[K:NWTS 23/2 (Sep 2008) 3-13]

The Eschatological Reversal of the Protological Reversal:
Narrative Analysis and Chiastic Paradigms in Genesis 2:18-3:24

James T. Dennison, Jr.

The speeches of Genesis 2 are part of the narrative drama, the characterization and the literary markers of that chapter. I do not intend to negate the traditional elements which have been found here down through the history of interpretation: i.e., man’s dominion over the creation; man’s cultural mandate; man’s covenantal status; man’s entrance into the mystery of sexual union. Nor do I mean to ignore the eschatological vector in this revelation: the imago Dei is eschatologically oriented, reflective of the eschatological Imago Creator; the placing of man over the creatures and the creation is eschatologically oriented, reflective of the eschatological Dominus of creation; the covenant with man in the garden is eschatologically oriented, reflective of the eschatological Foedus (a perfected works disposition in response to a benevolent condescension); the mystery of male-female union is eschatologically oriented, reflective of an eschatological Sponsus et Sponsa.

Hook Pattern—Seamless Narrative

Speech in Genesis 2 is a central and crucial narrative category as speech is a central and crucial narrative category in Genesis 3. Genesis 3 is about the reversal of man’s condition: the fall from innocence, the descent into the opposite of benediction, the origin of sin. The chapter is intimately related to chapter 2, not only by reason of the antithesis between the two narratives, but because of the hook pattern which links the two narratives. Genesis 2:25 states that the man and his wife were naked (‘arûmmîm) and not ashamed. Genesis 3:1 states that the serpent was more crafty (‘ārûm) than any beast of the field. The connection between the two narratives is tagged by the literary hook—in this case a pun on the Hebrew root ‘āram. By the re-use of the root, the author has signaled his audience that his narrative is continuous and that the interloper is the reverse of the innocence of those whom he assaults. In Genesis 3:1, we have a naked and bare(faced) liar veiled in serpentine guise.

That verse 1 of chapter 3 marks the beginning of a new narrative unit is clear from the new character who appears. Satan, in the guise of the serpent, enters paradise and the garden is no longer the garden of chapter 2. The suggestion that man was responsible to guard the garden from intrusion is just that—a suggestion. There does not appear to be any reflection within the narrative of man’s potential dereliction—nor yet anything outside of Genesis 3 suggesting man’s culpability. If man is at fault for not barring Satan’s entrance, how much more so God, Satan’s Creator!?

Character Shift—Narrative Development

The character shift or character addition in 3:1 is hooked (by the pun “naked”/”crafty”) to the previous narrative scene. The state of dress/undress (2:25) is followed by a new narrative unit which also concludes with a declaration of the state of dress/undress—3:7, “they knew they were naked” (‘êrummîm). Hence we bracket the section 2:25 to 3:7 as delimited with a literary-narrative marker (‘āram).

Scene Sequence—Plot Development

The next scene in the fall narrative will also conclude with a reflection on the man’s state of dress/undress. In 3:21, God will provide garments to remedy man’s inadequate covering. The use of the verb ‘aśah (“make”) here is an additional clue to the patterning of this narrative unit. Adam and Eve “make” (‘aśah) fig-leaf coverings for their nakedness (3:7); God “makes” (‘aśah) skin coverings for their nakedness (3:21); NB the state of nakedness in which God “made” (‘aśah, 2:18; cf. 1:26) them. What God made is complemented by naked innocence (2:18-25, a narrative unit). What man made is demonstrative of his naked delinquence (3:1-7; a narrative unit). What God makes is made anew for man’s consequence (3:8-21, a narrative unit). While it is clear from other considerations that these three units (2:18-25; 3:1-7; 3:8-21) are self-contained narrative scenes, the pattern of innocence, shame, reconciliation is delimited by the literary markers indicative of self-reflection (nakedness, 2:25; loin coverings, 3:7; clothed upon, 3:21). The theological/emotional/psychological/personal dimension of man/woman open to God, exposed to one another, ashamed in one another—this profound God-self analysis touches the borders of intimacy. And intimacy—openness to the divine person—intimacy is a relational category, an eschatological relational category. What now transcends the shame of nakedness is a garment—a robe—which itself transcends the shame. Christ’s glory-robe hides the shame—his naked, pierced, nailed, bloodied shame. Christ’s glory-robe outshines even his innocence; for that glory-robe is the eschatological garment of divine, eternal union—intimacy without end.

