Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Journey, Part 13.1: Orthodoxy and Genesis 1-3

This is part 13.1 of my rebooted series on my journey from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. The full series can be found here:

1Back to the beginning
2Cracks appear
3Questions multiply
4Questioning the "gospel"
5The big question
6A better hermeneutic
7Explorations in epistemology
7.5Excursus on oversystematization
8Back to the gospel
9The new direction
10Ecclesiological foundations
11.1Sola scriptura
11.2The insufficiency of Scripture
11.25Addenda on sola scriptura
11.3Holy Tradition
12Bridging the cracks
13.1Orthodoxy and Genesis 1–3
13.2A Better Atonement (Against Penal Substitution)
13.3Faith Alone?
13.4The Colour and the Shape of the Gospel
14Worshipping with the Church
15Mary, Saints, Baptism, and Other Odds/Ends
16Looking Back, Coming Home

I apologize for the lengthy delay on this post. It is the result of a combination of schoolwork (I was taking two master's classes at once from November 10 to December 14, with two more systematic theology papers due in early January) and serious writer's block in composing this, probably the most crucial of all the posts in this series. Well, here it is. Or at least the first quarter of it.

I come at last to the number one reason that I found Orthodoxy convincing and compelling: its vision of the gospel is so coherent, compelling, and glorious that it is the answer to my multiplying doubts about the evangelical telling that I had thought I had to create for myself.

In my initial post explaining my turn to the Orthodox faith, I quoted Bishop Ware as saying that whereas Roman Catholics and Protestants generally start by asking the same questions before coming to different answers, Orthodox ask different questions altogether. This is less relevant to ecclesiology and tradition since Protestants are the odd ones out in these areas but pertaining to the gospel Orthodox theology is distinctively, refreshingly different from anything I knew from western Christianity.

Related to this is the fact that (in my experience, at least) Orthodox theology tends to ask fewer questions overall than western theology. On the whole, it is more mystical and experiential, less analytical and systematic, more attentive to the role of mysteries in theological method and less confident in the power of human reason to investigate them, less prone to seeking precise formulas or definitions to encapsulate theological truths. In one well-known formulation, the theologian is defined in Orthodox thought simply as "the one who prays". As I think I've mentioned before, there is little to no gap between theological academia and the clergy as there is especially in Protestantism. Because of its methodology raising them, western Christianity tends to ask more questions in general; it simply feels that it has to in order to do proper theology.

Foreword: On conversion sickness

Back up a bit, to when I was first starting to investigate the Orthodox Church. As I studied what Orthodoxy says about the "gospel" I was so confused about, I found a vision of the gospel much richer, more compelling, more glorious that anything I had known or imagined before. One reason for this was that the forensic or juridical themes which tended to occupy center stage in western soteriology (or something close to it) were relatively decentralized. The work of Christ was viewed more as a victory of life over death than as part of a legal proceeding. Salvation was viewed more as a hospital than a courtroom.

At this point I fell prey to what is apparently known in Orthodoxy as "conversion sickness": converts from western Christianity overreacting to the shortcomings of their previous church and arriving at a distorted version of the Orthodox faith that is its polar opposite. In my case, upon seeing how the focus of the gospel was shifted away from the legal machinery of justification and Anselmian satisfaction, I imagined that Orthodox theology simply had no legal component, that this was an invention of the west. Without realizing it, I was viewing Orthodoxy through a lens of my own making, my need for the gospel to be free from forensic language. Part of the reason for the delay of this post has been my need to get over this conversion sickness.

Though it hasn't been easy to admit, there is indeed a legal dimension to the Orthodox gospel. It is distinctly decentralized and less immediate compared to western theology and some of the particulars are different (as I will get into later), but it is still there. Part of my continued growth will likely be better understanding how this legal dimension fits into the "big picture" of the gospel without distorting or dominating it, which I once saw as inevitable.

There is also a more persistent form of conversion sickness. I am still months away from starting catechism. Where I once thought I was a fairly serious theologian, I now feel more ignorant of the faith than a child. In all likelihood, I will look back on this post and the ones to follow in a few years and remark at how foolishly I wrote. But (relevantly to the subject matter at hand) you must learn to crawl before you can walk. Better to write something now than wait until then. Reader, I eagerly want to share with you the riches I have found in the Orthodox faith. But for now, that means quite a bit of theological clumsiness. So please realize that everything I say is just a childish imitation of things I have read from far wiser theologians both ancient and contemporary. If you're curious, I would be glad to recommend some further reading to you.

