Why is there a snake in the garden?


Why is there a snake in the Garden of Eden? Rethinking the Fall (Part 1) — Nate & Tim kicks off the first episode in a series rethinking the Biblical idea of the Fall. There’s more to the Adam and Eve story than we’ve been led to believe.


Tim: Alright, we’re back in the shed.

Nate: Back in the shed! Talking about the Bible right now and how there is potentially more than one god.

Tim: As promised, we’re going to go back to the beginning, question some of the ideas that most of us have assumed all the way through, relook at some of the most central themes to the biblical story, and try to pop out the other side with some new understanding.

Nate: And so, we’ve got to start at the beginning. And the beginning is a garden.

Tim: The center of this, the biggest part of the biblical story, is what is wrong? Historically, the church has referred to that as the Fall. And the first chapters of Genesis try to tell that story, but they tell it in a way that we’re not really familiar with, and they use literary style and motifs to try to communicate some pretty complicated ideas, and what we’re going to go back and try to see is, some of those ideas we’ve just plain missed. And the reason this discussion on the problem, the Fall, is so important, is that the whole rest of the biblical story—what it means for Jesus to come and to die and to be resurrected—is that he is fulfilling a major piece of the redemption of this problem. But what we’re going to get into is that we’ve had a really deprived view of what the Fall is and what it’s entailed, and where that leads is a pretty deprived view of what it means to be a Christian. Nate, why don’t you take a second to just sort of try to give an articulation for the predominant, traditional view of The Fall?

Nate: Okay, yeah, so off the top of my head: God creates the whole world, He creates a garden, puts humans in it. There’s this tree; they’re not supposed to eat from it. The snake tells them to eat the fruit, they do, that’s bad, they have to be out of the garden now. And so because of that, that guilt is then passed down to all humans, including me and you, and there’s nothing good about us now. We need to be completely saved from this guilt that we have and… yeah, what are we going to do?

Tim: And in that reading, from the third chapter of the Bible on, the main problem is that humans are guilty, and connected to that thought is that God has to therefore decree death to all of us. In the uglier version of that, it means God wants to kill of us. And the problem to be overcome is trying to somehow get to a place where God won’t kill us. The problem to be overcome is guilt. And so by the time we get to Jesus and language that seems to be talking metaphorically about atonement and sacrifice and the justification of both Jew and Gentile, essentially it’s impossible for us to read any part of that story in a way that isn’t simply saying we’re guilty and now we’re deemed innocent.

Nate: Okay, and so last time we talked about how there’s multiple gods?

Tim: Yeah, the kinda weird stuff. And the reason we’re doing that is to say that there’s just more here. There’s more behind the scenes; there’s more playing out. And specifically, in the story of the Fall—in the stories of the Fall—there’s much more than we’ve been led to believe. It isn’t just Adam and Eve eating a bad apple.

[transitional music]

So last time we looked at Genesis 1, verses we’ve all probably read a million times, because everyone at least gets through chapter one before you give up on your annual Bible reading plan, and I made the case, at least for now, that we should imagine this idea I’m presenting. That there was a common cosmological notion in antiquity, in the places where Israel was living and writing and all of that, that was shared, in my opinion, amongst both Israelites and their neighbors—at least some of their neighbors—that there was a heavenly realm of divine beings, for which the Hebrew bible uses the word elohim and our English bibles translate as gods, at least from the Hebrew—that changes in the New Testament, which we’ll talk about later. The reason, Nate, why I’m okay saying there is one God, Yahweh, and other gods, even though that language could be really troublesome to some—I’m okay with saying that if what we’re meaning is elohim. There is one elohim, Yahweh, and other elohim. And the sense is that this word, elohim, or god, in this sense doesn’t mean supreme beings, the one true creator King of the cosmos. It just means a spirit being that lives not on earth, but in heaven, or the heavens, in the realm of spirits. So, we’re not arguing—again, this is the polytheism thing—we’re not arguing that there are multiple ultimate originators, or multiple first causes, or multiple creators of all things. There is one. But part of what that one creator created was a realm of other spirit beings that we call elohim, and then end up calling gods in our English translation. So I get the discomfort around multiple gods just because of how we use that language. Anyway, I digress. Back to the idea, what I asked, I suppose, is to imagine that the reason we have very overt, explicit, plural language in this poetic statement in the creation account in Genesis 1, is that the scene imagined in whoever’s mind, whatever writer is writing this text, the scene imagined is one of Yahweh, the high God almighty, speaking to other spirit beings, other elohim, most likely, the elohim that are in His council, basically those that are in the top of His governmental agency, and telling them, “Let’s make humanity in our image to resemble us.” And the reason, we recall, is, “So that they may rule.” Last time we just touched on the idea that Adam and Eve were not just the first humans, but were kings and queens. And actually, C.S. Lewis picked this up and he played on it in the Narnia stuff. That’s why the idea of the son of Adam and the daughters of Eve, those were royal characters, those were the characters that the Pevensies showed up to Narnia and they were royalty. Lewis was playing off of this idea, that the creation of the first humans is the creation of the first kings and queens of what we would now call planet earth.

