Hello Henning, nice you could make it to this interview. It is quite late, after all – I mean, its 1:30 a.m.
Yes, no worries. Glad to have this interview.
So, to bottom-line your view, you are basically saying that the Garden of Eden narrative gives us an imagery of man’s role and purpose and his relationship with his creator, correct?
…yes, and should best be read in this light and not so much in the literal sense. That does not mean that I am doubting a historical Adam. But I am saying that relating the Eden narrative primarily to a historical figure and not to one self leads the reader away from the profound meaning of the early chapters of Genesis and not towards it.
That’s a heavy statement
A number of contradictions or irregularities in the text point us in the direction to best interpret the text metaphorically.
We all know the issue with Kain’s wife – where did she come from if Kain roamed the earth with the mark that God had given him and the only people on earth would have been his parents and potentially his brothers and sisters?
But more comes to mind. In Genesis 1 God creates the heavens and the earth and in verse 27 God then creates man in his own image, as male and female he creates them and in verse 3 of Genesis 2 this storyline ends and there we could now move on to the two trees asf. but instead of doing that Genesis 2:4 actually goes back chronologically and the author has man being created, again (out of the dust) when the land was still barren. Then he has God create the beasts of the field (out of the ground) and then Eve (out of Adam’s rib). To me the first two chapters read an awful like someone just put two ancient oral traditions, who were known at the time, together and put them in one book without tidying them up so that they fit. In religious science the documentary hypothesis differentiates between four groups of authors to the Torah two of which, the Yahwists and the Priests have contributed to the creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2.
In addition, in chapter 1 man and woman read like they are created as equals: God creates man in his own image, as male and female he creates them.
In chapter 2 woman is taken out of man and a helpmate to him and not equal to him.
In light of these and many other irregularities in the first chapters I feel a lot more comfortable to read them metaphorically and not literally.
Hold on a second. Is the woman equal to the man or not equal?
I honestly believe, and I think scripture shows this, that woman and man are equals in the way God created them.
Look at this image found in Genesis 2 for instance. God planted the tree of life in Eden. He also created many other trees in Eden but he also planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden. God tells man, go ahead and eat of every tree in the garden, including the tree of life. But don’t eat of the other tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But ALL the other trees you can eat of. What are the many trees in the garden an image for if not the bounty of God’s providence in this world. Did God say, man you can eat of all of these trees but woman, uhum, you can only eat of the few trees in this corner of the garden over there? I’d hardly think so.
Okay, can I go back to the point you are raising that the Creation and Garden story are best read metaphorically. So, you are not a Creationist then, I take it?
um, no. I do believe in intelligent design, though.
On that note, Creationists can’t argue their own case. They are content with arguing that Evolutionists cannot fully prove their’s. If you push a creationist to state what he believes he will eventually have to say that he believes that mankind is roughly 6,000 years old and began with a literal Adam. That would place the beginning of all of mankind at approximately that time when the City of Jericho was already 6,000 years old and developed civilizations spread across the Globe from Central- and South America to England and Europe, Egypt, particularly Palestine and the Mesopotamia/Euphrates Region, the Indus Region, the Yellow River and South-East Asia. Adam must have lived roughly 3,000 years after the Turks domesticated cattle and 1,000 years after the Egyptians had a 365 days and 12 months calendar and roughly around the time when the Sumerians invented glue.
In order to debunk what the Creationist, usually a US-American Protestant, believes, one must not try to find the missing link between monkey and man. One must simply use evidence of intelligent man at any year prior to 4,000 B.C.
So, Henning, what is the purpose of using the bible at all, if you pick and choose what you wish to take literally and what you prefer to understand metaphorically?
I am interested in growing in my faith. But faith is not based on facts. Facts don’t help you grow in your relationship with your God. Faith is more than just believing something to be true that you cannot see with your literal eyes. Faith has something to do with actively trusting in God. Like Love. For love to be love it takes more than just liking someone. It is an active term, you cannot separate the feeling from the action. In fact for love to be love you have to love so much that you put your own needs below the needs of the person you love and you act upon that. The Faith that saves is an active and dynamic trust relationship with the thing or person you put that trust in.
well, then trust God actively and read scripture and understand it literally, no?
In my opinion, people who feel motivated by a dogma to read the bible litereally need this for their faith journey at this time, or perhaps all their lives. However, if I really trust God personally, I can trust him to have a personal relationship with me to which scripture is an important tool to support that relationship. But it is not a biology book or an anthropology book. But this is how the literalist reads scripture. They want to have the answers. They want to know, even if it means they know the wrong thing.
