Most of us read Genesis, even the origin story of humanity, and automatically imagine Adam, Eve, and their children as specific individuals. What if I told you that literalism may not be the only intention of this story?
There are as many ways to translate the Bible as there are people in the world. We’re all reading the books from our own perspectives, experiences, cultures, and in our own languages. However, it’s important to remember that the Bible is made up of several forms of literature, including poetry, wisdom works, parables, history, war stories, and of course origin tales. We should know the writers’ intentions for each book and what literature traditions influenced them.
Since creation stories in many cultures were very symbolic, it’d be in keeping with this tradition that the beginning of Genesis would be much the same. This is about people who show up as our first humans: Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, and Seth.
Adam’s name is Enosh in Hebrew, which means simply man or mankind. Eve’s name is Chavah, which means breath or living. Together, they are humanity and the ability of creation and birth.
There is plenty of Biblical evidence that they were real individuals. Genesis delves into the beginnings of the genealogical tree naming a hundred “begats” and the age of each person when they died. It’s not unreasonable, however, to entertain the possibility that, although these may have been real individuals, they also performed the double function of symbolizing humanity.
Adam and Eve have parallels in the New Testament. Jesus is referred to as the last Adam in 1 Corinthians 15:45.
The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam–that is, Christ–is a life-giving Spirit.
Wives, and Eve as the first wife, are referred to as the Church in Ephesians 5:32.
In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. For we are members of His body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.
And from the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man, He made a woman and brought her to him. And the man said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man she was taken. – Genesis 2:22
It states that Eve came from Adam’s rib because the church comes from Jesus. When it states that Eve was bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of his flesh, that’s because the church is the body of Christ. Eve was the mother of all living, spiritual alive, but her childbirth is painful because it’s a difficult process to be reborn in Christ.
Finally, in Revelations 12, the woman clothed with the sun is just like Eve.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days…
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. – Revelations 12:1-17
Eve was cursed with painful childbirth, and she gave birth to the twelve Israelite nations, some who fell from grace. The dragon is reminiscent of the serpent in the garden, and the male child the woman gives birth to is a clear parallel to Jesus who will rule all nations. Obviously, that child was brought back up to heaven for awhile. Yet, the woman (the church) is still pursued by evil (the dragon), but God has protected us. The offspring of the church is all of the Children of God.
Adam and Eve were the original groom and bride. Jesus referred to the church as a bride or virgin/maiden waiting upon His return eagerly (Matthew 25). Even Revelations refers to the woman clothed with the sun and a star crown, which draws several parallels with Eve and the church.
Onward to their children, Cain, Able, and Seth. There’s a lot to unpack with all this, most of which we won’t be doing today.
Cain in Hebrew is Kayan, which means acquired or possession. Able is Hebhel, which means breath or vanity. Seth is Sheyt, which stands for compensation. Cain’s parents acquired him from God, Able was a new life (breath), and Seth was their compensation for what they lost. Some sources state Cain was preoccupied with possessing and acquiring, which very much may be true, but I’ve found nothing to substantiate it to my satisfaction.
Cain was raised to carry on Adam’s livelihood, agriculture, but Able became a herder. We typically assume the first time God handed down rules or ways to worship Him was with Moses, but there’s signs to indicate that’s just not true. Cain and Able made offerings of grains and lamb, respectively, which indicates some sort of communication about sacrifices. It’s abundantly clear that God spoke with them regularly because when God speaks to Cain before and after Able’s death, he isn’t terrified like most people are in later Bible stories. In fact, he’s quite sarcastic with Him.
And the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I do not know!” he answered. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:9
So, we have reason to believe God gave them specific instructions, and Cain didn’t follow them.
This is my own take on the subject of their symbolism. When his gift was rejected, we know his fury became out of hand.
So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’ Genesis 4:3-8
Cain could be symbolic of trying to gain salvation or approval by works alone while Able is symbolic of gaining salvation through faith. They both appear, on the outside, to be good; obviously, Cain offered from “the fruit of the ground.” In the same way, Jesus shames those who display themselves as holy but inside are rotten.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. – Matthew 23:27-28
Please compare to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time who would rely on their own works to bring them into God’s favor, believing that following the letter of the law made them superior. In jealousy of Jesus, who lived by faith and the spirit of the law, they murdered Him, also referred to as a type of shepherd. We could also see Cain as the Israelites losing their privileged place as the first born, giving the lineage of Jesus to Seth just as the gentiles were given the ability to join as Children of God. It’s a strong parallel and an important lesson about all sins stemming from the heart.
Cain receives the punishment of being a wanderer (which is symbolic, too, of a lost soul). Cain is afraid of being killed due to his new reputation. This, combined with the fact he’s being punished, indicates that God not only already told Adam, Eve, and their family that murder is wrong, but everyone else they would come across already knew that law too.
Notice, though, something God does when Cain expresses his fear.
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:15-16
God continues to place Cain in His protection, attempting to express His love. There is a possibly that Cain could be saved. God wishes for no one to perish, not even Cain. Not even the Jews, who would have the chance to be reborn, too.
Every one of these characters is us. We are the humanity who holds promise of creativity and rebirth, we are the humanity that falls like stars from a crown, we are the humanity that is protected by God’s graces and willingness to save, we are the humanity who is raised once again to live amongst God in His Kingdom back where we belong.
It’s fascinating that a single Bible story could tell of our entire history, present, and future in so few words.
Sources other than Bible. Some are related to this article; some are just interesting: