I read a post the other day where a reader commented that one should follow God’s will. That comment immediately raised a couple of questions, at least for me. First off, how do we know that God has a will? At first blush, maybe that seems like a pretty innocuous question. However, how does anyone really know? After all, The Pascal Wager states that, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible” (i.e. the finite cannot conceive of the Infinite).
That, of course, begs the second question. That is, what kind of a life form might God be? However, we first probably need to define “will,” as in God’s will. The Free Dictionary says that will is “The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action.” In that case, I suppose, God has to be considered to be some sort of a physical life form. The Bible confirms this as it says that God was a man, specifically referring to God as Him.
Aside: Of course if God was a man, then who created God?
Now, I know that some people would say that God does not have to be a Him; that God could be a She or even an It. Fair enough. However, consider this. Some researchers/historians, myself included, believe that the Genesis story (in particular the Creation and Flood stories) was borrowed from older Sumerian writings.
Aside: That was only natural, in a way, since the Israelites actually were descendants of the Sumerians through Abraham.
In the ancient Sumerian writings, God (or more accurately the gods) is referred to as Him because he actually is a man – a real flesh and blood man. This is why the Bible says that man (Adam) was created in God’s image, (i.e. the image of a male, human being).
Aside: That is, man and God have nearly identical DNA.
Naturally, all of this raises more questions than it answers. For example, is God the Prime Creator? Well, certainly, the god of Genesis was the creator of man, at least the modern-day version of Homo sapiens. As for being the creator, the Bible actually says that God is not the Prime Creator. In Deuteronomy 32:8-9, it states, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s (Yahweh) portion is his people; Jacob (Israel) is the lot of his inheritance.” This shows that Yahweh was, at best, a lower god since Yahweh was subordinate to the Most High. Further, in John 1:18, John says that ““No one has ever seen God.” Of course, John was speaking about the spirit form of God, so the physical god of Genesis could not be God, according to John.
Back to the issue of God’s will. If God was an intelligent life form with a physical body, by definition he would almost certainly have a will. God then might impose his will on man, if he so chose, similar to what happened in so many of the biblical stories. The problem is that the so-called god of Genesis is not God, as in the Prime Creator. In that case, why worry about god’s will at all? Indeed, why even worship Yahweh?
…Or perhaps, the “god concept” is really just a distraction to keep us from connecting with our real Creator.
As Yahweh told man, you shall have no other gods before you. Hopefully, you can now see how that Bible verse makes some sense. That is, there were many Yahweh-type entities running around in ancient times. Yahweh was simply one of many (see Deuteronomy 32:8-9 above). In fact, the Israelites were polytheistic for thousands of years, even after Moses. Yahweh was an important god but the goddess Asherah was just as important, perhaps even more so. However, with the introduction of monotheism, the Israelites were told to have no other gods before them – and certainly not the gods of the Sumerians, the gods of Abraham.
“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” – Carl Sagan
P.S. Of course, “the universe” Sagan mentions is not a life form (i.e. it cannot know itself). When reading his quote, therefore, you need to replace the word “universe” with the word “Creator”.
It never ceases to amaze me how people can read the Bible and come up with a different explanation from what the printed words say in plain language. I guess that’s what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said that, “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says – he is always convinced that it says what he means.” Here’s a case in point.
The question has to do with God telling Adam that he would die if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. If you recall, here’s how the conversation went:
- In Genesis 2:17, God tells Adam: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
- In Genesis 3:17, God doles out his punishment for disobeying him with regard to eating of the Tree of Knowledge: “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”
The plain words of these passages tell a pretty simple story. God told man not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge (and Adam disobeyed him). The punishment was to live “a life of sorrow.” However, Adam did not die as God had warned him but rather lived to be 930 years old.
Actually, the serpent knew the truth all along and told Eve as much. Here’s the pertinent Bible verses:
- In Genesis 3:3, Eve tells the serpent, “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
- In Genesis 3:4-5, the serpent responds to Eve as follows: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
What follows in Genesis 3:6-7 is also telling: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened….”
So, it was just like the serpent said. One doesn’t drop dead if they eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Further, what the serpent said would happen did, in fact, happen. That is, if you eat from the Tree of Knowledge “then your eyes shall be opened”…and they were indeed opened as the Bible states. The serpent also told the truth about what happens when your eyes are opened. He says in Genesis 3:4-5 that you will become gods, knowing good and evil. In Genesis 3:22, God actually confirms the truth about what the serpent said when he says, …“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil….”
