The Story of Adam and Eve
In The New Testament
Theosophical Quarterly, April, 1912
In trying to realize the thought, feeling and aspiration of the people of Palestine in the time of Jesus, with the desire to understand the thought of Jesus himself, we are influenced, perhaps, more than we realize by the form of the English Bible as we are familiar with it. We are led to think of the period described by Matthew as following and growing out of the period of Malachi, thus failing to remind ourselves of the profound change which passed over the life and thought of the Jews between the time when Malachi announced the coming of the messenger and Matthew’s record that the messenger had come. If we used the Septuagint, or even some of the older English editions, we should be reminded that after the last prophet delivered his message, the peoples of Palestine, with the whole Eastern shore of the Mediterranean, had been almost transformed by Hellenic influences, spiritual and material, flowing from the campaigns and conquests of Alexander the Great.
Very largely, perhaps, because we omit the Apocryphal books, we come to think of the life and times of the New Testament following with hardly a break upon the Old; whether it be the material energies of the period of the kings, with their ever present tendency toward idolatry, or the passionate fervor of the prophets, poured forth in protest against idolatry and materialism. If we turned over the pages of the first book of the Maccabees, we should at once be reminded of Alexander’s invasions and conquests, and the founding of the Greek empire, with its revolutionizing influence over Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Palestine and Egypt. And in books like the Wisdom of Solomon, or the Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach, we should find, perhaps, many traces of Greek feeling and Greek thought, with a view of ethical immortality nowhere very clearly set forth in the canon of the Old Testament, but very beautifully taught by Plato. We should remember also that the Jews, during the centuries immediately before the birth of Jesus, had spread eastward as far as Mesopotamia, northward almost to the shore of the Euxine, westward among the isles of Greece, and even as far as Rome, where they had their own colony, and southward into Ptolemaic Egypt. In most of these regions they came into contact with Greek thought, and, returning to Jerusalem to bring gifts to the temple, or to celebrate the great feasts of their religion, they of necessity brought something of the atmosphere of Hellas to the hill of Zion. Perhaps Philo Judæus and Flavius Josephus, the one coming immediately before the mission of Jesus, and the other immediately after, are our best witnesses to the fascination which the poets and philosophers of Greece exercised over the best minds of the Jews. Both, writing in Greek, quote the Greek poets and the Hebrew prophets side by side, and one of Philo’s great arguments for the unity of God is the Homeric verse:
οὐκ ὰγαθὀν πολυκοιρανίη εἷς κοίρανος ὲ`στω
“A multitude of kings is not good.” (Iliad, ii, 204.)
Philo of Alexandria represents the strongest and most luminous stream of thought in Judaism just before, and during, the lifetime of Jesus. He sets forth his views of life and of the world in a wonderful series of treatises which have the general form of a running commentary on the Old Testament. Philo was saturated with Greek philosophy, holding closely to the world-concepts of the Stoics, but above all, perhaps, he was a follower of Plato. He held Plato’s view that this visible universe of hills and sea and sky is but the outer presentment and veil of another and finer universe, invisible to the bodily eyes, but visible to the eyes of the mind, for the mind itself is an inhabitant of that finer universe, and of its essence. This idea is closely akin to the view which is coming to dominate our best science, which divines the invisible ether as the dwelling-place of all forces, and as the womb of matter and of all material things.
For Plato, and for his ardent disciple Philo, there was first an invisible universe, immortal, incorruptible, to be perceived not by the outer senses but by the intellect, which is indeed an inhabitant of that imperishable, invisible world; and after the model of the invisible world the visible world was made, the corruptible in the likeness of the incorruptible. Philo was so saturated and possessed with this idea that things visible are but the outer husk and shell of things invisible, that he takes such outward things as histories, traditions, nay, the very doings of prophets and kings, as being themselves symbols, allegories, figures of finer, impalpable realities. In this spirit Philo bends his whole energies, the powers of a fine intellect and a lofty soul, to the interpretation of the Old Testament narratives in the spirit of Plato’s philosophy, dissolving, as it were, the solid realism of the Semitic records in the sea of imagination and pure thought.
We can take no more vital and important illustration of this allegorising method of Philo’s than the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall; first, because of the great place which this story has been made to occupy in our theology, and, second, because it is precisely this story which has been made the point of attack in the campaign of materialistic and destructive criticism which followed the discoveries and theories of Darwin. It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of thoughtful people have turned away from a traditional belief in Christianity, because they feel convinced that the work of Darwin and his fellow-labourers has proved that the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall is a fable, while they had been taught by the doctors of theology to think of it as the foundation-stone of the plan of salvation, the correlative of the Redemption.