If we imagine that is the worldview, and we’ll try to add some evidence as we move forward, but if we imagine that’s the worldview and then we get to Genesis 3, or even starting in Genesis 2, and have this imagery of Adam and Eve in a garden, in the garden of Eden, the first thing that we should notice, and there are all sort of really good scholarly studies on this, people like N.T. Wright will pick it up and expand on it. The garden of Eden is very clearly using ancient motifs of the temple to try to establish that the garden is essentially the new dwelling place of God. So in the ancient Near Eastern literature, the gods were thought to dwell on both mountaintops and in lush gardens, and the logic of that is kind of sensible if you just think through it. If you’re living in a Middle Eastern, arid desert country, the idea is that gods are going to have the best land. So they’re not going to live in the middle of the desert, they’re going to have a place with running water, fresh fruits, vegetables, living agriculture, that sort of thing. They’re going to live in a lush place because it’s the best of the best. The other piece, though, is that mountains and mountaintops were way high up there in the skies, in the heavens where these divine beings were thought to live, and also in places, the mountaintops, in a world pre-mountain climbing as a fun hobby, were completely uninhabitable places for human beings. There are these motifs, essentially, of mountaintops and lush gardens as the dwelling place of God, and where God would dwell is where God’s council would meet with him. The realm of God and the divine beings is essentially in the heavens, but God will have these sort of manifested depictions of a earthly home or dwelling place, and the idea is if God’s going to have a place where He makes His house, that one of the places it would be is this lush garden. So the imagery, the reason the Bible’s opening with a story of God and the first kings and queens of the new creation together in a garden is to say that God created a world and then built Himself a home in that world, and then moved into that world to work with the beings that He now made to run that world: Adam and Eve.

Nate: I thought God put—that the temple imagery was for the humans, that God was in the humans, and that’s how He was going to establish himself on the earth. But you’re saying it’s also in the garden as well?

Tim: Yeah, it’s kind of dual imagery. So, in the New Testament, and this is, again, jumping ahead of ourselves, what you get after Jesus is the idea that the temple—you know, in Israel’s story, you have, when God comes to be with Israel in the desert, He gives them a tabernacle or plans to build a tabernacle. And if you notice, if you ever pay attention, that’s the hardest passages in the bible to get through, there’s good reason why a good portion of our Bible is dedicated to describing the building plans for first the tabernacle and then the temple. And the point is, if you remember there were these bowls with water in it called the sea, and there was all of these commands for these ornate decorations to go around the room that were of what? Plants! And it essentially was this symbolism of plants and animal life. It was saying, “Garden of Eden. Garden of Eden. Garden of Eden.” It’s like it, you know, put posters up saying, “Garden of Eden,” in the place, to say that this is the symbolism that we’re rocking here. So the idea was, God was creating a second dwelling place within Israel, the tabernacle and then the temple, and then what we see in Jesus is this mind-blowing, aha, turn of events that says, “Jesus was the temple who tabernacled among us, who was God’s presence among us,” in John. And then, building off that, the apostles realized well, that now, through the coming of the Holy Spirit is people. We Christians—those who receive the Holy Spirit to live in us, the same language used as to live in a tabernacle, to dwell, to inhabit a space—humans become the temple. But long before you get that progression, all human beings are made in the image of God. So these are similar ideas, but not exactly same, and they’re both operative at all times. So no one today would say that a non-Christian is somehow not an image-bearer of God. But at the same time, a non-Christian is not serving as a temple of God to live in.

Nate: Right. Okay, so back to how does this tie in? Back to the Fall. How does what we know change how we view The Fall?

Tim: Right. So, like I pointed out, a question you and I have probably asked each other and ourselves and everyone around us for years is, “Why was the serpent in the garden?”

Nate: Just shows up!

