The Lost World of Genesis: 6 – The Meaning of ‘the Fall’

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” ~ Genesis 3:16-19

How we interpret ‘the Fall’ in the context of Darwinian evolution remains one of the major challenges of theology (to me at least). What is the meaning of ‘the Fall’? Is it about original sin? How did it affect the whole of creation? When God said ‘you will surely die’, did He mean a physical or spiritual death?

Creationist interpreters often link ‘the Fall’ to the beginning of physical death and the onset of predator-prey relationships (animals were all vegetarians prior to that), the rise of diseases etc. But we know from the fossil record that death, suffering, illness, and disease occurred long before homo sapiens ‘arrived’ on the Earth.

As some theologians surmise, can ‘the Fall’ be interpreted as a symbol of our broken relationship with God, other human beings and the rest of creation? Thus ‘the Fall’ is no longer viewed as a single event involving a single couple, but describes the condition of humanity since the emergence of consciousness or our ability to make choices. Perhaps, it describes the failure of humanity to overcome our natural instincts. Some view it as the beginnings of humanity’s disconnect with creation, our failure to fulfill our duty as stewards and image-bearers, causing the whole of creation to suffer. What does it then say about the nature of God, when creation had to go through so much suffering and pain before Homo sapiens?

This is one topic that I would love to explore further. I’ve set my sights on a couple of books which may provide some thoughtful discussions, i.e. Peter Enn’s Evolution of Adam, Charles Foster’s the Selfless Gene and John Haught’s Making Sense of Evolution.

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One thought on “The Lost World of Genesis: 6 – The Meaning of ‘the Fall’

  1. What if the fall actually was “a single event involving a single couple”? What if the fall specifically (and sin more generally) was covenantal language describing a pivotal moment in redemptive history, such that “the fall” is about the first Adam becoming a covenant-breaker (set in contrast to the last Adam being a covenant-keeper)? Obviously, given evolutionary history, Adam and Eve were not the first human beings, but isn’t that a separate issue at any rate?

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