Adam, Eve & Eden; Literal or Figural?


#1

This question springs from the thread started by CLW001 which s/he titled “Mary vs. Adam and Eve”. CLW’s querry was answered, so I’ve decided to make this a new post.

A Christian all my life, I was received into the Catholic church three years ago. I have always held the belief that all humanity is descended from a single set of parents, Adam and Eve. This set of parents, unlike the rest of all created things, was created in the image and likeness of God. Excercising their free will, they chose to disobey the single “law” of the garden. Thus they fell, and the stain of that fall remains on the souls of each and every one of their decendants.

The story of the Fall begins in Genesis 2, and if you’ve ever wondered about “discrepancies” between this story and the first creation account in Genesis one, follow the following link (provided by Lazerlike in the above mentioned thread) which I found helpful in reconciling the differences between the two:

tektonics.org/jedp/creationtwo.html

As a protestant, whenever someone would promote the notion that Adam and Eve were not literal, I would pay them little mind. However, now that I’m Catholic, this matter has crept up on more than one occasion, the most troubling one to me was from the pulpit of my parish priest.

My question then, is not so much whether the story is literal or figural, but rather is where and when did the notion of a figural Eden arise?


#2

Hi, KimberCare.

I’m sorry if my posts played a role in “shaking you up.”

Just because the Adam and Eve story is figurative does not mean that we are not all descended from one set of parents.

However, do not forget why it is important that we are all descended from one set of parents: You provided half of the reason – we are of the line “made in the image and likeness of God.” The other half of the reason is that we are simultaneously made of sin-prone stuff, flesh, so that we need to be saved by the grace of the cross.

Monogenism – the doctrine that we are descended from one set of parents – is not itself a kind of “god,” something to “worship.” It is merely an important part of a much more important “equation” in theology.

Next, you ask where the story of Adam and Eve came from.

The important answer to that question is, “From God.” Beware: It does not follow that (a) because it is figurative (2) it is therefore worthless. That is simply not true. The story is from God, and it infallibly teaches infallible theology.

The trick is to see the theology in the story.

Very, very, very few people do.

For example, when God condemns the Satan serpent, He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” This is actually one of the several Christ foreshadowings in the Adam and Eve story. Allow me to add some material, to clarify how this is true…

*"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring **Jesus *and hers; He will strike at your head when His cross, which will defeat evil, pierces the dust at SKULL place, while you strike at his heel by causing nails to be pounded through His feet."

Here’s another one…

When God is condemning Adam, He says, “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you in the form of the CROWN OF THORNS, as you eat of the plants of the field by consuming BREAD AND WINE on Holy Thursday night. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat as you SWEAT BLOOD in the Garden of Gethsemane, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return when you are BURIED in that cave…”

Do you see what is going on? This was written long before the time of Jesus, yet God’s words are revealing the details of the Passion narrative!

So, just because it is figurative does not mean that it is not from God.


#3

My children are being taught in their conservative Catholic high school religion classes that Genesis is to be taken figuratively. I think they say the same for Revelations, but all other books are to be considered literal.

That doesn’t bother me a bit because the story of Adam and Eve tells so much about human nature.

Alan


#4

Perhaps its a little bit of both literal and figurative. Maybe Adam and Eve were the first human beings to have knowledge of their Creator and then subsequently blew it for the rest of us by disobeying Him. I take that part literally.


#5

There’s significant freedom within the Catholic Church… some simpl accept figurative interpretations of Gen 3, others (including myself) would be less reluctant to for theological reasons (death before the fall?).


#6

Well, in any case, it is required for Catholics to believe in a literal Adam and Eve (Though I guess you could say they were really named Fred and Ethyl or whatever you want, I’m not sure if the names are required). It is a part of the Magesterium in the form of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis.

vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html

As far as where the figurative idea came from, aside from what people have already said, I would say people who were spooked by evolution introduced it as a way to avoid evolution contradicting the Bible.


#7

Reading Mark Shea’s book *Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did *would be a great help for everyone who has asked this question. Truth is that Adam, Eve, and Eden are both literal and figurative, not one or the other. To see them as one or the other diminishes the fullness of the meaning behind the biblical account.


