Robert Jenson on Adam and Eve

“Who then were Adam and Eve? They were the first hominid group that in whatever form of religion or language used some expression that we might translate ‘God,’ as a vocative. Theology need not share the anxious effort to stipulate morphological marks that distinguish prehumans from humans in the evolutionary succession. If there is no ontological difference between us and our hominid progenitors, the effort is pointless; if there is, the division may not coincide with the establishment of our species. […]

“Who were Adam and Eve? They were the first hominid group who by ritual action were embodied before God, made personally available to him. Theology need not join debates about whether, for example, the cave paintings were attempts to control the hunt or were thanksgiving for the hunt, were ‘magic’ or ‘religion.’ The painters were human, as we may know simply from the fact of their ritual. And so they were presumably fallen, and therefore with their rites did indeed try to bind the contingency of the future, to do magic. But by the very act of giving visibility to wishes directed beyond themselves, they nevertheless in fact gave up control and worshipped. […]

“We … are compelled to posit a ‘fall’ of humankind, occurring within created time. Hominids who do not yet invoke God cannot sin. But so soon as members of the human community are on the scene, they in fact do; this is the lamentable puzzle of the matter. The story told in the third chapter of Genesis is not a myth; it does not describe what always and never happens. It describes the historical first happening of what thereafter always happens; moreover, had it not happened with the first humans it could not have happened at all, since then the first humans would have been omitted from an ‘encompassing deed of the human race.’

“We may one last time pose the question: Who were Adam and Eve? And in this context the answer must be: the first community of our biological ancestors who disobeyed God’s command.”

from Systematic Theology, Vol. II, The Works of God, (OUP, 1999), 59, 60-61, 150.

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