Thursday, March 26, 2015

Missing the Forest for the Trees: A Reaction to Dr. John Walton's Adam and Eve—Part Three

Though it may not seem like it from the previous two posts, I believe there is a lot to admire about the work or Dr. John Walton. I appreciate him as a Bible scholar, especially as one who is attempting to address the great issues of our day. Writing about Genesis is not an easy task, and I applaud Dr. Walton for taking up the challenge. Perhaps that's why I find some of his statements so troubling. 

We need scholars to shed new light on familiar passages of Scripture, to help us understand what the Bible teaches in an age of new challenges. What we don't need are compromises that impose something foreign on the beautiful gift of God's Word. This is my concern with Dr. Walton's recent theories concerning the early chapters of Genesis. He writes: 

The distinction between innocence and sinlessness or sinfulness is important, and it's one that Paul makes. He says in Romans 5, "Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not [charged] where there is no law." Sin, in that sense, isn't so much a matter of behavior as it is being held accountable for certain behavior. When I say the first humans were innocent, I'm basically saying they were not yet held accountable for what they did (45). 

In effect, Dr. Walton contends that Adam and Eve sinned (erred morally) before the fall, but it wasn't called sin or credited as sin because there was no law to err against. But this line of thinking flies in the face of Paul's teaching in Romans: "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law" (2:12). It seems God makes no distinction between those who sin apart from the law and those who sin in full knowledge of it. The law brings us knowledge of our sin and guilt, to be sure, and it gives us the grace of accountability, but it doesn't create sin. 

Dr. Walton mentions Romans 5:13 to make his point, but if he would have continued reading, he would find "Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam" (v. 14). Adam's sin was against a command, but Paul here again makes no distinction: death comes through sin, whether that sin violates a direct commandment or not. 

I'm not quite sure why Dr. Walton feels it's necessary to paint Adam and Eve as sinners before the fall. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that they were in any way immoral prior to that blasted fruit. They were said to have been created in God's image. One of the primary ways theologians throughout the ages have understand the imago Dei is as a reflection of God's character—his holiness. 

And that gets us to a deeper point about sin. Sin is not mainly a violation of a commandment. That's putting the cart before the horse. The commandments exist to reveal God's heart. Sin occurs whenever we act against God's goodness, truth, or beauty, whenever we fail to walk in His ways. The commandments were given as guardrails to keep us on the path, but they do not, in themselves, create the path, nor do they create sin. 

In fashioning his Adam and Eve as ignorant yet fully-engaged sinners, Dr. Walton has minimized the serious nature of sin. If Adam and Eve were already sinners, then the fall was just a legal status change. Before the fall, they were counted as righteous, even though they were sinners. And with that bite of forbidden fruit, their label was simply corrected. We are no worse off than they before the fall—at least not morally. The only difference is that we're counted guilty and hell bound, apart from Christ. 

And in redefining sin as he has, Dr. Walton has also changed our hope. To be saved from our sin is no longer to have a new heart, but rather to be rid of the commandments. Our innocence can never be regained, our purity never recaptured. If Dr. Walton is right, and the blessed state of the Garden was ignorance rather than sinlessness, we are only now shooting for second-best. The power of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil cannot be undone. There is no regaining innocence when innocence never really existed in the first place. 

What we do with Genesis matters, for when we begin messing with the beginning of the story, we undoubtedly change the ending.

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