I believe that the person who uses scripture with an eye on their faith relationship with God will greatly profit from it as opposed to someone who prefers to use scripture without an eye of faith but rather knowledge. However, someone who does read scripture with the eye of faith may very well consider it true without minding its literal meaning at all. I can read Genesis, consider it true, even consider it scripture, learn from it and still not disregard scientific evidence on pre-adamic races or that Adam may have had a belly button.
So, do you believe that Adam existed, then?
But he was not the first man?
He was not the first Homo Sapiens, no. But I believe that scripture uses him to teach us one of the most important lessons. The role and purpose of mankind, his relationship with God and it points to the need of a savior. And it does so right at its beginning which I find really intriguing.
…the need of a savior? In Genesis? explain.
Well, first of all, were Adam and Eve to remain separated from the Garden of Eden forever after they partook of the wrong fruit? The story does not have a happy ending. They are put in exile, one of their sons kills the other one and they go on living in the dark and dreary world with thorns and thistles and eating bread from the sweat of their brow for the rest of their lives until they die.
If we read Genesis literally we may believe that this is the case. However, if we read the Eden narrative metaphorically and apply this to us we might read something fundamentally different into this and perhaps profit from this literature in a greater way.
If I read the narrative metaphorically and from a christological perspective I read that Christ is God, the very person they interacted with in the Garden. He is the Creator and superior to the angels with a flaming sword (divine justice) he has put East of the garden to protect the way to the tree of life (the eternal life God can give).
Secondly, Adam introduces the practice of animal sacrifice some time after he is expelled from the Garden. In the bible we read that Cain and Abel are the first to perform the ritual of sacrifice but it makes sense to assume that Adam was taught this practice and the meaning behind it. We know from New Testament how the practice of sacrifice is being understood, correct? As pointing toward the divine sacrifice of God himself becoming the lowest of men to be sacrificed by the very people he came to save in order to satisfy the demands of justice. What is Adam trying to accomplish by sacrificing animals if not pointing toward the only means that would enable him to get right with God after his sin? It is pointing to Jesus.
Thirdly, man is made in God’s image. Many protestant Christians interpret this to mean as God is Triune (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) so Man is Triune (Spirit, Soul and Body). I have no issue with this interpretation. For the religion of my upbringing this wouldn’t work, though, because to them Man consists only of Body and Spirit the combination of the two is the Soul.
But in order to grasp the Christological message of Genesis fully, one must go back and look at the Garden narrative as a whole. May I?
Of course, go ahead.
Okay. Let us first look at the dualisms in the Garden Narrative.
– we have God, we have Satan
– we have good and evil
– we the two trees who represent life (God’s will) and knowledge of Good and Evil (my will)
– we have obedience and disobedience
– the snake can bite the heal, man can crush the head
– we have Eden and the fallen world
The writer of the scripture uses these dualisms to show us the difference between God’s ways and our ways. Man who follows his own natural instincts has nothing in common with God’s.
If I read Genesis not as a historical text but something that speaks to me I can read about my personal creation; my personal relationship with God in the way God has created me as good, i.e. in the Eden state; my fallen nature based on my decisions, i.e. in the fallen world state and so forth.
God himself bridges this gap through his love, in Christ.
Can you give me an example of how the Eden story is read literally and how it is read with the eye of faith as you say?
If you read Genesis literally you read the following:
God creates man from the earth.
God creates woman from a rib in man’s side.
There is no death in paradise and no dualism between good and evil and no bearing of children.
Adam and Eve take a fruit (like an apple) from an actual tree even though God says, don’t do it.
God now gives Adam and Eve some leather clothes (Genesis says a skin) and punishes both by ordering them out of the garden and into exile in the lone and dreary world. Now they can have babies because before they couldn’t.
sounds rather familiar. The speculation on the fruit, for instance, has carried through the centuries…
If I read Genesis with an eye of Faith I personally read the following:
God has created me and I am originally good when I live in harmony with God, trusting him. Physical death exists but has no meaning in the Eden state. Life is full of bounty and riches that God has given me to enjoy regardless of how much I actually have, today. God also grants me free access to his life that he freely gives as much as I am willing to receive.
