also seems that through scriptural reasoning, we are able to construct, through a series of premises, logical conclusions that may vary but are all in a sense true in their loyalty to the text. These premises lead us to conclusions that send us out of our isolated communities and into the world, to begin the process of healing and repairing. We are, in a sense, evicting ourselves from a complacency that comes from not examining the text in this way, in order to pursue something far greater and more challenging.


[1] Ochs, Peter.  “The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning.”  The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning.  Vol. 2 No. 1, May 2002.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sievers, Leah.  Genesis 2:2-3: The Filling and Emptying of Literal and Imaginative Spaces.

[5] Genesis 3:4-5.

[6] Genesis 3:6.

[7] Ochs, Peter.  “The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning.”  The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning.  Vol. 2 No. 1, May 2002.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

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