#8

Hello BibleReader,

I appreciate your concern, I wouldn’t say that I’m “shaken”, just finding it necessary to pursue a better understanding. I would have simply ignored you in the not-to-distant past. :slight_smile: “Just because the Adam and Eve story is figurative does not mean that we are not all descended from one set of parents.”

I do understand the figural language in the story, the beauty and depth it adds to the story is unmistakable. I also understand that there are many layers of meaning in this narrative, including the allusions pointing to Our Most Blessed Redeemer. What I want to understand why some find it necessary to reject the possibility of a literal explanation alongside the figural. Cannot both dwell together? :ehh:

Kim


#9

[quote=KimberClare]What I want to understand why some find it necessary to reject the possibility of a literal explanation alongside the figural. Cannot both dwell together? :ehh:
[/quote]

I am not sure as to why people choose to reject the literal interpretation. Indeed both the literal and figurative *do *dwell together. Perhaps some find it necessary to reject the literal explanation due to pressure from secular society that has been flooded with scientific theory which at times seems to be at odds with the creation account found in Genesis.


#10

Adventistnomore wrote:
There’s significant freedom within the Catholic Church… some simpl accept figurative interpretations of Gen 3, others (including myself) would be less reluctant to for theological reasons (death before the fall?).
Who died? :confused:


#11

The idea has been around quite a while. In St. Augustine’s City of God, book 13, chapter 21, he mentions that some take the story of Eden in only an allegorical sense. Though he replies:
These and similar allegorical interpretations may be suitably put upon Paradise without giving offence to any one, while yet we believe the strict truth of the history, confirmed by its circumstantial narrative of facts.


#12

The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to describe the first few chapters of Genesis as real historic events presented in symbolic language:

337. God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine “work”, concluded by the “rest” of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to “recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God.”

362. The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.

375. The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in…divine life”.

390. The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

396. God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” spells this out: “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom.


#13

The way I look at it, it is figural, and may be historical.

The historical accuracy is of little relevence to me; I’m much more interested in what it says about the nature of mankind, so I’d say that the figural meaning – which we know it has – is important.

The historical accuracy to me is really irrelevant in a practical sense, though I would never stand between two academics if they want to engage in slugging it out.

Really, I’d like to see the question raised more often Who Cares about evolution, creation, and the like, because bickering over that causes us disunity with fundies who might otherwise make better allies in the abortion arena if we weren’t always at odds with them. This is particularly true in Kansas where we’ve had internationally publicized Creation/Evolution wars within the last few sitting school boards. I’ve talked to a few fundy pro-life politicians, and I’ll say their stance on anti-evolution was so radical I actually fear these people for their rabid ideas. It’s embarrassing to be considered a part of the “religious right” alongside them when it comes to evolution.

Alan


#14

[quote=KimberClare]Hello BibleReader,

I appreciate your concern, I wouldn’t say that I’m “shaken”, just finding it necessary to pursue a better understanding. I would have simply ignored you in the not-to-distant past. :)“Just because the Adam and Eve story is figurative does not mean that we are not all descended from one set of parents.”

I do understand the figural language in the story, the beauty and depth it adds to the story is unmistakable. I also understand that there are many layers of meaning in this narrative, including the allusions pointing to Our Most Blessed Redeemer. What I want to understand why some find it necessary to reject the possibility of a literal explanation alongside the figural. Cannot both dwell together? :ehh:

Kim
[/quote]

Much of the Bible is comprised of religious truth taught by figures built into history. In other words, both do dwell together, very successfully.

However, portions of the Bible – the Adam and Eve story, the Book of Tobit, Jesus’ parables – are clearly truth taught by figures built into fiction.

The entire Adam and Eve story is made of jokes, puns and absurdities attached together by the story. It really very clearly is fiction intended to teach religious truth.

In all likelihood, ancient Hebrew children realized that the story was a “Dr.-Seuss-like” structure, and would be astonished to see how many people in the modern era regard the story as history.

If you like, I can once again begin listing the “Dr.-Seuss-like” qualities of the story, verse by verse.


#15

BibleReader: The point is that the story CAN be taken as true, with figurative portions, and Catholics are absolutely obligated to read it as such. There is no room for a purely figurative reading of Genesis in the Church.


