Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 10th, 2014 by Joel Watts

A Symposium of “Adam and Eve”

Introduction:

I will need to explain a few things before I draw a conclusion. I am focusing on John Walton’s statement, “Ontology trumps biology” found in the soon-to-be published work, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

Ontology:

Ontology (from Wikipedia):

…the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

See herehere, and here.  I cannot help but simplify ontology as the study of being (what it means to exist), and it is used here in the sense of “if being is that which transcends reality” — it is who we are before reality, under reality, and after reality.

ontology trumps biologyThere are two types of Trinitarian Theology, economic and ontological. In the economic Trinity, God exists as a Monad but expands to a Triad during this present age. Thus, God begets (not makes) God the Son and in doing so, becomes God the Father. After this present age, the Triad will shrink to become a Monad. This explains equality and a whole host of issues and was held by the early Church. Ontological Trinitarianism means the Trinity has always existed as a Trinity and will always existed as a Trinity, a view held by the Church universal today.

Plato:

Plato’s Symposium will also factor into this discussion. His view of the ontological existence of love is this:

They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.

Or, you might like a song about it. Your choice.

Adam and Eve:

Let me refresh your memory of Genesis 2.21–25:

The Lord God then put the man into a deep sleep and, while he slept, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh over the place. The rib he had taken out of the man the Lord God built up into a woman, and he brought her to the man. The man said: ‘This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman,* for from man* was she taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one. Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame. (REB)

For woman, the transliterated is ishshah while for man, it is ish (REB notes).

Let me now relate what John Walton has said. Please note this is a prerelease of the book.

He proposes that the “deep sleep” of Adam is actually a visionary trance. Further, the rib which is often translated as “side” throughout the OT is better understood as a “side of Adam” (think side of beef). Thus, Adam’s deep sleep is a vision of the ontological being of he and Eve. Walton says, “The vision would concern her identity as ontologically related to the man.”

My paraphrase of Genesis 2.21–25, according to Walton’s notations, reads like this:

The Lord God then put the man into a visionary trance, where he took one side of the human and closed up the flesh over the place. The side of the human he had removed, the Lord God built up into a woman, and he brought her to the man. The man said: ‘This one at last is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh! She shall be called woman, for from man was she taken.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and attaches himself to his wife, and the two become one. Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame. (REB, JW version)

If you read the Symposium and Walton’s version of Genesis 2.21–25 together, there are some similarities, notably the side of the person becoming another person and the initial closing up of the wounded flesh not to mention the leaving of family to reunite the severed flesh.

But, there is more to Walton’s thesis.

While he asserts that there is mankind and womankind, he equally asserts that ontology trumps biology, ontological existence trumps biological realities (p81). “Genesis 2.24 is responding to the question of why a person would leave…” his/her family (biology) “in order to form a relationship with a biological outsider.” For Walton, we are ontologically gendered (compare this to the arguments of androgyny in Genesis 1.26). Marriage, then, is not about sex or reproduction, but about ascertaining our equal other-half. “Becoming one flesh is not just a reference to the sexual act. The sexual act may be the one that rejoins them, but it is the rejoining that is the focus. When Man and Woman become one flesh, they are returning to their original state.”

Conclusion: Does Walton’s precept, “Ontology trumps Biology,” work?

Walton is providing enough ground to dismiss natural law (separating ontology from biology) and arguments against homosexuality. Perhaps he does not see it. Perhaps you do not either. Let me contextualize this.

