• Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I - Black and Missionary

Today, I want us to look at one crucial theory of origin in the book of Genesis. We will concentrate our reflection onGenesis Chapter 3—the fall of our first parents—Adam and Eve. The account is vital to Christianity, and other Abrahamic religions as many doctrines and theologies gravitate around it, especially the theory of original sin.

The First Chapter of Genesis (precisely Genesis 1: 1-2:4) gives the first creation account. And chapter 2 (2:5-25), recounts the second creation story. However, there are some differences in the presentation of both versions. This diversity could be because the authors were more interested in the message than the way it happened.

It is only in chapter 3 that we encounter their primordial problem. The dilemma was to understand how the creation that was good in the eyes of God—And God saw that it was good—became evil. They simply wanted to know from where the evil came. That is precisely the objective of Genesis 3.

Moreover, to solve this dilemma, they deployed the account of the fall of Adam and Eve. But, of course, sometimes we ignore that the authors’ aim was not to say how it happened. Instead, they were interested in explaining how in each of us is the presence of good and evil; the possibility to choose how we wish to live. And, for thousands of years, people still believed the Genesis accounts took place. Today, we know that both the creation accounts and the fall of Adam and Eve never occurred.

The problem is if Adam and Eve did not fall—as they never existed—, then how do we explain original sin and every other theology built around it? If we push it further, then there will be an issue of how to interpret the idea of Christ saving us from the sin of Adam as Paul states it here:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned—For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:12.19)

Since we know that evolution is the right way to understand how we come to be today, we wish to examine its status. In an allocution given by Pope Francis in 2014, he said:

When we read in Genesis the account of creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one so that they would develop and reach their fullness.”

According to the Pope, God is at the origin of the creation, but all we have today is the fruit of evolution. “The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”

As it happens, Pope Francis is not the first pope to accept evolutionary theory. In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII wrote:

The Church does not forbid that … research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God,” (HG 36, 1950).

Also, on 22 October 1996, Pope John Paul II reiterated this in these terms:

“Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact, it is remarkable that this theory has had a progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines.”

How should we then explain all the theologies and doctrines developed around creationism or built on the fall of our first parents—that never took place? We should not take this question lightly as it affects even our understanding of why Christ died.

I wish to underline that these observations do not challenge either Christ’s death on the cross or the reason behind the concept of original sin. Christ died, I believe, because of his love for humanity. However, my conviction is that his death is not a ransom paid to God for the fall of our first parents. It is true because we now know that our first parents never sinned.

Moreover, though Paul, in his time, understood Christ’s death in relationship with the Genesis account, we now know the limit of such comprehension. The death of Christ is linked directly to his love for our freedom, safety, salvation, perseverance and deliverance from harm (salvation — Soteria). He died because he so loved our liberty that he agreed to give his life to oppose everything, including the Roman authorities, that could hold us down and captives (not free). I repeat, God did not plan his death as a sacrifice - in the light of the Abrahamic attempt of sacrificing Isaac - of his son to save humanity. His death is not a ransom but an act of pure love that completes what lacks in our human nature, for where there is love, life abounds.

What does original sin mean?

How do we reconcile our shared human frailty and fragility with our diverse educational and cultural backgrounds?

Why do you think we share a common humanity?

I will appreciate your informed opinion.

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  • Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I - Black and Missionary

Many people will read the Gospel of this 13th Sunday without understanding what the bone of contention is. To better understand this, let us start from the beginning of the Markan Gospel. Mark, many scholars agree, today, is the first among the four Gospel authors. He is the source of the majority of what we have in the entire synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This means that the other two authors (Matthew and Luke) copied many things from his text. And Mark had one goal in his Gospel narrative: help his community to discover Jesus the Son of God,

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mark 1:1).

And to do that, Mark chose a beautiful strategy. He planned to help them, through different Chris-events, to discover the Son of God by themselves. Starting from the first chapter, he began to present some series of marvellous deeds accomplished by Jesus: casting out demons (1:21–26), healing the sick (1:29–34), cleansing the leper (1:40–45), etc.

What is particular in the way Mark presents Jesus to his community is by making him break many laws: cleansing the leper (1:40–45), forgiving sins (2:5–7), working on the Sabbath (2:23–24), healing on the Sabbath (3:1–6), etc.?