Tim: I mean, this is just a general thing. We haven’t had time yet to get into our overarching discussions on scripture, but here’s a general takeaway. There is mystery in a lot of places, but if you reach an absolute dead end, where you cannot make any sense of any of it, like, “Why was the serpent in the garden?” It’s probably a good clue that you have assumed something false or are missing some important piece of information. It might take years or decades before you end up finding all those pieces, and all of us will die before we find all of them, but it’s a good sign that you’re probably missing something there. So I’ll contest that the serpent is one of those pieces. The conundrum that we all have, there’s reason why we never see that conundrum voiced in the New Testament. You never read Paul writing to a church going, “Hey, by the way, we don’t have any idea why there was a serpent in the Garden in the first place.” Which means to me, and backed up with some other stuff that we’ll look at, Paul and others had a very clear answer to that question, they followed the logic of the opening chapters of Genesis and got some of the symbolism that we’ve kind of glossed over. So let’s think about it. So what I said was the Creation event, in a sense it can’t have been the first act of creation, which is one of the assumptions most of us all start with. We usually assume, “In the beginning,” means there was nothing at all except for God, and then we would assert some sort of Trinity, trinitarian relationship. And from absolutely nothing in any world, in any realm, God created all of creation. But part of what’s not being mentioned here iss the creation of divine beings, the creation of elohim. And even if you aren’t there yet, if you aren’t ready to buy that there are other gods, there isn’t the creation of angels here anywhere in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2, and you’re simply not reading your Bible if you don’t think that the biblical authors through and through believed in angels. We’ll connect the dots soon to see that angels and these elohim are oftentimes the same beings. So the case I’m making is that this is the creation of the world as we know it, in our, we call it the space-time universe. There’s nothing I know of and have seen or seen signs for that I don’t think this event is talking about the creation of. But the biblical worldview is that there is a whole other realm that exists, and spirit realm that is not this cosmos, that is not this world, in which exists other spirit beings. Which is why, in the opening chapter of the Bible you can have God talking to other beings of sorts. And so, if you take that same worldview, if you take that same imagery, and you keep moving on through Genesis, it starts to make a little more sense why there would ever be any other being in the garden with Adam and Eve. And as I just said, and this is attested to in all sorts of ancient Near Eastern myths and religious imagery, where God dwelt is where His council would meet with Him, and we’ll look at some passages in Job and the Psalms that are using that exact same motif. And so, there’s a reason why the writer of Genesis doesn’t feel the need to explain why the serpent is there. He actually thinks it’s a logical conclusion that his readers would have known exactly what this figure is doing there, what it’s role is, why it’s there. And again, there’s a reason why no one in the New Testament seems as stumped as we seem to be. So let’s just look real quick at this figure and again, I say, I’ve tried to kind of be careful with language, we refer to the being as serpent because that is one of and probably the best general definition for the Hebrew word, which is nachash, but to us, serpent essentially means a snake, and so to us, it sounds like this event is this weird talking animal, Chronicles of Narnia-style in the garden, and then, basically, the enemy is snakes. We don’t like snakes, we’re anti-snake.

Nate: Right. I always grew up thinking that’s why I don’t—it’s something inside me that doesn’t like these things, and we all have that, and there’s some weird people like Crocodile Hunter that didn’t get that, somehow? Maybe he’s not in the image of God? I don’t know.

Tim: [laughing] Okay so, try to track with me here and we’ll see, Nate, if you’ve got some concern or pushback or what doesn’t make sense. Let’s assume, I just made the case that it would have been the assumed logic of this kind of creation motif that what is happening here is God created a world, created stuff to fill that world like plants and animals, that actually wasn’t perfect. Nowhere in the creation accounts does God ever deem the creation perfect or completed, but it is good, and it’s ready to be filled and cultivated, and then He creates the beings that are to rule this space, and then He moves into this space, out of His heavenly space into this now earthly realm, and His council comes with Him. And the point is for God and Adam and Eve and all the kids that they’re supposed to have, and God’s council, who again is the realm of spirit beings that is working for God to do His bidding, that essentially there is meant to be this partnership, this working together of all of these characters to essentially make the best out of this new creation, this new planet. And I think there’s something really interesting when we finally do get to Genesis 2 and 3 and we start talking about this nachash, that what he’s saying, the logic, the message of the temptation, essentially, to Adam and Eve, indicates something to us, potentially, of what the writer is assuming, or kind of who this figure would have been. So picking up in Genesis 3, I’ll use the word serpent, and then we’re going to kind of revise that a little bit:

Now the serpent [or nachash] was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the nachash, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and”

Tim: Catch this here!

“you will be like elohim knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Tim: Fast forward, God calls to them, “Where are you?” In verse 10 [Adam] said:

10 “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent [nachash] tricked me and I ate.”

Tim: And then we’ll get into the curse or consequence of that event in a little bit, but I want to go back to a phrase here. So, remember, part of the really interesting, fascinating tidbit in studying the Hebrew bible is the fact that one word, a plural word, elohim, was used to refer to plural, divine beings, and the same exact form of that word was also used to refer to the singular Yahweh. And so, depending on which translation you’re reading, when you’re reading the temptation of the nachash:

He said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”

That’s one translation. But remember, if you go behind that, it is a word that can mean either the one singular Yahweh, or the other plural elohim.

Nate: Is that the same one, when it says that “God knows that on the day you eat from it”? The first word?

