On Adam, Eve, and Anaphora

The first telling of the story of Adam and Eve is one of the more expertly crafted stories in the history of literature. It follows a circular pattern of narrative, for the first chapter alone is a collection of statements presented as irrefutable fact.  All of these statements begin with a repetitive structure, a technique used commonly in the ancient world, and still used today by story-tellers- a rhetorical device called Anaphora. Anaphora (Greek for “Carrying Back”) is used at the beginning of phrases in literature to give power and emphasis to the statements made. An example of this in more modern terms would be Martin Luther King Jr’s., I Have A Dream speech.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of George the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

Anaphora, to use an illustration, is a steam train that builds with the beginning of each successive statement serving as fuel to the boiling power of the sentiment being expressed.

Take a moment to read the first section in Genesis 1, see how it begins with the phrase, “Then God said,” and it is by the use of Anaphora that this very simple statement, repeated over and over again, gives power to the text.

In the simplest of terms, the anaphora used in the first section of Genesis’ first chapter tells us this:
When God speaks, all cosmic mechanisms shift and bend to His softest whisper.
When God speaks, life is poured out into the world.
When God speaks, things happen.


It is with a deep sadness in the story that when God speaks to Adam,  with the same planet-birthing power announced in the previous sections, His words fall on Adam’s deaf ears.  He commands Adam alone, “Do not eat of this tree.”

Adam hears but doesn’t listen.
He does not allow the command of Yahweh to affect his actions.
We know how the rest of the story goes.

We are asking ourselves about sin with this year’s mountain camp theme, an examination of what gives life and what ushers in death. Kevin and I talked for hours about the nature of Adam and Eve’s sin.

Was it greed?

Was it coveting God’s divine power?

Given some time to think it over, I think that this story serves as a kind of Meta-Anaphora – God speaks in all our beginnings and like Adam and Eve, we don’t listen. This deaf insurrection is a running theme through the entirety of the Old and New Testament.

God keeps heralding forth life-giving statements about what direction we should go. In times of pain or joy, plenty or want, winter, summer, fall, or spring of life, God keeps speaking to us. His hope is that we listen and heed his Word, for it is the voice from which flows true deathless power and the measure of all wisdom.

Adam and Eve’s refusal to listen to God is not a problem only found in the stories of the fathers of our faith. It is not a cautionary fairytale of God’s wrath on those who refuse to listen in times long past. It is not a fantasy dreamed up to scare us into obedience.

It is the story of us, a story as new as a child birthed tomorrow and as old as the rock that slew Abel. God is speaking now, actively participating in our lives, His voice as powerful as a supernova and as soft as the whispering pulse between the half-beat of the human heart.

So when attempting to discern what is good and what is evil, to choose life over death, we must heed God’s counsel. His Word for us is character-changing, chain-breaking, and life-giving.  If we are trying to break the cycle of choosing life over sin and God over the world, our story must begin with the Anaphora:

“God spoke and I listened…”


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