Both Paul and John wrote that God was an invisible spirit. Yet, other parts of the Bible say otherwise. So which is right?
According to the Bible, you have any number of people who physically encountered God, starting with Adam and Eve and including Ezekiel, Daniel, Abraham, Isaiah, Joshua, Moses and Jacob (who supposedly wrestled with God) and then, of course, there is Revelation. Isaiah is an interesting case because the renown prophet described God as seated on a throne wearing a long, flowing robe – and absolutely nothing else. If you’re reading the Book of Isaiah, you’re waiting for the prophet to describe his once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the Ancient One and all he has to say about God is that he was seated on a throne wearing a robe. There were so many things about God that people were dying to know… and yet he basically said nothing! How is that possible?
It kind of makes you wonder if Isaiah actually met God. Even if one accepts his story at face value, Isaiah obviously didn’t know what God looked like so how did he know that it was really God? It was an other-worldly apparition, to be sure, but God? Why not an angel, a demon or the devil himself (perhaps in disguise)?
Aside: Perhaps it was even the Gnostics’ evil Ialdabaoth himself.
Yet, Paul and John said that God was spirit and John elaborated by saying that no man had ever met God. That raises questions about the veracity of the stories about people having contact with God. Were theses stories pure fiction, such as one’s minister opening his sermon with “and last night God talked to me”, or might they have been based on real-life events, events where the participants might have believed that they had come in direct contact with the Absolute?
For most people, the answer to this question is irrelevant. As Stuart Chase so aptly put it, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” In any event, though, the God of the Bible has been shown to be a two-faced god. On the one hand he is a physical life form who is jealous, vengeful and prone to violence; on the other hand he is an invisible spirit who is described as being all-loving. With two such totally disparate concepts, the Bible could hardly be considered to be the unerring Word of God.
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (emphasis mine)
– Romans 1:21-25
This is the last of my four part series on Genesis – Making Sense Out of Genesis, The Debate, Why Genesis Is Not Believable and lastly Why They Believe.
The origin of religious belief is simple; it’s because they were told to believe.
In Saudi Arabia, people grow up with Islam because they are told to. They are told that Islam is the Word of Allah. Questioning of their faith is not allowed. The same picture develops in other parts of the world. In India, they are primarily Hindus, in China they are Buddhists, in Israel it’s Judaism and in western civilization mostly Christianity, despite having freedom of religion. I say despite freedom of religion because where I grew up Catholics and Protestants would live next door to one another and yet their kids would also be Catholics and Protestants, respectively. So a person’s religion is simply based on the religion of their parents whose religion was based on the very same religion of their parents, and so on. It’s a social phenomenon based on cultural indoctrination. Rarely, does anyone ever question their faith.
If you’ve ever seen a video of life inside a madrassa, you know exactly what I mean. In a madrassa, young children are taught to recite from their holy book by chanting scripture. They don’t even know what the words mean. Actually, it’s not important what the words mean. It’s only important that one follows along with the mindless exercise. The same picture repeats itself at The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. As adults, these very same children who were taught to mindlessly chant from their holy book are still doing the same thing. Talk about brainwashing.
Behind every belief system is a subconscious need to believe, or perhaps more accurately – to belong. That’s how clubs and cults operate. It’s also how the family system works. People are social creatures who need to belong (whether they realize it or not). The price of belonging is to follow the rules. In religion, it’s to be true to your faith – or to be more exact, to its dogma that was formulated by who knows who a couple of thousand years ago.
The beliefs of the various religions have some similarities and some things which are totally different. However, they generally have one thing in common. The origins of their beliefs usually started with some sort of extraterrestrial intervention. That is, Joseph Smith (the Mormon religion) received writings from an angel, Mohammed (Islam) received a revelation from an angel, Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism) received his holy Commandments on the top of a sacred mountain as did Moses (Judaism) and Paul (Christianity) had an unearthly encounter with Jesus. In cults, the usual story is that the leader is supposedly the reincarnation of some holy person, as if there even is such a thing. Of course, there would have been no way for any of them to know for certain who or what they were dealing with. They simply accepted what they were told from some extraterrestrial entity. That is, that they were led to believe that they were being visited by an angel, by God or by Jesus, as the case might be.
So believing is easy. We all do it, all the time. Knowing the truth is altogether another matter. As wise a man as Socrates realized that the truth is ultimately unknowable. With respect to religion, the Pascal Wager sums this up quite nicely as follows, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible.” Further, in the field of science, Einstein realized that the universe (creation) was unknowable, even to him. Despite this, religions of all stripes claim that they, above all others, are privy to the Word of God and believe that their holy book is the one and only authentic Book of God. In the final analysis, religion is really a no brainer for most people. Knowingly or unknowingly, they just accept what they’re told and they have faith that it’s right. That’s why it’s called a leap of faith.
” How can you say that you are wise and that you have the LORD’s teachings? The scribes have used their pens to turn these teachings into lies.”
