Moberly on the Avoidability and Inevidability of Disobedience

We find that the story [of Genesis 3] in fact contains two distinct points, depending upon how one reads it. If one takes the story as a whole, then the words of judgment in 3:14-19 are part of what happens when man is disobedient. If one takes the words in 3:14-19 in their own right, they show that man is disobedient. The former reading implies that disobedience is not inevitable–obedience to Torah is a real possibility for man (cf. Deut. 30:11-14). The latter implies that disobedience is in fact universal. Although there is a certain tension between these two points, their conflation in the text can be understood in the same sort of way as one of the theological paradoxes of the flood narrative. There, although man is universally sinful (Gen 6:5), Noah finds favour in the eyes of God (6:8) and is explicitly said to be righteous (6:9). Even more strikingly, God’s final pronouncement of the enduring sinfulness of man’s heart (8:21) must, in terms of the story, refer primarily to Noah himself and his family, even though Noah at the time is offering an acceptable sacrifice. Such a paradoxical assessment of man as profoundly sinful and yet also capable of true obedience to God is clear in the flood story. I propose that Gen. 2-3 should be read in a similar way. (20-21)

I am not sure that I agree that “the words in 3:14-19 in their own right . . . show that man is disobedient.” I would put it this way:

If one takes the story as a narrative about a man and his wife, then the words of judgment in 3:14-19 are part of what happens when man is disobedient. If one recognizes that this man and his wife are not a historical couple but rather the story of all humanity (“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” Gen 2:4), they show that man is disobedient.

Recast in this light, I find Moberly’s observation about the paradox in the text to be quite profound indeed! Moberly’s entire article has been delightful and stimulating, though I disagree with his ultimate conclusion.

References

Moberly, R W L. “Did the Serpent Get It Right?.” Journal of Theological Studies 39, no. 1 (1988): 1-27.

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