One of the most important finds in the historico-critico study of the Bible was the discovery that almost all its authors used sources. When they sat down to write their part of Scripture, they worked with more than just a blank sheet of papyrus and their divinely inspired imaginations. Other papyri were on their writing tables, papyri containing the writings of earlier authors -- quotes, narratives and stories -- which they eventually integrated into their own works.

Nowhere are sources more evident than in Genesis. At the very beginning of the book, we come across two different -- often contradictory -- stories of creation. The first (1:1-2:4) was written shortly after the end of the Babylonian Exile at the end of the sixth century B.C.E.; the second (the rest of chapter 2 and all of chapter 3) was composed 400 years earlier, not long after the death of King David, during his son Solomon's reign. Only in the fifth century B.C.E. did a "redactor" combine these two narrative sources into the biblical format we know today.

Mosaic

Though we must deal with individual biblical books as complete entities, it's still important that we recognize and appreciate the specific pieces which comprise the scriptural mosaic (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7). Biblical sources help us understand how God's followers experienced and adapted their faith during the period before there was a "Bible," demonstrating that faith is never static; it always evolves.

Recently, a National public Radio interviewer asked historian Eric Foner if he ever used "historical movies," such as "Amistad," "Birth of a Nation," or "A League of Their Own" in his Columbia University classes. "I do," he replied, "but only to teach my students about the period in which the movie was made, not about the period which the movie depicts."

Scripture scholars operate from the same premise when they exegete "historical narratives." Instead of an historically accurate account of the creation and fall in Genesis 2 and 3, for instance, they discover a 10th-century B.C.E. theology of creation and fall, a theology molded and formed by what was happening in 10th-century B.C.E. Israel.

Though everything seemed to be going well during Solomon's reign, insightful Jews knew that a radical disorder was deeply embedded in human nature. Evidence of this disorder literally was all around them: clothes! Why would people living in an almost tropical climate think it necessary to cover their bodies? (Anthropologists tell us that there never has been a culture, no matter how primitive, in which individuals wore no clothes, though the clothes might cover the areas we today are accustomed to cover.)

Revelation

The necessity to hide parts of our body seems to spring from our fear of revealing ourselves completely to others. We always keep part of ourselves hidden. The authors of Genesis 2 believe the fear of being totally exposed is rooted in the basic sinfulness all humans share. Because of this natural, evil bent, we who reveal ourselves always run the risk of being taken advantage of by those who see our hidden parts.

Paul certainly agrees with that theology. But as a follower of Jesus, he knows how to overcome such fear: imitate Jesus (Rom 5:12-19). Paul believes Jesus' total dying/rising giving of Himself to us can change even our sinful nature.

"Just as through our transgression," he writes, "condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous."

Imitating this "obedience of the one" is a lifelong process. In composing the Gospel read on Sunday, Matthew first surfaces three elements in his mid-70s community which were leading individuals away from Christ, then reads them back into Jesus' following of God (Mt 4:1-11). He addresses his community's temptations by narrating Jesus' temptations. After just 40 years of Christianity, some of Jesus' disciples were watering down their commitment to others by caring only for people's physical needs, zeroing in just one high-profile situations and letting political expedience dictate their agenda.

Knowing our biblical roots helps us not only see how our faith grows; it also gives us an insight into how our temptations grow.

(02-18-99)