– Jeremiah 8:8
In my last post, I said that there was a debate about Genesis, but in reality there is no debate. Genesis simply is not believable. Let’s break it down.
- According to the chronology given in the Bible, Adam and Eve were created some 5,000 years ago. Science says that man (homo sapiens sapiens) was created at least 100,000 years ago, if not much longer. For that matter, there is no scientific evidence of a global flood (as stated in the Bible) in the last 5,000 years.
- Scholars aren’t exactly sure just who wrote Genesis. If Moses wrote the Pentateuch, which includes Genesis, then he wrote about something (Genesis) that occurred some 2,000 years before he was born. That’s akin to someone trying to write the New Testament today. It would also have been pretty difficult for him to have written the entire Pentateuch because parts of it relate to periods after he had already died! Since no one knows who wrote Genesis, why should anyone believe it? In fact, scholars are not even sure who compiled the Old Testament (or exactly when for that matter). One thing is absolutely true, though. That is, Genesis was not written until long after the events were suppose to have occurred; events that had no eyewitnesses.
- Who was there at the very beginning to hear the words that God supposedly uttered in Genesis 1? Obviously, no one was there. Man hadn’t even been created yet.
- Adam and Eve were seemingly created simultaneously (see Genesis 1:27). So how was it then that Eve was created from Adam’s rib? For that matter, the Bible says that both Adam and Eve were called adam (Genesis 1:27) as it was, in reality, not a name but rather a designation for a human life form. Yet, that distinction is never made clear in Genesis.
- God gave the Tree of Knowledge to man for food (see Genesis 1:29) and then later prohibited him from eating from it (see Genesis 2:16,17). This after he said that all of creation was good. Obviously, then, Creation wasn’t perfect as God had created something which had to be placed off-limits to man. As it turns out, the creation of man wasn’t perfect either as God later decided to destroy his own imperfect creation with the Great Flood.
- To believe in the Genesis story, one has to believe in talking snakes. Further, God created the serpent so God is obviously the source of evil in the world (according to the Bible itself).
- Cain, the first child, was banished from the garden and left and found himself a wife. Further, before Cain left the garden God put a mark on him to protect him from enemies. According to the Bible, there would be no one for Cain to have married nor would he have had any enemies because nobody else existed – there was just Adam, Eve and Cain (with Abel having been killed by Cain).
I could go on but at that this point you have either stopped listening or its patently obvious to you why Genesis doesn’t make any sense. One last point, though. Christianity holds that man is the point of Creation. Long ago, scientific theory stated that the sun rotated around the earth, with man then the center of the universe (creation). Of course, that wasn’t true, was it?
However, the Bible says that man was created to till the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2:15). His fate, then, was to be a worker, tending to the garden. The Bible further confirms this saying, “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground…” (Genesis 2:5) – emphasis mine. In the very next sentence in Genesis, God creates man.
Further, the garden was only a small part of Creation -“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden” (Genesis 2:8). Man hardly had dominion over all the animals and all the plants. All that he was supposed to do was to tend to this one garden.
Real or not, why should the Genesis story matter? Well, the central tenet of Christianity is salvation and the Garden of Eden story (eating of the apple) is the stated basis of the Original Sin concept. Without a need for salvation, there is no reason for a messiah. Bottom line: No original sin, no salvation, no messiah, no Christ…no Christianity.
The writers of Genesis did not believe in the concept of Original Sin. It’s antithetical to the core principles of Judaism. Even more to the point –
- Jesus didn’t believe in it: “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responded by saying, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” – John 9:2,3
- Paul didn’t believe in it: “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.” – Romans 5:14
- The Bible doesn’t support it: “ … and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth….” – Genesis 8:21
“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”
– Origen of Alexandria (the first theologian of Christianity)
So much arguing with so little information. Different people have different things to say about what one should take away from reading Genesis. The all-pervading question, though, is how would anyone really know what the writer(s) of Genesis intended?
For example, did Moses write the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch)? Scholars are not in agreement as to whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch or not. For that matter, there is no proof that Moses is a real person. Certainly, there are no ancient Egyptian records which refer to Moses by name. If Moses did write the Pentateuch, how come he knew so much about the Creation and Flood stories that happened over 2,000 years before his time but almost nothing for the more than 1,000 years after that until the day of Abraham?
Aside: Unless, of course, the Creation and Flood stories were based on older sources.
Since we don’t know for sure who wrote the Old Testament, how do we know what the writer’s intent/message was. For example, rabbis typically wrote in a Midrashic style of writing that was not intended to be read verbatim. Yet today, religious scholars, non-Jewish scholars at that, think that they know exactly what was meant.
Scholars pretty much agree that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are based on older sources, however nobody bothers to ask if Genesis might also have been based on older source materials. You would think that someone would ask that question particularly because the Talmud says that some Genesis passages were taken from tradition (in other words older belief systems) or older writings.