  • Genesis 1.27 has God creating the urmensch male-n-female, which some scholars see as an androgynous creature much like Plato’s androgyne. This idea is not new but is found in both Philo and Origen. Likewise, it is found in the Gospel of Thomas and perhaps even in 2nd Clement. In other words, the reading of Genesis 1.27 as something other than two genders, but rather as one person with two genders pre-exists modern sexual concepts. For further study on Genesis 1.27 in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, see Betz’s Hermeneia volume.
  • Walton suggests we take Genesis 2–3 as a sequel (not a recapitulation) of Genesis 1.
  • If the “original state” of humanity was this androgyne, then sexuality v. gender is a secondary argument given the forceful nature of finding our ontological completion, or perhaps, soulmate. This is why we leave biology, which is based only in reality, to find the other half.
  • “Ontology trumps biology.” Walton says this to support the notion of us leaving our families, the only real connection we have to this world, for something that is naturally opposed to us, a “biological outsider.” Why? Because the ideal state of humanity is meant to overcome reality.
  • The act of sex is secondary to the actual enjoining of the two halves. Further, Walton does not seem to state that sex itself is solely meant for procreation, but rather to aid in the enjoining. Thus, the reproductive necessity of sex, and the need for two separate genders (assuming both fertile) is dismissed.
  • When two join, they are joining as halves. We can call one Man and the other Woman, or A and B. Given that “Man” and “Woman” are not all that different, are dependent upon one another, and clearly represent one side of a whole (ontological) being, then it is safe to allow “Man” may represent a biological female as does “Woman” if there are two biological females enjoying an ontological companionship. After all, in the life after this one, we will be as the genderless angels (Matthew 22.30).
  • If Genesis 2 and Plato’s Symposium is connected, then can we, pardon the pun, separate them neatly? If we read Genesis 2–3 with Plato close by, do we not see that our current debates of sexuality v. gender is biologically based rather than ontological whereas religion and philosophy calls us to escape biological traps and instead look higher?

I do not want to suggest Walton is saying anything more than he has, only that if he is correct about this particular reading of Genesis 2–3, then we need to reconsider that “Creation order”/Natural Law arguments, which are the only theological arguments against homosexuality.

I am extrapolating data, not trying to tell you the conclusion to reach. I have long maintained that the only legitimate argument against the incompatibility of the practice of homosexuality is the one from natural order, the one from the creation account. I have not changed my mind on that yet.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

9 Responses to “A Symposium of “Adam and Eve””
  1. So, just curious… Since Walton’s Adam and Eve book tries to rationalize a historical Adam and Genesis with science, does he mention the inconvenient fact of Neanderthals? Any creationist attempt at explaining Neanderthals ends up coming directly from Pluto (BTW, Pluto will be in the news over the next year).

    • not sure. I haven’t got that far yet. It seems like he is going the route of saying Adam and Eve are historical, but historical among a group of humans. He believes and accepts evolution.

  2. Yeah, I just checked a review (by a creationist), who didn’t like his book (which is a good recommendation for his book, as far as I am concerned). That review said he says Genesis representions “functional” creation, not “material” creation. And a comment about anthropological speciments (I assume Neanderthals and their buddies) was included, that they occurred before the funtional “human”, and were therefore basically animals. I would disagree, since Neanderthals buried their dead, took care of their invalids, and basically were all-around good guys (my extrapolation). What the heck, life was tough 50,000 years ago, and a guy has to do, what he has to do, to survive. The whole death for sin because of picking a fruit sounds like something even Neanderthals would reject!

  3. But I can live with Walton’s opinion.

  4. Funny…I was thinking Jesus was a creationist (Mk 10:6; Jn 1:3) but of course I could be understanding that ontologically, not biologically…. Interesting discussion–looking forward to Walton’s release. Joel, I will have to take exception to your comment: “Given that ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ are not that different…’ — I thought you were married?? 🙂

  5. Genesis is the same as an earlier manuscript known as Jasher

  6. Sorry, I don’t do Facebook.

  7. Hi Joel,
    Have you read Donald Joy’s “Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God” and its sequel “Re-bonding: Preventing and Restoring Damaged Relationships” ? It sounds as if Watson is presenting some similar ideas, perhaps in a more academic context. He places gender in the context of the image of God, male and female with the sexual desire and act a longing to reunite the image of God thus divided….

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