November 20, 2018

Genesis: Where It All Begins (6)

Genesis: Where It All Begins (6)

What have we seen thus far in this study?

  • Lesson One: Genesis 1 is an ancient liturgical text, contrasting the good Creator God with the false gods of Babylon, and assuring the Hebrew people that the Creator brings order out of chaos.
  • Lesson Two: The early chapters of Genesis introduce us to an ancient book that tells the story of Israel, designed to help the exiled Jewish people understand why the Exile happened and what they should hope for in the future.
  • Lesson Three: Genesis 1 teaches us that the creation God made is good. Despite the sins of human beings that corrupt the world, the creation remains good and able to provide what the world’s creatures need to flourish.
  • Lesson Four: God’s original mandate for humans was not for us to secure our place in a perfect world, but that we should be God’s priests and live within his blessing so that we might overcome the evil already present in the world.
  • Lesson Five: The story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) is just that — a story. Many Christians have been led ever since St. Augustine to read the story in a certain way, but that may not be the best way to read it. It is certainly not the only way.

As we prepare to set forth our next point, keep in mind something I wrote earlier:

The story that begins in Genesis 1 is told as the first installment of the Story of Israel in the pages of what Christians call the Old Testament. A careful reading of Genesis 1-11 shows a distinct Babylonian flavor in the material as well as many emphases that would have been instructive to that community of exiles.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is, before anything else, a story about Israel. Specifically, it is a story about Israel in the light of the Babylonian Captivity. See if this sounds familiar:

  • God creates a people and places them in a good land.
  • God gives them commandments to follow.
  • Through the commandments, God provides a way for them that leads to life.
  • God warns them that failing to keep the commandments will lead to death.
  • They listen to the inhabitants of the land instead of God and transgress God’s commandments.
  • In judgment, God exiles them from the good land to the east of that land.
  • Even in their exile, God provided for them to cover their nakedness and shame.

The Adam and Eve story (which actually includes ch. 4 about Cain and Abel as well) is a microcosm of the narrative of the entire Hebrew Bible, the story of Israel from Exodus to Exile. Adam and Eve failed to live up to the vocation God had given them and forfeited life in the good land. Their children, who also failed to heed God’s warnings, migrated to lands east of Eden and became city dwellers.

The early chapters of Genesis form the introduction to the first portion of the Bible as well as to the whole Bible. The Torah — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — is a “book” within the larger book. Many have noted that the Torah ends with a call to Israel that mirrors the story of Adam and Eve.

When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

…See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

from Deuteronomy 30

It’s all here. The good land. The exile. The path to life. The way of death. Choosing good and evil. Obedience or disobedience. The blessing: “You shall live and multiply.” The curse: “Today you will surely die (perish).” This text literally spells out the moral of the story of Adam and Eve for Israel. What Genesis 2-4 tells in narrative form is recapitulated here in sermonic instruction, promise and warning, witnessed by “the heavens and the earth.”

The story of Israel.

Comments

  1. Andrew Zook says:

    And I would add; it’s conditional. if you Do this, God will do this for you… No determinism, no free land, no unconditional promises, no blessings if you just “believe”… but many americans, in and out of the church believe the opposite, in bald contradiction of that Deuteronomy 30 passage, and many sorrows haunt them/us and the Middle East because of those errant beliefs.

    • Andrew what you call errant views I call the New Testament where Christ says that to do the works of God we are to believe in the one that he sent. The old covenant is abolished and the new one established. Faith through grace working in love. In Acts the people ask Peter what they need to do to be saved. Believe in Christ was the answer.

      • Andrew Zook says:

        I think I didn’t make my point very clear. I’m referring mostly to Zionism, particularly american christian support of political Zionism, which does hold that the promises are unconditional. Sorry for the confusion. I was not necessarily referring to personal soteriology. But now that you bring it up, I’m not sure we understand the meaning of that word “believe” in the NT as well as we think we do, myself included.((through our culture lenses and English mistranslation) The easy-believism you seem to be suggesting here, just doesn’t seem to stand up to the theme throughout the Bible, including this Deut passage and including many NT texts as well. God knows, I could be totally wrong, but I just don’t see the big picture emphasis in all of Scripture being, “just believe”.