Tim: Umm… Yes, the same word, but when it is the subject, you can tell who it’s referring to, because the verb will then be either plural or singular, so it’s definitely God knows. It’s not that there’s no reference to Yahweh here. The verse in question is whether the act of eating from this tree, which is in a sense not about the act of eating from a tree, it’s about the fact of disobedience and rebellion, of whether that will make them like Yahweh, the one creator God of the universe, in knowing good and evil, or whether that will make them like the other divine beings in knowing good and evil. And here’s why I make the point: another one of these areas where we’ve never really had any answers or any sense of clarity, is what does this “knowing good and evil” thing about? What I’m about to argue is certainly nothing close to, at this point in the western protestant world, nothing like the mainline view. But what I say, is that most mainline views, especially at the popular level, are essentially just not dealing with this stuff. They’re ignoring it, brushing over it. My contention is essentially this, and we’ll walk through kind of how I get there: What’s being referenced here, this idiom of to know good and evil? The closest I’ve ever come in my own musings before the last couple years is essentially to assume God’s level of knowledge. It’s to put yourself in God’s shoes and to decide for yourself what is good and what is evil. And I grant, that’s possible, but there’s simply nothing here telling us that that is how we’re supposed to interpret this. And I’ll say, if you have a couple other pieces in your mind, it actually potentially makes a lot more sense to think that what this is talking about is an idiom of a kind of experience of both good, which—at this point, have Adam and Eve known good?

Nate: Uhh, I mean, it seems like it. They were living in a place that was good, after He created the humans, they were very good, right?

Tim: Yeah! I mean you go through Genesis 2: He created this, it was good. He created this, it was good. Okay, and then you go live in all that stuff. So everything they know is good.

Nate: Or very good.

Tim: So what don’t they know at this point?

Nate: Evil.

Tim: Evil! Okay? So after this act of eating a piece of fruit (it’s not an apple, we’ll get into… we’re probably never going to get into it. It’s not worth it.)

Nate: [laughing] We’ll probably say that a lot, though.

Tim: After eating a piece of fruit off a forbidden tree—which by the way, the biblical writer didn’t care to take any time to explain the logic of why they shouldn’t be eating from this tree—they just assert that, we have enough information to know that that would a clear act of rebellion toward God. So in what sense does taking that action change the fact that they will now know good and evil? It’s a tricky question, and I’ve just gotten here recently, and there aren’t a lot of us on this island, at least that I know of. The point is, I think where the text is clear, is that what changes, what is to change… the serpent says this is what’s going to happen, but it’s also affirmed later that this is what happens… is that after they eat from the tree they will know not only good, but they will also know evil. So we’ll walk through this, my point is that they, up to this point, have only experienced good. So in a sense, they know good. It’s all they know. As soon as they just disobeyed and asserted themselves in an explicit act of rebellion to one of the only rules that they had, they now immediately experientially know what evil is like, what it’s like to be rebellious, what it’s like to disobey. I think the idea here is not some sort of, this magic thing happens in their brain where they didn’t know anything and they eat the fruit, and all of a sudden they get blitzed with all this information, and all of a sudden they realize they’re naked—

Nate: Yeah, I always pictured that scene in the movie where it cut to like, almost like when the ship would go real fast in Star Wars through the stars, and they’re getting all this information like, “Whoa!” [hyperdrive sound effects]

Tim: [laughing] Yeah!

Nate: And then they just wake up, and they’re like, “Oh man. I know it all now, this is terrible.”

Tim: So I think, if we just look at some of the clues here, I think what’s actually being played off is, obviously what would be more familiar to ancient writers than Star Wars ideas, is the thing that every human being has experienced and knows exactly what this feels like at some point in their life: a child’s loss of innocence. It’s that, at some point, every human being moves from a place—I mean you and I both have two year olds right now who can be a handful, but in my opinion, they do not know evil. In fact, I’m constantly keeping Camden, or trying to keep him, from seeing, experiencing, feeling evil in his life. There will come a time where he will do something egregious, whether that’s going to happen next week or years from now, I don’t know, but there will come a time when he will do something that he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, has just given him a taste of evil. And I think in the context here, that’s essentially what’s happening, and that has major ramifications. Why? Because they’re living in the dwelling place of God as the one God’s co-rulers over all of creation. Okay, let’s go a few verses forward. Again, we’re going to skip part of chapter three for now, because I’m going to come back and try to explain the curses a little bit. If you go to verse 22. So, the nachash said, “If you eat of the tree, you, like elohim, are going to know not just good, but good and evil.” And afterwards, after this happens, and the way this is depicted literarily is that Adam and Eve now feel ashamed of their nudity. Now, just think of it, I’m making the case that this is a childhood loss of innocence motif. What better explains a childhood loss of innocence motif than a recognition of the shamefulness of nudity?

