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BIG DUMMIES OF THE BIBLE
By Stephen M. Miller
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Stephen M. Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneADAM AND EVE
God gave this couple only one law to obey, but it was one law too many.
Humanity's first couple made just one dumb decision, as far as the Bible says. But it was a paradise show-stopper.
No other dumb decision in human history can match it for the trouble it caused. In fact, the Bible in a nutshell is the story of God working his plan to undo the damage.
"You may eat the fruit from any tree in the garden," God had told Adam and Eve, who were basking in Eden's perfect glory. "But you must not eat the fruit from the tree which gives the knowledge of good and evil. If you ever eat fruit from that tree, you will die!" (Genesis 2:16-17). There you have it-before the Ten Commandments there was only one, and this was it.
As it turns out, it was one commandment too many.
A Sin to Chew on
Creation's story is full of mystery. There are many more questions than answers. And one of a landslide of questions is why God didn't want Adam and Eve eating fruit that gives the knowledge of good and evil. Scholars don't know, but they love to guess.
One theory is that "good and evil" represents wisdom that comes with maturity, which prepares us for independence and our emerging sexual awareness. Adam and Eve were like children who weren't ready for any of that. In time, God would have let them eat the fruit of that tree, but this wasn't the time. They weren't ready. In the same way that eight-year-old girls shouldn't be having babies and eight-year-old boys shouldn't be driving Saabs down the boulevard, Adam and Eve had no right eating the forbidden fruit. That's one theory.
For whatever reason God prohibited the fruit, humanity's first couple got duped into eating it. A talking snake-identified in Revelation 20:2 as the devil-assured Eve, "You will not die. God knows that if you eat the fruit from that tree, you will learn about good and evil and you will be like God!" (Genesis 3:4-5).
Eve took a long, hard look at the fruit. It certainly seemed like it would be tasty. So she ate some, and then she gave some to Adam, who also ate it.
Insight of some sort poured into them, because they suddenly realized they were naked. So they made themselves some clothes out of leaves.
It's too bad most of us don't read Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament. We miss a lot of subtle symbolism and some entertaining wordplay. Readers in ancient times might have laughed out loud at the wordplay here. Adam and Eve wanted to get as smart as God-they desired to be "shrewd" but they ended up "nude." From smarty pants to no pants at all.
Some of us have nightmares like that. We're standing front and center before a crowd of lofty dignitaries in a place of great honor, only to discover to our horror that we're as naked as a plucked jaybird. If we're lucky we have a briefcase, because we know how to use it.
Adam and Eve had fig leaves-nearly footlong fans that were among the largest tree leaves in the Middle East. In God's eyes, though, they were overdressed because wearing anything at all meant they had more to hide than body parts.
Good-Bye Eden, Good-Bye God
"The Fall" is what many call the sin of Adam and Eve. Their world collapsed.
Some politicians and high-profile business execs caught in scandals manage to ruin their careers, dishonor their families, and devastate their health. But they produce only a tiny ripple in a pond compared to the Kilimanjaro-high tidal wave that Adam and Eve unleashed on the planet.
In the beginning, God created. Sometime thereafter, Adam and Eve redecorated. What they did, however, was no more an improvement than slicing a tattoo into the flesh of God's finest masterpiece or spray-painting graffiti onto the towering walls of the Grand Canyon. Adam and Eve not only uglied up their own lives, but they uglied up the entire world.
The Sin That Damaged Creation
Theories don't get very far in trying to make sense of how the sin of Adam and Eve changed God's good creation for the worse and how their sinful tendency seems to pass along so effectively from one generation to the next-perpetuating the damage.
Perhaps there's something genetic about this "original sin" or "sinful nature," some theologians have speculated. Others declare this is nonsense, arguing that if the problem is physical, we'll someday be able to fix it ourselves. But it's a spiritual problem, they insist, that intrudes into the physical world, and that only God can fix.
This much is clear: the utopian world that the Bible says existed before the feast on forbidden fruit is nothing like the harsh world described afterward-the world we know. And whether or not Adam and Eve passed along some mystical sin nature that connects us to their original sin, we've each sinned on our own. Plenty.