        • I think an important point is the distinction between the promises to Abraham (and repeated to the partriarchs) that are unconditional (at least some) and God’s covenant with national Israel. Paul notes this in Gal 3 and 4. The promises to national Israel were conditional – they were under a particular covenant – the Mosaic/Deuteronomic covenant. Too many people (especially American dispensationalists) fail to recognize that distinction, and apply the promises to Abraham (particularly in Gen. 12:1-3, which are also misunderstood in themselves) to national Israel. Note that Ex. 6:1-8 says that God will give the land to Israel because of his promises to Abraham. Throughout the OT the phrase ‘which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ is the basis for God’s grace to Israel, but Israel is held accountable to the covenant God made with them, not given a free pass based on the promises to the partriarchs (which is what the prophets constantly try to remind them).

          • I think our traditional categories of “salvation,” and “faith and works” don’t always fit well in this discussion. God is not saying anything here about Israel “earning their salvation,” as an evangelical might put it. They are already God’s people! As it was with Adam, this is a call to choose “life” — that is, to live with God and others in such ways as will enable them to flourish in the world, overcome the forces of evil that oppose them, and be a light to all people, that they too may share in the life God offers.

            In the end, it speaks to Israel’s vocation.

            • But what then do you make of the theology that sees the Church as the continuation of the “true Israel,” the Israel circumcised in spirit rather than flesh, as Paul would have it? Is the Church in any sense the continuation of Israel, and thereby heir to whatever promises were made by God to Israel, however those might be understood? Has the Church inherited Israel’s vocation, or are they extremely dissimilar?

              • Jesus fulfilled what Israel failed to do, and now those who are joined to him share the good news that Jesus, the second Adam, the Seed of Abraham has made it possible for all people to participate in the vocation God gave humankind at creation and later to Israel — to promote human flourishing and overcome evil with good.

                • So questions of personal “salvation” and “damnation” are not really part of the theological issue here — hence concerns about how “faith and works” play into “salvation” do not apply?

                  • In my view, that’s right.

                    • I would add that a lot of Protestant theology grows out of A combination of Augustinianism and the response to medieval Catholicism, not the story of the Bible.

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                      And a lot of that “response to medieval Catholicism” was “Romish Papists to X, so We Must Do the Opposite of X”.

                    • Which kinda leaves us guilt-wracked individualist semi-Augustinians out in the cold. Communal covenantalism is fine, but *I’m* the one who’s gonna stand before God when all is said and done. I NEED to know that Jesus has MY back.

                    • I’m not saying Protestant theology is “wrong.” I would say it is more of an application of the Bible to the particular situation the Reformers faced. As an application, it was necessary and mostly on point. It was later scholasticism that hardened its teachings into dogmatic formulae that each claimed to be THE correct interpretation of the Bible.

                    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                      What Chaplain Mike is saying is that Protestant theology overemphasizes Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation to the point of downplaying-to-ignoring the communal/social applications. Too easy to slip into “Us Four (minus you other three), No More, AAAAA-MENNNN!”

                      My take is that this originated in “Romanists Do X, so Real True Christians Must Do The Opposite of X!” when the sides were drawn up in the Jihad of the Reformation Wars.

                      Chesterton once described Christian theology as a dynamic balance of opposing doctrines and teachings, “any one of which in isolation could lay waste to the world”. And we’re seeing an example of that in the Evangelicals’ Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation (i.e. one dogma in isolation).

            • CM. I agree. Israel was chosen by God’s grace (election) and ideas about ‘faith and works’ is a modern (or late medieval) introduction (which would even be foreign to Paul). However, Israel’s continued existence in the land depended on their keeping the conditions of the covenant, as would it’s ‘vocation’.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I think I didn’t make my point very clear. I’m referring mostly to Zionism, particularly american christian support of political Zionism, which does hold that the promises are unconditional.

          What’s officially called “Christian Zionism”, all wrapped up in The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay and Christians for Nuclear War.

          Before I knew the official name, I called it “Anti-Semitic Zionism” because it sees Israel only as an entry on the End Time Prophecy Checklist, nothing more than a tripwire to kick off the Tribulation and Armageddon. They don’t care about the Jews (and sure don’t care about Muslims, who have replaced the Communists as the Orc Horde). They’re All Gonna Burn anyway, so why should they care?

    • Clay Crouch says:

      If what you write is true, then everyone is lost.

      • Indeed.

        Thank God for Jesus, then.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I think you are missing his context; there are those who say: “I have done right, so I am entitled to **TAKE** what has been promised”. Such a spirit is not uncommon; it comes easily from this text.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Maybe so, but it sure seemed as if he was saying unless you do these things, “No soup for you!”

