Category Archives: Theology

The Original Sin

Introduction

The Bible begins with the story of God creating the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. On the sixth day of creation God makes man (both male and female) in his own likeness and image and blesses them and then immediately gives them the command to be fruitful and multiply so that they can fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it (Gen 1:26–28). This delegated authority was second only to God and we should immediately recognize the prominent position that God placed them in because once we realize how high they were it exposes just how far they fell. God goes on to tell the original man and woman that he has given them every plant and tree that yields fruit for food (Gen 1:29), which may seem like a trivial statement at first but is actually quite important for understanding the events that follow.

The second chapter of Genesis gives a more detailed account of the creation of the first man and woman and their original home in the garden of Eden. The text says that “out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). We’re told shortly after this that “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen 2:15–17). Their temptation and subsequent fall was documented for us in Genesis 3.

The Fall (Genesis 3:1–13)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 

Much could be said about this passage but we’ll limit ourselves to a few important observations. First, the serpent (who will later be identified as the devil in Revelation 12:9) began his deception by twisting the command of God.

Genesis 2:16–17 

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3:1–3

 He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

God said that they could eat from every tree but one while the serpent changes this to any tree. The woman (Eve) responds by twisting the command herself in saying that they couldn’t eat of the one tree nor could they touch it or they would die. Yet God never said anything about touching the tree. It stands to reason that touching the tree would have been a part of their duty to work and keep the garden (Gen 2:15).

But notice how the serpent tempts the woman. He begins by denying the consequence that God promised for disobedience. His second line of attack is to point out that the woman lacks something that God has. Let’s look at the text again:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

He doesn’t focus on how good the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked. He doesn’t focus on how good it would have tasted or the fact that it was good for food (these things were already obvious from Gen 2:9). He focuses on the fact that eating it would open her eyes and make her like God in knowing good and evil. It wasn’t simply the allure of being like God that drew the woman in. She was already created in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26). It was the allure of being like God in knowing good and evil that was the ultimate temptation. This desire for knowledge and wisdom is what ultimately drew the woman and her husband into disobedience.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

This raises the question of what exactly the knowledge of good and evil is and what it means to know or to have knowledge. How do we come to know anything? We know through:

  1. Learning (Someone told us)
  2. Experiencing (We have gone through it)
  3. Determining (We have determined—in the sense of caused or decided—a matter)

Now remember the serpent’s sales pitch. He tempted the woman with being like God in knowing good and evil. So how exactly does God know? Does God learn? That is, does God acquire knowledge through someone else telling him? It doesn’t seem so. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying:

remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10    declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
       saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isa 46:9–10)

God “declares” the end from the beginning. “Declaring” in this context means to “make known” or “announce.” In other words, God can make the end known from the beginning because he knows the end from the beginning. He doesn’t acquire knowledge of things as they happen. This is also not an instance of God simply looking into the future to see what will happen and having a passive knowledge of what will occur. He “declares” or “makes known” the end from the beginning because he determines the end from the beginning. This is made clear when he says that his counsel shall stand and he will accomplish all his purpose (cf. Eph 1:11).

Job asks the rhetorical question, “Will any teach God knowledge, seeing that he judges those who are on high?” (Job 21:22 cf. Isa 40:14). This type of question expects a negative answer. Of course no one will teach God knowledge! But the clearest statement comes from the First Epistle of John when he says, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

If God doesn’t learn then he certainly couldn’t have had the knowledge of good and evil through someone telling him what good and evil were. Is it possible that God acquired the knowledge of good and evil through experience? John again tells us that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Darkness is often used as a metaphor for evil in Scripture. This is certainly how John used it throughout his writings. For example, he says that “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Darkness and evil are synonymous in this passage. He records Jesus saying, “the light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35). So when John tells us that there is no darkness in God he means to communicate that there is no evil in God.

Later in his first epistle John says that “everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). Again, God is pure, and thus not tainted by evil. In Mark’s Gospel a man runs up to Jesus and calls him “Good Teacher” (Mark 10:17) to which Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Goodness rather than evil is attributed to God. It stands to reason that since God is without darkness, pure, and good that he does not experience evil. And yet God has the knowledge of good and evil, so if he doesn’t gain it through learning or experience, then how does God know good and evil?