The Bible's main storyline is about God working to restore his good creation and to defeat sin. He washed the sinful world with a flood, saving the family of one righteous man, Noah. From Noah's ancestors, God chose righteous Abraham to become father of a nation devoted to him-a nation intended to serve as a model of goodness to the rest of the world. From that nation came his own son, Jesus, "who takes away the sin of the world"-at least for those who believe in him (John 1:29; 16:8-9). In the end, God promises, we will see "a new heaven and a new earth.... God's presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people ... and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone" (Revelation 21:1, 3-4).
Just as God once walked with Adam and Eve in a paradise, the time is coming when he will walk with his people again-creation restored, sin and its painful side effects gone.
Booted from Eden
Before deporting Adam and Eve from the Eden paradise, God arranged for the couple to trade in their fig leaves for clothes he made from animal skins. This is the first time the Bible speaks of animals dying because of the sins of humans-perhaps a predecessor of animal sacrifices yet to come.
"The man has become like one of us," God said. "He knows good and evil. We must keep him from eating some of the fruit from the tree of life, or he will live forever" (Genesis 3:22). Adam and Eve had apparently been allowed to eat fruit from this tree-until now. But to keep them from living forever, "The LORD God forced the man out of the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken" (v. 23).
Losing Their Relationship with God
Worse than losing Eden, Adam and Eve lose God.
Nowhere else in Israel's ancient story preserved in the Bible does anyone seek Eden on a quest for the perfect place to live. But throughout Israel's history, God's people never stopped seeking him. They sought him at the national worship center. They searched for guidance from him through prophets, priests, and sacred writings. They called on him in prayer.
Even today, God's people still seek him. But now they do it with a promise from his son, Jesus: "Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will open for you" (Matthew 7:7). Relationship restored. Next up: walking in paradise. Before walking in paradise, however, we must live with the resulting consequences of the first couple's sin.
God imposes the consequences that the couple brought on themselves, starting with Eve. "I will cause you to have much trouble when you are pregnant, and when you give birth to children, you will have great pain. You will greatly desire your husband, but he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16).
The word translated "pain" is a rare one in the Bible, and it seems to mean more than physical pain. Other words from the same root are often translated as worry, agony, and grief. Even in our modern world of drug-laced, high-tech medical care, pregnancy is all of that-along with physical pain.
God's added sentence that women will be ruled by their husbands is debated hotly enough to bake bricks that you could throw later. Some argue that women should obey their husbands, much like a slave obeys a master. "Just do it."
But in the context of childbirth, God's provision for continuing the species after death enters the landscape, others argue that male dominance refers to a woman's desire to have children. This powerful desire puts her in a position to be dominated by her husband, who may not share the same compelling desire for a family.
But this wasn't God's original plan-the plan that got distorted by sin. God created Eve as Adam's "helper" (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew word also means partner or companion. It's a word used to describe God: "Our hope is in the Lord. He is our help, our shield to protect us" (Psalm 33:20).
Eve was no more a gofer for Adam than God was for Israel. They worked together in a healthy relationship until sin got in the way.
"You listened to what your wife said, and you ate fruit from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat," God told Adam. "So I will put a curse on the ground, and you will have to work very hard for your food" (Genesis 3:17).
Farmers know all too well that thorns and weeds grow much better than most crops. You almost have to coax up a crop, against its better judgment. But weeds need no encouragement. They come to watch the coaxing and to entertain themselves by strangling the crops when farmers' backs are turned.
Return to the Dust
"You must not eat the fruit from the tree which gives the knowledge of good and evil. If you ever eat fruit from that tree, you will die!" (Genesis 2:17).
Some scholars say God wasn't talking about physical death, since Adam lived to the ripe old age of 930. They argue that God was talking about spiritual death-separation from God, a bit like the isolation that King Saul later experienced after God rejected him. Prophet Samuel refused to meet with Saul anymore. As far as Samuel was concerned, Saul was dead (1 Samuel 15:35).
Most scholars, however, see physical death in God's threat, and certainly in the sentence that God later imposed on Adam and Eve: "You will return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust" (Genesis 3:19).
It's quite possible, these scholars say, that God intended humanity to live forever, enjoying fruit from the tree of life. But sin changed all that. The apostle Paul later wrote, "Sin came into the world because of what one man did, and with sin came death. This is why everyone must die-because everyone sinned" (Romans 5:12).
