September 28, 2011

What About the Curse?

For those who are not familiar with the specific details of the Curse as specified in Genesis 3, here is a breakdown of God’s judgment on the three parties involved in the Fall:
1.   On the serpent
a.   Cursed more than any beast of the field (v.14)
b.   Required to move about on its “belly” (v.14)
c.   Enmity put between its seed and the woman’s seed (v.15)
d.   Its head would be bruised/crushed by the woman’s Seed (v.15)
2.   On Eve
a.   The difficulty of childbearing would be “multiplied” (v.16)
b.   Her desire would be for her husband, but he would “rule over” her (v.16)
3.   On Adam
a.   He would work the ground with “pain” and with sweat (vv.17, 19)
b.   Thorns and thistles would grow for him (v.18)
Now, because the serpent was controlled by the devil, the curse on the serpent is also a curse on the devil. This is justified by other Bible verses, which I shall not bother to investigate at the moment. But, 1(c) and 1(d) are definitely directed at the devil rather than the animal called the serpent. 1(a) could be referring to the devil, also.

The language used in these curses is somewhat poetic in nature, it seems. We should not assume that everything here is obvious in meaning. 1(b), for example, may or may not be saying that the serpent had legs beforehand and was now loosing those legs. “You shall eat dust” (v.14) is clearly not literal. No one—including Moses—believed that serpents literally ate dust! That is poetic language meaning that the serpent would be slithering along the ground.

Did the serpent have legs before the Fall? The fossil record does show that snakes once had hind legs that were functional. Now, most paleontologists will tell you that snakes lost their legs many millions of years ago. However, since the fossil record for snakes is incomplete (there are only a few snake fossils), it would not be inconceivable that one or two snake species kept their legs until very recent times (i.e., c. 60-80 kya). It would be quite plausible that a snake in Adam’s time had legs, and then in the next few generations lost those legs. Under the standard evolutionary theory this would not work, but with rapid, designed evolution it is reasonable. But we dare not assume that this happened; it is just one possibility.

As for the curses on Adam and Eve, I don’t think we should be hasty in assuming that all the curses are necessarily meant to be on all humankind for all times. There is nothing in the Bible text itself—that I can see—that proves that these curses are intended for all of Adam and Eve’s descendents as well as them. It is unclear, but I do believe that the curses were meant for all humankind. (I just want to point out the assumptive nature of the standard interpretation of this passage.)

Let’s systematically go through the three physical curses on Adam and Eve, and see what possible interpretations exist for these curses. It’s not my desire to present a single interpretation of these, but just to show that at least one meaningful interpretation exists for each curse in the Old-Earth view. You can choose the interpretation that sounds best or most reasonable.

For 2(a) (increased suffering in childbearing), the possible interpretations are thus:
1.   Through time, the anatomy of women would be altered such that childbearing would become worse (consistent with the imperfect tense of the word “multiply” in Hebrew).
2.   Eve could have been supernaturally altered genetically to make birth more difficult for her and her female descendents.
3.   The emotional pain during pregnancy and birth—especially—would be worse for women because of the Fall and sin entering in. All of life is harder emotionally because of relationship problems.
4.   This was a curse specific to Eve, not her descendents; her emotional and physical condition deteriorated, causing problems with bearing children.
In defense of #2, we see that the text says that “pain” would be “multiplied,” which seemingly required there to have been the potential of pain during childbirth previous to the Fall. In defense of #3, the Hebrew word for “pain” can also mean literally “grief”. So, perhaps God was saying that there would be lots of emotional suffering (“grief”) associated with childbearing now that Adam and Eve had sin problems and relationship problems. No matter the case, there is no reason to believe that childbearing woes (emotional and physical) did not become worse for Eve and/or her descendents. We don’t have before-the-Fall pictures of Eve on display at the Smithsonian, and we certainly didnt get her DNA sequenced before the Fall, so we can’t really say how human anatomy did/didn’t change after the Fall. (We could say that because pre-Adam Homo sapiens are nearly identical to modern humans that it is unlikely that Adam and Eve were significantly genetically different from us, but even that is speculative.) I won’t bother defending #4, since I think it is farfetched.

For 3(a) (working the ground would be difficult), we have these options:
1.   The Garden of Eden was lush and fertile and easy to tend; being cast out of the garden (v.23), Adam (and his descendents) were put in a place where farming was much more difficult.
2.   God would have supernaturally blessed the ground abundantly for Adam and his descendents if he hadn’t fallen; instead, after the Fall, the ground would be cursed and hard to work (like it occurs naturally).
3.   Again, the emotional struggles with Adam would cause his work to be more “painful” and seem more like drudgery.
4.   The ground everywhere was supernaturally altered to be less productive (no evidence of this exists).
In defense of #1, a similar curse to the “ground” was made to Cain in Gen. 4:11-12, seemingly related to Cain being removed to a different location. So, it is reasonable that this curse on Adam was related to his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. As far as #3 goes, we would still need to explain the part where God says that Adam would need to work in the “sweat of his brow” (v.19); however, that is easily explained by seeing that there is no indication that this was a change. The supernatural explanations (#2 and #4) really don’t need any defense.

Now for the famous curse 3(b)—thorns and thistles. The fossil record is clear in declaring that thorns existed long before Adam and Eve. So, here are some possible interpretations:
1.   This was a specific curse on Adam, mostly. The Garden of Eden was free from thorns and thistles. Being expelled from the garden meant dealing with thorns and thistles.
2.   God is simply stating a fact of life, not a part of the curse. As another example, the phrase, “you shall eat of [the ground],” which is included in the overall Curse, also isn’t meant to be a curse but only a statement of fact.
3.   The plants may have been supernaturally altered such that thorns and thistles became more abundant (no evidence exists for this).
In summary, logically speaking, it is certainly possible that the Curse was real and meaningful for Adam and Eve (if not everyone else). There is no evidence showing that Genesis 3 isn’t a real and factual history of two real people. I believe some of the above possible interpretations are literal and reasonable interpretations. There is no reason to believe that the first chapters of Genesis are allegorical, even if you believe in (created) evolution. Too many evolutionists ridicule the Genesis account because they are assuming the traditional interpretation of the first few chapters. Another good interpretation does exist that is consistent with an old earth and the fossil record.

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