I heard someone say something on a podcast the other day which made me think. I can't remember the exact words, but the gist was something like this:
Christianity relies on the original sin of Adam & Eve. If there were no real Adam & Eve, no real serpent and no tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then there would be no sin and Jesus would not have had to come and die.
Is this right?
My problem in addressing this issue is that I believe in a historical Jesus, who was/is the Son of God, and who died for a purpose; specifically that his death somehow enabled people to be in a right relationship with God, something that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. But, I think the Garden of Eden stories are more or less mythological stories which are there to convey a message, but probably didn't actually happen as recorded.
Does belief in Jesus, the 'second Adam', logically imply that the earlier event must be true? Does Christianity rely on the truth of the Adam & Eve story?
For what its worth, I believe that the stories of Cain, Abel & Seth were probably based on real people, and they must have had parents. The parents may or may not have been called Adam and Eve, but the names are not the issue here. Were the parents of Cain, Abel & Seth the original two people? Well, I doubt it.
For one thing, in Genesis 4:17, Cain builds a 'city' - at about the same time as the birth of his first son. In fact, a few verses earlier Cain worrys that "whoever finds me will kill me" - which wouldn't be a major worry unless there were lots of people around, not just your parents. So the text of Genesis 4 suggests that there were lots of people around at this point.
And I am reaonably convinced that we have two seperate stories in Genesis, which have become muddled together. The first story (Genesis 2 & 3) concerns 'the man' and 'the woman' in the Garden of Eden. The second (Genesis 4) concerns 'Adam' and 'Eve' - the parents of Cain, Abel & Seth. I believe that these two stories got muddled together at some point when Genesis was being compiled (probably not by Moses, as is often supposed, but more likely a long time later, possibly during the exile years - or so I have heard).
But even if 'the man' and 'the woman' were not Adam and Eve, and furthermore were presumably many generations earlier (in order for there to be enough people to necessitate a city in the time of Cain), does that mean that the Garden of Eden stories are false?
Well, the events recorded in Genesis 4 and following (with the exception of the flood stories, the longevity claims and the tower of Babel) are all reasonably believable - that is, even non believers might believe that these stories are based on stories of real people who actually lived. OK, so they might be embellished and mytholised (is there such a word? there should be...), but there may be something historical in there.
However, the same cannot really be said of the Garden of Eden stories, these seem highly mythological in origin and it seems unlikely (from a human or historical viewpoint) that there is any actual history in there.
I am happy to believe that humans evolved on this planet from earlier, non-human mammals. Science has done a pretty good job of explaining it. Therfore, I don't actually believe that God 'formed man out of dust' in a unique creative act. Of course I believe that God is behind evolution so that ultimately we did come from 'dust' or sludge or something inanimate, but I don't think it was in the way that Genesis 2 says. Similarly I don't believe that 'the woman' was made at a later time than the man and was formed out of his rib. That seems pure myth to me.
But if this story is mythological and not real, then 'original sin' didn't happen. Tradition has it that sin is inherited from your parents and this goes all the way back to Adam & Eve in the garden. But if that never happened, is there no sin to inherit?
I've never been too comfortable with the notion of inherited sin, to me it seems like we're passing the buck - if I sin it isn't my fault, I'm only doing it because I inherited it, so its really my parents' fault and my ancestors' fault, but not my fault... People need to take responsibility for their own actions.
But even if the Garden of Eden story isn't true in a historical sense, it is true in a metaphorical sense - if you leave anyone alone in a room and tell them 'you can do anything you want, except look in that book on the table...' we know that, given enough time left alone, the vast majority of folk will take a sneaky peek. Its what we call human nature. The point of the Garden of Eden story is that we all (not two folk thousands of years ago) will naturally choose to do the things that God tells us not to. And if we don't choose to do the wrong thing by ourselves, it doesn't take much persuasion (just a few words by a lizard!) to make us give in to tempetation.
(Of course, this leads to the deabte over why God would make us in such a way as to naturally choose to disobey him, leading to separation and punishment... but that's a debate for another time...)
So it doesn't really matter to me if there is 'original' sin. There is sin here and now which needs dealt with. And Jesus did that. At least, that's what I believe.
I know that there's folks out there who don't believe in sin. But all you need to do is call it selfishness, and we find that pretty much everyone has it to a greater or lesser degree - and even a lesser degree is too much for God's liking, so he provided a way to deal with the problem...