The Fall: What is the problem the gospel solves?

A point often made by evangelicals is that in order to fully understand the gospel, it's essential to understand the problem to which it is the solution. I fully agree—but as my doubts grew I realized that I didn't really "get" what the problem really was or how it came about. The usual explanations I read or heard simply raised deeper questions for which few, if any, answers appeared to be forthcoming.

(A procedural note: I have structured my points around the "different questions" that Orthodoxy asks, or doesn't ask, compared to western Christianity, which was one cause of the writing delay. In the case where I couldn't think of a corresponding Orthodox question, either because there is a commonly accepted and uncontroversial answer or no need to ask the question at all, I have tried to summarize the Orthodox view in non-italic text.)

What can we learn from Genesis 2 about the way God intended life to be?
Genesis 2 depicts mankind in its infancy, not in a state of fully-realized perfection.

A common assumption in western theology is that Genesis 2 depicts humanity, and indeed, the whole of creation, exactly as it is supposed to be. It is a sort of divine blueprint for human existence. The whole biblical narrative, then, is one of a divinely-effected restoration back to the way things were/supposed to be. Maybe some of the details are different (the Bible starts in a garden and ends in a city), but essentially we will be returned to the way Adam and Eve were: sinless, deathless, living in perfect harmony with God and the created order.

To which an Orthodox theologian would say, "Well, not quite." Orthodox don't believe the original state of humanity was complete perfection, but rather on the beginning of the path to it. This is because eastern theologians have understood "perfection" as something that we must attain to through grace-enabled labor, not simply possess by nature. (This process is what Orthodox call "deification", to which I will return later) This is not any limitation in God's creative potential; it is simply the nature of the perfection that God created us to enjoy that we can't simply start off possessing it, any more than we can be born as adults. The second-century theologian Irenaeus (who, despite being a bishop of Lyon, is much more influential in the eastern church) wrote of Adam and Eve, "Their being good would be of no consequence, because they were so by nature rather than by will." In the Orthodox understanding, Adam and Eve before the fall are viewed as existing in a state of childlike innocence, not mature perfection. In one of my journal entries during my period of questioning, I blindly grasped at something very similar to this (maybe I had just been exposed to some Irenaean theology):
Also, for reasons beyond our knowing God permitted the Fall to happen. But He won't do so again. Right? Right—all the promises in Revelation. Maybe we will be not more able to do evil than God is; it will simply be against our natures; whereas Adam and Eve were simply childlike and innocent, we will be grown into all the fullness God has planned for us. (2012-10-31)
Does man inherit the actual guilt of Adam's sin, or just his sinful nature?
Fallen man inherits not "original sin" (however that is understood) but the effects of Adam's sin: corruptibility, mortality, or the weakness of "the flesh"

This different understanding, of course, changes the corresponding understanding of the events in Genesis 3. Again, in western theology Adam's sin is viewed as having direct reverberations for us; we all inherit something called "original sin" from Adam's act. In the most common formulation held by Catholics and some Protestants, we are actually held guilty for Adam's sin; this is justified by saying we were somehow "in" Adam, or that Adam is somehow the "head" or "source" of the human race and therefore his condemnation applies to us as well. Though some Protestants downplay or deny this concept of transmitted guilt (sometimes called "original guilt" to distinguish it), there is near-universal agreement that original sin does include an unquenchable inclination to sin, often called a "sinful nature" by Protestants or "concupiscence" by Catholics.  In western (or at least Protestant) theology, sin is seen as the big problem that occurs in Genesis 3, which the whole biblical narrative is devoted to addressing. Through Adam's sin we were all made sinners (Rom 5:19), whether by inherited guilt or simply an inescapable disposition to sin, and death came into the world (Rom 5:12), along with corruption, disease, suffering, etc. I view this as a reflection of the legal inclination of the western theological heritage.