The fruit (apple) of the Tree of Knowledge is a universal symbol of temptation and the giving in to that temptation resulting in Paradise Lost, as Milton would have it. However, the use of the apple as this kind of symbol predates the writing of Genesis. For example, Greek mythology used the symbol of a serpent-like dragon that was coiled around a tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the divine golden apples. In fact, both Shakespeare and Milton later included the divine Garden of Hesperides in their works.
Today, most people would say that the world is not a safe place. Certainly, God, if he were here, would not look out over his creation and say that it is good. So, even religious people have to question how an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God created such an imperfect world. That’s why the Church came up with their theology of Creation Out of Nothing to explain how God was not the cause of evil. However, if God didn’t create evil, pray tell who did? Further, if Eve could be tempted by an evil being, then the temptation had to be the end-result of something that God both created (i.e. the serpent) and expected. After all, God was omnipotent and omniscient, wasn’t he?
As simple a story as Genesis is, some people still feel the need to reinterpret it. Thank you, George Bernard Shaw. After all, every story has to have a good guy and every story has to have a bad guy. Therefore, in the orthodox church, the snake has been forever known as the villain of this story. Yet, it was God that lied while the serpent told the truth. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that God deceived man. In the very beginning (Genesis 1), God originally gave the Tree of Knowledge to man, as the Bible says, to have dominion over. Who would have ever believed that Paradise could have been lost over a Tree that had been originally promised by God to man?
…”If you get mad at your Mac laptop and wonder who designed this demonic device, notice the manufacturer’s icon on top: an apple with a bite out of it.”
– Peter Kreeft
Man has been forever in search of Shangri-La, or paradise as most people think of it. The Bible’s rendering of the Garden of Eden story was not the first written story on the subject – far from it. Hundreds of years earlier, the ancient Sumerians wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh which is considered by some scholars to be the first great work of literature, as well as an influence on the Bible and the epic works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey).
However, the Bible story is the one that most everyone knows and loves. It centers around a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. Interestingly enough, they were both referred to as adam, since adam was not a name but rather a designation for mankind (see Genesis 5:2). Adam was created first and Eve was created (cloned, as it were) afterwards out of Adam, even though Adam was a man and Eve was a woman. No doubt, the author of Genesis had little to no understanding of genetics.
The Tree of Knowledge
At first, God gave every tree to man (Genesis 1:29) but later put one tree, the Tree of Knowledge, off-limits. The change of heart was not exactly what you would expect from an omniscient being. However, the Bible later reveals God’s concern. That is, in Genesis 3:22, we learn: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” So, God was afraid that man, who was created in his own image and likeness, would become exactly like him, a god. Is that even possible? There’s really only two ways to slice it; either man was created with the potential to be a god or the god of Genesis was not really God (the prime creator). Take your pick.
Aside: According to the Bible, the serpent confirmed that God was afraid of man partaking of the Tree of Knowledge, as follows: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5).”
An interesting part of the story is that God told Eve, under no uncertain circumstances, that they would die if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. When God found out that they had eaten the fruit of the tree, he punished them for their disobedience even though, at that point, they could not have comprehended the difference between right and wrong.
Aside: Where’s the morality in that?
Good guys and bad guys
Further, God also punished the serpent for telling the truth (as opposed to God who lied about dying if one ate from the tree). Every story has to have a bad guy and in this case the serpent was so honored. After all, if there was evil in the world, someone else other than God had to be blamed. Never mind that an all-knowing God created both man and the serpent. So, obviously, the god of Genesis was the source of evil no matter how you look at it. Besides, as it says in the Bible, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it (Amos 3:6)?”
In the mythologies of cultures around the world, the serpent/snake/dragon has been revered and even considered sacred. In Greek mythology, which predated the writing of Genesis, Ladon was the serpent-like dragon that was coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the divine golden apples. Sound familiar?
Aside: Jesus, himself, said that men should be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).
Upon further reflection, the worst dude in Genesis is hardly Cain. Rather, it’s God himself. If you don’t believe me, let’s recap:
- God promised man all the trees in Creation, and then reneged concerning The Tree of Knowledge.
- God lied about dying if man ate from The Tree of Knowledge.
- God punished Adam and Eve unfairly for what they unknowingly did.
The clincher is that when God saw that man had “become evil”, he wiped out almost his entire Creation from the face of the earth.
Aside: So, I’m pretty sure that when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God that Moses might have asked God about why man should have to keep commandments which God, himself, violated and God probably replied, “Do as I say and not as I do.”
Why did God kick man out of the Garden, anyway? It couldn’t be because of eating the apple since that story was a complete subterfuge. After all, what kind of a god would have expected that man would know the difference between good and evil even though he was denied access to The Tree of Knowledge? The real answer as to why man was banished from the Garden of Eden was to deny him access to the other “tree”, The Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22). You wouldn’t want your creation to live forever just like you, would you?
