Death and the Curse in the Garden of Eden—and Beyond

A new online article that I wrote on the topic of death in the Garden of Eden has now been posted to the website of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

Here is a summary of the article:

It has been a common (though not universal) assumption in the history of Christian thought that humans were created immortal, and only lost their immortality with the entrance of death as the consequence for sin. This is, however, a misreading of the biblical data, which suggests that humans were created mortal with the possibility of attaining eternal life—a possibility that was lost through sin and is now realized in Jesus Christ.

Were Humans Mortal before the Fall?

The article is published in an online journal of the Henry Center called Sapientia, in the Areopagite forum (the Aereopagus was the meeting place in Athens where Paul preached in Acts 17).

My piece is the first in a series of blog posts that were invited to respond to the question Were humans mortal before the fall? Each blog post will give a different author’s perspective on this issue.

The Creation Project

I’ve been involved for three years now with the Creation Project of the Henry Center, which has explored the themes of Reading Genesis (2016), the Doctrine of Creation (2017), and Theological Anthropology (2018).

Each summer (in June) the Creation Project has run a conference (called Dabar, Hebrew for “word”) on the topic for the year, held on the site of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Chicago.

At the first two Dabar conferences I gave paper responses, first to a paper on Genesis 1–11 (2016) and then to a paper on God as an Agent (2017).

Death, Immortality, and the Curse

This year (2018) I was invited to write a paper for the conference, which will have two respondents (one by a theologian, the other by a biblical scholar). I’ve been asked to give a brief response to my respondents.

My paper is entitled: “Death, Immortality, and the Curse: Interpreting Genesis 2–3 in the Context of the Biblical Worldview.”

It’s an expansion of the shorter Sapientia article, attempting to connect the discussion of death and mortality (from that article) with the broader “ecological” picture of how humans affect the non-human world for good or ill, which is first articulated by the “curse” on the ground because of human sin (Genesis 3:17).

The shorter article, entitled “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” is available online.

My Ambiguous Relationship with Carl Henry

For those interested, you can check out the blog post I wrote in anticipation of attending the first Dabar conference (2016), where I recounted my initial (unpleasant) encounter with Carl Henry over twenty years before.

Luckily, my experience with the Henry Center has been much more positive than that early encounter. In my evaluation of the 2016 conference, I wrote:

“I found the atmosphere of the Dabar conference to be collegial and open. While the presenters, respondents, and other participants did not agree on everything, there was a welcoming hospitality between everyone, regardless of viewpoint.”

I later recounted my experience of the second Dabar conference (2017), where I was a respondent to philosopher Billy Abraham.

I’m very much looking forward to this year’s conference.

Advertisements

Meeting up with a Variety of Biblical Scholars in Cheltenham

This is the eighth installment about my speaking in the UK.

After my second talk in Oxford (given at Wycliffe Hall), I got on a bus to Cheltenham, in order to speak on the same topic (biblical eschatology) at the University of Gloucestershire that evening.

My host at the University was well-known Old Testament scholar J. Gordon McConville.

I first met Gordon when I was invited to be the respondent to his keynote address at the Institute for Biblical Research annual meeting in 2013, on the topic of the Bible’s understanding of what it means to be human.

That keynote address ultimately led to his wonderful book called Being Human in God’s World: An Old Testament Theology of Humanity (Baker Academic, 2016). I wrote a short endorsement for the dust jacket, and I have now been asked to write a full-fledged book review for the journal Themelios.

There were some other biblical scholars at my lecture (some of whom I had known before), and we all went out for dinner afterwards (led by Gordon McConville).

Matt Lynch is an Old Testament scholar, who is both Dean of Studies and teaching faculty at the Westminster Theological Centre, with head offices in Cheltenham and learning centres throughout the UK, Channel Islands, and Northern Europe.

Two years ago (May 2015) Matt conducted an online interview (via Google Hangout) with both me and OT scholar William Brown on the topic of “Creation, Violence, and the God of the Old Testament” (the interview can be viewed here).

