Hairball Theology, part 1

It seems like a lifetime ago since I had the privilege of teaching for Howard Payne University’s El Paso campus.  It was truly an amazing experience that lasted over ten years.  One of the classes I taught regularly was Christian Doctrine.  Next to Hermeneutics, it was my favorite.  This was due largely to the caliber of students who had to endure my so-called “hairball” theologies.  I cherish the interactions with these gifted brothers and sisters in Christ, and I actually believe that the absence of those interactions is what has lead me to start this blog.  I learned a lot from them, as they regularly challenged me both intellectually and spiritually.  It was a great experience.

The first class of Christian Doctrine always began with a quiz I playfully entitled Am I a heretic?  It was a simple agree or disagree sheet designed to expose the little heresies that we all undoubtedly hold to as Christians.  It is not that we set out to be heretics, mind you, it’s just that we often hold them in ignorance.  When we fail to reflect on our beliefs, or properly take the time to explore God’s word, we fall into beliefs that are less than orthodox.  It’s understandable.  It’s our nature.  I always made sure to include a few statements on the quiz that represented neither heresy nor orthodoxy, just to see what kind of discussion it would generate.  I generally referred to these statements as heterodoxical in nature.  While some equate heterodoxy and heresy, it should more properly be understood as other than orthodox.  Heterodox beliefs are not orthodox (not the commonly accepted views of the Church through the ages), but not quite heretical either.   They exist in the gray areas; the areas the Bible does not definitively address.

Hairball Theology #1: Did Adam and Eve have children prior to the fall?

A totally frivolous question, right? What one believes regarding this question does not matter one bit in regard to accessing one’s status as orthodox. For me, I am convinced that Adam and Eve had children prior to the fall. It is one of my little eccentricities. I’m even convinced that it is somewhat important. Does that make me crazy? My HPU students would have emphatically said yes. Of course, I like to think that is what they loved about me.

Why do I think this question matters? It matters, because I spend my time wondering about who Adam and Eve’s children married. Did they marry their siblings? Did God somehow spontaneously create other people in order to provide non-incestuous sexual partners? Would the whole question of incest even have mattered at that time? Mind blowing questions, right? You may be wondering how it is that you have never before considered this important issue? You can thank me for bringing it to your attention.

Let’s pretend that this actually is important. Is there any textual evidence to support the idea that Adam and Eve had children prior to being expelled from the garden? Consider the following:

  1. The curse: In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve that He will “greatly multiply” her pain in childbirth. This might be a stretch, but it could be argued God is implying that Eve had already experienced childbirth. The implication being found in that He will greatly increase what she has already experienced.
  2. The sending out:  The end of Genesis 3 has God sending out “the man” from the garden of Eden (v.23-24). It specifically states that he sent him out. It does not say that God sent them both out, or him and her. And yet, we know that it was not just Adam that was barred from returning. The lack of specificity means that the possibility of children being put out as well, cannot be ruled out. While arguments from silence are not strong, these verses actually support such an argument. Given that these verses are intentionally silent about Eve, it is not unreasonable to wonder if they are also being silent about children.
  3. The commission: The first few chapters of Genesis repeat the mandate given to both Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Is there any reason to believe that they took their time in acting upon God’s command? When reading Genesis 2: 18-24, you get the sense that Adam is lonely. He sees the partnering of the animals and wonders about his own lack of a partner. He may even see them having intercourse. I can attest that if you spend enough time around animals you will eventually see them mating. I have only been to the zoo on a few occasions and I’ve seen it multiple times. Ever see turtles getting busy? Trust me, it will make you blush. I particularly love the language of verse 23. Reading your English Bible you will notice how these words are formatted differently. It is something we usually see in the more poetic passages of Scripture. I can assure you that this is not polished poetry that Adam is speaking upon first laying eyes on Eve. The original language reveals a sort of staccato nature to these words. The thoughts come across as jumbled and disconnected in the original. Care to venture a guess as to why? Rabbinic tradition holds Eve to have been one of the most beautiful women that ever lived (along with Rahab). You can be sure that Adam was instantly smitten. Who wouldn’t be? These are the stammering words of a guy who is love-struck. If I had been in Adam’s shoes, it would not have taken very long to “be fruitful and multiply.”
  4. The passage of time. How long were Adam and Eve in the garden? The chapters flow in such a way that it feels like a matter of days. However, there are no textual indicators revealing the passage of time. Were they only together for one day? Two days? A week? For all we know, Adam and Eve were in the garden for hundreds of years. I don’t actually believe that, but we don’t need hundreds of years in order for children to be born prior to the fall. A few years would suffice. Obviously, the longer they were in the garden, the higher the probability that they consummated their relationship and bore children.

You may be asking what difference it would make if they were born before or after the fall. Wouldn’t each child still need to marry a sibling? Correct. However, the issue of incest (and the Bible’s commands against it) would not apply prior to the fall. No sin means no byproducts of the fall (e.g. genetic deformities). No pain in childbirth prior to the fall, increased pain after. No toil in working the ground prior to the fall, thorns and thistles after. Incest is an issue after the fall, not before.

Genesis four proceeds to state that Adam and Eve had relations after they exited the garden. It was after the fall that both Cain and Abel were conceived and born. Wouldn’t this seem to undermine my thesis? Not necessarily. First of all, Genesis 4:1 does not indicate that this is the first time that Adam and Eve had relations. Nor does this passage indicate that Cain was the first child. Even though chapter four only describes the births of Cain and Abel, the passage contains several references to other people. After Cain receives his curse for having killed Abel, he laments the fact that other people may seek to kill him as he wanders the earth.  In v. 17 Cain is said to have relations with his wife. In v. 15, even God makes a reference to other people out there in the world. The feel of the passage is that there are numbers of people all over the earth. To be sure. v. 3 does seem to indicate the passage of time between the birth of Cain and Abel and the subsequent murder of Abel by Cain. But if we are going to get to the point of there being numbers of people scattered all around the world, how many years would have to had passed? It seems within the bounds of reason to entertain the possibility that there were other children born prior to the fall and that these children were scattered out across the earth as a result of this traumatic experience.

So, there you have it: hairball theology, part one. For those who might be inclined to think that this was all just a waste of time, I offer the following quote from James Sire:

An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life (Habits of the Mind, p.27-8).

I am not claiming to be an intellectual. I do consider myself an aspiring intellectual. My hope is that a discussion such as this be taken in the spirit that Sire conveys, as a playful wrestling with the truth. If you have found it distasteful, cough it up and spit it out like a cat does a hairball. After all, that’s why I call it hairball theology.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts.

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