  2. A superb and succinct summation.

    If only that rascal Paul hadn’t gone and gummed up the works.

    • LOL. Though in reality it wasn’t Paul who gummed up the works; he just wrote what he felt led to write. No, it’s the people who put Paul’s writings above all other scripture who gum up the works. I’m pretty sure Paul rolls over in the grave a few times a week at how his writings are being interpreted and used.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        St. Augustine’s Paul tinted reading glasses.

      • No, it’s the people who put Paul’s writings above all other scripture who gum up the works.

        Well, Paul’s writings did indeed exist before much of the rest of the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Acts. That at least partly accounts for the honest part of the confusion. I refuse to pit Paul against the Gospels; I think that can only lead to even more divisiveness and sectarianism than already exists, and I don’t believe it’s based on any fundamentally real conflict between his Epistles and the Gospels.

        • Well except for the history of animosity between Paul and the Jewish apostles, him writing first, and then having additional decades to write or influence their followers differently from his…

          • Well, their teachings did not yet exist in finished written form, but fragments and strands of the oral tradition that were distilled into their finished writings existed from early on, and Paul knew of them when he was writing, and used them to inform his Epistles.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              A lot of Paul’s epistles are replies to now-lost letters from the congregations; he was answering and “making rulings” on problems which were popping up in the various churches.

              Remember, this was when things were still shaking down and oral traditions were being written down to preserve them for posterity. There seemed to be a zeitgeist that The End would be soon; it wasn’t until the last apostle died and no Second Coming that things shifted to writing down the traditions and digging in for the long haul.

      • One of the delights of an afterlife would be being present at Paul’s first interviews with his interpreters. The sessions with Marcion and Augustine should be particularly amusing.

        • +1,000,000,000,000.

          Oh, to be a fly on the heavenly wall for things like this, yes! And I might be involved in a few “what the heck were you thinking, Rick” moments myself.

        • I’m holding out for forgiveness and reconciliation, all around. No Schandenfreude will be allowed.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            But there’ll still be some “JUST WHAT WERE YOU USING FOR REALITY?” moments.

    • I think Paul is misunderstood a great deal as well.

      • Christiane says:

        I think you are right about this. So many see St. Paul as having the same intense judgemental wrath AFTER his ‘conversion’ as before, just against different ‘targets’;
        but they forget that though, as Saul did possess ‘ a great, righteous and angry zeal’, Our Lord was able to turn that strength to His service in an intervention in which Saul was given a deep insight into the workings of the Kingdom of Our Lord, so much so that in time, as St.Paul, he was inspired to write the magnificent Corinthians 13 chapter . . . . the chapter with these words:

        “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

        So St. Paul was ‘converted’ dramatically, and ‘in time’ he gave evidence in his writings of just how changed he was from the man who had taken part in the stoning of St. Steven. It’s like Christ preserved the man’s passion but calmed its destructiveness, and then re-directed Paul’s energy for good with a focus on a force
        transcendently more powerful, as expressed in his letter to the Corinthians.

        • Michael Bell says:

          So St. Paul was ‘converted’ dramatically, and ‘in time’ he gave evidence in his writings of just how changed he was from the man who had taken part in the stoning of St. Steven. It’s like Christ preserved the man’s passion but calmed its destructiveness, and then re-directed Paul’s energy for good with a focus on a force transcendently more powerful, as expressed in his letter to the Corinthians.

          This is the cool quote of the day that I will need to think about. We tend to think of Paul of having one way of operating and thinking, but like all people he must have developed and changed over time.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I’m reminded of Malcolm X, who according to his autobiography (and the Spike Lee film version) had three distinct “lives”:

            “Detroit Red”, street hustler and petty criminal in his early days.

            “Malcolm X” after his conversion into Elijah Mohammed’s cult, the firebrand Malcolm X everyone remembers.

            “Al-Hadji Malik al-Shabazz” when he mellowed out late in life after making hadj to Mecca and leaving the Black Muslim cult to a more mainstream (and mellow) version of Islam.

  3. John A Schroeder says:

    Mosaic authorship of Genesis? Would with lessons 1 & 2 harmonize with that?

    • I don’t think Moses wrote the Torah. He may have had a hand in some it, but certainly not all of it, and its final form could not have come from him.

      • John A Schroeder says:

        What warrant supports the assertion the Torah’s final form could not have come from Moses’ hand? J-E-D-P, I assume?