A Spirituality blog from our Community

The Expulsion from Paradise

Michelangelo's The Expulsion of Adam and Eve

This was our second session discussing the spiritual sense of Old Testament Scripture. In the first half we talked about definitions of myth and in the second we discussed Genesis chapter 3, the story which many Christians have called the ‘Fall of Man’. Interestingly Jews do not regard this as the Fall, but as only one of eight consecutive stories that together constitute the Fall.

Bearing in mind that this is a symbolic myth, we asked ‘how does it explain the unexplained (particularly the paradoxes of human existence), and what abstract ideas does it express in story form?’ I’ve put our responses under two headings, explanations of the world and explanations for religion.

1. Explanations of the World

Several features of the world are explained as having first arisen as punishments for humankind’s sinfulness.

  • That human life must die.
  • All the hard work of civilisation such as farming and making clothes (that we cannot live as isolated ‘noble savages’ as Rousseau advocated).
  • The paradox that we are so strongly tempted by things that are often bad for us.
  • The paradox that women have a strong desire for children despite the terrible pain of childbirth.
  • Patriarchy (male domination in the home and in society).

> Is it legitimating these things or merely trying to explain why they are the way they are?

If anything it is saying that things shouldn’t be that way as they would not be like that in a perfect world.

2. Explanations for Religion

  • From an existentialist reading of the text: the paradox that we must yearn and strive for a better world although we will always be stuck but stuck in imperfection. Perhaps it is emphasising that a perfect world is impossible?
  • Humankind has always been tempted by evil, so you are not alone if you are suffering from it.
  • One of the greatest evils is not taking responsibility for mistakes, and blaming others.
  • The state of sinfulness is often defined as separation from God. The text describes a measure of separation from God (from perfect communion in Eden), but this is not made very explicit. So we are not completely separated… God does not kill Adam and Eve- he even makes them clothes.
  • We may feel that God was lying when he said that the fruit would kill them and that the serpent was telling the truth when he said that it would not. But if we assume that God does not lie then this implies that what God was talking about was spiritual death, rather than just physical death. ‘Spiritual death’ is another important definition of the state of sinfulness.

> Why is God so worried about people being knowledgeable like him- isn’t that precisely what he wants of us by the end of the Bible?

Perhaps it means knowing specifically in one of it’s biblical senses of ‘controlling’, ‘having power over’? (Of course normally the biblical sense of ‘know’ is ‘to have intercourse with’.)

The problem is with pride in the sense of wanting to be God, to have God’s power, rather than wanting literally to be like God.


We went onto note that that the story in no way implies that Eve was more to blame than was Adam, although St. Paul seems to imply that she was- a thought which has historically been used to justify opression of women.

Finally we discussed sex/intercourse, or rather it’s complete absence from this story.  Churches have historically been so obsessed with sexual conduct that it seems that sex has often been projected onto the story when it isn’t there at all. Neither is there any form (sexual or non-sexual) of the ‘imputed blame’ kind of explication of the doctrine of Original Sin.


View the Next Part of Bible For Bluffers.

Comments on: "The Expulsion from Paradise" (2)

  1. Any mention of sex will be censored!! : p

  2. Article on the Fall and evolution, criticising Augustine’s version of the doctrine of original sin: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/dec/23/evolution-christmas-and-the-atonement

    Part of the reason that Augustine came to his bizarre view was that he wasn’t fluent in Greek and “incorrectly translated Romans 5:12 to say that the human race committed sin through Adam, and not merely because of Adam.” http://www.augnet.org/default.asp?ipageid=158

    In addition to being false, this had two major unfortunate effects on Christian history. Firstly it tied up sin with sexual intercourse in an unecessarily strong way. Secondly, it popularised the unchristian image of sin as a (positive) stain upon one’s soul acquired through immoral action, rather than as a (negative) lack of grace which separates one from full communion with the life of the divine. This latter is particularly unfortunate for the doctrine of original sin as it made it look like Christians were claiming that all infants were born guilty of immoral action which is clearly absurd.

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