Nate: Yeah, Lucy, my two year old, loves to run around naked throughout the house, I’m sure Cam does a similar—

Tim: It’s totally cool! There will come a point, probably when my son does something to your daughter, at which point it’s no longer cool to be naked. There’s a reason that motif is interjected. And then after that story of God graciously making garments for them:

22 Then the LORD God said, “See the man [or adam, humanity] has become like one of us”

Tim: Again, notice the plural

—“has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” And therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Nate: Can I just pause real quick? I think it’s important to say, because I’m just realizing this for the first time: it’s knowing evil. It’s not that evil didn’t exist until this happened, necessarily. Because you mentioned—I was playing it through, you made the joke of your son doing something to my daughter someday, and then they realize that they’re naked or whatever—where does that inclination to do that come from? That was the question I had. Well, we don’t know, that’s not necessarily answered, but that exists, and it’s the knowledge of that, it’s the understanding of what that means, that happens here. I think that’s important.

Tim: Well, and both happen here, but the fact that they just experienced it through their own rebellion, that is what causes them to have a knowledge. And again, this is not some zapping of the brain; they have now experienced, and therefore have an experiential knowledge of evil. And that is this idiomatic way that gets repeated in the serpent’s warning, and God’s assessment of, yep, that’s exactly what happened, that gets them banished from the garden and disallowed from eating from the tree of life. They’re forbidden to keep their right to immortality, and they are banished from God’s dwelling place, again with some curses that we’ll get into a bit later, because they have now stepped into rebellion from God.

[transitional music]

Tim: But that’s not far from, I think, the view we all grew up with. The point I want to point out is—so, we already looked at Genesis 1. There’s plural language multiple times in Genesis 1, and it shows up here in Genesis 3. And for anybody that has a high view of scripture, and by that I just mean a decent respect for scripture, even just as a book, the idea that there are somehow grammatical mistakes in the first chapter and the third chapter, that the author just, “Whoops,” accidentally placed plurals, and that we’re just supposed to go, “Well, we can’t explain it. They’re just accidentally there, but it should’ve been singular,” on the first pages of the Bible just doesn’t make sense. When you read these accounts, and most of us have been reading them our whole lives, the reason we keep reading them is they are so carefully, intricately woven accounts, where every word, every vowel, has a specific, careful placement here. So when we look at verse 22,

Then the LORD God said, “See, mankind has become like one of us, knowing good and evil,”