Obviously, being all-knowing, God knew in advance that the entire affair would unfold exactly the way it did. Actually, he knew even before he created mankind. Yet, he created man anyway, promised him paradise and then took it all away. That’s the real story of the adams’ family, a talking snake and how paradise was lost. John Milton would have been proud.
In my last post The Pascal Wager, I may have left you hanging a little bit (intentionally). I said that Christianity does not have its roots in the Old Testament. To understand this, you have to go back to the beginning – of the Old Testament, that is.
However, first let’s digress and spend a minute discussing the core teachings of Christianity. Since Christianity comes in many different forms and flavors (denominations, that is), there is a difference in beliefs between some of these denominations. Despite their differences, they mostly (most, but not all) believe in the concepts of the Trinity, Original Sin and salvation through Jesus.
The problem is that none of these concepts can be found in the Old Testament, notwithstanding later reinterpretation by the Church. The Old Testament was written by Jews, about Jews and for Jews. It was never even intended to be read by gentiles. If you want to adopt the Old Testament, that’s one thing but adopting only certain parts is intellectually dishonest. Otherwise, Christianity should also have adopted (among other things) Jewish law, which is based on the Torah. The fact is that Jesus and the disciples led their lives according to the Torah and if people are to be followers of Jesus they need to follow in his footsteps. Don’t you think? After all, Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17).
Back to the beginning
The concept of Original Sin is linked to the story of Adam and Eve which is sometimes referred to as “The Fall of Man.” Unfortunately for those who want to hang their hat on that story, it’s wholly allegorical in nature. Anyway, who believes in talking snakes? The allegorical nature of Genesis was confirmed by early Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria who had this to say about the Genesis story, “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.”
So, exactly why does Christianity have a need to have a concept like Original Sin as a central tenet of their faith? Why, indeed? If Jesus didn’t teach it, how is it possible that it ever became such a big part of Christian theology? The answer is that without Original Sin there is no logic as to why Jesus had to die on the cross. He had come to save us (as the story goes) from the consequences of our sins. However, Jesus would have never had to make the sacrifice if we never had to be saved in the first place.
The reality is that Original Sin is a byproduct of Church dogma. As for the Bible, it actually refutes the concept of Original Sin. For example, in Deuteronomy 24:16, it clearly states that: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Even the god of Genesis denied the possibility of Original Sin. He stated that man is inclined towards evil but is not sinful by nature (see Genesis 8:21). Of course, the whole issue is moot because Judaism doesn’t believe in Original Sin and they wrote the Old Testament – it’s their bible.
Aside: Even Jesus didn’t believe in Original Sin as can be clearly seen in John 9:2-3, as follows: “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'”
A question of moral authority
Above all, what’s required in any religion is moral authority. Anybody can stand on the street corner and pontificate about the Creation. However, who would believe him? Even more to the point, who would put some money in his hat because he supposedly imparted some divine wisdom? However, what if you put the fear of eternal damnation in people? Would they put some money in the hat (read: church coffers) if you offered them salvation from their sins? Many would, of course, has history has clearly demonstrated.
So did man really have to be saved? One could argue, I suppose, that if man violated God’s laws that he should be punished. However, who is to say what those laws are or if, in fact, any person violated them? This all presupposes, of course, that there is a God and that he has laws and that he would want to punish his creation with eternal damnation for any violations.
So, there remains the question of man’s violation of God’s laws because without any violation, salvation would not be necessary. Remember, religion requires moral authority. Therefore, it needs to be proven that a violation did happen, and that God, in fact, condemned man. Enter Adam and Eve.
Now, the Genesis story does provide some elements of moral authority. For example, God tells man not to eat from the tree, man disobeys and God punishes him. Of course, there are a number of things wrong with the story, not the least of which is that it was allegorical. Further, the story was written by an unknown author(s). Like the person on the street corner (see above), why should anyone believe him?
Then there’s the “damnation conundrum.” By that, I mean that salvation is only relevant if man was originally condemned to eternal damnation. In Genesis, we find that God did punish man but it’s not exactly what you might think. According to the Bible, this was God’s punishment:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful
labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will
rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from
the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it, Cursed is the ground
because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It
will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it
you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”
– Genesis 3:16-19
Therefore, according to the Bible itself, man never was condemned to hell. How’s that for a lack of moral authority?
At this point the logic becomes rather irrefutable. Since there was no eternal damnation, salvation is not required. No salvation means that a savior is not necessary. No savior means that a religion is not needed. On a more practical note, no religion means that tithing is no longer mandatory. Hallelujah! Now that’s something that I can truly sing praises about.