God knows through determination, that is, he determines what good and evil are. Returning to the First Epistle of John we read that “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). The “lawlessness” here is specifically a disregard for God’s law.  Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament we read of people doing what was “evil in the sight of the LORD.” This phrase has reference to various sinful acts, namely:

  • Making idols (Deut 4:25; 31:29)
  • Worshipping idols (Judg 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1; 1 Kings 11:6; 15:26, 34; 16:25–26, 30 and dozens of other passages in 1–2 Kings and 1–2 Chronicles)
  • Transgressing God’s covenant (Deut 17:2)
  • Abandoning the Law of the LORD (1 Kings 14:22 cf. 2 Chron 12:1, 14)
  • Human sacrifice (2 Kings 17:17; 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6)
  • Consulting evil spirits & consulting the dead (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6)
  • Forsaking God (2 Chron 29:6)

God explicitly forbids such practices (Exod 20:3–5; Deut 18:10; Lev 18:21; 26:14–46), so in committing them one does what is “evil in the sight of the LORD,” which is to say that God is the one who determines what evil is.

So was the allure of being like God in knowing good and evil a desire to acquire knowledge through learning or experience? No. It was a desire to determine what good and evil were as God had already done. The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck said, “The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but… the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own” (Reformed Dogmatics, 3:33). We see this play out immediately after they eat the fruit of the tree.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Once their eyes were opened they knew they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen 3:7). But why? The text tells us that when God went to meet them they hid themselves from his presence and when he called them Adam answered and admitted that he hid himself because he was afraid and he was afraid because he was naked (Gen 3:9–10). When and where did God tell them that being naked was a problem? God created them naked and called that act of creation “very good” (Gen 1:31). They determined for themselves that their nakedness was something to be covered.

Immediately after pronouncing the curse for their disobedience (Gen 3:14–19) God clothes them in animal skins and says that “the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22). In other words, it’s not that they now recognized that their nakedness was evil and had been all along, it’s that they determined that this was so. God was saying that the man and the woman had become determiners of good and evil like him although in their case they didn’t have this by right.

Conclusion

This was the beginning of the disordering of God’s creation. Once sin entered the world everything was out of alignment. The “original sin” was a desire for autonomy. Autonomy comes from the Greek words “autos,” which means “self” and “nomos,” which means “law.” A literal way of understanding autonomy is as a “law unto one’s self, or self–rule.” A standard dictionary defines autonomy as “freedom from external control or influence.” Humanity in general now wants to call the shots and determine the parameters of good and evil. The repeated references to doing “evil in the sight of the LORD” that we find in the book of Judges can be paralleled with another phrase that we see repeated in the same book, namely that “in those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25).

Centuries later the prophet Isaiah cried out:

20       Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)

This woe is reserved specifically for those who deny God’s pronouncements and substitute them with their own and unfortunately we have all at one time or another gone astray in the same way as our first parents.

B”H

Not His First Rodeo

After Jesus’ resurrection he walks with some downtrodden disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). They didn’t recognize him and he asked them what they were talking about as they walked. They responded with doubts about the claims and identity of Jesus because he didn’t do what they thought he would. Jesus responds by calling them foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. He proceeds to interpret the Scriptures and show them how they spoke of him.

When they get near Emmaus they want him to stay with them and eat. He obliges them and sits down at table, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and then vanishes from their sight, but not before they recognize him for who he is. It was in the breaking of bread that their eyes were opened. Jesus vanishes leaving them with the bread. This is a Eucharistic passage, undoubtedly. But it’s one that has been typified in the Old Testament.

When Gideon encounters the angel of the LORD (Judges 6) he asks for a sign that it is the LORD who has been speaking with him so he goes and prepares a sacrifice. The sacrifice consists of a young goat, some unleavened cakes, and broth. He brings the sacrifice to the angel of the LORD and the angel touches the meat and unleavened cakes with his staff and the offering is consumed by fire. The angel of the LORD then vanishes from Gideon’s sight and Gideon perceives that it was the angel of the LORD he had been speaking with all along.

I don’t know that it’s even proper to call what happened with Gideon a type of what happened with the disciples. The angel of the LORD was none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus. It seems better to say that the eternal Son has already had this experience. It wasn’t his first rodeo.

B”H

 

What is Context?

The other day I had a friendly disagreement with another believer over the interpretation of Romans 8:26 in which Paul said,

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV).

Actually, our conversation began with reference to the gifts of the Spirit, particularly that of healing and then moved to speaking in tongues. I’ll spare you the details because neither is the point of this post. Romans 8:26 came into the discussion and my friend assured me that this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us praying since it clearly says that the “Spirit himself” prays.

He claimed that this excludes us from being the ones who pray because it is an activity of the Spirit. I wanted to provide some context for why I disagree with this interpretation. I noted how in Galatians Paul speaks of the Spirit of God’s Son crying, “Abba! Father!” My friend said that he’d need to see this and that he didn’t think that’s what it said. Fair enough. Nobody has exhaustive knowledge of the entire Bible. So we looked at Galatians 4:4-7 and he was satisfied that it said what I claimed.

I then noted that when discussing the same thing (i.e., adoption) in Romans Paul has the believer, who has received the Spirit of adoption, crying, “Abba! Father!” We both agree that Paul is consistent and that he doesn’t contradict himself so my point was that the Spirit cries “Abba! Father” through the believer who has received adoption. Likewise, my contention is that the “groanings to deep for words” (or “inarticulate groanings”) is the Spirit praying through the believer.

He told me that it’s not what the text says and that I’m reading into it. He told me that the number one rule of hermeneutics was to deal with a text in its context and that when we have to leave the context then that means we can’t deal with it on its own. But that’s the point I want to discuss in this post. All of this was setup for me to say that context is much more than what my friend would have us think.

You see, he wanted to look at this singular verse. I wanted to look at this verse within the argument of the chapter and book but also within the context of Paul’s overall theology. I noted that Galatians was one of Paul’s earliest letters; Romans was one of his latest. I wasn’t leaving Romans to run to Galatians. I was reading Paul’s later theology in light of his earlier theology. My understanding of Galatians informs my understanding of Romans.

Context is more than the verse before and the verse after the particular verse we’re reading. Context is knowing the situation of the author and his audience. It’s following the flow of the argument being put forth before us. It’s having an overarching understanding of the author’s theology. As I said, my understanding of  Galatians informs my reading of Romans, no differently than my understanding of Deuteronomy informs my reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1–10:22 or my understanding of Leviticus informs my reading of Hebrews.

But the immediate context of Paul’s very argument in this section of his letter does, I believe, point to the Spirit groaning in our groans but I’ll write about that another time.

B”H

Basically Good

Repeatedly in the Scriptures we read that man is not good. Jesus said “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18 // Luke 18:19). Likewise, Paul, quoting Psalm 14:1–3 // 53:1–3, says that “no one does good.” Many more statements to the same effect could be added to these and yet somehow we find ourselves surprised or shocked when we hear the news of somebody doing something wicked.

We say things like, “I can’t believe it,” or “that’s crazy.” We ask, “what’s wrong with people?” or “how could they do that?” It seems to me that for some reason or another a good amount of people (and I’m talking about Christians here) believe that man is basically good and it surprises us when they do things that aren’t basically good.

Rather, we shouldn’t be shocked when people do wicked things. That’s what people outside of Christ do. And we shouldn’t ask what’s wrong with them. We already know. They’re dead in sin and acting according to their sinful inclinations. What should surprise us is the impulse to think of people as basically good in the first place. Why do we think this way when both Scripture and experience show us otherwise?

Something to ponder…

B”H

Being Built Up

In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul tells the Corinthian knowledgable that their so-called knowledge “puffs up” while love “builds up” (οκοδομε). This, of course, is in reference to the eating of food offered to idols. Some of the Corinthians without this so-called knowledge are scandalized by this behavior and Paul’s point is that love for the weaker brother will not do anything to violate their conscience.

By the time we get to vs. 10 we see that if a weaker brother sees someone with this so-called knowledge eating idol food in an idol’s temple then they will be “encouraged” (οκοδομηθσεται) to do the same. This is the same verb used in vs 1 to say that love “builds up.” Paul continues in vs. 11 to say that by this “knowledge” the weaker person is destroyed. There’s an irony here in that the same knowledge that puffs up can also build up but it does so for the ruin of the one being built up. The building up that comes through love is for their strengthening.

