The Main Theme of the Story
of Adam and Eve in
Genesis Chapter 2:4b ~ 3:24

1. Introduction

The story of Adam and Eve reported in Genesis chapter 2:4b~3:24 is always associated with the teaching of ‘origin’, ‘sin’, ‘original sin’, ‘fall’ and ‘death’. However, there are some problems in this teaching. For example, if this story is associated with ‘origin’, some scholars object that it may not be the interest of original author. Moreover, in general and common sense understanding of ‘fall’, it may be used to describe a situation of ‘come or go down from force of weight, loss of balance, descend or drop’. Thus, if one ‘labels’ the main theme of the story is ‘fall’, it implies that Adam and Eve ‘drop’ from a certain status. However, some scholars suggest that it may overload the original meaning prepared by original author. Moreover, it is questioned if it is really a ‘fall down’ as it may be considered as maturation. Thus, the main theme may be the ‘fall’ up of human on the other hand. In fact, there are numerous and even contradicting interpretations on this famous story. The main work of this thesis is working out the main theme of the story of original author. The identified main theme should be meaningful to contemporary readers as well. The basic holding of this paper is that the main theme of the story of Adam and Eve intended to be delivered by original author involving the participation of readers as ‘human’s decision in following God’s command’.

1.1 Structure of this Paper

There are four major sections in this paper. Firstly, the chapter of introduction will introduce some basic concepts related to this study including the working definition of ‘theme’. Three criteria of the theme will be laid as a frame of reference of this study. Moreover, some related terminology will be introduced. Secondly, there is a section of the reviews of previous work, which aims at a board understanding of the complexity about the problem of the theme of the story of Adam and Eve. Different methodologies and suggested themes will be introduced and commented. Then, it will explain why the literary study is selected as the most appropriate methodology for this study. Thirdly, the exegesis with literary study (emphasizing the narrative skills) will be used to analyze the story in seven scenes. Then, the suggested theme will be checked against with the three criteria of identifying a theme stated in chapter two. Finally, a conclusion will be made.


1.2 Definition of ‘Theme’: Three Criteria

The focus of present study is the main ‘theme’ of the story of Adam and Eve, it is necessary to have a clear formulation of the meaning of the term ‘theme’ that lays a boundary and direction for further studies. Cline distinguishes the meaning of ‘theme’ from four similar words: ‘intention’, ‘motif’, ‘plot’ and ‘subject’.

Firstly, he claimed that the term ‘theme’ is narrower than the ‘original intention of the author’. The author may prepare the literary work for many purposes that may include the purpose of earning money and gaining money. However, ‘theme’ only refers to the area of the intention that can be expressed through literary work. Secondly, it is boarder than the ‘original intention’ of the work. It is because readers have the right to ‘construct’ the theme of the work when the author no longer has the right to access it. Thirdly, theme is a larger unit than ‘motif’, ‘topos’, ‘typical scene’ or ‘narrative pattern’. In other words, the theme of a passage should be considered in a boarder context as well. Finally, theme is ‘deeper’ than the plot. Identifying a plot simply understands the subject. However, the theme includes ‘the attitude, the opinion, the insight about the subject that is revealed through a particular handling of it’. In other words, the concept of ‘theme’ has tendency to conceptualize the plot.

The above discussion of the meaning of ‘theme’ gives us at least three criteria or directions in the process of identifying it.

  1. It must be derived from literary work, but not only a guess. It should be revealed from the studies of the handling skills of the text by the author (not only ‘what’ it said, but also ‘how’ it said).
  2. It must bear certain meanings to readers.
  3. It must have no conflicts with other texts in a boarder view.

Cline’s suggestion has the advantage of considering the contemporary interpretation principles. The above discussion has no conflict with related work of Goldingay, Brett and Tremper III. Therefore, these three criteria lay the foundation of frame of reference in this study.

In order to emphasize of the importance and value of the term ‘theme’, the adjective ‘main’ is used. However, the term ‘theme’ is used in the following for a simplicity.

1.3 Terminology used

In this paper, some terms are defined tentatively to facilitate discussion. The term ‘story’ will be used to indicate the narration in the studied passage. That is Genesis 2:4b~3:24. Corresponding to the word ‘story’, the writer(s)/ redactors(s) of the story will be described as the ‘author’. The ‘violation’ will be used to describe the decisive moment in Genesis 3:6~8. The term ‘human’ used in the suggested theme does not only represent the human pair in the garden, but also the whole of mankind.

Moreover, the meaning of the term ‘meaning’ may be ambiguous. It needs to be clarified. It is suggested that there are eight levels of meaning:

  1. the meaning bear in the mind of the original writer expressed in the text
  2. the aims intended to be delivered by the original writer through the text
  3. the understanding of the text of the first reader. it may be different from the meaning and aims of the original writer
  4. the aims of redaction of the bible redactors. the original meaning may be re-shaped according to the agenda of the redactors.
  5. the understanding of the people in the Old Testament period
  6. the understanding of the people in the New Testament period
  7. the understanding of the Christian in previous two thousand years
  8. the understanding of the contemporary readers

It can be found that there is a development of the meaning from the original author of level one to the contemporary reader of level eight. It is assumed that the author of the Pentateuch should bear certain intention in his writing. In this paper, the intended meaning of the author will be identified as this is the practice of the standard works. Moreover, it is targeted to work out the theme that is meaningful to contemporary readers (level 8). It is because the literary nature of Genesis may not only be a distant text reflecting the experience of original readers, but the experience of contemporary readers, that are interwoven with the text, can give an enlightenment, as well as life to us. Thus, the meaning to contemporary readers should not be overlooked.

After stating the three criteria for working out the main theme, working definitions of some key terminology used in this paper and goals of identifying the theme intended by the original author with meaning for contemporary readers, the review of previous work on methodology and theme will be introduced in next chapter.

 Search: Enter keywords... logo