But God also gives me the free will to choose to follow not his will but mine, to determine what is good and what is evil myself. If I do that then I am separated from God and his divine life. Man then changes his view. He chooses to become a God unto himself and to live without God. The world subsequently becomes not a part of myself in harmony with God that I have stewardship over. But it instead becomes something that I become a victim of or something that I exploit and that becomes a victim of me. God’s justice now separates me from his divine life.
So, in your opinion, man is created good and not as inherently evil like religion has you believe?
I believe so, yes.
What about the trees, can you expound on them a bit further?
Yes, they are at the core of the entire meaning of the Eden narrative.
There are three kinds of trees, the trees in the Garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
This story is so unbelievable if understood literally it forces itself on you as containing metaphorical meaning. The meaning given by means of these trees is so strong and rich like only sacred scripture can be.
A tree has a root, a stem, branches, leaves and fruit. A tree is a living thing and is very often used in scripture as symbol, metaphor or as teaching object.
Like the allegory of the olive tree in the Book of Mormon or when Jesus curses the fig tree…
Exactly, or particularly in Lehi’s and Nephi’s dream in the Book of Mormon. A tree serves as a really good object of metaphorical illustration because by nature of its being a tree is nurtured from the soil it is planted in, it has roots which can go deep or shallow, the stem acts as symbol for strength or weakness and as a means of transportation of substances from the soil and the roots through to the branches and fruits. The branches act as a symbol for the spread of what the tree symbolizes, they reach out, geographically or in meaning and they diversify. The leaves act as a symbol of the life of the tree and its vibrance or the lack thereof, the leaves give the tree bounty and colour, they breathe. The fruits are an expression of what we can see, taste, feel, we take the fruit in and it nourishes us or harms us. The fruit is the core of all that the tree is made of whether it be good or bad.
We have already briefly discussed the many trees in the garden which represent the bounty of God’s providence for us. All trees are for our benefit and we are free to choose them. In the way God has intended for us we are free to choose our profession, our hobbies, the things that interest us and what we wish to participate in. God does not differentiate between gender or race when he offers this to us. He also does not limit our agency to choose between the fruit of one tree over the other as long as we don’t partake of the fruit of that one single tree in the garden. We are still free to choose that tree as well but we will have to suffer the consequences. But other than that, the way God intended this for us, everyone is free to choose one path or the other without having to be afraid of his judgment.
That is some profound message and as trivial as it seems, if I may say so, it is hard to believe that this info is right at the beginning of the Old Testament and has been for some 3,000 years or longer and who knows how long that allegory has been in oral tradition prior to that…
Yes, think of all the parts of the world where even today religion is being used to discriminate someone else in the name of God, particularly woman, to have less of a right to the bounties of creation than the group that makes the rules for their own benefit.
The other two trees, the way Genesis 2 and 3 are written, seem in opposition with each other. However, in a surprising way. On the one side we have God’s Tree of Life. One would assume that the other were named the Tree of Death but it isn’t, even though that is what that tree may eventually mean for the individual. Instead, it is called Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the person who partakes of it „shall surely die“. So, why is life put in opposition to knowing good and evil? Because scripture is trying to teach us what it is that brings about death and that is to choose to decide for myself what I determine as good or evil or what is right and what is wrong.
So God grants me two things. He grants me pure, eternal and genuine life and he grants me the freedom to not regard this gift of life but to instead regard my own will. Notice that I didn’t say disregard his gift. Man simply regards the other.
If I do the latter, what this does is that I am King, not God. I determine my own destiny. I refuse to be granted anything. I choose to take, instead. I say to myself, this is no fruit that brings death, it brings me power, the power to choose for myself; I will not ask for wisdom and remain naked – vulnerable – by having to trust anyone, even God. No, I am ashamed to be so naive and powerless. I will clothe myself, take the mind God has given me and use it. I know what’s right or wrong and I will make my own rules as I go.
So, in essence we are told, by partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil we are de-throning God and take seat ourselves. We are now our own gods and there is no one who can tell us anything.
That is at least how I read this image of the two trees.
So, does this go further? I mean, what then are the branches and the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?
Yes, and particularly what is the root and the stem of the tree… First, we must see that both trees are rooted in the same ground, i.e. God’s creation, the earth. God has created both, he is above and beyond both trees. But despite the fact that both trees are God’s creation, one he gives freely and the other one he does not. That, in order to be obtained must be taken. And that is against the will of the creator.
People say that the root of all evil is money. But that proverb may be misplaced here. I personally believe that the root of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is pride and out of pride grows unbelief which is the stem.