Character Revealed Through Speech

Returning to the characteristic paradigm of narrative speech, the defining nature of the fall narrative is found in the spoken dialogue contained in 3:1-19. The bantering between the woman and the serpent is unnatural, antithetical, diabolical. We learn the character of the deceiver—veiled, glamorous, flattering, deadly! And we learn of the shifting character of the woman—flesh of the man’s flesh, bone of the man’s bone, cleaving to the man as one intimate mind and heart—we now learn of an adulterated mind and heart, a seduced mind and heart, a mind and heart prostituted before the god of this world. The character of the woman is weak, vulnerable, malleable. But the character of the man? Alas, he is an imitator of the weaker vessel. And he adulterates his God-formed, God-shaped, God-breathed being for what? The goddess woman? Companionship? Togetherness? Sex? What? What induces, seduces, reduces him? “And she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (v. 6). No dialogue; no conversation, no speech. She gave, he ate! Here is the characterization of narrative brevity—of tragic succinctness; of “what more can be said”: he took, he ate. Adam the deliberate rebel; Adam the clear-eyed, full-knowledged enemy of God, his Creator (‘my breath, my flesh is from his mouth, his hand’); of God, his Provider (‘my garden paradise is from his planting’); of God, his Benefactor (‘my other self, my ’išâ, is from his love, his union-intimacy’). Adam without hesitation, without discussion, without inhibition—Adam reaches for God’s throne, for God’s arena, for God’s prerogative. But he reaches as Satan himself reaches—reaches to dethrone God—reaches to make himself lord of God’s arena—reaches to enthrone himself with the eschaton’s prerogatives.

Reverse Antithesis

And now, in the height of man and woman’s eschatological thrust—at the pinnacle of woman and man’s eschatological assault—now the reversal: now the unsuspected antithesis—now the world turned upside down—now their heaven become a hell. The narrative drama reflects the theological and spiritual antithesis. The narrative spiral gyrates downward, not upward. Adam! Eve! How you have been betrayed. What is this downdraft—this chill downdraft of alienation, of exposure, of wide-eyed guilt (shameful, wide-eyed guilt), of dread, of terror, of fear, of death—of silent, cold, lifeless death. The downward spiral coils its serpentine powers down, down, down into Satan’s arena, Satan’s throne, Satan’s prerogatives. Hide in this hellish domain—the Lord God will not see. Kneel at this hellish throne, woman-like—the Lord God will not see. Enlist in this legion, this band of angels—hellish angels: God will not see. Nakedness; fig leaves; loin coverings; garden trees—God will not see!

God’s Advent

And God does not see! God comes—God comes with his throne, his arena, his prerogatives. God comes, walking, seeking his imago. It is as the eschatological Pastor that the Lord God comes seeking his fallen, lost and hiding sheep. Who is active in the history of redemption? Passive, cowering, impotent man? Surely not! Who is active? Condescending, shepherding, omnipotent Lord God!! No autosoteric history of redemption in Genesis 3. No man-saves-himself history of redemption in Genesis 3. No man-saves-himself-by-his-free will history of redemption in Genesis 3.

Speech by the Eschatological Character

The downward spiral leaves the man and the woman covered by leaves and trees, uncovered to themselves, naked before the omniscient eye of the Lord God. His appearance marks a new narrative; in fact, Scene Two of the Temptation-Fall narrative. In parallel with the narrative-character marker which signals the shift from chapter 2 to chapter 3, the Lord God’s (Yahweh Elohim’s) character shifts the drama to interrogation (note the interrogatives in 3:9, 11, 13). As dialogue marks the plot sequence in chapter 2 and chapter 3:1-7 (even chapter 1:26-29), so dialogue becomes the key plot device and narrative/character pattern of chapter 3:8-20. The successive interchanges are not only a reflection of the downward spiral brought in by Satan’s invasion and Eve’s evasion; the dialogue between the Lord God and the protagonists (now God’s antagonists) is pregnant with eschatological—indeed, redemptive-historical overtones.



        Scene I: Innocence            


        Scene II: Delinquence


        Scene III: Consequence


        Scene IV: Deterrence


Narrative Palistrophe

The palistrophic or chiastic nature of Genesis 3 has been observed by many. Several press the chiastic inception back to chapter 2. I am not interested in disputing that observation at this point, only concerned to underscore the recognition of the chiastic pattern in chapter 3. For those who have observed it, the Genesis 3 chiasm is an etiological myth—adapted to the origin of mankind’s inherent sense of guilt and shame. I am dismissing this naturalistic, this humanistic explanation on the grounds of our conviction and declaration (our presupposition, if you will) that the text is revelation—supernatural, top-down, intrusionary speech from God to man.