Bottom line: Are we to accept some vague, undefined old tradition, unnamed older source or a writing from an unnamed author as the undeniable Word of God? If so, why?
In addition, nobody thinks to ask the following questions:
- Did the writer(s) of Genesis write the truth (or did they have an agenda)?
- Did the author(s) even know the truth?
- Has Genesis been edited; that’s particularly relevant since there is no original version of Genesis.
- Who was there in the beginning when God supposedly said, “Let there be light”? Certainly, not Moses.
Moreover, the god of Genesis walked in the Garden of Eden (Adam even heard him walking) and talked to Adam and Eve who obviously, then, saw him. This, then, is the very same God that Paul and John said was an invisible spirit. The very same God you understand. It was the very same God who in the Old Testament was feared by the Israelites because he was jealous, vengeful and prone to violence but in the New Testament was considered all-loving.
The reason that serious scholarship in this area is so lacking is because people start with their existing belief system and work backwards to scripture. They believe that they already know the truth, so they never bother to look for it. They believe that everything worth knowing has already been covered within their belief system. Therefore, they never think to ask the questions that were posed above because questions are only for people who are still seeking the truth.
It’s almost a truism that the smartest people are those that realize that they will probably never find the truth (e.g. Einstein and Socrates). Even the Bible says that you have to seek the truth and it will set you free (of false belief systems). However, those that are married to their religious belief system have rarely, if ever, searched for the truth. The result, as Kevin Michel said, is that every belief system you have is a commitment to be stuck with that idea, and with aspects of that level of thinking, for the rest of your life.
So, in my opinion, the Genesis story is really nothing more than man’s feeble attempt to comprehend the Infinite with his finite mind. Not knowing God, man did the next best thing – he invented him. That’s how we wound up with the story about Adam and Eve, the serpent and the Garden of Eden.
“At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Is God clairvoyant? Is he truly all-knowing? Well, consider this. He didn’t know how his own creation would turn out. Let’s break it down.
According to the Bible, God created all things and saw that they were good (see Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,and 25); there was so much seeing without actually knowing. Why would God need to “see” that his creation was good? Wouldn’t an all-knowing God know in advance what he was creating? That is, God should have known, in advance, that what he was creating would have been good (or not) and he wouldn’t have had to wait to “see” the result of his creation. God also created the serpent (see Genesis 3:1). Didn’t he know that the serpent was evil? Actually, not. What God said was that everything he created was good (Genesis 1:31) – even the serpent then. Unless, of course, God was wrong.
Further, in Genesis 6:5, we learn that God saw that man had become evil. Obviously, he wasn’t able to anticipate this turn of events. Also, it means that God was mistaken when he created man and said that it was good. Mistaken, you understand.
Aside: That’s not exactly what one should expect from an omniscient god.
Segueway to Genesis 2:2,3 – God has to rest. Creating the world made this all-powerful entity tired.
Aside: That’s not exactly what one should expect from an omnipotent god.
In Genesis 3:11 and 4:9, God has to ask questions (of Adam and Cain, respectively) to find out what had transpired.
Aside: That’s not exactly what one should expect from an omnipresent God.
There’s only two conclusions that one can reasonably draw from Genesis. Either God is not omnipresent, omnipotent or omniscient… or the Genesis story is inaccurate and, therefore, cannot be taken as the unerring Word of God. Actually, there is a third possibility which you probably won’t like much either. It’s that the “god” of Genesis is not really the Prime Creator!
Aside: If one were to read the original source material that the Genesis story was based on, it would be obvious which possibility is correct.
It wouldn’t be fair to leave Genesis without a mention as to why Adam and Eve were created in the first place. It’s probably not what you think (or were taught). Genesis 2:15 says that Adam was created to till the garden (of Eden). According to Genesis 2:18, Eve was created to give Adam a helper. There is no mention of procreation until Genesis 4 with a reference to the birth of Cain (the first child). This only after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden and could no longer serve the function for which they were created – to take care of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps, what’s more confusing is how Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. If Adam were a man, you couldn’t take part of him and make a woman… unless the species of man (at that time) was androgynous. Actually, Aristophanes, in Plato’s Symposium, said exactly that.
Modern-day Judaism is for the most part based on the Babylonian Talmud which was written after the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC. The Talmud originated out of Babylon because Babylon had become the major center of Jewish learning and religious thought after the captivity, as religious leaders did not relocate back to Judea. It was during this same period that the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) was edited and compiled (and in some cases written) by the Babylonian rabbis. Of the many texts at their disposal, one text in particular was the oldest creation story ever written, the Enuma Elish which is sometimes referred to as The Seven Tablets of Creation. The Enuma Elish was written on seven tablets with the seventh tablet devoted to honoring God. Thus, the origins of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, from the Hebrew word shabbath (that means day of rest).
Afterthought: So, perhaps, Genesis should have said that “on the seventh tablet God rested.”
“Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” (emphasis mine)
– Genesis 5:2