Again, in Orthodox theology though some of the large contours are the same, the details surrounding Adam's sin are quite different. Since Adam and Eve are viewed more as innocent children than mature, perfect adults, and because of Orthodoxy's de-emphasis of legal themes, far less emphasis is placed on the guilt or overall "bad-ness" of their sin. In fact, many church fathers apparently view Cain's sin of murder much more harshly than Adam's. The idea that we are held guilty for Adam's sin is very distinctly rejected as contrary to justice as well as biblical texts like Deu 24:16 or Jer 31:30. Augustine's biblical support for his teaching on this subject was partly based on a mistranslation of Romans 5:12 from Greek to Latin to conclude with in quo omnes peccaverunt, "in whom all sinned", but this reading is not supported by any modern translations.

Though they are not inherently opposed to the term "original sin", it is not very emphasized by Orthodox because of its connotations; recently through the work of John S. Romanides the contrasting term "ancestral sin" has become more common. I will explain this concept more later, but relevant to the current topic is the fact that Orthodoxy views death, not sin, as the basic problem of the human condition. (Or, more precisely, the corruptibility and weakness which makes humanity subject to the tyranny of the "unholy trinity": sin, death, and the devil) In an Orthodox reading of Genesis, Adam and Eve were created on the path to perfection through communion with God, with potential immortality. By sinning and falling away from God, they fell off this path and succumbed to mortality, an eventual return to nonbeing, the destiny of everything that does not receive incorruptibility through union with God. This corruptibility, this mortality, is what we inherit from Adam, and it is what gives rise to sin and the other problems of the "human condition". I will say more on this after a sidetrack on human depravity.

Just how depraved did human nature become as a result of Adam's sin?
Human nature is essentially good, but subjected to fleshly weakness, corruptibility, sin, and death

Orthodoxy follows quite a different track than Protestantism in regards to what is often referred to as "total depravity", while arriving at mostly the same practical destination. One of the primary controversies of the Reformation concerned the effects of sin on human nature and free will. This controversy played out between Catholics and Protestants (e.g. between Luther and Erasmus) as well as between and within Protestant confessions. Controversies of the former kind highlighted the difference between the Catholic Church's more positive view of human nature and free will (as merely having lost superadded divine grace in the fall, but still naturally able to choose good) and the much more negative Protestant view of human nature as inherently sinful; controversies of the latter kind were over just how enslaved the will is, or how sinful human nature has become. The theology of my own background is well summarized by the statement in the Westminster Confession, that "Man, by his Fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto."

So imagine my surprise when I learned that Orthodox theology holds that human nature after the fall is still essentially good! But this is not Pelagianism, a denial of the power or reality of sin and death. Rather, I view it as an affirmation that the way things are in the world is not what God intended, nor is it "natural". As C.S. Lewis said, evil is merely a parasite, not an independent reality. Human nature, created by God as such, remains good, but as a result of Adam's sin is subjected to sin, death, evil, and the devil. If human nature had become intrinsically evil, how could Christ have assumed it? Though we retain our God-given free will, this does not itself free us from our predicament, for in the Orthodox understanding sin goes much deeper than making wrong choices. The fact that human nature remains good does not mean that we are able to free ourselves, but is rather a powerful testimony to how far we have fallen from our divine vocation, and how badly we are in need of divine rescue. It also arguably heightens our culpability for continued acts of sin, since they are not committed according to Augustine's "harsh necessity" but freely. God is fully, unquestionably justified in holding us accountable for our transgressions.

Virtually untouched by the Reformation controversies relating to the freedom of the will, Orthodox theology pertaining to free will retains the semi-Pelagian (or, equivalently, semi-Augustinian) shape it has held since the patristic era. (And by the way, Orthodox theologians don't consider Pelagius the ultimate heretic or Augustine the ultimate church father; though considered a saint, his teachings on the will and predestination were not received by the church at large) After years of viewing Reformed monergism as the "orthodox" doctrine and Arminianism as a controversial minority position, imagine (again) my surprise to learn that Orthodoxy is unabashedly synergistic! The false dichotomy between Augustinianism and Pelagianism is not accepted the Christian east; both of these options are seen as too extreme. It is simply understood that salvation and deification takes place by the grace of God, and he expects us to freely, actively, willingly participate in this by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Phil 2:12-13) I now see fears that this active participation will inevitably lead to "works righteousness", and the implicit dichotomy between God's agency and ours, as simply superfluous, or even a denial of the work of the Holy Spirit.

All of this leads up to the question that seemed inescapable during my time of questioning: how exactly is Adam's sin supposed to be the explanation for all the problems in the world?

How is God to be absolved of all charges of being the author of sin and death?
Death is not "created"; it is the return of a creation alienated from its Creator to nonbeing

Now we come to how Orthodoxy alleviated my great confusion regarding the big problem to which "the gospel" is supposed to be the solution. Trying to understand the Fall within evangelical theology, I simply could not understand how the original sin of Genesis 3 explained everything that is wrong with the world. How did this sin somehow rewrite basic, formerly good human nature to be inherently sinful? How did it make immortal man suddenly mortal? How on earth is it the cause of disease, natural disasters, and animal death that was going on before humans even existed? And how did one human sin introduce all these problems seemingly instantaneously even though it is taking God thousands of years to rectify them? I also had trouble reconciling it with God's sovereignty; how could God be in control and let such a horrible tragedy happen to his formerly perfect world? As I journaled (probably aware of the Irenaean approach taken by Orthodoxy by now):
It's very hard to see 'the fall' from a state of sinless perfection as anything other than a great derailment of God's plans—protesting this doesn't make it any less true. We justify it by saying God used it to bring 'more glory' to Him—treating glory as a quantity. (Which, for God, is supposed to be infinite anyway”) What keeps people holding to the fall is the false belief that the alternative is a denial of sin and the gospel. What if we stopped seeing sin and evil as alien entities to God's perfect world and started seeing them as growing pains—the consequences of our freedom and maturity? (2013-5-1)
It seemed as though either man drastically re-created himself somehow at the moment of the first sin, or someone else did—demonic forces or, unthinkably, God himself. This last possibility was particularly unacceptable to me; as I wrote, this would reduce the gospel to the absurd story of God fixing what he himself broke. Such a story is no longer good news.

I have already explained some of the building blocks of the Orthodox approach to the Fall, which I have found offers a much better (but still somewhat confusing) explanation of the doctrine. Much of the difference comes in its distinctive approach to death. As I mentioned earlier, death/mortality rather than sin is viewed as the basic problem introduced by the Fall. Whereas in western theology death is seen strictly as the result of sin, in eastern theology of the relationship is more circular: Adam, by sinning, became mortal, this mortality is what is passed down to all humanity, and now we are enslaved to sin and the devil through the fear of death. (Heb 2:14-15) I will unpack this further to show how I am trying to make sense of it now.

First, it is not as though Adam and Eve were created immortal and then "lost" it when they sinned. They did not radically rewrite their basic biological makeup by sinning. Rather, they were created on the path to the (potential, not actual) perfection and immortality God made them for, but fell off it by sinning. (This is supported by the fact that the deathless resurrection body Paul speaks of in 1 Cor 15 appears to be new and totally different from anything that came before) Orthodox theology emphatically states that God did not create death (as often seemed to be implied by Protestant descriptions of the Fall); death is not an alien invasion force into God's good creation, nor is it a punishment for sin; it is simply a consequence of man's cutting himself off from the source of life and being, and failing to walk the path to deification that God made him to walk which is alone the way to immortality. (I am still not entirely sure, but I think a similar argument is applied to the rest of creation because of Adam's failure in his vocation to extend God's dominion over it) Per Genesis 3:22, death is even viewed as a mercy, limiting man's time of tribulation in the world left us by Adam. Essentially, the narrative told by Orthodox theology is not that everything was perfect, Adam somehow "broke" it, and now God is returning it to the way it was/is supposed to be. Rather, God made the world in its infancy, in order to grow to maturity and perfection, which it does not attain to because of the Fall. Jesus' description of entering the kingdom of God as being "born again" in John 3 is not accidental; after the new birth comes deification, development into the fullness in him God created us to enjoy. The story of redemption told by the gospel is thus seen as more continuous with God's initial acts of creation, not as a repair job occasioned by a fateful act of disobedience.

