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.

The Stain of Sin

Wine spilled on a carpet

The Stain of Sin

I have a nice Brooks Brothers shirt. The patter is subtle enough to work with a suit, yet looks good with a pair of jeans. It’s one of my favorite shirts. Except it has a couple stains that bother me. It’s been through the wash a couple times, but comes out with the same stains. The shirt is remains a great shirt, yet the stains ruin if for me. Everyone can see the stains; the shirt no longer looks good. It’s been ruined.

In the Orthodox Trisagion hymn is a prayer known as “O Heavenly King”, which goes like this:

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,
Who are in all places and fill all things;
The Treasury of good things and the Giver of life:
Come and abide in us, cleanse us from every stain,
And save our souls, O Good One.

We pray for the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from every stain. This has its roots in a different conception of sin than we in the West are used to. The western concept of sin is in two parts. While we normally are concerned with the sins we commit (as we should be), the concept of Original Sin is that the guilt of Adam’s sin has been passed on to all of humanity. In other words, human nature itself was not simply corrupted, but actually changed. Thus, even if we had never committed any personal sin, we would still bear the guilt of Adam’s sin.

Think for a moment about my shirt. It is still made of the same fabric. The fit and finish are still the same. It has the same no wrinkle finish, and never needs ironing. It has those nasty stains, which affect the appearance of the shirt. Yet the stains are not part of the shirt, and do not change the essence of what it means to be a Brooks Brothers shirt. The stains are something extra, something that has corrupted the shirt, yet without affecting its essential nature.

For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD. (Jer 2:22)

Here Jeremiah clearly references the idea of sin as a stain that cannot be removed with a simple washing. The stain remains, despite our best efforts. We need something more. And yet, even so, the idea of sin as a stain implies that while sin may injure us, damage us, make us less than we were meant to be, yet sin is something foreign, something other, something that comes from outside us. It adheres to us without becoming part of us.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:18)

No matter how much I try, I cannot get rid of the stain of sin. And yet the Lord says that He can make them whiter, “as no fuller on earth can white them.” (Mar 9:3) In other words, our Lord can remove the stain of sin, leaving our essential human nature intact. Our Lord can return us to the Edenic state, a state of purity, a state of innocence, a state where we can commune with God “face to face”, as it were.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Ps 51:1-7)

This is a fascinating psalm, a psalm of repentance, written after David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Take a look at how David refers to his sin, and what he is asking of God. First, David asks God to “blot out my transgressions.” The best way to combat stains is to blot them up. Basically you apply a towel over the spill to absorb it. This works better than rubbing the stain, which has a tendency to spread the stain and push it further into the surface. Second, Daniel asks God to wash and cleanse him. David asks God to “purge him with hyssop”, which is part of the ceremonial cleansing made for people who had been cured of leprosy, and buildings that had been healed of a “plague of leprosy” (Lev 14). This purging with hyssop also has reference to the ashes of the red heifer (which had burned with cedar and hyssop), and was offered for “purification for sin”, as well as for cleansing from ceremonial uncleanness (Num 19). Finally, David asks God to wash him and make him whiter than snow, which reminds us of the passage from Isaiah, and also the transfiguration account in Mark.

The description of sin and its affect upon the human person is not done in one way. The idea of Original Sin fails to account for all the ways sin is discussed in the bible. In particular, the idea of sin as a stain upon the human person brings with it the idea of sin as something extrinsic to the human person, rather than being something essential to human nature.