I recently attended a morning of sessions at the Evangelical Theological Society devoted to the “Historical Adam.” There were four papers read, ranging from a Canadian scholar who completely dismissed the idea of a historical, literal person named Adam (or a woman named Eve) to a Californian scholar who demanded we see Adam and Eve as real people created about six thousand years ago during a period of six, 24-hour days in which the Lord did his creative work. The other two papers were in between, one seeing the Adam/Eve story as typological, the other seeing it more literally, but not subscribing to the young earth theory.
I am closest to this last theory (and to be sure, all of these are theories). I am not an evolutionist, although I think that science in this area has yielded some interesting results, particularly the emerging theories coming from genetic evidence. I also believe that demanding a reading of Genesis 1-3 that sees 24-hour periods (“days”) of creation activity as a misreading of the text. A “literal” reading can be no more than recovery of the author’s intended meaning when the text was written, and I don’t think the author of Genesis intended chapter 1 to be understood that way.
But what does this have to do with Advent? In Genesis 3, we have the story of the great disobedience, the rebellion of the woman and the man against God’s decrees, God’s rules. They chose to believe the serpent, the Deceiver, rather than their Creator, and the result was their expulsion from Paradise. This was much more than a relocation. It was a break in fellowship with God. It had consequences for this pair and for all of their descendants (us). This rebellion resulted in lawlessness, and this is seen in the next chapter where a brother murders his brother, and two sons are lost to their parents. There is no joy in sin. There is no hope in sin. Rebellion against God is looking into the deep black abyss and seeing no end. Shaking our fist in anger against our Creator is choosing death over life.
After the sin in the Garden is confronted, the Lord makes a series of pronouncements: to the serpent, to the woman, and to the man. They are the first prophecies of the Bible, and they do not come from a human prophet, but from God himself. This takes away any contingent, predictive element from the pronouncements and makes them promises given by the omniscient and omnipotent Master of All Creation. The serpent is cursed to be eternally loathed by humankind. The woman is promised the pain of childbirth and the unjust domination of men. The man is told he will no longer enjoy the bounty of the Garden, but must work hard to eke out a subsistence living from the earth. The words of God end with the promise that all will die and their bodies will decay.
In these tough words, there is a promise of hope. It is surprisingly not given to the woman or the man, but to the serpent:
And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15, NIV)
This has been called Protoevangelium, the first telling of the good news. There will be an “offspring” from the woman who will strike a mortal blow to the serpent. Although this promise is without details, Christians believe this is a prophecy of God’s plan for humankind’s redemption. The first prophet of the Christ was God himself, and this prophecy was given at what must have been the lowest point in human history. Adam and Even could not be expected to understand what the consequences of their sin would be for us, but they did have some understanding of what it meant for them. Paradise was lost and God’s fellowship was withheld. They would be alone in the universe, and many hard days of pain and sorrow awaited them. Yet here is a sliver of hope, a word that says that the plans of the serpent would be eventually thwarted and ended. As Edward Markham has put it:
Love and not hate must come to birth;
Christ and not Cain must rule the earth.
This is still the promise we hold to as we begin the advent season. We celebrate the prophecies of God’s men and women who spoke of a better future as planned and orchestrated by God himself. And these were not cleverly devised myths. They were words of hope that began with this Protoevangelium, a word from the Lord without human intermediaries. Charles Wesley put it this way in one of the verses from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that we don’t sing any more:
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
So, as we prepare for Christmas during this advent season, may we sing in our hearts this week:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Nebraska Christian College