Uncommon Ground - Genesis Part 1 - Chapters 1 through 5
As an atheist, it surprises a lot of believers to learn that not only have I read the Bible in its entirety several times, but I've also studied it in depth both in college and outside of it. I try to read the Bible at least every few years. This time, however, I wanted to approach it a little differently.
In the forums, I ran across a suggestion by a believer that another hubber should go through the Bible with her. I decided to jump in and take her up on her offer. We're are conducting our conversation through email exchanges, in five chapter increments. We will not always agree, and the parts that stand out to one of us are not likely to be the same parts that stand out to the other. I did not, however, go into this with the intent of provoking a fight or sparking an argument. I want to learn the perspective of someone I would consider to be evangelical, if not fundamentalist. I want each of us to share our thoughts and ideas in a respectful manner, and come to an understanding of where the other person stands, regardless of whether or not we agree. We're not likely to agree on a lot, but it's amazing to me how much common ground can be discovered if you're simply willing to make the effort to try. These hubs will be a result of those exchanges, and I have received her permission to publish them as hubs.
This conversation, at least the initial two pieces, will be between myself and Sed-Me, who has graciously agreed to participate.
Initial Observations: Christian
In Gen 1:14:
The bible speaks about the water God separated. The water on earth and the water in the sky. So where is this water in the sky?
One explanation that resonates well with me is this,
"Two teams of astronomers have found "the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected."5 Light emitted by a very distant and extraordinarily powerful quasar, or super massive black hole, is altered in a specific way as it passes through the surrounding water vapor, and this enabled astronomers to detect the quasar-associated water.This water was not found outside the stars, but associated with a quasar, so it is probably not direct evidence of any Psalm 148:4 "above the heavens" waters. However, it is a billion light years farther away than the previous distance record for detected water, and less than two billion light years from the outermost edge. And at 140 trillion times the volume of water on earth, this discovery may portend future water discoveries."
Point being that there is water beyond the stars, which adds validity to the story of Noah, where God "opened up the floodgates of heaven".
God says, "Let us make man in our image." and then in 27 the word says, "God made man in His image." So "Our" and then just the singular "God"... this speaks to me of Jesus being with God at the beginning of time.
It says "There was no one yet to work the ground." I really love that 'cause it shows God had a plan from the beginning. Work was always in the plan for man, productivity was always a gift not a punishment.
Of course I have always thought it was magnificent that doctors could construct a human body, but without the breath of life, breathed into the person by God, there is no life. Man can build a body, but not a spirit.
3:6 is interesting to me.
"the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" What's not positive there, right? This is man's reasoning. If it sounds right to us, then if God disagrees, then surely HE is the one that's wrong. But He has knowledge we are not privy to. What was simple and good in their eyes, would bring total destruction and sin and death entered the world through one bite. I find that incredibly interesting. It is not the bite God begrudges, it is the absolute, disobedience with foreknowledge that what you're doing is wrong. How many times have I taken a bite? And the NT enters the picture. At this point... we are in need of a savior, and just as God knew man would need to work the land before He had even created man, He knew we would need a savior. At this moment in time, He knew He would give His son in our place.
How very ominousness. "Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." That just really speaks to me. One of those things I want to keep in the forefront of my mind.
Reminds me of those who say they would prefer Hell to Heaven. Here Cain says that the punishment of being separated from God was more than he could bear. In a moment of rage, he changed the course of his life forever. Heartbreaking.
Also incredibly interesting... Methuselah was one of Cain's decedents... so the first man to shorten a life, was the father of the man who would live longer than any other.
Not a whole lot sticks out except that they all ate their spinach.
the region in question, where the Tigris and Euphrates river valley meets
Initial Observations: Atheist
Chapter 1: Creation. Considered by Jews to be a genuine and beautiful example of traditional Jewish poetry, it is not taken literally by the majority of practicing Jews. Problems with the order of creation: light before the sun, night and day prior to the sun and moon, plants and vegetation before the sun. Great lights - moon is simply a reflection of the sun. The plural use of God - who do the Jews think he's talking to, in comparison to Christian theology - the Elohim considered plural deifications in plural form except in translations of the Torah by later generations. God gave man every plant for food - was the original intent vegetarianism?
Chapter 2: Second version of creation, not in traditional poetic form. How to account for the differences? Looks like two oral traditions were compiled, in order rather than combined. Does the tree of life indicate that man was not intended to be immortal, contrary to theological doctrine on the Garden of Eden? vs 17. "for in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die". Animals first formed out of the ground in the attempt to find a suitable helper for Adam prior to woman.