Eschatological Speaker

At the intersection of this vertical and horizontal interface (Gen. 3:8), the Eschatological Character initiates the dialogue. Especially here, in these early chapters of Genesis, it is crucial to observe who speaks and when. God alone? Or inter-Trinitarian God in chapter 1. At the climax of the work of creation, God speaks of the only one in creation who is capable of speaking in return—his very own imago Dei. The Lord God speaks in chapter 2 at the climax of the work of matching the creatures—man, God’s imago, unmatched with any other creature, save himself, his other self, his imago female-wise. Lord God in chapter 2 matching imago with imago, and speech flows forth as man rejoices in his complement. Chapter 1—God speaks into his heavenly council; chapter 2—God speaks into his created arena; chapter 3—God speaks into his fallen arena. The downward spiral draws even God’s speech to itself. The Lord God does not abandon the fallen arena; though it deserves no word—only silence. Nonetheless the Lord God, gracious and compassionate, speaks to a fallen world.

Encore! Character Shift

The dialogic palistrophe/chiasm in chapter 3 is pronounced—rich, profound, poignant. It portends much more than structure—mere structure. Here structure is incarnational, prophetic, redemptive historical. The dialogic chiasm itself suggests the reverse of the downward spiral—even as the appearance of the Lord God himself suggests the reverse of the diabolic intruder. Character shift implies paradigm shift.


A. Serpent (Satan)                                               (v. 1)

                B. Woman                                            (v. 2)

                                C. Man                                  (v. 6)

                                                D. God                   (v. 8)

                                C'. Man                                  (v. 9)

                B'. Woman                                            (v. 13)

A'. Serpent (Satan)                                              (v. 14)

                B". Woman                                           (v. 16)

                                C". Man                                 (v. 17)

                                                D". God                  (v. 21)   

The dialogic chiasm begins in v. 1 with the appearance of the demon-possessed serpent. His speech is addressed to the woman in a he said/she said repartee. Satan, you will observe, has the first word and the last word in this dialogic exchange. The man is drawn into this descending paradigm though he does not speak. His act of taking the interdicted fruit speaks louder than words. The dialogic paradigm in verses 1-7 sequences: Satan (1) → woman (2) → man (6).

Divine Intrusion

The appearance of the Lord God (8) interrupts the paradigm; in fact, halts the downward spiral—though the deleterious effects and alterations in woman and man will be evident in the next scene of the narrative plot. God’s presence in verse 8 is redemptive/salvific/pastoral/reconciliatory. Before an explicit word of redemption is spoken, God himself appears—he acts—he actively intrudes his presence/his person into the narrative. I do not intend to overemphasize the divine act here in verse 8 in distinction from the divine word in verse 15. Deed and word are together part of the Lord God’s presence in the narrative. But note how wonderfully the Lord God does something—and he does something in person. A personal act by incarnational or adventual intrusion to break—to break—the downward spiral. What grace is this! What love is this! What a Person is this!

God’s presence delimits the downward spiral: serpent → woman → man → God. But then the paradigm itself begins to reverse: God (8) → man (9) → woman (13) → serpent (14). The narrative scene-paradigm (vv. 8-19) once again unfolds by dialogue. The virtual demand of the text is to relate dialogue with dialogue—dialogue (vv. 1-7) with dialogue (vv. 9-19). And the result of this literary correlation is a perfect chiasm/palistrophe.

A. Serpent (3:1a)

        B. Woman (3:2-3)

                        C. Man (3:6)

                                        D. Lord God (3:8)

                        C'. Man (3:9)

        B'. Woman (3:13)

A'. Serpent (3:14)

Reverse Mirror

The palistrophic nature of this double paradigm is emphatic—it is a reversal of the order of the characters. Who is tempted last is addressed first (C/C'). Who is tempted first is addressed next to last (B/B'). Who first tempts is addressed last (A/A'). The dialogic chiasm is a reverse pattern of interrogation and unmasking (dis-robing/uncovering, if you will). The Interrogator exposes the speakers—exposes them in reverse order of their damnably rebellious complicity. We behold man and woman, so formerly pristine in integrity, harmony, mutuality, theocentricity—now skulking, scape-goating, self-centered in their egocentricity. How quickly being cut off from God’s presence and intimacy poisons, nay kills/destroys, their own integrity. How desparately they need the Lord God’s presence anew in their lives. How desparately they need life anew; for they have died and their life is hidden in their self—their fallen, incommunicado self (at best); or worse—their life is hidden with Satan in Hell. The antitheses of Genesis 3 are a radical reversal of the syntheses (God and man/woman) of Genesis 2. Antithesis of good with evil. Antithesis of intimacy with alienation. Antithesis of life with death (hiding in verse 8 is epexegetical of death: death inside, death outside, death horizontal, death vertical). All things have been made new by the opening of the sinful eyes—an antithetical newness from eyes antithetically focused (on self, earth, world, this arena).

