Structuralism and Semiotics Structuralism Structuralism is a way of thinking about the world which is predominantly concerned with the perceptions and description of structures. At its simplest, structuralism claims that the nature of every element in any given situation has no significance by itself, and in fact is determined by all the other elements involved in that situation.
From Text to Sermon, vol. Ray Dunning, Beacon Hill Press,pp. Unfortunately, it is also easily misunderstood and misinterpreted. Through the centuries, it has been a source of speculation about God, the world, and human beings.
Most traditional interpretations of this passage are rooted deeply in the theology of Augustine 5th century that was later adapted by John Calvin 16th century. The idea of the "Fall" of human beings from an original state of Adamic perfection to a state of total sinfulness dominates most discussion of the passage.
With the traditional doctrines of the Fall and original sin tied so closely to Augustinian and Calvinistic presuppositions, most interpretations of this passage--even by Wesleyans--tend to operate with these same presuppositions. This is not to suggest that these ideas are necessarily wrong in themselves.
The point here is that the interpretation and resulting theology of this particular passage has traditionally been seen primarily in relation to larger systems of theology and philosophy.
The narrative itself has usually taken a back seat to the broader debates concerning the historical origin of sin in the world, the incapability of human beings to do good, and the historical reliability and accuracy of the details of the account.
The story itself, with which we are so familiar, has lost its freshness and vitality; and so it has lost its ability to grip us with its marvelously simple message about God that is especially relevant for those who see human freedom and responsibility as a major factor in relationship with God.
It is this message that we will try to hear, and proclaim, anew.
If we could suspend, for a moment, what we think this passage is supposed to mean, perhaps we could regain the vitality of the story itself and hear its message in a new way.
If we listen, this is a story that pulls us into it and makes us see ourselves, and God, in a new light. Guidelines and Limitations Since we often do not approach the Bible from this perspective, some preliminary observations and working guidelines will be helpful.
First, we will try to remove to the background the familiar categories of systematic theology that speak of a Fall, original sin, depravity, etc. These are valid and helpful doctrines in some contexts.
Yet, they may unnecessarily confine our interpretation if we begin with them, and may not actually be at the heart of the story itself.
Second, we need to listen to the story in its own context. This includes both the setting within the spiritual life of ancient Israel cultural and historical contextas well as the setting within the book of Genesis literary context. This suggests that the literary context, the flow of thought of the surrounding material, actually helps define and give meaning to single stories within that larger context.
There is a danger in moving the story too quickly to address New Testament and Christian issues. Likewise, to import ideas from the New Testament or even other Old Testament books into the story as keys for interpretation is to risk making the story say something that it never intended to say.
This story, as Scripture, must have its own theological integrity, or we risk having doctrine sit in judgment over Scripture. Third, we need to see the story in its entirety. The tendency to focus on single verses or short paragraphs of Scripture can easily allow us to read meanings into a passage that the larger narrative does not support.
Authors often build and develop themes, motifs, definitions of terms, and the impact of ideas throughout a narrative. Usually, the entire flow of a story is necessary to understand the intended message. The entire narrative often carries the theological message, not just particular catch words or phrases.
Finally, we need to recognize the limitations of our method. By focusing only on the story itself and its message, there are several sets of questions that we will not be able to address.
We will not be able to answer the theoretical questions that have preoccupied theologians for centuries. What would have happened to Adam and Eve had they not eaten of the forbidden tree? Where was the Garden located? What was the talking serpent? We will also not be able to answer questions about early human existence.
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