The Book of Adam and Eve

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

The Book of Adam and Eve is a Christian work written by a pious Egyptian in the 5th or 6th century. The author is evidently documenting what Christians then believed. The author lived about the time when the Byzantine Empire was at its largest extent. Because the document was valuable enough to have been copied and translated, it is reasonable to assume the Book of Adam and Eve accurately reflects Christian belief of the post-Nicene Church.

There are a number of things in this book suggesting the Protestant Reformation was not a recovery of ancient Christianity. For example, the early Church did not believe the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, as the following quote makes clear.

And the Lord said unto Adam and Eve, “You transgressed
of your own free will, until you came out of the garden in which I had placed you. Of your own free will have you transgressed through your desire for divinity, greatness, and an exalted state, such as I have; so that I deprived you of the bright nature in which you then were, and I made you come out of the garden to this land, rough and full of trouble.”

First, it is made clear that Adam and Eve sinned of their own free will. It was their choice to sin, and God did not stop them. Moreover, God created Adam and Eve with free will, even knowing they would sin.

For I knew you would sin and transgress. …
Yet I would not [force you, nor] be hard upon you,
nor shut you up; nor doom you through your fall.
For I made you of the light; and I willed to bring out
children of light from you, and like unto you.
But you did not keep one day My commandment; until I
had finished the creation and blessed everything in it.

The ancient Church did not believe that God forces anyone against their will. Indeed, the early Church believed the human will was free, and that humanity could choose for and against God. It troubles me when some deny the existence of free will, for they are basically equating their description of the human person with the scriptural description of the idol. In the book of Jeremiah, we read:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jer 10:2-5)

One of the interesting points Jeremiah makes is that idols are made and fashioned to match a certain image, but that they lack free will. They do not move of their own volition, but must be borne everywhere. They do not speak, so someone must speak for them. They are entirely passive; just as it is not in them to do good, so also it is not in them to do evil.

What we believe about humanity necessarily affects what we believe about God. The bible tells us we were made in the image and likeness of God. In saying the human being has no volition and is merely is passive, Calvinists make humanity into something impotent. This necessarily implies something about the One in whose image we were made. If we are not free beings created in the image and likeness of God, then it could be argued that God is not free either. If God acts of necessity or compulsion, then God is no God at all, but only a being like unto us.

The Calvinist argument is different. In formulating their Doctrine of Man (also known as Theological Anthropology), Protestants begin with the fall. This is different from ancient Christianity, for as we see in the Book of Adam and Eve, they began with the creation; the fall is accounted for God’s ultimate plan, but does not change the basic nature of humanity. Calvinists, in particular, see the fall as total, and that humanity after the fall is evil; that God chooses some to be saved and others to be lost, and that the decision to believe is not up to us, but is predestined and is forced upon us by God. This is not what the ancient Church believed. As we read in the Book of Adam and Eve, God does not force Himself upon us, nor does He doom us by our fall.

Sin is a sickness that adheres to our humanity, a disease we need healing from. The sin that so easily besets us prevents us from enjoying full communion with God. The Book of Adam and Eve tells us that instead of seeing the world through spiritual eyes, we see only with our eyes of flesh, and see only material things.

When you were under subjection [to Me], you hadst a bright nature within you, and for that reason you could see things afar off. But after your transgression your bright nature was withdrawn from you; and it was not left to you to see things afar off, but only near at hand; after the ability of the flesh.

Our bright nature has withdrawn but is not destroyed. The sin that so easily besets us prevents the expression of the image of God from being significantly expressed within us, yet that nature still exists. Thanks be to God.

Clothed in Glory

The Annunciation. Oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation, Rome, Via Salaria, Catacomb of Priscilla, mid-2nd century.

The Annunciation. Oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation, Rome, Via Salaria, Catacomb of Priscilla, mid-2nd century.

Clothed with the Glory of God

When we discuss the communion of persons, which is a sign[1] and symbol of the communion the trinity has with itself, we can then understand what the scriptures mean when they speak of Adam and Eve being naked, and not ashamed (Ge 2:25).[2] By nature the man and the woman were in full communion with each other, and full communion with God (Ge 2:8). The fathers of the church believed Adam and Eve were thereby clothed with the glory of God.

The obvious question is whether the idea of the original and prototypical humanity being clothed with the glory of God has any scriptural foundation. In the introduction to Robert Alter’s translation of Psalms, he notes the way the language of Psalms presents the idea of light’s being a mythological property of deity, of God wearing light as a garment, and of God stretching out the heavens as a garment.

God, as we note in Psalm 27[3], is associated with light — in that instance, because light, archetypically, means safety and rescue to those plunged in fearful darkness, but also because radiance is a mythological property of deities and monarchs. Psalm 104 is a magnificent celebration of God as king of the vast panorama of creation. It begins by imagining God in the act of putting on royal raiment: “Grandeur and glory you don” (hod wehadar lavashta). The psalmist then goes on: “Wrapped in light like a cloak, / stretching out the heavens like a tentcloth” (verse 2). What makes the familiar figure of light for the divinity so effective is its fusion with the metaphor of clothing. The poet, having represented God donning regalia, envisages Him wrapping Himself in a garment of pure light (the Hebrew verb used here is actually in the active mode, “wrapping”). Then, associatively continuing the metaphor of fabrics, he has God “stretching out the heavens like a tent-cloth,” the bright sky above becoming an extension of the radiance that envelopes God.[4]

