The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is our understanding of the Garden under-determined, and ...

Hello All,

first post by a recent lurker.

The full title of this thread is:

Is our understanding of the Garden under-determined and might that matter a lot?

A scan of the “discussion affirmative” topics suggests that this hasn’t been brought
up; please correct me if I am re-hashing something previously discussed.

The line of argument may not at first look a whole lot like an “affirmative argument”,
but I think its conclusion (assuming it to have some validity) is very sympathetic to
the affirmative position. And if the argument is valid, it suggests that to the
extent that some theological systems have important foundational commitments
to the meaning of the situation in the Garden, they may be under-determined by

It seems to me that Evangelicals tend to harbor a sense of “what should have happened”
in the Garden instead of what did happen, the Fall, and it seems to me that one’s
preferred counterfactual story has to strongly influence one’s interpretation of the
meaning of the subsequent story of Redemption, and it even influences one’s present

The nearly universal preferred counterfactual story is a simple direct path from
temptation to blessed final state: Adam should have slain the serpent or in
some other way prevented it from corrupting Eve, and thereby avoided the
fall of humanity into sin.

This is certainly a possible counterfactual story, and it does make for a tidy
straight line from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22, bypassing all the intervening
sorrow and trouble.

But it’s not the only possible counterfactual story, and it isn’t obvious to
me that Scripture compels us to reckon that this is “what should have happened.”
There are other possible trajectories through the situation in the Garden, and
these other trajectories might lead to interesting places.

In particular, given that Eve had transgressed, what should Adam have done?
The text tells us what he did, faced with with this situation — he joined his
wife in sin. But given that she had fallen in to sin, what were his choices
at this point and could he have done better?

It seems to me that (supposing that Adam was still righteous at this point;
perhaps a case could be made that in not preventing his wife’s fall, he too fell
even before eating of the forbidden tree) Adam could have repaired
his wife’s fault by making atonement for her sin. A life for a life, innocent
for guilty.

IOW, Adam could have done what Jesus would do thousands of years
later. He could have laid his guiltless life down for his bride.

There is nothing in the Biblical text to rule this out (please correct
me if I am mistaken in believing this), and perhaps it is even preferred.
Paul sees a significant correspondence between Jesus and Adam. Perhaps
this correspondence extends to their missions. Perhaps Adam’s task in the
Garden as the first image-bearer, the first embodied image of YHWH, was
to lay his life down for sinners (Eve and all her subsequent progeny).

IOW, maybe the situation in the Garden was fundamentally not a “Law test”
but a sacrificial “Grace test”.

Maybe the Garden was meant to be a theater of redemption in which
the glory of God’s grace would be manifested through the magnificent
self-giving love of a perfect bearer of God’s image.

It seems to me that the choice one makes about “what should have happened
in the Garden” has significant implications for the rest of one’s theology.
If one reckons that “what should have happened” is the standard preferred
story, one is likely to end up with something resembling the Reformed concept
of the Covenant of Works; the Garden was basically about Law-obedience, and
Grace came in afterwards. This may lead to a vision of Eden restored, and
a vision of the present life of the Church, that is basically about law-keeping.

If one reckons that “what should have happened” is that Adam should have
done what Jesus would ultimately do, this makes the Garden fundamentally
about the manifestation of Grace. It makes the “husbands love your wives as
Christ loves the Church” ethic part of the fabric of the original very good creation,
since this is understood to have been the first husband’s mission. The
restored world to come will be (and the present Church ought to be) better
than a mere law-keeping world; it will be a world overflowing with interpersonal

Scripture doesn’t constrain one’s choice of preferred counterfactual Garden
story. People make those choices for their own reasons.

I think the alternative is more beautiful than the standard preferred story
and is more in keeping with what Scripture tells us God is “up to” in the world.

And it seems to me that this alternative counterfactual Garden story
suggests a Divine intention to manifest grace toward all of humanity.

Please correct me if I am mistaken. Or, if this is sound, be encouraged by it.

May God encourage, aid and preserve you all