Religions are all different, but they generally have one thing in one common. They provide their believers with the hope of an afterlife. I refer to it as the selling of salvation. When someone says “come to my tent”, you have no reason to go unless they offer you something; especially since you will no doubt be contributing to their coffers. So religions must convince you that God talks to them, and to them alone, and that he has revealed what the afterlife is like and what you have to do to receive eternal salvation. After all, without the promise of an afterlife, who needs religion?
“One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn church history.”
– Brian McLaren, Christian pastor and writer
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
Three major religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) have more in common than they care to admit. Christianity and Judaism are both based on the Bible (at least the Old Testament) while Islam claims to be a combination of and successor to both Christianity and Judaism. Two of the religions (Islam and Judaism) trace their roots back to the same patriarch (Abraham), who was also revered by Paul as a progenitor of the messiah. However, none of the three religions have ever talked with any great clarity about the entity that is generally referred to as God (or Yahweh or Allah). This may be because little to nothing is known about him.
The universe was presumably created some 14 billion years ago and man came into the picture only in the last million years, roughly speaking. So there was a large time gap of 14 billion years from the original act of creation until man came along. Yet in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), there are two stories which comprise the account of creation, the first of which refers to the original act of creation (Genesis 1) and the second of which gives a detailed account of the creation of man (Genesis 2). The two stories are intentionally woven into one story even though they were written at two different times by two different writers, which scholars have referred to as P and J, respectively. The P and J designations have been used since the actual writers are unknown.
The account of the original creation is much older (than the account of man’s creation) and dates back to a time when the Israelites were polytheists – that is, they worshipped many gods. Thus, the use of the term Elohim (plural term of El or God) in the first verse of Genesis, a term that has been translated into the word “God”. Accordingly in Genesis 1, God says, “Let us make man in our image”. Obviously the words “us” and “our” are plural terms indicating that there were many gods(elohim). This is consistent with other passages in the Bible which refer to many gods (see Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians, for example).
By the time Genesis 2 was written, Judaism was just becoming a formal religion. At that time, the Israelites believed in just one God with a belief system dating back to Moses and his life in the court of the pharaoh Akhenaten, who is widely claimed by scholars to be the father of monotheism.
Because of the conversion to monotheism, the term Yahweh (YWHW) was used for God in Genesis 2 and it was translated into the words “Lord God”. It was Yahweh, one of the Elohim, that became the one and only God of the Israelites. But then, just who was Yahweh talking to, or referring to, in Genesis 3 when he said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us” (emphasis added)?
Of course, most scholars, and even many theologians, would say that these stories about God are simply mythological in nature and not to be taken literally. After all, the original creation predates man by 14 billion years and just who was God talking to, anyway, when he said, “Let there be light”? Besides as it says in the Book of John, “No one has ever seen God”. It’s fair to say then that indeed no one has ever seen or even talked to God, at least not God as in the “prime creator”.
I have reason to believe that lesser gods, that is god with a little “g”, were the basis for some of the stories about gods that appear in the oral traditions (and writings) of many cultures around the planet. This would include gods like Jehovah in the Bible. It was Jehovah who made the covenant with the Israelites whereby if they would choose him as their god then he would be their god. Well, you’re either the prime creator or you’re not. There’s no choice involved. Only a god (little “g”) would say such a thing or act in that way. Anyway, why does an all-loving, all-knowing God need to have a contract to cover such things.
The conundrum then for religion is what exactly is their moral authority based on if they don’t really know God? This situation is further complicated by the faithful who are concerned because they want to feel that moral actions result in eternal rewards. As a result, we get the church involved in the selling of salvation as opposed to trying to teach their flock about God. In a world where chaos rules the day, churches are suppose to be a haven for the weary and the downtrodden. However, because of a lack of a meaningful message the church has become marginalized, and without a moral compass people just wait around hoping to be saved.
In the absence of concrete evidence about the existence and nature of God, the world has developed what are essentially faith-based religions. Perhaps then we should consider rewriting Genesis because, for one thing, we know that in the Genesis story God violated one of his own commandments by lying. That is, he told Eve that if she ate from the Tree of Knowledge she would surely die, and of course she ate the apple and didn’t die. While religion has brought the discussion about God to the masses, it has done so through the invention of largely superficial stories. Just as with Jesus who taught through parables that even his disciples didn’t understand, the common man has never been allowed to fully explore the deeper esoteric truths about God. In one sense, though, I guess it’s hard to fault the church because if it was okay for God to lie, why shouldn’t they.