We are, therefore, led to ask whether this story was so regarded by the writers of the New Testament; and, most of all, whether it was so regarded by Jesus himself. We can best approach the solution of this question through the thought and writings of Philo Judæus.
For Philo, the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent takes its natural place in his complete system of allegorical interpretation. But first he points out, what is often allowed to sink into the background, the fact that we have in the opening chapters of Genesis two wholly distinct accounts of the creation of man. There was first, in the ordered sequence of creative Days, the making of man in the image of God, and then, as a subsequent event, the formation of the man Adam from the red earth. Philo holds that the man first created, in the image of God, was a spiritual and invisible being, a part of that divine prototype or model of the universe, which he calls the Logos, the Word, or rather the Mind of God. And he beautifully illustrates this archetypal world by picturing a powerful king setting about to found a city, and giving the work into the hands of a wise master-builder or architect. The whole plan of the future city is first formed in the mind of the architect: the streets, the walls, the harbour, the market-place, the dwellings; then this invisible city is gradually made manifest in the visible city built by the workmen of the king according to the wise master-builder’s plan. So the first universe, immortal, invisible, incorruptible, dwells in the Mind of God, in the Logos; and of this invisible universe, the first man, made in the likeness of God, is a part and an inhabitant.
After this, (says Philo), Moses says that “God made a man, having taken clay from the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life.” And by this expression he shows most clearly that there is a vast difference between the man generated at this point, and the first man made in the image of God. For man as formed at this point is perceptible to the external senses, partaking of qualities, consisting of body and soul, male or female, by nature mortal. But man made in the image of God was an idea perceptible only by the intellect, incorporeal, neither male nor female, by nature immortal.1
Philo comes next to the story of the Fall. It is said, he tells us, that the old poisonous and earthborn reptile, the serpent, uttered the voice of a man. And he on one occasion coming to the wife of the first created man, reproached her with her slowness and her excessive prudence, because she delayed and hesitated to gather the fruit which was completely beautiful to look at, and exceedingly sweet to enjoy, and was, moreover, most useful as being a means by which men might be able to distinguish between good and evil. And she, without any inquiry, prompted by an unstable and rash mind, acquiesced in his advice, and ate of the fruit, and gave a portion of it to her husband. And this conduct suddenly changed both of them from innocence and simplicity of character to all kinds of wickedness; at which the Father of all was indignant. For their actions deserved his anger, inasmuch as they, passing by the tree of eternal life, the tree which might have endowed them with perfection of virtue, and by means of which they might have enjoyed a long and happy life, preferred a brief and mortal (I will not call it life, but) time full of unhappiness; and, accordingly, he appointed them such punishment as was fitting.
And these things, comments Philo, are not mere fabulous inventions in which the race of poets and sophists delights, but are rather types shadowing forth some allegorical truth, according to some mystical explanation.
Applying this most valuable and fruitful principle, that the characters in the story of the Fall are types, allegorical characters to be interpreted mystically, Philo goes on to give his own interpretation of the story.2 The serpent, he says, is the symbol of self-indulgence, of pleasure, because it crawls, feasts on clay and has poison under its teeth; from it come “drunkenness and voracity and licentiousness,” inflaming the appetites and strengthening the impetuous passions. Using gluttony as an example of self-indulgence, Philo says that immoderate eating is naturally a poisonous and deadly habit, inasmuch as what is so devoured is not capable of digestion, in consequence of the quantity of additional food which is heaped in on top of it, and arrives before what was previously eaten is converted into juice.
And the serpent, Philo says, is said to have uttered a human voice because pleasure employs innumerable champions and defenders, who take care to advocate its interests, and who dare to assert that the power over everything, both small and great, does of right belong to it without any exception whatever. . . . Many other things are said in the way of praise of this inclination, especially that it is one most peculiar and kindred to all animals. . . . But its juggleries and deceits pleasure does not venture to bring directly to the man, but first offers them to the woman, and by her means to the man; acting in a very natural and sagacious manner. For in human beings the mind occupies the rank of the man and the sensations that of the woman. And pleasure joins itself to and associates itself with the sensations first of all, and then by their means cajoles also the mind, which is the dominant part. For, after each of the senses has been subjected to the charms of pleasure, and has learnt to delight in what is offered to it, the sight being fascinated by varieties of colours and shapes, the hearing by harmonious sounds, the taste by the sweetness of flowers, and the smell by the delicious fragrance of the odours which are brought before it, these all having received these offerings, like handmaids, bring them to the mind as their master, leading with them persuasion as an advocate, to warn it against rejecting any of them whatever. And the mind being immediately caught by the bait, becomes a subject instead of a ruler, and a slave instead of a master, and an exile instead of a citizen, and a mortal instead of an immortal.