But God began working his plan. "As one sin of Adam brought the punishment of death to all people, one good act that Christ did makes all people right with God. And that brings true life for all" (v. 18).
What's "true life"? Jesus makes this as obvious as a hunk of fruit dangling from a tree never again forbidden: "Whoever hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life"(John 5:24).
Adam and Eve made the dumbest mistake in human history. But it's nothing God can't fix.
No Question Is a Dumb Question
1. Bible experts can only guess about why God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Some think the couple wasn't mature enough and that God would have let them eat it when they were ready. What do you think?
2. Adam and Eve knew it was wrong to eat the fruit, but they did it anyhow. Humans ever since have been doing the same: they know something is wrong, but they do it anyhow. Why do you think people do that? Did the sin of Adam and Eve somehow reprogram humanity, tilting them so they lean into sin? If so, how do some people manage to get reprogrammed, so they lean toward God and goodness?
3. If you could talk to the boy in the feature "Knowing When to Say No," what would you say to him? What would you say to the girl? From what you know about Christian teenagers today, whose action better reflects the typical Christian: the boy or the girl? Do you agree that the boy's response is one piece of evidence that God's plan to reclaim creation and overpower sin is working?
4. One of the fallouts of the Fall is that women became dominated by men. Is that adequate reason for a husband to impose his will on a wife and to insist that he's the leader of the household? Or is that fallout's connection to sin a reason to do the opposite and to treat a wife as an equal? Paul advised husbands and wives to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21). At what point does submission have to end-when a man or a woman has to put a foot down?
5. "Living Forever" talks about people having an innate sense of immortality. Do you have a sense at the level of your instincts that assures you that you're built to live forever? What about the story of Dr. Paul Brand's dying friend, who had a deathbed vision of Jesus? What do you think of stories like that?
Learning from Adam's and Eve's Mistake
Knowing When to Say No
As a father of teenagers, I know many of my children's teenage friends quite well, some of them for years. When one of those boys stopped dating a girl he had been seeing for several weeks, I asked him why. The boy, a sixteen-year-old Christian, paused. I imagine he was trying to decide whether or not to tell me. Finally he said, "She doesn't have any boundaries." "How so?" I asked. He said that when they were sitting alone together at her house, watching TV, she took the arm he rested on her shoulder and pulled it down, placing his hand on her breast. He said he pulled his hand away and put it in his pocket. The young man said he broke off the dating because he didn't think the relationship could be the same after that. He didn't think he could handle the temptation, knowing that she was OK with that level of intimacy. I was stunned. When I was a kid, most of the boys I knew considered hand on breast as a goal, not a foul. Had this teenage boy been Adam, I can't imagine him biting into the forbidden fruit. This boy, it seems to me, is one solid piece of evidence that God's plan to reclaim creation and overpower sin is actually working.
Learning from Adam and Eve's Mistake
Mr. and Mrs. Who's Boss?
When I was in a young adult Sunday school class back in my college days, I remember one particular class session. A young married woman with one of the best singing voices in the church began to cry. She said she believed the Bible was telling her to let her husband be lord of the house. And this lord didn't like her going to church. I saw her much less after that day. My mom, however, was a different bird. After she got saved in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, she told Dad that God would always be first in her life but that Dad would be right there in second place. "I can live with that," Dad said. But Dad didn't like Mom's going to church every Sunday. Some Sundays, Mom and the four small kids she had at the time (another came later) walked about a mile to church, even in the Northeastern Ohio winter. She didn't have her Ohio driver's license yet, and Dad thought that by refusing to drive her to church she wouldn't go. Dad still had a few things to learn about Mom. The Bible's teaching about husband-wife relationships gets argued a lot-sometimes with loud voices. Some readers say that wives should defer to their husbands. Others say that advice like that was more culturally appropriate for ancient patriarchal times, when men were the leaders and women weren't even allowed to own property. God made man and woman partners, to help each other. Yet in Paul's famous advice to husbands and wives, he tells women to submit to their husbands and he tells husbands to love their wives. All of his advice, however, follows this introduction: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). The lord of the house is the Lord.
Excerpted from BIG DUMMIES OF THE BIBLE by Stephen M. Miller Copyright © 2007 by Stephen M. Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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