The Disadvantage of “Fall” Language

John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology has just been released in a paperback edition. In the past couple of years I’ve grown in appreciation of Goldingay’s work so I took advantage to explore this volume. As usual it doesn’t take long before Goldingay gives me a lot to think about. Consider these paragraphs.

“One disadvantage of ‘Fall’ language is thus that it portrays human beings as in a position of splendor, prestige and exaltation, from which they ‘fell.’ They were immortal, and they ‘fell’ from immortality to mortality. We have seen that the motif of the life tree suggests a different perspective. Human beings were not created immortal, though God intended them to receive the gift of lasting life through eating the fruit of the life tree. Further, the ‘Fall’ idea can suggest that human beings originally lived a life of heaven-like happiness and closeness to God, while as a result of the ‘Fall’ their relationship with God was broken. But Genesis 1-2 itself does not say anything about how their life actually was before their disobedience. It does not describe them as living lives of obedience and bliss, only as having an opportunity to learn obedience and grow to moral maturity. The tragedy of Genesis 1-3 is not that human beings fell from a state of bliss but that they failed to realize a possibility, ‘fell short of the glory of God.’ Further, the ‘Fall’ idea suggests that whereas human beings could originally obey God, afterward they could not. But in Genesis 3 we find the same dynamics of temptation and disobedience on the way to the ‘Fall’ as we ourselves experience after it, while Genesis 4 pictures Adam and Eve after their disobedience and expulsion from God’s garden still working together with God, worshiping and conversing with God. Their disobedience affected their relationship with God and it cut them off from the garden, but it did not cut them off from God.”

“In broader Christian usage, ‘Fall’ describes not only the consequences of Adam and Eve’s yielding to temptation, but the act itself. In this connection, too, the usage looks questionable. On the basis of Genesis itself, Jonathan Magonet asks whether they fell or whether they were pushed, while Paul calls Adam and Eve’s sin a paraptōma not a ptōma (Rom 5:14)–not an accident or calamity, something that happened to them, but a transgression, a deliberate false step.” (p. 146)

Old Testament Theology, Volume One: Israel’s Gospel is a paperback with 940 pages and sells for $45.00.

John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary

Old Testament Theology

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Disadvantage of “Fall” Language

  1. “And they heard the voice of the Lord God, walking in the garden in the cool (wind/spirit) of the day.” (Genesis 3:8) This was when Adam and Eve hid themselves. We might interpret this as telling us that it was the custom then,before the fall, for God to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve and implicit in what followed is the suggestion that they held conversation. Why should not God delight in His Creation and enjoy a rest of satisfaction? After all He, “saw that everything that He had made was very good.” Adam and Eve, our ancestors were part of that creation and therefore, before the fall, ‘”very good.” (Gen 1:31)
    This does have implications for us who have passed from death to life through the work of the Lord Jesus. We are, as Abraham was, friends of God. (James2:23, John 15:14, 15.) We have a new spirit within us by which we communicate with God’s Spirit. (Romans 8:14-16) As a new Creation and as being mad new then that which is new in us is also, “very good”.

  2. I don’t know anyone who thinks Adam and Eve were immortal before the Fall. They are creatures, and so inherently mortal. But they would not die as long as they had access to the Tree of Life. This is why their “Fall” caused their death (Rom. 5).

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