Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis
Author: John R. Coats
Publisher: New York, NY: Free Press, 2009.
Are we any different from the biblical characters of Cain, Noah or Jacob? I would say “no.” We’re no different from them. We are all equal offenders just the same. The purpose of this book is to show how the biblical characters of Genesis are not any different from us. Their lives mirror our own. If I may borrow this term, we are all “original sinners”, just like the biblical characters of Genesis were. Some may not find comfort in this fact, but I find comfort in that I am no different from Cain, Abraham, Noah, Jacob or Joseph. Not that I would use their sins to justify my own sins—not at all. The point of it all is that God’s grace shown to them is also shown to us sinners too. That is where the comfort of grace comes in this book.
The author of Original Sinners is John R. Coats, a former Episcopal priest who was raised a Southern Baptist. All though the book may be about his interpretation of Genesis, I have found his stories sometimes more engaging and interesting than his interpretation of the biblical characters. For me personally, the author’s interpretations of Genesis are secondary; moreover, it is meant for the non-theological reader. If you are looking for an academic-like interpretation of Genesis, I would suggest looking elsewhere because this book almost reads like a story book or a compendium of his life’s challenging moments. Coat’s personal stories place his interpretation of Genesis into context, or vice versa. Actually, I think his interpretations of Genesis also function to place his life’s stories into context as well.
My criticism of this book is that, at times, I have found it difficult to follow his account of the biblical characters because he jumps back and forth between his personal stories about life and the biblical characters of Genesis. The book’s methodology of organization requires the reader to already be fully in-tune with the psyche of the biblical character at hand; otherwise, the reader may have to read twice in order to see the connection between the two. My other criticism with this approach is that the author may try hard to make a connection with his life and the biblical character. Sometimes, there is a strong connection, and sometimes, the connection may not be as strong as it could be. This way of organization, and therefore, of reading, may be more time-consuming but it does add an element of real-life context to each of the characters.
Anyway, the stories in the book are interesting. In one example, he shares some very personal stories like his tiff with his daughter about her use of the cell phone and his shock when he got the bill. He felt their relationship was breaking apart. Coats relates this story with Yahweh’s confrontation with Cain and the sin of murdering his brother Abel. At first, I had trouble making the connection, but I finally got it. He was making the comparison between Yahweh’s fight-ending knockout punch, and his heated fight with his daughter in the car.
All in all, this was an interesting read about one’s bouts with life’s challenges, which has helped me to reflect upon my own challenges of life. It has helped me to see that I’m not much different from the biblical characters myself. I also wish to thank Free Press (Simon & Schuster) for sending me this review copy.