There’s also something to be said about the differences in voice between the building up, encouraging, and destroying of vss. 1, 10, 11 but I’ll save that for another post.

B”H

The Myth of Objectivity

Eric Vanden Eykel posted a Tweet thread on a recent blog post by Tavis Bohlinger on the Logos Academic Blog. The post in question was Joel B. Green’s answer to the question: “What makes a good biblical scholar?” Joel has clarified in the comments to that post that he was addressing a similar but different question, namely: “What makes a good scholar of the Bible understood as the church’s Scripture?”

My concern isn’t with the post itself but rather with one of the comments that followed the post. Someone named Matt West said the following in response:

What makes a good Biblical scholar is someone who studiess [sic] the writings in terms of their origin, history, and intent; someone who strives to comprehend the material and its impact on history, literature, and philosophy. What you describe in your essay is what makes a good Christian scholar. There is a huge difference between these two. The first is objective and scientific, the second is subjective and done with prejudice.

I wish I had the time to adequately unpack everything that’s wrong with this comment but I’m writing this on the fly before I head off to work. I will say two things. First, objectivity is a myth. What do I mean? I mean that there is no such thing as a “brute fact,” that is, an uninterpreted fact that has no reference to some other fact. Any-and- every-thing has to be interpreted and every interpretation will be contingent upon the facts that one has already acquired or the beliefs that one already holds.

An atheist who interprets the Bible does so through the lens of their disbelief. A Christian who interprets the Bible does so through their lens of belief. There’s a lot more to be said about this (especially in terms of autonomous reasoning versus thinking God’s thoughts after him) but I’ll have to say those things at a different time. The point is that Bultmann was right when he said there is no presuppositionless exegesis. This idea that one can just read the text and understand it without coming to the text with both hidden and apparent presuppositions is preposterous.

Second, Mr. West seems to say, or at the very least imply, that a Christian is not capable of this so-called scientific and objective scholarship. Christians, you see, approach the text subjectively and with prejudice. One could reason that as long as you’re not a Christian then you’re good to go and can understand the text for what it’s really saying. I mean, Christians don’t study “the writings in terms of their origin, history, and intent” and they certainly don’t “[strive] to comprehend the material and its impact on history, literature, and philosophy.” Why would they?

I’d love to take a moment to note how absolutely arbitrary this list is anyway, but I really do have to get to work. I’d argue that Christian scholarship is even more concerned with getting to the truth of the biblical text because they’re the ones who think this stuff actually matters! The believing scholar genuinely cares (or should) about what the original author intended to communicate to his audience and is constantly asking what impact this has on the community of believers today. Asking that question forces the believing scholar to look at the impact of the text throughout history.

Okay, I really gotta go. More anon…

B”H

Israelite Alzheimers

I was in the middle of a haircut the other day and we got to talking about Alzheimers and dementia when my pastor/boss mentioned that he had watched a documentary about Alzheimers where they said that it was the brain hardening. The Alzheimers Association website says that there are “Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles [that] are [the] prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells” in the brain. They say that “Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyd) that build up in the spaces between nerve cells” and “Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau (rhymes with “wow”) that build up inside cells.”

But as my pastor shared this with me it got my mind going. A couple of weeks ago my dear friend Chris Tilling ably demonstrated that the New Testament doesn’t make the distinction between head and heart that many people think it does. In fact, when Scripture speaks of the heart it usually, if not always, has the thought life in view. Hebrews 3:8 immediately came to mind, which says, “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.” I suggested that perhaps something like Alzheimers was going on with the Israelites as they wandered those 40 years in the desert.

Think about it, God has to constantly remind them of who he was and what he had done. He constantly told them that he was the LORD their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They clearly couldn’t remember his commandments, which is why he had to keep reminding them about his laws and statutes. If in fact this hardening of the heart was a hardening of the mind, which many believe to be seated in the brain, then is it so far fetched to think that there really could have been plaques and tangles at play? It’s definitely something to ponder and I’ll post something else on this with regard to some of the statements made about hardened hearts in the NT.

B”H