#16

[quote=Ghosty]BibleReader: The point is that the story CAN be taken as true, with figurative portions, and Catholics are absolutely obligated to read it as such. There is no room for a purely figurative reading of Genesis in the Church.
[/quote]

Wel-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l…

I’m not convinced.

Even the CCC, while it seems to affirm that Adam and Eve were a reality, *also *affirms that Adam = Christ; and while it seems to affirm that the Original Sin was an event in history, also affirms that “Original Sin is” – NOT “the consequences of Original Sin are” – “proper to each of us” – meaning, “It’s something in each of us,” which is MY view.


#17

There are nine things that the Church requires us to believe as articles of faith from the Genesis account of creation through the fall and promise of a Redeemer (Genesis 1:1 - 3:15). I recently attended a Bible study led by my priest in which we discussed these thoroughly.

1.) God created the universe and all things in it, visible and invisible, ex nihilo (out of nothing).

2.) Man’s soul is created specially. The soul is created immediately.

3.) The formation of Eve from the rib of the first man, Adam.

4.) The oneness of the human race. (All human beings living today are descended from Adam and Eve.)

5.) Adam and Eve were created in an original state of holiness integrity, justice, and immortality.

6.) A divine command was laid upon man to prove his obedience to his Creator.

7.) The transgression of the divine command at the instigation of Satan in the guise of a serpent. (Original Sin)

8.) The loss of the state of holiness, justice, integrity and immortality of our first parents. (The results of original sin, including concupiscence.)

9.) The promise of a future Redeemer.

There must be a literal sense about Adam, for while he prefigures Christ he does not merely prefigure Christ, but represents all of mankind–just as now, Christ represents mankind before His Father in Heaven. I am reminded of Romans chapter 5 where St. Paul explains, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned…Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life.” Romans 5:12, 18

(I skipped 5 verses for the sake of room. Please read those also, to see a fuller context.)

It does not make sense to say that Adam is a mere alias for Christ, for this would make Christ both the perpetrator of our downfall and our redemption unto eternal life. Such a simultaneous equation is absurd. Therefore, Adam and Christ must be distinct persons.


#18

BibleReader: The problem is that the CCC says this in paragraph 404:

By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” - a state and not an act. (italics in the original).

A personal sin can’t be commited figuratively. It must be commited by an individual, not by a figurative group or by a myth. They are real people, and commited real personal sins that affected all of humanity by virtue of our generation from them after the sin was commited.

I sympathize with your doubts, believe me. I’m an Atheist who became Catholic, and it was a difficult journey for me to come to accept such things as being real history. It’s especially hard when real history is mixed with symbolic language, but that’s the beauty of Scripture. God found a way of making “history” a route to deeper truth, rather than a lecture of facts. With His guidance through Christ, and through Christ to the Church, we can sort it all out.


#19

Why is it important other than for purely academic reasons?

I’m not saying academic reasons aren’t important, or aren’t interesting. I just want to know if you take two Catholics who are exact clones right down to what’s in their hearts and then make one a literal and the other a figural believer of Genesis, then what ramifications will that realistically have for anybody?

Alan


#20

I just want to know if you take two Catholics who are exact clones right down to what’s in their hearts and then make one a literal and the other a figural believer of Genesis, then what ramifications will that realistically have for anybody?

With the caveat that one can have both literal and figurative understandings of Genesis, the ramifications are that taking a purely figurative view, namely that Adam and Eve weren’t really people but rather symbols, completely negates the Church’s Doctrine on Original Sin. Furthermore, that belief indicates a refusal to submit to the teaching authority of the Church, namely Humanae Generis.

If all people are not descended from a real Adam and Eve, then Paul’s teaching about sin entering the world through one man is false, and so is the need for Baptism, ect. It’s a very carefully woven tapestry, and pulling one thread out destroys the whole rug.

So, in the immediate circumstance, the ramification is obedience to God and His Church, and in the long run it’s an unraveling of the entire Faith. There were heresies in the early centuries that denied these aspects of the Faith, and they were carefully and rigorously brought down by the Church, as they led to all kinds of deviant conclusions. For now, we settle on the conclusions handed down by the Apostles, and their successors, espescially the Pope. Incidently, those conclusions do allow for some symbolic understanding of Genesis.


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