Chapter 3: Serpent as the most crafty beast of the field - does not indicate that the serpent was the devil. Eve expands on God's instructions about the tree of knowledge, including merely touching it. Being "like God" is to possess the knowledge of good and evil. Prior to gaining the knowledge of right and wrong, did Adam and Eve possess moral agency? Were they able to reasonably and morally conclude that disobedience was wrong, and be fully aware of the consequences? Did they understand the concept of death at all? The tree was desirable to give wisdom (vs 6). Why was nakedness indicative of evil after eating the fruit from the tree if they were alone and spouses to each other? vs. 11 - who could have told the only two humans that they were naked? Lack of personal responsibility displayed, given every chance. vs. 16 does not create painful childbirth, but multiplies it. Husband to rule over the wife. Does not fulfill the threat of instant death, yet prevents them from eternal life. First animal sacrifice was for the purpose of obtaining clothing.
Chapter 4: Cain and Abel and the division of labor. Why did God reject Cain's offering, when he did not oversee livestock like his brother did? God did not indicate (vs 7) that Cain did not do well in his offering, but in his reaction to its rejection. God gives Cain the same chance he gave his parents - to confess and take responsibility for his actions. Who would be around to kill Cain if only his siblings and parents were populating the earth? Why would God protect Cain from vengeance of others if his actions were worthy of punishment in the first place? How was there a land of Nod? Who populated the city Enoch built? Multiple wives of Cain's descendants (vs 26) THEN men began to call upon the name of the Lord? Haven't they been doing that all along, through Adam and then Cain? Wasn't God conversing regularly with Adam and his descendants?
Chapter 5: How and why were the lifespans and childbearing years so long? How did the human body function in those days, as opposed to now? Where did God take Enoch when the traditional Jewish beliefs of life and death were Sheol for all souls and not heaven or hell, which concepts were introduced first after the Babylonian captivity period? Did no one else walk with God as Enoch did?
I never knew practicing Jews didn't take Gen. literally.
I had never thought about light before sun, but it caused me to think... and it blew me away.
He saw that light was good. He saw that it was necessary and useful, so He then created something that would be a constant source of this light. Thank you for enlightening me. lol
Plants and veggies before sun don’t bother me. I mean, he created humans before sex. This was the beginning. God was the originator. He didn't need the sun, He didn't need anything. He just created ways to sustain the life He had created. He could have done anything He wanted, the way I believe it. Again, I believe God in plural, was God the son. This was spoken about also in John 1. (The word was with God in the beginning... the word was with God, the word was God.)
The story behind the tree is incredibly interesting. In chap 3 God says, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” This is of course, after the sin.
The tree was real, but it was also symbolic. It was the source of eternal life. After man had sinned, had he continued to partake of the tree allowing him eternal life, but separated by his own sin, from God. This was not God's will. This was a curse God had no desire to impart, so he cut them off from the tree, from the garden they had no admittance, but now how to be forgiven of their sinfulness and allowed eternal life without the original plan? Again, we are back to the NT and Jesus.
2 Cor 11:3 says, "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." Plus there are several other scriptures that imply Satan was the serpent.
I believe they knew right from wrong. In other words, they knew not to disobey God, but they did it anyway. I think they were just innocent like children. Children know if they talk to strangers, it's wrong, but they have no knowledge of molestation, sex slavery or hideous murder. I believe when they ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened and they must have been shocked to say the least. The thoughts and visions evil now provided might have been why they suddenly felt naked.
As far as the offering, the quality of the (offering vs. sacrifice) mattered. Cain knew it going in b/c he was downcast b/4 God had said a word. He knew he had not offered his best to God and therefore it was a heart issue. But to be honest, giving is always a heart issue. What does God need from us? He provides it all to us in the first place. Cain's heart was not right with God, he was holding back, and probably begrudging his brother's gift b/4 he even got to the altar. If he then murdered his own brother over it, it shows where his heart was at.
This all happened after they were out of the garden... of course there were other lands known, such as Nod. They were living hundreds of years. Man was multiplying on the earth (yes it all began with Adam and Eve.) So in say... 600 years how many ppl could 2 ppl bring about? Enough to fill a region or two? I'm pretty sure.
"And then man began to call out on the Lord." This reminds me of 911. Man ignores God for generations sometimes, but then something catastrophic happens and suddenly congress is on the Capitals steps singing God Bless America. I assume it had been a while at that point, since man had reached out to God.
Why were childbearing years so long? Maybe they weren't smoking and drinking and sitting on their butts. Maybe the air was purer and the food was without pesticides. I don't know... maybe God just tired of hearing man complain about how uncomfortable it was to be 800 years old and decided to shorten our life spans a bit.
