The pair on the ground

Question: Is it too simplistic to think of original sin merely as the eating of a piece of fruit? Or was it more complicated and terrible than that?

Robert Bonsignore, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Answer: The Book of Genesis employs a good bit of allegory when it comes to describing original sin. An allegory is a story, poem or image that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden or richer meaning. Thus, even though the story refers to actual events, we ought not see them in a merely literal way. They speak to a reality richer than the external events.

More instructive and less simplistic for us than the fruit (which is not named) is the naming of the tree as the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). God had said: “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die” (Gen 3:3).

The tree is described as a means by which “knowledge” of good and evil is obtained. For us “knowing” is essentially an intellectual thing. But in the Scriptures “knowing” usually had a more experiential sense. To “know” was to have deep, intimate, personal experience of the thing or person known. It was sometimes used as a euphemism for sexual intimacy. Thus Adam “knew” his wife, Eve, and she conceived (e.g. Gen 4:1). So we see that the word “know” often implies intimate experience.

So, in calling the tree “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” God is saying, in effect, that he does not want them to experience “evil.” Rather, they should trust him to tell them what is good and what is evil. But, as is often the case, they are tempted to experience for themselves what is good or evil. They want to decide for themselves what is good or bad. This is a sin against trust. It is also an abuse of freedom and an act of ungrateful disobedience. It is far more than eating a piece of fruit. The Catechism describes the richer meaning of this sin: “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is man’s first sin. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (No. 397).

Omitted Bible verses

Question: Some older Bibles like the King James have verses not found in modern Bibles. For example, Luke 9:55-56 is often missing several phrases in modern Bibles. How do we know what is the right text?

Erwin Schmitt, Salisbury, N.C.

Answer: The ancient texts of the Bible were written and copied by hand. As such there will be found minor variations, misspellings or the dropping or adding of a word. Rarely, there will be whole sentences or phrases that appear in one family of manuscripts that do not appear in others.

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In such cases, biblical scholars seek to discover what the original text said by comparing many ancient manuscripts and looking at the weight of the evidence. Paradoxically, there are more ancient manuscripts available to us today than ever before, thanks to archeology and modern communication. The King James translation and the Catholic Douay-Rheims were made in the 16th century using the manuscripts available to them. Since that time, some of the variations and extra phrases have been eliminated based on the evidence of newly discovered ancient manuscripts. Thus, today Protestant and Catholic Bibles consign such verses to a footnote, since the weight of the evidence says they were not in the original text.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.