Second, how exactly Adam's sin affects us. Again, the teaching of Orthodoxy is not that death (or sin) is some kind of disease or infection that entered the world through Adam and now gets passed down by heredity, at least in my understanding. Rather, we are mortal because, like Adam, we have not fulfilled our vocation to seek immortality through participation in the life of God. But we are called, every one of us, to do so; this is the point of Christianity and the church. We are called, individually and corporately, to fulfill the vocation of Adam, our God-given purpose as creatures. Death is not (literally) some alien force that we need to be rid of; it is simply the result of our status as creatures and our failure at this vocation. But, paradoxically, through the cross of Christ, it has also become the means by which we enter into eternal life as he did. "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor 15:54); through the gospel, death becomes the gate to the life for which we were made.

But for now, we are mortal; we are weak; we are corruptible and subject to sin, death, and the devil. As I mentioned, death is viewed in Orthodoxy as more basic than sin; it is through death that we are "sold under sin". One of the most convincing evidences of this is something I read from John Romanides, and it gets a little technical. I already mentioned how Augustine drew strong support for his concept of original guilt from a mistranslation of Romans 5:12 into Latin. Well, it turns out there is a modern version of his mistake, and it is ubiquitous in English translations.

Romans 5:12 reads (in the Revised Standard Version):
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned--
Which goes, in Greek,
διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ δι’ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμονεἰσῆλθεν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάνταςἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον
Focus on the last part of this verse: "because all men sinned". The corresponding Greek for this is ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον. Much is often made of the aorist case in the phrase πάντες ἥμαρτον, "all sinned", to demonstrate that Paul is speaking of a past event, namely Adam's sin, in which we all somehow participated. But then, the aorist case is simply undefined; it does not necessarily refer to a one-time event. Rather, focus on the part before that, ἐφ’ ᾧ, which is usually translated "because". This phrase consists of the preposition ἐπί (in contracted form) and the masculine dative singular relative pronoun. ἐπί, epi, is a very simple preposition that most commonly has a spatial meaning like "on" or "at", but can also have a more metaphorical meaning denoting the logical basis for something. In other words, the translation of epi to "because" is fairly justifiable.  But one question remains:

What is ᾧ translated to?

In the common translation, it seems to be folded into ἐπί to be translated "because" (or, in the KJV, the rather opaque phrase "for that"). But normally, relative pronouns translate to words like "what", "which", etc. For example, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up" (Mat 15:13), or "the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison" (Col 4:3). Applying this pattern to Romans 5:12, the result is the following rendering:
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because of which all men sinned--
Two words resulting from one Greek  pronoun completely reverse the direction of the relationship between sin and death. The verse which is usually treated as a slam dunk for the Protestant understanding of death as always a result or penalty of sin actually articulates the Orthodox understanding of ongoing sin as the result of death. Lest you think I'm just abusing my minimal Greek education, know that this is the understanding of the verse held by the majority of the church fathers (who, it bears reminding, spoke and read Koine Greek natively). I just know enough Greek to recognize that it makes sense.

Because of this shift in priority, Orthodox see the problem of the human condition from which the gospel saves us differently. Sin (and our resulting guilt/condemnation), rather than the big problem, is a sad (but real) consequence of death/mortality/corruptibility. Our problem is less legal, moral, or existential and more ontological. In Orthodox theology, the we are not so much rebels needing to be subdued, much less guilty defendants needing to be declared righteous, as we are patients needing to be restored to health and vitality. In this way, I think it is much clearer that we are saved by God, not from God (or from what he is going to do to us for our sins). God's reaction toward us for our predicament is one of compassion and pity, not anger, which I think makes much more sense. To sum up, the contrast between eastern and western theology on the Fall and the gospel "problem" can be summed up in something like the following:

How can sinful man be forgiven of his sins and be justified at the dread judgment seat of God?
How can fleshly man be freed from his enslavement to death, corruptibility, and 
the devil and come to enjoy the divine life for which God created him?

But besides all this, there is one other question that was pressing on me...

How does Genesis fit with science?
How does Genesis fit with Christ?

At the back of my mind through the whole preceding discussion was the fact that according to what we can now know of natural history, Adam and Eve were not historical people. And death was operative in the world long before any humans existed. This is rather problematic for the account of the fall that I just gave.