So far the teaching of Philo, with its admirable sanity and philosophical breadth. It is admitted by all critics that these chapters are amongst Philo’s earliest writings, belonging to the period of the boyhood of Jesus, so that we may well believe that some such view of the meaning of Adam and Eve and the Fall was accepted by the best Jewish thought not only at Alexandria, but also, in all probability as far as Jerusalem and more distant Tarsus of Cilicia. We are justified in thinking that, for the better educated Jews of the time of Jesus, Adam and Eve were just what Philo calls them, symbols and figures and allegories, hardly to be taken literally, yet yielding a rich mystical meaning, and of high value for edification.
Let us now turn to the New Testament, and see what position is held by the story of Adam and Eve, in the teaching of Jesus and his disciples. When we come to count up, we shall, I think, be not a little surprised to find how very few are the allusions to Adam and Eve and the Fall, in the Gospels and Epistles.
In the four Gospels, Adam is only mentioned once, and without any reference to the Fall, or to any doctrine of original sin. Indeed, as Professor Toy has pointed out, “no distinct dogma of universal depravity exists in the Old Testament,”3 and this view was, without doubt, common to the writers of the Gospels and the Jews of their day. The one reference to Adam in the Gospels is in the genealogy in the third chapter of Luke, and this genealogy is in reality hardly an integral part of the Gospel. Much the same may be said of the words of Jude, who speaks of “Enoch, the seventh from Adam.” The allusion is chronological, not moral; and, as Jude is seeking to identify the author of the apocryphal Book of Enoch with the supernatural patriarch, we cannot safely give much weight to his citation.
In truth, there are only three passages in the New Testament which have any real reference to the story of Adam, and these are all in the Epistles of Paul. Taking them in the order in which they were written, there is, first, the allusion in the splendid chapter of the first letter to Corinth, which we associate with the burial service:
“Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in the Adam all die, even so in the Christ shall all be made alive.”4
We must take this in conjunction with the passage later in the same chapter:
“So also it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. . . . The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”5
One cannot fail to be struck with the likeness to the earlier teaching of Philo Judæus, of the two men, the one immortal and incorruptible, of the divine nature of the Logos; the other, of the earth, earthy; and to Philo’s further teaching that regeneration comes when, mortifying the flesh, we turn from the man of earth, and once more conform to the image of the heavenly man. This regeneration, in Philo’s view, constitutes “the perfect man,” the immortal, renewed in an imperishable life. Having formerly conformed to the image of the earthy, we are to conform ourselves to the likeness of the heavenly man, who is of the divine nature of the Logos or Reason of God.
The parallelism is close indeed, and we have much warrant for believing that Paul shares the thought of Philo, that Adam is a symbol of the man of flesh, in a wide and general sense: “in the Adam, all die,” rather than a definite historical personage, who, by a single sin, condemned the whole human race.
The second allusion in Paul’s letters to the story of Adam is in the letter to Rome, written, perhaps, some ten or fifteen years after Philo’s death at an advanced age.
“Wherefore,” writes Paul, “as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed where there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. . . .).”6
It is noteworthy and significant that, in this passage, on which the dogma of the Fall is chiefly founded, we find Paul applying to Adam the very word used by Philo. Adam is a “type,” a “figure of him that was to come.” Paul could hardly tell us in a more explicit way that he is interpreting the story of Adam allegorically, just as he did, in writing to the community at Corinth.
The third and last allusion to Adam is in the first letter to Timothy:
“Let the woman learn in silence and all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing.”7
“Eve shall be saved in childbearing:” surely this makes it plain that Paul is once more using the allegorical method, and taking Eve as a type, a genus, to use Philo’s phrase; and indeed there is the closest resemblance here to the passage of Philo, already quoted, where he points out that Eve was first tempted, and then Adam through Eve.
