The true meaning of the eating of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil presented to us in Genesis, chapter three, has troubled God’s people since the beginning of modern history. Prior to this act of disobedience, only partially human, upright bipedal hominids existed. The bible symbolically identifies these first pre-humans as Adam and Eve. Hominids, God’s very early human creatures, were innocent of sin because they were not yet fully human with a conscience and an understanding of the difference between right and wrong.
There were metaphorically two important trees at the center of the mythical Garden of Eden – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (immortality). Although in the third chapter of Genesis, God instructs Adam and Eve not to partake fruit from the tree of good and evil, they disobeyed God for the first time and ate the forbidden fruit. While God clearly objected to this act of disobedience, this symbolic act is the key to mankind reaching full maturity. Scriptures tell us – their eyes were opened and they realized who they were – and they were ashamed of their nakedness. God then said: “Man is now like God” – with intellect, a conscience and the ability to discern the difference between right and wrong.
Based on a traditional interpretation of scripture, God objected to Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience and “slapped their wrists” with several metaphorical penalties. They were ordered to leave the Garden of Eden – (it was time for mankind to move out into the real world) and also work and sweat at their labor (normal conditions for all responsible humans). Worries about birth pains seem superfluous since near humans had for thousands of years experienced birth pains.
If one reflects carefully on the Genesis story, it is obvious that any act of disobedience must be initiated by man for surely God would not initiate such an act. Throughout the history of mankind, imperfection, disobedience and rebellion against God have been the “Human Condition”. A positive interpretation of this historic event, outlined in detail in the third chapter of Genesis, represents mankind’s first act of adult thinking and choosing for the first time to exercise a free will.
To be made in the full image of God means (in part): Man became aware of his intellect, powers of reasoning and a sensitive conscience.
The early scriptures do not tell us if it was God’s plan to allow his pre-human creatures to become fully human. The scriptural wording seems to suggest that God temporarily resisted this evolutionary process. A more positive interpretation of Genesis three expresses a beautiful story of how humanity came into being. Man’s initial act of disobedience inaugurated and emancipated the human race.
Genesis three also reports that God chose to block mankind from partaking of fruit from the Tree of Life – that is to immediately allow man to gain eternal life – immortality. God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that the goal of attaining immortality must be a slow and life long struggle for humanity – not something man should gain instantaneously. The entire Old Testament presents mankind with a continuing struggle to gain eternal life which culminates with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The Christian theology of the western culture was to a large extent developed and presented to us through the writings of Bishop Augustine of Hippo. This great theologian gave us the terminology of: “Original Sin” and the “Genesis Fall of Mankind”. Neither of these ideas is mentioned in the Bible. Most modern biblical scholars discount the Augustine theory that every generation has biologically inherited the initial sin of Adam and Eve – their act of disobedience. They also object to Augustine’s conclusion that all unbaptized babies are doomed to hell!
It is true that fully human beings possessing a free will, can choose to act in accordance with God’s will or can select to perform ungodly acts. The existence of evil in the world is part of the “Human Condition”, but each person has the choice , every day, to choose to do good or evil. To agree with Augustine’s theory of “original Sin” tends to absolve mankind of the responsibility to exercise its God given right of free will.
Interpreting Scientific Information
This positive interpretation of the meaning of the events presented in Genesis, chapter three, matches well with our current scientific knowledge regarding the slow and gradual evolution of God’s primordial creatures. For at least the last four hundred years, anthropologists, archeologists, geologists and paleontologists, all over the world, have unearthed, dated and classified bones, skulls and fossils of pre-human (hominids). Several million years ago, hominid brain sizes were only 400cc according to scientific measurements of ancient skulls. Over long periods of time brain sizes developed and grew to 1000cc and finally at the dawn of humanity, Homo sapiens brains were 1450cc – about the same size as modern humans.
At this point in pre-history, evidence abounds that these nearly human upright, bi-pedal creatures were:
- Creating stone weapons and tools
- Cooking over fires
- Caring for their families
- Organizing into groups (tribes)
- Presenting creative art and pictures on walls
- Burying their dead with preparations for an after life
At some point in time, most experts believe between 6000BC and 10,000BC, God breathed his Holy Spirit into these evolved hominids and they became fully human. In Hebrew theology this marvelous act of God is identified as the “Neshama”. Man is fully whole – with a free will, a conscience and the capacity to discern the difference between right and wrong for the first time.
Understanding these scientific facts and believing in God’s messages expressed in metaphorical language through the stories of Adam and Eve, offers a giant leap in mans ability to blend scientific information with our holy scriptures.
There is no question that God created human – kind over eons of time using all of his laws of nature and bringing the culmination of his final acts to us through the beautiful stories in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. It is the most logical and inspiring explanation of God’s evolutionary processes that any educated student of the Bible could ever imagine!
This wonderful reconciliation of our current scientific knowledge, with God’s messages hidden in the book of Genesis, will greatly enhance our chances of attracting and keeping younger, educated Christians loyal to our traditional churches. More open and totally honest dialogues are needed by church leaders if this reconciliation is to be meaningful and supportive of God’s work through his churches.
Oh Lord, we pray, someday our church leaders will have the intellect, knowledge and courage to abandon misleading, traditional interpretations of Old Testament scriptures and thus strengthen the effectiveness of their Christian callings.