The morning after my eschatology lecture, I met Matt in a local coffee shop (called the Boston Tea Party, appropriate since Matt is American) where he interviewed me as part of a series of interviews with biblical scholars called On Script.” The interview is available as a podcast either to listen to online or to download.

Matt is the author of Monotheism and Institutions in the Book of Chronicles: Temple, Priesthood, and Kingship in Post-Exilic Perspective (2014). He is currently working on a new book on violence in the Hebrew Bible, which I’m dying to read (one of my MA students who wants to write a thesis on Genesis 4, which is the starting point of the book, is also looking forward to it).

Crispin Fletcher-Louis is an independent scholar, who works on Second Temple (Dead Sea Scrolls) and New Testament materials, with a focus on the imago Dei theme. Among his books are All the Glory of Adam (2001) and Jesus Monotheism, vol. 1: Christological Origins (2016). He is especially interested in how Adam, the High Priest, and Jesus (among others) are portrayed in Jewish and Christian literature as participating in God’s divinity (you can listen to an interview with Crispin about Jesus Monotheism here). While I don’t formulate these ideas in quite the same way, I have found his work helpful, and I cited him in my entry on “Image of God” in vol. 2 of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology (2015). it was good to meet Crispin in person.

Andrew Lincoln is a senior New Testament scholar who has just retired from teaching at the University of Gloucestershire. I met Andrew back when he was teaching at Wycliffe College, at the University of Toronto (he is a friend of Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat).

Andrew was probably the most outspoken critic of my eschatology lecture (and he didn’t hesitate to raise questions); I had read his book on Paradise Now and Not Yet (2004) when I was working on my eschatology book, so I expected his questions. He is a prolific author, and has a fascinating recent book on the virgin birth, which I don’t quite agree with. Nevertheless, disagreement doesn’t negate collegiality, and we had a friendly discussion over supper. In fact, my students will know that I have assigned his commentary on the Gospel of John in one of  my biblical exegesis courses over the past few years.

My speaking tour in the UK ended at Trinity College, Bristol, the topic of my final post.

Evolution and the Historical Fall—What Does Genesis 3 Tell Us about the Origin of Evil?

Last year I was appointed a BioLogos theology fellow, commissioned to write a series of six blog posts on Christian faith and evolution. My mandate was specifically to bring my own expertise in biblical studies (particularly the Old Testament) to bear on the question of evolution.

My own personal slant has been to explore questions at the intersection of faith and evolutionary science, both respecting the science and remaining steadfast as an orthodox, evangelical Christian (this, of course, challenges the truncated understanding of “evangelical” that the media often promulgates).

My fourth Biologos blog has just been published on the BioLogos website. It addresses the question of a historical Fall (the origin of sin) and how this might be compatible with the evolution of Homo sapiens. You can read it here.

This blog is based on the much longer chapter I wrote for the book Evolution and the Fall (Eerdmans, 2017), edited by James K. A. Smith and William Cavanaugh. You can see an interview with the editors about the book on the publisher’s blog site.

My previous BioLogos blogs addressed:

My final two BioLogos blogs will address:

  • The providence of God in a world of death and randomness (often thought by Christians to be consequences of the Fall).
  • How cosmic evolution might relate to the biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

You can find all my BioLogos blogs in one place (including upcoming posts); just scroll to the bottom of the page.

BioLogos was founded by Francis Collins, the scientist in charge of the human genome project, which cracked the human genetic code; he is also an evangelical Christian. He founded BioLogos to encourage all people to see the hand of God in the evolutionary processes of nature.

The current BioLogos purpose statement reads:

“BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”

Please join me as I explore these fascinating questions at the intersection of evolutionary science and Christian faith.

I welcome responses to my post on the BioLogos website.

You can also post responses to the blog about my post at the Jesus Creed website, hosted by Scot McKnight (the blog is by an excellent science and faith blogger who goes by RJS).