The association of God with light is the source for the phrase describing Jesus Christ as “light from light” in the Nicene Creed. Since Sacred Scripture speaks of God being clothed in light, and of spreading out the heavens like a tentcloth, it is only natural to extend that idea to original and prototypical humanity. St. Ephrem the Syrian writes: “God clothed Adam in glory”; and again: “It was because of the glory with which they were clothed that they were not ashamed. It was when this glory was stripped from them after they had transgressed the commandment that they were ashamed because they were naked”[5] In like manner, St John Chrysostom writes: “[W]hile sin and disobedience had not yet come on the scene, they were clad in that glory from above which caused them no shame. But after the breaking of the law, then entered the scene both shame and awareness of their nakedness.”[6]

The 17th century mystic Jacom Böhme remarks:

Man should have walked naked upon the earth, for the heavenly [part] penetrated the outward, and was his clothing. He stood in great beauty, glory, joy and delight, in a child­like mind; he should have eaten and drunk in a magical manner; not into the body, as now, but in the mouth there was the separation; for so likewise was the fruit of Paradise.[7]

Such was the state of humanity in Paradise. Yet once Adam had sinned and the glory of God had departed from him, it was immediately clear to him that he no longer belonged in Paradise. St. Ephrem the Syrian, explains this in the seventh verse of his second Hymn on Paradise:

At its boundary I saw
figs, growing in a sheltered place,
from which crowns were made that adorned
the brows of the guilty pair,
while there leaves blushed, as it were,
for him who was stripped naked:
there leaves were required for those two
who had lost their garments;
although they covered Adam,
still they made him blush with shame and repent,
because, in a place of such splendor,
a man who is naked is filled with shame.[8]

There are striking parallels between this hymn and the account of the Philistines capturing the Ark — how the pregnant wife of Phineas, upon hearing this, gave birth. “And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel” (I Sam 4:21). It is only after the fall, after the glory has departed, and after full communion of persons has been lost, that the man and the woman objectified each other as individuals rather than persons partaking of the same nature; in their fallen state they saw themselves as naked before each other and before God.[9]

The reader will no doubt be reminded of how the Ark of the covenant was shrouded in the “thick darkness” of the Holy of Holies (I Kings 8:12); and of how in Ezekiel chapters 8-10, the prophet is given a vision of the glory of God, the defilement of the temple, and how the glory of God departed from the temple as a consequence for Israel’s sin. In this manner we come to the understanding that the glory with which Adam and Eve were clothed, or overshadowed, is natural to mankind in the state of original righteousness, a state of communion with God. We also understand that the glory of God, with which they were clothed, would quite rightly depart as a consequence of Adam’s sin. In this context, we note that after the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra makes no mention of the glory of God returning, filling the temple, and overshadowing the Ark. Instead, the return of the Shekinah glory came at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel informed the blessed virgin that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and the power of the highest would overshadow her. What we see at the annunciation (and in Revelation 12), is the blessed virgin clothed with the glory of God, as was Eve in the garden — which points to the Incarnation as the inauguration of God’s plan for reconciliation and recreation, for the reestablishment of that perfect communion between God and man, and between each human person.

 


Endnotes

[1] On the nature of the sign and the thing signified, Karl Barth notes: “Sign and thing signified, the outward and the inward, are, as a rule, strictly distinguished in the Bible, and certainly in other connexions we cannot lay sufficient stress upon the distinction. But they are never separated in such a (“liberal”) way that according to preference the one may be easily retained without the other.” (Barth, Church Dogmatics The Doctrine of the Word of God, Volume 1, Part 2 1956, 179) In other words, the sign always points to the thing signified. However, if we believe in the thing signified, we have to accept the sign as well—as, for example, with the virgin birth being the sign of the Incarnation (Isa 7:14).

[2] (John Paul II 2006, 163)

[3] The Lord is my light and my rescue.

Whom should I fear?

The Lord is my life’s stronghold.

Of whom should I be afraid?

Ps 27:1, Robert Alter’s translation (Alter 2007, xxv-xxvi; 91)

[4] (Alter 2007, xxviii)

[5] (St Ephrem the Syrian n.d., 99, 106)

[6] (Louth, Conti and Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I, Genesis 1-11 2001, 72)

[7] (Böhme 2009)

[8] (St Ephrem the Syrian 1989, 87)

[9] (Lossky, The Creation 1989, 77)

 


Bibliography

Alter, Robert. 2007. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Barth, Karl. 1956. Church Dogmatics The Doctrine of the Word of God, Volume 1, Part 2: The Revelation of God; Holy Scripture: The Proclamation of the Church. New York: T&T Clark Ltd.

Böhme, Jacom. 2009. “Mysterium Magnum (part one).” Gnosis research. October 9. Accessed November 15, 2010. http://meuser.awardspace.com/Boehme/Jacob-Boehme-Mysterium-Magnum-part-one-free-electronic-text.pdf.

John Paul II. 2006. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston: Pauline Books & Media.

Lossky, Vladimir. 1989. “The Creation.” In Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, by Vladimir Lossky, edited by Ian Kesarcodi-Watson and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson, 51-78. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Louth, Andrew, Marco Conti, and Thomas C. Oden. 2001. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I, Genesis 1-11. Vol. 1. 28 vols. Westmont: InterVarsity Press.

St Ephrem the Syrian. n.d. “Commentary on Genesis.” Scribd.com. Accessed June 9, 2013. http://www.scribd.com/doc/56174298/St-Ephraim-the-Syrian-Commentary-on-Genesis.

—. 1989. Hymns on Paradise. Translated by Sebastion Brock. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.