Tim: I think this kind of puts a nail in the coffin to the idea that at this point in creation, it’s just God and Adam and Eve and the serpent. And we already said that the possible explanation for why there’s a serpent there is that God’s entire council and potentially this entire other realm of spirit beings, is in the garden. A couple other people, I think Pete Enns is one I’ve heard, point out like, “Hey, isn’t it peculiar that Eve didn’t wet her pants out of fear when the nachash comes and steps up to her in the garden of Eden.” If our worldview is true, that they’re just there by themselves forever with God, and then like, “Whoa, there’s a talking snake!” Yeah! The story at every turn thinks that it’s normal for the nachash to be there. So what isn’t normal is this action, this temptation. And what I’m suggesting is, when you take verse 22, this idiom of the nachash warning that they will become like elohim, which can be either Yahweh or, what I think makes a lot more sense here when you look at verse 22, it says become like one of us, that the idea is somehow this act of rebellion, where Adam and Eve and humanity, the rest of humanity on their behalf, moves from a place of partnership, unity, royalty, ruling with God to a place of rebellion and banishment, that somehow that is them experiencing the same thing that the elohim have already experienced. And that, I’m going to suggest, is a crack that then opens up a whole new world for us. And we aren’t the first ones to try to step into that crack to say, “Wait a second, what elohim, and are you saying that somehow, members of God’s council or other divine beings had already gone into rebellion?” And my simple answer to that is that was actually, or a version of that was the predominant ideology of the Fall, theology of the Fall in almost of the early church fathers and early church writings. That there was actually a divine rebellion, a spiritual, angelic rebellion that preceded, or potentially, there are two views that we’ll discuss, that is contingent with this same event happening here, which would both explain why Adam and Eve’s rebellion would somehow join them in the same position of knowing good and evil as the elohim, and it would also explain both who this nachash is as well as why he’s tempting them in the first place, and it’s going to get us on that road. And what I mean by that is, everyone agrees, that this nachash is a bad figure in the Genesis story, we agree it’s the tempter, it’s an adversarial character. So part of when we ask the question, “Why is there a serpent in the garden?” the more loaded part of that question where we all come theologically, is, “Why is there an evil figure in the garden?” If at this point in the story, all God has created is good, and then we’re saying that nothing exists except for the things that God has created in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, there was nothing there beforehand, then where did this figure come from? And what I’m suggesting is Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 aren’t talking about the creation of divine beings, they’re assuming that that already happened and that the created divine beings are standing with God watching the creation of the earth. And we’ll see later, there are actually some New Testament verses that are playing off of that exact motif, of divine beings that are watching these events happen, and there’s a whole literature in the intertestamental period that gets into that idea, that there are divine beings standing by with God. At some point, somehow, what happened, without knowing all the details or trying to guess at all the details, some sort of rebellion happened in that divine world, which led to the divine beings knowing not just good but evil, because they had experienced disobedience and rebellion, and basically a coup d’etat to try to take God’s place, and one of those figures is one who shows up and essentially entices Adam and Eve to step into the same act of rebellion which they have already known. And what is happening here is essentially a winning, a persuasion, by the nachash, from God’s team to the nachash and whoever else he’s got on his side, who are in rebellion to God. It’s pulling them away persuasively to his side, and on that side, they get tricked into making this poor choice, and the consequence is banishment and some other things. So we’ll go on and explore, not only do Jewish rabbis and scholars get to that place, but there are intertestamental books that not only explore what that fall was, this fall of divine beings, but who was involved, but they actually come up with solutions as to why and what the motivation was. And one of them goes back to exactly what we were kind of trying to draw on, which was that Adam and Eve were royal figures, royal in the sense that they weren’t just everyday folks supposed to live on earth. They were tasked with ruling, but I said that that whole account is coming in the context of a cosmological worldview where there’s a high supreme creator God who has a host, a heavenly host is one of the terminologies, of kind of under-rulers, like underlords who do his bidding, who are powerful and able, and their purpose is to essentially see out what God wants done. Essentially the idea they played upon, which we’ll explore next time, is that there’s a jealousy that makes a complete logical sense that, when you start with just Genesis 1, before you get to the end of it, before humanity is created, God has with, in the midst, or in the view of these other divine beings, created this whole world that needs to be managed and ruled. Who job is that supposed to be? Essentially, the idea is that everyone watching, these other elohim, would have assumed that it would be their job to then take dominion over this world. And the turn of events, which is partly amazing because of the stature that Genesis 1, 2, and 3 give to humans, to mankind, is that God chose not to entrust the rulership of the world to these other elohim, but to humans, to Adam and Eve. And that right there explains a lot about why any sort of being at all would want to entice Adam and Eve to not only give up their right to that rulership, but actually to join the rebellion, kind of getting back to Star Wars language here [laughing] Empire Strikes Back or something like that. But the idea is that there was this bitterness that God’s decision to honor us, essentially, by giving us the rulership of the world, Adam and Eve, rather than these other divine beings, essentially kindled a kind of jealousy and a kind of discontent that led to what becomes, later developed, an all-out war, an all-out rebellion of these other gods and against Yahweh and against humanity, and specifically Adam and Eve and the line, what becomes the line of Israel, who are those to fill Adam and Eve’s vocation, because there’s essentially a battle for power, a battle for authority to rule on earth. So what starts as good, again the picture here is that God creates the divine realm, and then He creates, we’ll just call it the worldly realm, the earth and all the places that humans can get to. And what He decides to do is merge those two things together, which is depicted by this garden of Eden imagery of Him coming with His divine council down to live on the earth to then work with and partner with mankind, who is essentially acting like another council of Yahweh’s, who is going to be able to be with Him, in His presence, living in His home, but then also kind of having dominion and rulership over the rest of the planet. All of these pieces were meant to work together in this beautiful, connected harmony, and rather than there being harmony, there ends up being first a rebellion from the other elohim towards God, in some sense, and then they pull Adam and Eve into that. And so let’s go back and look at the curse part that we skipped over. What’s the result? Pick up in verse 14. Who does or what does God focus on first? The nachasch. It says:

14 The LORD God said to the nachash, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals, and among all wild creatures”—

Tim: And we don’t have a ton of time to get into it here, but these words don’t have to be interpreted as animals. It can be essentially created beings.

—“upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.”

Tim: Let’s just pause right there for a second.

Nate: First, I used to think that meant that the snake got his legs zapped off at that point. Did you ever think that?

Tim: [laughing] I never heard that!

Nate: That’s what I used to picture as a kid.

Tim: I spent a lot of time calling this the protoevangelion and saying this was the first gospel message and this was about Jesus.

Nate: Well, yeah, yeah, I just assumed that. But the other was, I just pictured the morphing and his legs were gone, and he was like, “Crap! I gotta crawl in the dirt!”

