This text (Genesis 2 and 3) marks the beginning of the nine-month narrative lectionary.

September 9, 2012

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Commentary on Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

This text (Genesis 2 and 3) marks the beginning of the nine-month narrative lectionary.

Preachers may take this opportunity to proclaim its message of grace and educate the congregation on what the text actually says.

The lectionary text begins with creation of the ‘adam. It is probably best to avoid using the word “man” (NRSV) because v. 7 is a play on words the ‘adam (human) is made from the ‘adamah (earth). The point is not gender distinction but that we humans are from dust. It also tells of the intimate relationship between God and the human. We are literally dirt, molded into being and given life by God’s own breath.

This is also an opportunity to teach about the two creation stories. I often teach these texts in seminary and church settings. I ask people to tell me the story and it is usually bits of each, patched together with additions not in the biblical text. It is no wonder people are confused. This story begins with vocation for the human to “till” (NRSV), but in Hebrew the word also means to “worship” and “to be indebted” and also “to serve.” Verse 15 adds that the human is to serve the garden and to keep it, (Hebrew) meaning “to guard” and “to protect.” The vocation is to serve and protect the earth. This is followed by the one limit God sets for the human.

The lectionary reading begins again at 3:1 and some catch-up is probably needed since the woman appears in the first verse. Some denominations have focused on the omitted verses to argue for marriage and how it is ordained by God. Within this story, the omitted verses speak of our communal nature. Marriage — no matter how it is defined — matters, but is not the central point of this story. Yet, I do think it is important to note that the two “become one flesh” if for no other reason than to spotlight a clearer understanding of Gen 3:1-7.

If your congregation uses multimedia, you could supplement your sermon with traditional artwork. A Google images search of “Adam and Eve” provides 51 million results and this gives you an idea of how pervasive this imagery is. We all know that story. The serpent is the devil sent to tempt Eve who then uses her sexuality to entice a gullible Adam into falling with her into sin. At this point, I might even pause and let everyone in the congregation read these seven verses for themselves from the bulletin or screen. I discovered over the years that even with the text in front of them, many cannot see what is printed and instead see what they think is there.

First, the serpent is identified as “crafty” and this is a solid translation of the Hebrew. Unfortunately, the word can have a negative meaning in English and indeed that is what people see. The word, in Hebrew might be sinister (Job 5:12, 15:5) but in Proverbs, it means sensible or prudent (Proverbs 1:4; 8: 5, 12). The serpent’s motive is unclear. What is clear is that the devil or Satan appears nowhere in the biblical text. It is a theological interpretation added about 200 B.C.E. in the pseudepigrapha. This literature also brought the idea that the “Fall” was exclusively the fault of Eve who then seduces her man. None of this is part of the biblical text. This example, on the first day of a nine-month commitment to study narratives of the Bible, would be an excellent opportunity to discuss what the story actually says and the multiple interpretations for any given text. Indeed, if every Christian could understand that interpretation is a human activity (albeit divine inspired), they would be better served in a world where some push their words as definitive and all others as wrong.

If the serpent is not inherently evil, what else can be learned? Secondly, when the woman and the serpent speak, both use plural pronouns. For example in verse 3, the woman says, “We may eat of all of the fruit…” and in response the serpent says, “You (masc. plural form) will not die.” Also the woman eats and “also gave some to her husband, who was with her and he ate it (verse 7).” Even though the woman speaks, she appears to be speaking for both and verse 7 indicates that the man was right there all along. In other words, “they remain one flesh” even here as they both hear and then respond. The seduction we all know so well is interpretation, not text.

Verse 7 contributes to the understanding that the sin was somehow sexual for when their eyes were opened, they knew they were naked. The Hebrew word only appears six times and all of them mean without clothes. In other words, discovery of nakedness appears to be related to shame not to a sexual purpose. They hide themselves just as we hide from our own actions.

I wish the lection contained through 3:21-24 as well. For the way it is cut, it ends with the sin of the humans. But the climax of the story is in verses 21-24. God does not destroy them as promised. God instead makes them clothes and sends them out of the garden. There were consequences for their disobedience to God, but it is not called sin here or anywhere else in the Old Testament. God chooses not to destroy and instead to tend to the new needs of the wayward children. It is here that the way to the cross is set. God will “not execute my fierce anger . . . for I am God and no mortal” (Hosea 11:9). The story, then, is as much about God as it is about humans for it sets up the equation that will be played out again and again in the Bible. The people disobey and God provides a new way.

Lord God, grand architect of the universe,
Your design of creation is unflawed. Yet we continue to litter your creation with defects and imperfections. Show us how not to destroy, but to create, not to demean, but to uplift, not to hate, but to love, so that your creation may be made perfect once again. Amen.

Creating God, your fingers trace   ELW 684, H82 394, 395, NCH 462, UMH 109
Forgive our sins as we forgive   ELW 605, H82 674
Praise the Lord, rise up rejoicing   ELW 544, H82 334
There in God’s garden   ELW 342

O Wisdom, William Beckstrand (MorningStar)
Do Not Leave Your Cares at the Door, Elizabeth Alexander (Seafarer)