This is the 2nd blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means To Be Human. In this blog I will present an anthropological question which intrigued me early on in my Christian sojourn. In future blogs I will turn my attention to comments by Fr. Georges Florovsky concerning scripture, the Spirit, revelation and the Church.
While most of the discussion of ancestral sin or original sin centers on Genesis 3 and the Fall of Eve and Adam, Genesis 6:3 offers a further word on the effects of the Fall on humanity.
Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”
God’s decision to withdraw His breath/spirit (ruah, pneuma) from humanity and not allow it to abide in humans forever, but only temporarily, has implication for biblical anthropology. But what these implications are, and how they might differ from God’s decision that death is the end result of sin, or that humans cannot live in Paradise, is not spelled out. It is not a theme taken up explicitly by the Old or New Testament writers. St. Paul certainly acknowledges the sin of Eve and Adam in bringing mortality to all humanity, but he does not comment on Genesis 6:3. St. Paul according to modern biblical scholars is among the very first to focus on the sin of Adam and Eve and its theological implications; for the story of Adam and Eve prior to Paul played no great role in the Jewish Scriptures and Eve and Adam are rarely mentioned in the canonical writings of Israel outside of Genesis 2-4 (Eve is not mentioned by name outside of Genesis 2-4 in the canonical Jewish Scriptures, though is mentioned once in Tobit and twice by St. Paul. Adam plays no role in the canonical Jewish scriptures outside of Genesis 2-5, but is frequently mentioned in the Jewish Apocrypha – found in the Septuagint and thus the Christian scriptures – and is referenced 8 times in the New Testament, 6 by St. Paul). St. Paul clearly sees the death and resurrection of Christ as being God’s plan of salvation in dealing with human sin and mortality which entered into the world with Eve and Adam.
However, in the Gospel tradition there is this unusual story:
The next day he (John the Forerunner and Baptizer) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34 NRSV)
The One who takes away the sins of the world turns out to be the very One upon whom the Spirit descends and REMAINS. What is the significance of the Spirit remaining on Christ – to what precedent does this event refer? The very sign by which John the Baptizer is told he will recognize the Christ is that he will see the Spirit remaining on him. (The Greek word for “remain” in the Septuagint’s Genesis 6 is the same root word as “remain” in John 132-34). Does the evangelist John have in mind the undoing of the curse by God as stated in Genesis 6:3? The new creation ushered in by God’s Kingdom breaking into the world in Jesus begins with the restoration of humanity to it’s natural human state – in communion with and in possession of the Spirit of God. The Feast of Theophany not only reveals the Trinity to us, it also reveals what it is to be fully human – to have the breath/spirit of God remain in us as God intended for humanity from the beginning when He formed the first human being.
In Genesis 2:7, God breathes the breath of life (= His Spirit) into the face of the man which God had formed from the dust of the earth, and the man became a living soul, a living being. It is this soul which is the very locus of Divinity touching and interfacing with the created humanity. God’s breath/spirit (the Greek and Hebrew word can be translated either way) is divinity touching humanity. The soul is the interface between the created world and the Divine Life.
After the catastrophic rejection of God’s Lordship by Eve and Adam and their disobedience of his command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of life, God’s warning about death becoming part of the human condition comes true. But it is not physical death which first strikes Adam and humanity, but spiritual death. The humans become afraid of their Creator (Genesis 3:10 – would a little fear of God have been good for them a little earlier? God apparently didn’t intend for His humans to live in fear of Him). The humans are expelled from God’s Garden of Delight and from His presence. Then as Genesis6:3 records God says, “My Spirit shall not remain with these people forever, for they are flesh.” The human creatures, male and female made in the image and likeness of God no longer are to have God’s Spirit permanently dwelling in them. However we conceive and understand the Genesis narrative – as history, poetry, symbolism, typology or a prefiguring – we do know that something happened to humanity. The result of sin – the entrance of death into the human condition and the loss of the Spirit – changes the very relationship that humans have with their Creator. The Breath/Spirit of God no longer dwells permanently in humans.