Tim: [laughing] You lived a more imaginative life than me. What I just want to point out here is, there is possibility that we can, say, transcribe some of this onto Jesus or in the other direction, but before we get there, we just have to think, what the heck did this mean in the story of what’s going on here? Because you never see a snake causing problems in the world again. This isn’t about animals. Again, we get kind of caught up here because some of our translations even has farm animals. It’s missing the sense that this is about, there are two orders of beings here. And my case is that the nachash—and Michael Heiser’s got some really good stuff on this and he’s pulling from other Jewish literature—a lot of the Jewish rabbis thought that the nachash was one of the elohim, potentially in the council of seventy, or maybe not, but his function, and this term nachash has been studied ruthlessly. It’s tricky with not knowing what roots it’s coming from or even what language it’s coming from, and some of the scholarship is actually kind of moved to say that it’s a possible reference to figures that were essentially the divine guardians of God’s home, and that this nachash it’s potentially not just ‘serpent’ here, it could still be that word, but that that word has another essential meaning in the religious context of ancient Israel that would have been, this is a being who had a job, one of the divine elohim who had a job to protect the garden, or for some reason was working in the garden, which again is why it didn’t scare the bejeezus out of Eve when it shows up and starts talking to her, and that this being is one of this realm of divine beings. That that realm, at least some, it doesn’t say some or all or how many, but that realm of created beings knows both good and evil. They have experienced a kind of Fall already at this point from just goodness to more than goodness, and now they have enticed humans into that. And the case I was just making is that it was out of a sense of jealousy of rulership. And so this idea that “I will put enmity” is war, hostility, warfare, basically an ongoing battle between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers, he will strike your head and you will strike his heel. Before we can get to saying this is about Jesus being killed on the cross while also defeating Satan, what this is about is basically your people, your world, your species, we don’t even have the right words, really, are going to be at war with one another, essentially killing one another. And that’s the language here: “He will strike your head”

Nate: And we can’t read this as humans v. snakes because we don’t ever see anything like that in the rest of time. Uh, except for Indiana Jones, but this is humans versus the elohim.

Tim: Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah, if you allow the nachash, the serpent, to be an elohim, which already has a lot of explanatory power, it then makes way more sense of what’s happening here.

[transitional music]

Tim: God made two essential realms. One is to us is the seen realm, the physical realm, the natural realm, and this other, unseen, spirit, heavenly realm. And they were supposed to work together. One enticed the other and essentially declared war. And the reality is there is now an ongoing war between them. So think about this: what did they lose in the garden? They lost the presence, the ability to be in the presence of God. They lost, in part, their right to rulership, not in whole, but in part. And they lost access to the tree of life which is immortality. It specifically says, you cannot handle immortality as the evil species that you now are, and so this will make a whole heck of a lot more sense of some verses that I’ve heard used in some of the worst possible ways ever when you go onto verse 16:

16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Nate: Yeah, that’s a—that one’s been used a lot, huh?

Tim: Yeah, in some really bad ways. And if you go forward to the New Testament, there’s a situation where Paul starts talking about women. Go to 1 Timothy 2. It’s already a difficult enough passage; we’ll get into this at some point in the podcast. This is starting in verse 11.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Nate: Uh oh.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.

Tim: Now I’ll be crass for a second and just say, if there isn’t more to our understanding of what’s happening at this point of the curse, then what in the world do you say to Alex when we walk back inside from our shed that 1 Timothy 2 is saying?

Nate: I mean basically, she’s gotta be all about bringing kids into the world, that’s how she’s gonna be saved. I mean ‘saved’ means salvation, right? So she’s going to be a Christian by having more Lucys, essentially. That’s where I go, right?

Tim: So, let’s just track this logic real quick. Go back to Genesis. The curse starts with there’s going to be war between human realm and spirit realm, okay? Enmity. And then, what does that mean for the woman? And it can be translated in a bunch of different ways, but we know it has to do with having children, raising children, and marital relations with the man that are a necessary part of having those children. What is the logical connection, and I would like to have one if possible, between a plan for immortal beings to work together to fill and take dominion over the whole earth, which we now know is really big, and when that falls apart, women are going to have a whole bunch of pain related to having kids? Hold on, wait for it. Let’s go onto what happens to men, or to the Adams.

17 To Adam He said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. Through painful toil you will food from it all the days of your life; it will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.

Tim: So women: childbearing, struggle somehow related to that. Men: agricultural work and struggles somehow related to that. Now, to me, we should be wanting to see a logic here. It wouldn’t make much sense for a writer to essentially on the third or fourth page of the text, to cast out nebulous curses from God that will last a really, really long time without any sort of logic.

Nate: The punishment’s gotta fit the crime!

