Imperfection in Paradise: Reading Genesis 2 through the Lens of Disability and a Theology of Limits

in Horizons in Biblical Theology
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Genesis 2 has been interpreted from many angles, but rarely through the lens of disability studies. Such a reading, however, provides a necessary corrective to interpretations that import into the text idealistic notions of bodily perfection and thereby inadvertently disenfranchise those with disabilities. By attending to the range of bodily experiences and the fluidity of embodied existence, this article seeks to shed new light on Genesis 2 and on the wider task of theological anthropology. More specifically, reading Genesis 2 with and for those with disabilities lifts up three essential themes in the text that all express human limitation as a good aspect of God’s creation: embodiment, imperfection, and relationship.

Imperfection in Paradise: Reading Genesis 2 through the Lens of Disability and a Theology of Limits

in Horizons in Biblical Theology

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References

4

Nyasha Junior and Jeremy Schipper“Disability Studies and the Bible,” in New Meaning for Ancient Textseds. Steven L. McKenzie and John Kaltner (Louisville: Westminster John Knox2013) 21. See also the important recent treatments on disability studies and the Bible they cite on p. 37 and the collection of essays in Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper eds. Disability Studies and Biblical Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2011).

6

E.g. Jeremy SchipperDisability Studies and the Hebrew Bible: Figuring Mephibosheth in the David Story (New York/London: T & T Clark2006).

8

E.g. Adela Yarbro Collins“Paul’s Disability: The Thorn in His Flesh,” in Disability Studies and Biblical Literatureeds. Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper (New York: Palgrave Macmillan2011) 165-83.

10

Junior and Schipper“Disability Studies and the Bible” 35.

13

CreamerDisability and Christian Theology4.

15

Ibid.31.

17

Ibid.31-32.

18

Ibid.109.

23

CreamerDisability and Christian Theology18. Also see my discussion in section i (“Embodiment”) below.

28

See e.g. Moltman-WendelI am My Body1. For more examples of recent scholarly works on the body see Creamer Disability and Christian Theology 4 and the sources she cites there.

29

CreamerDisability and Christian Theology57.

30

Ibid.56.

34

FretheimGod and World55; Dietrich Bonhoeffer Creation and Fall / Temptation: Two Biblical Studies (New York: Touchstone 1997) 52.

38

M. D. Johnson trans.“Life of Adam and Eve,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigraphavol. 2 ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday1985) 281.

40

H. E. Gaylord Jr. trans.“3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigraphavol. 1 ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday1983) 669.

42

FretheimGod and World57.

44

Ibid.56. In Christian theology this “dynamic” view of creation is developed further by e.g. Wolfhart Pannenberg who interprets the “image of God” (from Gen. 1:26-28) teleologically. That is the “image of God” is not an “original state” but “a human destination to communion with God” (Anthropology in Theological Perspective trans. Matthew J. O’Connell [Philadelphia: Westminster 1985] 74; for his entire discussion on this topic see 43-79). For Pannenberg “a disposition for the likeness to God exists in factors in the initial human state” but “the essence of a human being is seen as a destiny that will be achieved only in the future” (ibid. 58). Although this teleological view of human nature differs from some traditional formulations of humankind’s original perfection it is not a modern invention. Indeed it dates back to the first great theologian of the church Irenaeus who taught that humans originally possessed the image of God but not the likeness of God. In other words for Irenaeus “perfection” was not an initial state but an end goal (Adv. Haer.iv 38 2ff.).

50

FretheimGod and World57.

51

BonhoefferCreation and Fall64-65.

52

WenhamGenesis 1-1569.

53

WestermannGenesis 1-11 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft1972) 230.

55

Jean VanierBecoming Human (New York: Paulist Press1998) 45.

56

Ibid.46.

57

Jürgen Moltmann“Liberate Yourselves by Accepting One Another,” in Human Disability and the Service of God: Reassessing Religious Practiceeds. Nancy L. Eiesland and Don E. Saliers (Nashville: Abingdon Press1998) 110.

58

Stanley Hauerwas“Timeful Friends: Living with the Handicapped,” in Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified (Edinburgh: T&T Clark1998) 147.

59

Goldingay“What Does it Mean to be Human?” 51.

61

FretheimGod and World54. For more on this theme see Ellen F. Davis Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cambridge ma: Cowley 2001) 191-95; ibid. Scripture Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009) esp. 28-31.

63

FretheimGod and World57.

64

CreamerDisability and Christian Theology93 112-13.

65

Jean VanierBecoming Human28. Cf. John D. Zizioulas Being as Communion (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminar/London: dlt 1985) 17.

66

BonhoefferCreation and Fall65.

67

Ibid.66.

70

Goldingay“What Does it Mean to be Human?” 50.

71

Moltmann“Liberate Yourselves by Accepting One Another” 122.

75

CreamerDisability and Christian Theology18.

76

Ibid.32.

77

HallGod & Human Suffering63.

80

HallGod & Human Suffering64.

81

CreamerDisability and Christian Theology111.

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