Sheol is simply a place of the dead. I don't believe it's hell or "purgatory" but I do not actually want to know at this point exactly what it is, b/c I assume that means I will be there. I believe it is the grave, probably a place of waiting, but without consciousness, but I don't believe God has revealed that. There is a lot we don't know b/c He has not revealed it. I respect that. He's God, He has His reasons. I believe Enoch simply went to be with God... Heaven I am assuming. Was there someone similar to Enoch? Maybe Elijah. :)
Share Your Opinion
Do You Find This Exchange Helpful or Interesting?
If the sun didn’t exist until day four, where did the light come from? If it is posited that the light itself came from God, then that’s adding things that the text does not say, and adding an interpretive spin to the scripture itself. He didn’t necessarily create humans before sex. He commanded the animals to be fruitful and multiply, and sex is the method of multiplication available to animals. Without the sun, plants cannot survive, which may not be a problem for a literal interpretation of actual 24 hour days, but for an extended period embraced by multiple Christian denominations, a longer period between “days” would provide problematic for photosynthesis. Adding the doctrinal concept of the Trinity that was not added until several centuries after Jesus into this much more ancient text is again adding to the text things that do not originally appear – and it is not how the Jews interpret the “us” – and Genesis is part of their Holy Scriptures originally.
Also implies, contrary to much doctrine, that life was never meant to be eternal in the Garden. If life was intended to be eternal, there would be no need of a tree of life, allowing those who partake in its fruit to live forever. I don’t necessarily think that Adam and Eve possessed moral agency prior to eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Without the ability to know or understand consequences of your actions, you are not a moral agent – and are not equipped with all of the information necessary to make a moral decision.
I am aware of the multiple references to the Serpent being Satan, it is certainly not inferred in this passage. In fact, it is not inferred for several thousand years, when it became a matter of doctrinal teachings – and was never understood that way until that time. Again, that is not the way that the Jews typically interpret the story, and adding it in as a later Christian doctrinal issue seems disingenuous here. If we’re going through the scriptures chapter by chapter, taking this passage at face value is incredibly important – and nowhere in this actual passage infers, implies or outright states that Satan was the serpent. In fact, it seems to go out of its way to emphatically state the opposite. It says ‘the serpent was the craftiest of all beasts of the field’. Not “Satan possessed the serpent”. It seems to speak to the nature of serpents in general. Had Satan possessed a snake within the garden, why would it be just for God to punish all snakes from that period forward – which turns out to not be a punishment at all? Snakes are naturally designed predators, and they are incredibly capable regardless of whether or not they crawl on their bellies or not.
While I agree that the typical interpretation of Cain’s sacrifice is that it wasn’t prime, but again – the text does not specifically state that. What would the “prime cuts” of grains and produce be? What if it wasn’t a good harvest? Is not the intent worthy of acclaim? Cain didn’t have to bring a sacrifice to God at all, yet he chose to. Yet his sacrifice was not pleasing. The text only states that Cain was downcast after his offering was rejected, not before. Inferring things into the text that simply are not there may be an explanation, but it is not one that can be found through simply reading.
As for Sheol, it is a bit more involved than simply a place of waiting around after you’re dead. I’ve written papers on the concept of Sheol and the Jewish ideals of an afterlife which are too lengthy to include, but it is a concept that is pretty well expanded elsewhere. The righteous and the unrighteous all went there. It was not a place of suffering or torment, and elsewhere in the Bible, God was able to move in and out of Sheol at will.
Final Thoughts: Christian
When I say He created humans before sex, I mean that no one had sex to create the first human. Man created from the dust, Eve from Adam's rib... no human had had sex yet.
I am not Jewish, are you? I MUST take the bible as a whole, OT and new. Just b/c you and I are only in Genesis, doesn't mean that John doesn't have bearing on Genesis. John says that Jesus was with God in the beginning and that all things were created through Jesus. So when Jesus refers to the snake as Satan that is very clear to me.
You say for us to understand something, it must be written in the text, but then immediately say, "What if it wasn't a good harvest?" It is natural when reading an account of something to fill in the blanks with what we think is probable. Just b/c we do not agree on what is probably does not negate possibility.
Of course Sheol is more involved than my very simple remark, but in it's most simple explanation, that is what it is. You did not ask me to write a paper on it.
Final Thoughts: Atheist
I completely agree with the last of the responses, that adding things to the text is a natural reaction to being given one account of any given story, and it makes me adjust my reasoning for my initial rebuttal. I also agree that it should be taken as a whole, but I'm also approaching this from the perspective of a new start. It's a method that will probably need to be adjusted as new insight is given as we continue.
It is incredibly interesting to put these chapters into a cultural and regional context. Given what I know about the tumultuous history of the region, and the cultural implications of these Genesis stories on the three main religions of the world, going back and reading these introductory chapters puts a lot of things into perspective for me that I had allowed to pass to the back of my mind.
© 2014 Julie McFarland