A striking example of Paul’s use of the Philonic method of allegory is that in the letter to the Galatians, where he writes: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. [For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia,] and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”8
This is in the very spirit of Philo’s Allegories of the Sacred Laws, as, for example, where he writes: “Do you not see that wisdom when dominant, which is Sarah, says, ‘For whosoever shall hear it shall rejoice with me.’ But suppose that any were able to hear that virtue has brought forth happiness, namely, Isaac. . . .”9 and so on. And this is thoroughly in harmony with the usual Rabbinical method of exegesis, well described by Professor Toy, as “summed up in the principle, that every sentence and every word of the Scripture was credited with any meaning that it could possibly be made to bear; and the interpreter selected the literal or the allegorical sense, or any other that suited his argument.”10
We are, therefore, justified in saying that, during the period in which Jesus and Paul lived and taught, Philo, who was a commanding figure among the Jews, and a recognized leader of religious thought, openly treated the story of Adam as an instructive allegory, a symbol of the sensual man; that the three passages in which Paul mentions Adam are all very close to the spirit and thought of Philo, and that in all three passages Paul makes it evident that he is speaking allegorically, calling Adam a type, a figure, just as he makes Eve a symbol of all womankind. And it is on these three passages that the doctrine of original sin, as connected with the Fall of Adam, is founded; for the two other allusions to Adam in the New Testament are purely chronological and have no moral colouring.
But we come to the most striking aspect of the matter, when we ask what meaning the story of Adam had for Jesus himself. The answer is, that Jesus nowhere mentions Adam or Eve or the Fall at all, that Jesus nowhere connects an idea of original sin with Adam’s Fall, or in any way suggests that his own coming and teaching, or his death and resurrection, are correlative to Adam’s expulsion from Eden. It is most significant and characteristic of the method of Jesus, that he nowhere assigns a general cause to sin, considered as a common heritage of mankind. Indeed, he uses expressions which are hardly compatible with the idea of original or universal sin. For example: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin. . . . If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.”11 But it would seem that it was much more characteristic of Jesus to speak, not of sin, but of sins, in the sense of errors, transgressions, of missing the mark, rather than in the theological sense of a condition into which we are born. In the four Gospels, the word sin (Greek ἁμαρτία) occurs forty times; it is used in the plural twenty-eight times, while of the twelve occurrences in the singular, only one is in the synoptic Gospels, while several of the occurrences in John seem, as we have shown, directly to negative the idea of universal, original sin caused by Adam’s transgression.
The dominant fact, therefore, is that Jesus nowhere connects the idea of sin with the story of the Fall of Adam; Jesus nowhere teaches that his own work is the correlative of that Fall, or that his coming is to be set over against Adam’s transgression, as we are accustomed to see it set, in our theology. Jesus takes the fact of sins, of transgressions, of errors, of failures, of death itself, just as he saw them all about him; and straightway, without theorizing, sets himself to applying the cure, holiness, purity, humility, faith, love, bringing the new birth and immortality. He teaches that certain things are to be done, rather than that certain things are to be believed. The saying that “He that believeth not, shall be damned,”12 at the close of Mark, is an interpolation of a later century. The authentic teaching is: “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me;” or this: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”13
If these conclusions be trustworthy, and, as I think, well supported by the evidence brought forward, then it would seem to be certain that the correlation of the Fall with the teaching and life of Jesus is nowhere to be found in that teaching; and that, while this dogma is made to rest on certain phrases in Paul’s letters, Paul himself in all probability shared Philo’s view that the story of Adam was an allegory, and that Adam was a type or symbol of that mortal nature which we all know at first hand, the passional nature which must be purified, before we can conform to the likeness of the heavenly, putting on the new man, who is of divine and eternal nature.
If these conclusions be trustworthy, then the correlation of Adam’s Fall and the life of Jesus, in our theology, is based on a misapprehension as to what Jesus taught, and what Paul meant. The second event does not depend for its significance on the first. The message of Jesus is wholly independent of the story of Adam. That message must be studied in itself, in its immediate and present bearing, apart from the theories of legal theology, burdened as it is with the Roman doctrine of contract, or debtor and creditor, of imputed righteousness, or transferred credit. If we wish to test the validity of the doctrine, we must follow the injunction of the teacher of the doctrine, and test it, not by legal argument, but by obedience, by keeping the commandments, by working the divine will.
1. Philo Judæus. “On the Creation of the World.” ch. 46.
2. Ibid. ch. 55-56, trs. C.D. Yonge, p. 47.
3. Crawford Howell Toy: “Quotations in the New Testament,” New York, 1884, p. 132.
4. I. Cor. xv, 21-22. The Greek reads ἐντῷ῍Αϐὰμ and ἐντῷ Χριστῷ. The Revised Version, in a marginal reading, brings out the latter article, but not the former. I have ventured to translate both.
5. I. Cor. xv, 45, 47, 48.
6. Romans, v, 12-14.
7. I. Tim. Ii, 11.-15.
8. Galatians, iv, 22-26.
9. Philo, On the Allegories of the Sacred Laws, Book II, ch. xxi.
10. Op. Cit. Introduction, p, xxiii.
11. John, xv, 22-24.
12. Mark, xvi, 16.
13. John, vii, 17.