Unlike the previous points, Orthodox theologians don't give a better answer to this problem; rather, they simply tend not to address it much at all, drawing so heavily from pre-Enlightenment writings. This is something of a blessing, since it means that there is little perceived tension between science and faith in Orthodoxy (and where it does show up, it is elaborated in a much more thought-out way than I hear in Protestantism), and no cranks seeking to show that science really teaches creation and not evolution. Yet the incompatibilities between the scientific narrative and the Orthodox one remain. This is an area I'm very much still working through. My priest says he does not consider them incompatible, but I am waiting until biking season resumes to continue meeting with him.

For now, I have found some helpful resources. Foremost among these is the book Beginnings by Peter Bouteneff, a detailed survey of the early church fathers' writings on Genesis 1-3. As I read, I quickly realized their exegetical approach to these chapters was quite different from my own. My evangelical background accustomed me to reading this text historically: as describing a series of events that happened in the past and gave rise to/explain the present human situation. Because this reading of Genesis 1-3 is the primary one employed by Protestants, and because it is incompatible with scientific knowledge of natural history, it is understandable that evangelicals tend to approach it in terms of tensions between "literal" and "metaphorical" readings, or between "science" and "faith".

No such tensions exist in the patristic treatment of Genesis. The church fathers were much more inclined toward allegorical, typological, or Christological readings—Adam is more an archetype or symbol for fallen humanity, a foil for Christ in the gospel, than a historical figure. Christ, rather than Adam, is the beginning (and end) of humanity and the one through whom we are to understand our present condition. The liturgical use of Adam in the Orthodox Church closely fits this interpretation, which draws from the text what it has to say about God and man rather than about science and history. The fathers do maintain that Adam was a historical person (they had no reason not to), but this was more out of caution against allegorical excesses (as demonstrated by Origen) than a commitment to an essentially literal/historical reading as the default. Because of their willingness to look beyond the literal sense of the text to draw their theological and pastoral conclusions, Bouteneff explains, the fathers' use of Genesis is not invalidated by modern science; rather, it is a welcome alternative to a reading that is threatened by it.

So Orthodoxy has not so much answered my questions about Genesis and science as it has shown me an alternative to needing to ask them—an alternative to reading it through a historical lens that allows it to remain just as relevant to the modern world as it was in the ancient one, that allows science and faith to complement each other rather than compete. The price, of course, is that I must stop asking (or at least set aside) the question of where death, suffering, natural evil, etc. really came from—the question I was taught that Genesis 2-3 exist to answer. Well, maybe there are more important questions than this, and it is these to which the biblical origins narratives are meant to speak. Bouteneff's conclusion helps me to believe this:
The point is not, then, whether the fathers took the seven "days" or Adam to be historical. For the fathers, as for us, the historicity question has much more to do with how narrative, and scriptural narrative specifically, works to convey its message—something that both the fathers and we understand in a variety of ways. As to the end result, however, none of the fathers' strictly theological or moral conclusions—about creation, or about humanity and its redemption, and the coherence of everything in Christ—has anything to do with the datable chronology of the creation of the universe or with the physical existence of Adam and Eve. They read the creation narratives as Holy Scripture, and therefore as "true". But they did not see them as lessons in history or science as such, even as they reveled in the overlaps they observed between the scriptural narrative and the observable world. Generally speaking, the fathers were free from a slavish deference to science. Rather their theological and paraenetic approach to the creation narratives left them free to enjoy an unprejudiced scientific inquisitiveness. 
That being the case, those of us who seek fidelity to the fathers should likewise refrain from overly conflating Scripture with science, in order to bring realistic expectations to each. This means that we would have no reason to manipulate or ignore scientific findings that do not appear to accord with the Genesis accounts, since they operate on a different register. This separation is important for us because, unlike the fathers, we do have data that would make a sheerly scientific and historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 well nigh impossible, despite some modern authors' best efforts. Yet the ever-unfolding data about the size, layout, and probable age of the created world—which goes so far beyond what the fathers knew about it—can give us the same exuberance as it did the early Christian writers: a joyous wonder in mystery and divine providence, and even, at times, a recognition of overlaps with aspects of the scriptural narratives. 
If we follow the fathers, we will see the Genesis creation accounts as God's uniquely chosen vehicle to express his truth about cosmic and human origins and the dynamics of sin and death, all recapitulated and cohering in the person of Christ. However we might want to reckon the narratives' relation to the unfolding of events in historical time, our gaze will be fixed decidedly on the new Adam.

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