The Gospel of today fits into this last optic. Jesus, we are told, on crossing the lake, received Jairus, a synagogue leader. Jairus appealed to Jesus to come to his house for his daughter was dying. The paragraph is very long but I want to draw your attention to what I think matters therein. As a matter of fact, among the synoptic Gospels, you might find divergent evolution of this passage. However, in my humble opinion, what counted for these three authors was neither the healing of the woman with a disordered menstrual cycle nor the raising of Jairus’ daughter, but the encounter of Jesus and the unclean woman (5, 25–34).

What people often ignore in this narrative is the ritual status of this woman. For those who understand Jewish culture, what intrigues most is not Jesus healing the woman, but him remaining clean after she touched him. According to the Mosaic law:

“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, [menstrual cycle] the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.
When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.
Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period.
Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening." (Leviticus 15: 19, 25–27.)

Remember what I said at the beginning. Marc was not only bringing his community to discover how Jesus performed miracles but how he even did it against the Jewish laws. Here, Jesus should have been unclean for the whole day, after which he was to undergo a ritual cleansing. And Jairus' daughter would have died, in-between time. But he rather went against the laws making the defiling touch of the woman a moment of healing. The highest healing for this woman was not that physical, but that Jesus set her free in the public. She was no longer to hide, terrified by her ritual state.

That’s the genius of the Marcan Gospel. He wants his community to discover this Son of Man that is above the law. Luke will develop a similar thesis in his account of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, the Italian cohort in the Acts of the Apostles 10:1–11.

Take a look around you. Who are the “ritually unclean” women and men that Christ is calling us to let loose today? Who are those that both the society and the Church have tagged unclean, and that Christ is calling us to give an opportunity to touch the fringe of his clothe? Those we chase away from the table of the Lord, for example.

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  • Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I - Black and Missionary

Does it matter who wrote the Bible to understand why biblical stories are told the way they were told? Would it have been Eve who first sinned if women wrote the Bible? Many will tell you that it doesn’t count because the Bible being the word of God, wouldn’t change to suit one person or the other. Convincing you would say, but that’s if we suspend our reasoning. Yet, God didn’t give us knowledge for it to be suspended to suit a narrative. No, he reminds us to answer to those who will question the reason behind our faith. (1 Peter 3:15).

This why I strongly believe that the only reason why it was Eve who first ate the forbidden fruit was that the story was written by men. Why do I think so? Let‘s get into it.

It is because we know the story was written exclusively by men as in any patriarchal society of that time. And there is no proven reason why men in a patriarchal society, even now, and more still then, should freely give women credit over men except when the alternative is inconceivable.

Also, as we are supposed to know, the book of Genesis is a book of foundation stories. Foundation stories are the narratives of how things began or originated. They are often written many years later to explain why things are the way they are.

In this narrative of Genesis 3, the authors (for it is surely not Moses), tell us why we suffer. It is, they say because Eve succumbed to the temptation of the devil. In this text, the devil [here presented as the serpent] is the reason why we suffer today, they wrote. But why the serpent you might want to ask. According to an American anthropologist, Lynn Isbell, for millions of years, the snake was the highest predator of primates, instilling in our DNA a strong fear as it caused the highest death among primates. This, and many other ritualistic reasons associated with the serpent, made the serpent the symbol of death. So, there was no better symbol to be linked to the fall of our presumed first parents than the eternal cause of death of primates.

And as we know, in this narrative, no one wanted to be wrong: Adam accused Eve, and Eve, the serpent. It is thus obvious that the authors indirectly recreated what they narrated by accusing a woman (Eve).

We also know that the book of Genesis was written millions of years after the intended story they thought they were narrating. And like every other book of the Bible, as we know it today, both the anthropological vision and the social context of the audience are vital.

Reading about a single event in the life of Jesus tells us that not even the synoptic Gospels tell the same story in the same way. Take the baptism of Jesus, for example. Ask yourself why some emphasized one thing, and the others in different things (conf. Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, Luke 3:21–23, and John 1:29–34). Each writer insists on what has more meaning for his community. You can compare other parts of the Gospel as well.

Last but surely not least, the Bible as word of God was inspired by the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit dictated the words that were written, as certain religious books, like the Koran, appear to be considered. The implication is that most often, the authors or those who recopied the texts allowed human knowledge to guide their judgment. It is also known that there are often earlier non-biblical documents that contained the same stories told by the Bible. The story of the creation and Noah’s ark are good examples. Both were surely not original texts but borrowed from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Yet, none of these facts makes the Bible untrue. It is simply our interpretation of the Bible that could be inaccurate.

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