A regular commenter on these threads asks three questions on behalf of others he studies with.
(1) If Adam and Eve weren't real, what is man's original sin?
(2) If Adam and Eve weren't real, what are we to make of Paul's syllogism in Romans 5:12-19?
(3) Did Paul believe Adam and Eve and the apple/nakedness affair were historical, or was his Romans theology a syllogistic riff on a well-known, well-respected story?
I’m thinking that Scott has questions of his own that are more interesting than these. But let’s start with (1) – (3).
The questions depend on notions of history current among loads of people. The questions make sense in the context of the fundamentalist / modernist dichotomy; they depend, it seems to me, on misconceptions. The notion of history embraced by fundamentalism and modernism alike deserves to be fisked.
Re (1) and (2). Of course Adam and Eve are real. In protological narrative, one collapses back into archetypal figures an enormous critical mass of reality. This is evident immediately with respect to original sin. It is hard to think of a teaching that is more evidence-based than the doctrine of original sin. It is after all uncontroversial that the ability to commit sin and particular proclivities in the realm of sin commitment are passed on biologically and culturally from one generation to the next. I offer a quote below from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy to that effect. Chesterton takes on the modernists. But that does not make Chesterton a fundamentalist.
It is essential to grasp that history, not just protological narrative, is by definition made up (Hayden White). More precisely, a historian “doesn't just find history but also makes it by
arranging events in a certain order
answering questions: what happened? when? how? why?
deciding which events in the chronicle to include and exclude
stressing some events and subordinating others
A historian answers questions by three different types of explanations:
The quoted summary is not my own but that of Vicki Rea: go here.
Finding and making also go into composing a protological narrative. Really good protological narratives find a tremendous amount of human experience and make it into a narrative. Genesis 2-3 is, I submit, a protological narrative so good, it is hard to think of worthy competitors. Gen 1 and Ps 74:12-17 complement rather than compete with Gen 2-3.
Gen 2-3 alone of the above narratives offers an etiology of sin within the context of an etiology of the broader human condition. There are other conceivable etiologies for sin and evil in the world; the most cogent depends on elaborating the reality of transpersonal evil in terms of a glorious angel or angels who rebel and threaten both heaven and earth. The book of Enoch, the Watchers tradition well-attested at Qumran, all the way down to Milton’s Paradise Lost, move along these coordinates.
Jewish and Christian etiologies of sin and evil are plural and the one Paul develops in Romans 5, though it is easy to argue that it has much truth in it, is not the whole picture.
Re (3). Of course Paul understood Genesis 2-3 to be historical. Rightly so, and in more ways than one. For example, it stands to reason that the first time sin (however defined) took place, it would have been social in nature. In that sense, Paul’s syllogism is reductive in that he concentrates on Adam to the exclusion of Eve. Gen 2-3 is richer and gives us a fuller picture of the reality of sin. It also stands to reason that primeval sin would have been understood in the context of man’s relationship with deity – the god-proneness of human beings is attested as far back as the anthropological record takes us. It is unlikely that Paul would have thought much of attempts at disambiguating the sense in which Gen 2-3 corresponds to reality. There are after all so many blatant ways the narrative corresponds to reality, however allusively and indirectly. If we with Paul Ricoeur learn to read Gen 2-3 with second naivete, these ways become clearer than they are at first blush.
Are there alternative etiologies of sin that defeat the ones of Jewish and Christian tradition? Not that I know of. A biblical worldview seems capable of accommodating the insights of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. I also wonder about the protology of sin in Buddhism. It is well-known that those who commit sin are reborn in hell according to Buddhism. The eschatology of sin on this understanding is straightforward. The protology of sin on the same understanding is not as clear.
Chesterton on “Original Sin”
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (pp. 24-25 in the 1909 edition of Orthodoxy; for context, go here)