The core of all values that saves us is faith but faith itself is rooted in a willingness to accept someone else’s authority, and in order to do that one must be humble. If I am humble, I can trust someone and if I trust someone I am ready to accept whatever that person has for me. I can accept their free gift that is good and so my faith grows. Pride and Humility are roots to opposing trees. Out of pride grows unbelief. Out of humility grows faith.
Also, pride and unbelief are no fruits, they are the hidden causes of everything else that can grow out of them, even fear or the unwillingness to lose control and to let go.
Despite the fact that pride and unbelief are rooted in God’s creation they do not make the connection between creation and creator. They lead to worshiping the creation over the creator. Pride and unbelief then exploit creation according to the rules made by myself. That ultimately leads to the ultimate detriment or spiritual death of self. Pride is the root of all evils in scripture, not money.
Yes, what does grow out of pride and unbelief? What is the fruit of tree of knowledge of good and evil?
Well, it’s no apple.
Or Adam and Eve breaking the word of wisdom or the law of chastity as is often supposed by people who perhaps mean well but who might not quite get it.
Do they not get it or do they simply choose to take scripture literally?
Okay, point for you. But how can they? By reading the Eden narrative literally it contradicts its own logic as we have already shown. Is woman equal to man or not? Did Kain marry his sister? Did God create plants before he created the sun and the moon?
I can read this and not see an issue. The literalist will have close their eyes, shut their ears and stick their head in the sand.
But back to your question, what grows out of root and stem of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It est, what grows out of pride and unbelief. Well, all manner of iniquity I should say. But some might surprise us, such as religiousness, such as ways that seem right or even good works.
But out of pride and unbelief also grow exploitation of many kind, adultery, lying, hate, indifference, wrath, fear, murder, sexual promiscuity, self-rightousness, idolatry, witchcraft and so on and so forth. Many fruits of my own personal god-hood are obvious. Others are not that obvious, as I said, like good works, religiousness and humanism and other man-centered philosophies.
Why are good works bad?
Well, a good work is bad if God says its bad. If you are an agnostic humanist and you hear such a statement that makes you cringe. But look at it, how much evil is done on earth by people who believe they are doing a good thing? Their misperceptions of reality or of what is true motivates them to do very terrible things. They believe they do their people or the world a favor if they kill you or deny you their rights. Or they lie for the Lord as we know from the history of the religion I come from, when they said they abandoned polygamy when in reality they didn’t stop to perform plural marriages for at least another 30 years.
Many good works become bad if they are done for the wrong motive. Like Jesus taught, we should put our light out there for all to see so that they see our works and praise God. But on the other hand we are told we should not do good works so that they are seen, like when we give to charity. Both deeds may accomplish the same thing. But the motive is fundamentally different. In the first case honor is given where it is not expected. In the other case honor is taken.
The other area in which good works are bad is where we think that they can appease God and get us saved. We are mistaken when we assume that God can be bribed or paid to give us his eternal life.
The idea of humanism is the golden rule. That is good. If you rule God out, then there is no alternative to humanism. But humanism also means to exalt man to god-hood to the point of rejecting all reference to a higher power of intelligence. Humanism openly rejects the Holy Spirit and wants nothing of it, in fact it is the antithesis of a relationship with the divine.
Give each enough time to develop and you will find that religion and humanism are of the same bad ilk. It is hardly possible to not conceive of a crime that is done in the name of human reason and with respect to man’s destiny as higher goal.
I agree that in a world without God humanism has no alternative. But to the person who has had their heart and soul changed through the Holy Spirit, to whom God and his love is real and who is cautious in dealing with religion in general, humanism is no option. A belief in a God who is Lord over man is the antithesis to humanism. The two greatly mirror the exact same picture that Genesis 2 and 3 are trying to convey.
Henning, this has been alot of input. Its almost midnight on Tuesday and we started this interview on Sunday morning at 1:30. Don’t you think we should call it a day for now?
yes, Henning, we better.
Okay, but one more question I do have for you to put a lid on this. What, in your opinion, is the purpose of man as you interpret this out of the Eden narrative?
As I see it, the bottom line is to step off the throne that belongs to someone else, that is the creator, God. I need to learn to trust him, have faith and let his voice in my heart and mind take lead. Scripture might give me much food for thought but without the Holy Spirit I still have no fruit of the tree of life. It takes God’s direct input to make the bible into scripture and to make scripture into truth and to make truth into life. I have seen it happen.
We can ask him to take over. Literally. He will. Someone will be surprised.