Double Reversal

Verse 14 appears to be the climax of the palistrophic mirror. The reversal (3:1-6) is reversed (3:9-14): and that in the appearance of the Lord God (v. 8). But verse 14 is not the climax; it is the ante-climax. Notice that we are back to the serpent in verse 14, having descended from the serpent in verse 1. And we have returned to the serpent in verse 14 by descending to the woman (vv. 1-3), to the man (v. 6) and ascending in opposite order from the man (v. 9), to the woman (v. 13). And all of this, I remind you, dialogically. But as we move beyond verse 14, we once again discover the pattern of reversal. This is emphatic in the inspired narrative—it is dramatic in the inspired narrative—it is present in the inspired narrative for our instruction—for our theological instruction—for our biblical-theological instruction. Reversals top down, down up, beginning to end, end to beginning: reversals, reversals, reversals. God is turning things around. God is reversing things. God is reversing the reversal. So that what dominates the narrative pattern of Genesis 3 is the emphatic reverse character of the plot. And reversal of plot is reversal of story—man’s miserable, sinful, rebellious story. The pattern of the narrative is a proclamation of the grace, the love, the omnipotent gracious love of the Lord for sinners. See how he loves them. He comes to reverse their misery, their enmity, their death.

The double helix, as it were—the double reverse helix reverts at verse 14 from the serpent to the woman (v. 16) to the man (vv. 17-19) to the Lord God (v. 21). Genesis 3:1-21 is a double dialogic palistrophe; an overlapping dialogic reversal with the cosmic antagonists at the pivots—at the hinge points. The Lord God’s appearance in verse 8 is the antipode of the second chiastic reversal. But note this carefully, the correspondence between the character who inaugurates the reversal (the serpent, v. 1) and the character who receives the inaugural judgment (the serpent again, v. 14) is duplicated in the character who inaugurates the reversal of the reversal (the Lord God, v. 8) and the character who concludes the reversal of the reversal (the Lord God, v. 21).

Eschatological Intrusion

The intrusionary nature of these reverse chiastic plot paradigms is patent—the Lord God intervenes; the Lord God condescends; the Lord God incarnates his presence as Pastor, as Interrogator, as Judge, as Reverser, as Savior. Yes, the gospel of salvation by divine and supernatural (yeah, eschatological) grace is present in Genesis 3. The very structure of the narrative demands it—requires that we see it—leaves us refuge in no horizontal venue. Only the Lord God himself and his arena will redeem this hopeless reversal.

Patterns of Unity—Alienation 

One more desultory comment on the dynamics of Genesis 2 and 3. The unitary character of Genesis 2 is clear—God and man united in harmony; man and woman united in harmony; man and the earth—the earth-garden—united in harmony. But the binary character of Genesis 3 is clear—God and man alienated; man and woman alienated (from God and one another); man and the earth, the ground, the earth-paradise, alienated. Sin puts asunder what God has joined together. And that stark volte-face, that recission, that abrogation is all too apparent in the narrative, in the plot, in the structure, in the whole inspired record of Genesis 3.

Patterns of Unity—Restoration

Genesis 3:15, the so-called protevangelium (first preaching of the gospel), is Messianic. Only a federal person, standing alongside the divine protagonist in this drama, is sufficient to accomplish the eschatological reversal. That he will be a manchild (v. 15) is protologically anticipatory of the eschatological man—the Son of Man. If Messiah is to deliver his people, surely an aspect of that deliverance (the part for the whole) is deliverance from allegiance to the Devil. Redemptive reversal expressed protologically (3:15) unfolds to redemptive reversal expressed messianically (which is to say eschatologically). Note Paul’s comment in Romans 16:20: “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

Eschatological Adam

The ejection of man and woman from the garden in 3:22-24 is the graphic illustration of man’s unfitness for God’s paradise. Eden is no place for sinners. And in barring the way with the theophanic sword, the Lord God indicates that there is no way to the tree of life save through the fire and under the sword. If man is to have the fruit of paradise’s tree of life, he will have to contend with fire and sword—with death and torment. Reversal—re-entrance to the Edenic tree—will require submission to death and fire. Only one was qualified to do this—he who united God and man (binary entities) in one. Christ Jesus took the sentence of the sword; Christ Jesus submitted to the fiery flame; Christ Jesus fully bore—in Adam and Eve’s place—the sentence of the Lord God—the wrath of the Lord God. We leave Genesis 3 longing for the Lord Jesus. We leave Genesis 3 loving the Lord Jesus—the Eschatological Reverser of the Protological Reversal.