Tim: [laughing] And I would say that even our language of cursed totally skews how we read this because we want to detach curse from anything like a natural consequence so that it’s simply punitive in its nature. God’s angry and so He’s going to dole out, like you just joked, a punishment that fits the crime. In which case, we can be like, “Okay, there doesn’t need to be any logic for it, it’s just bad thing done, so really bad things are going to happen.” There is a logic, though, that makes a whole lot of sense. Okay, so just look at my backyard right now, which is small and already somewhat well cultivated. Just think about how hard it would be for you, your job is, remember the task for Adam and Eve is essentially agricultural cultivation of a raw, uncultivated garden planet. How hard would it be for you, if that was your one task, or say you had ten of my backyards, if you had a whole heavenly host of divine beings who are going to help you do that thing? Versus, “Whoops,” that relationship just fell apart, and now that whole dang thing is on you and whatever kids you can reproduce to help you.

Nate: Ah! And also there’s, you know about evil now and there’s all those consequences of things that you just do to other people and all that garbage, and that makes the job even harder too, right?

Tim: Yes, it does, but even before you get there, just think about—I think it’s almost part of the logic, potentially—why Eve’s is first. Okay, you guys still have to cultivate the world just to grow some vegetables so you can survive, because now you’re not even in God’s garden anymore. It’s really on you, it’s really on you right now, and you just lost your whole army species of divine angelic beings that were there to help you, they’re no longer going to help you, you guys are at war together. And literally, you’re the only beings that exists and therefore, until you start making babies, you don’t have an extra helping hand at all. And it immediately starts to make a whole lot more sense why we’re talking about child-rearing and childbearing and pains in having children and pains in the marital reproductive relationship. The logic is, there was meant to be this cohesive, harmonious relationship between a realm of species—

Nate: This makes a lot more sense than that it used to be really comfortable pushing a 10 pound baby or 8 pound baby—

Tim: [laughing] Yeah, it didn’t hurt, and now it hurts. Eve used to have pain-free babies, and now our wives go through labor for four days. No. The logic is, and again, this is just so far from our worldview, but the logic is that there is this huge mythological setting that they lost all of their help. All of the divine beings, God included, now are not in a harmonious partnership with them, and it’s on them. They were already tasked to multiply, but they had help. And it’s now on them exclusively through the power of reproduction to go about ruling the world, and it’s only, only, through their children and their children’s children, it’s only through their progeny, that they will actually be able to go about fulfilling the very thing they were created to fulfill. Which means, first, you’ve got to get to making babies, and you’ve got to make a lot of them. Which if you read the Old Testament accounts, is exactly what they were doing at this state, like bunny rabbits. And the dudes, and you can just imagine the guy’s writing this in gender stereotypes at that time, while women are in the house raising kids, men are out in the field doing the agricultural work. Men are going to have a really hard time working because they have no help. Yes, there is a sense of the creation itself has now just been tarnished, but there is a very real, basic, pragmatic logic to the consequences of this event in Genesis 3 that has at its core, and this the part that we don’t have that I’m trying to insert here, has at its core not just a banishment from the garden and from God, but again in that garden dwelling with God was His divine council that were supposed to be humanity’s help and now is no longer our help but is our enemy. And so, like I said, childbearing from the get go is the context here, and that is why it’s not just enmity between the nachash and Adam and Eve, it’s enmity between their seed, between their progeny. This thing is going to keep going. Adam and Eve are going to start making humans, but from the get go of the creation of humanity in the garden, from this moment of the Fall, it is now a kind of spiritual, cosmic war for the royal rulership of earth, and in a sense for partnership with God in that rulership, that is—and we’ll end it here—the first piece of the Fall. And it’s not even the whole piece. So to refresh, I think it makes logical sense based on a careful reading of Genesis, that there was implied in this text some sort of primordial angelic Fall even before you get to these scenes in the garden, that caused a logical relation to this temptation scene in the garden, this kind of act of betrayal, and that the result of this is enmity between these two realms, and a whole wrench thrown in the plan of how the world is going to be cultivated, ruled, taken care of, and obviously enmity between the one God, Yahweh, and Adam and Eve.

Nate: This is kind of blowing my mind a bit, but really cool, and I’m starting to kind of see the possibilities for where this new framework can take us, and what we can do with that as we re-look at the Bible, but also more importantly, look at the cultural issues that we care about and we’re talking about today. I do have a bunch of questions, and so the next episode we’re going to do is a question and response episode about the Fall, part 1. And then we’re going to get into a couple more episodes on the Fall before starting to apply some of this stuff to the hot topic issues of the day that we really want to get to. So subscribe to Almost Heretical wherever you get your podcasts, please feel free to connect with us at almostheretical.com, and last but not least, please, please, please, if you could, jump onto iTunes and leave a review for Almost Heretical. These reviews will help other people find the show, and that’d be super great. So thank you for doing that, we’ll catch you next time. For Nate and Tim, this is Almost Heretical.

Tim: Peace.

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