Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Genesis 5 (2004)

In this post, I will comment on some of my notes for my 2004 weekly quiet time on Genesis 5.

1. "Matthew Henry insights: God describes more fully the line of Seth than that of Cain, for the name of the just is blessed, while the name of the wicked will rot. God let them live for so long to perpetuate his truth. Adam was made in God's image, but Seth was born after the image of Adam---sinful and on his way to death. Enoch walked with God after Methuselah was born, meaning he arrived at his eminence by degrees. (Note: Philo says that God's forgiveness of Cain encouraged Enoch to repent.) Enoch walked with God in that he agreed with God (Amos 3:3) and was like a priest preaching righteousness and prophesying of Christ's second coming (see I Samuel 2:30, 35; Zechariah 3:7; Jude 14). (Note: E.W. Bullinger sees Enoch's walking with God as literal, in light of Genesis 2-3). Even though Enoch never had a city named after him (as the Cainite Enoch did), he was translated."

I actually like this note, whose points I got from Matthew Henry and other interpreters, such as Philo of Alexandria and E.W. Bullinger. Why do I like it? Because I appreciate attempts to find significance in every detail of Scripture, which is one reason that I study rabbinics. Here, Matthew Henry is addressing the question of why the genealogy of Seth is more detailed than that of Cain---in that Seth's genealogy goes into how old a person was when his child was born, and how long he lived after the child's birth. For Henry, the message here is that the name of the righteous will endure longer than the name of the wicked, and that the righteous lived for a long time so that God's truth could be promulgated. Another explanation could be that God values the righteous, and so he dwells on their lifespans---as if he is interested in every detail of their life.

Do we really know that the line of Seth was righteous? The text doesn't say. If you do the math on the chronology, you will find that Methuselah died in the flood, so how can we say that the line of Seth was righteous, since the life of Methusaleh was not spared? I suppose that there were more people in Seth's line whom we know to be righteous---Enoch, Noah, and maybe Noah's father, Lamech, who was a believer in God---whereas Cain's line had some wicked people, such as Lamech. And it was also the case that the line of Seth was preserved in the Flood, whereas the line of Cain was killed off. (But it's worth noting that, in Prologue to History, John Van Seters makes the point that Genesis 4 does not assume the Flood, for the line of Cain was making significant cultural contributions---such as dwelling in tents, metal-work, and music---things that continued up to the author's day. Did the author of that particular story really believe that a Flood cut short these cultural contributions?) So I guess I can see why one would view the line of Seth as righteous, and the line of Cain as wicked.

But does God love the righteous more than the wicked? I think that God cherishes and appreciates those who try to do his will---who agree with him on the value of righteousness. And maybe those particular people have an especially intimate relationship with God---a point that E.W. Bullinger may have been making when he said that Enoch practically had a pre-Fall sort of interaction with the divine. But what I appreciate about my first note is that it makes points about God loving everybody, and about even the righteous being imperfect. Enoch had to grow into the sort of person who walked with God, meaning that he wasn't always righteous. God preaches righteousness to sinners, indicating that he desires their repentance. And yet, it's not always the case that a goody-two-shoes preaching righteousness is what brings a sinner to repentance, for, according to Philo, God's mercy towards repentant Cain was what encouraged Enoch to get right with God.

I do not know if the name of the righteous outlasts the name of the wicked, as Matthew Henry states. There are names of righteous and wicked people that have lasted for a considerable amount of time. But it is worth noting that God cares when we do the right thing, even if nobody else does. Perhaps that is why God muses over the line of Seth, and why the line of Seth was valuable, even if, unlike the line of Cain, it did not have worldly accomplishments attached to it.

2. "Nahum Sarna says that, in Genesis 5, Enoch actually does die, since God taking people refers to death in Ezekiel 24:16, 18 and Jonah 4:3."

This caught my eye because it resembled my Armstrongite background, which said that Enoch actually did die. The reason that the Armstrongs said that Enoch did die was twofold: (1.) Hebrews 11:13 says that "all these died in faith", after discussing Enoch, and (2.) John 3:13 affirms that no man has ascended into heaven, except for Jesus Christ. For the Armstrongs, when Hebrews 11 says that Enoch did not die, what it means is that God preserved Enoch's life from those who wanted to kill him, by taking him to a safe location. But Enoch then lived out his life and passed away, like every human being.

I really don't know how I feel about this issue nowadays. I don't particularly care, to be honest. It's an example of how the Armstrong religion prided itself on knowing things that others did not know, an attitude of arrogance that I prefer to avoid nowadays. And yet, at the same time, I'm open to different interpretations of Scripture. I think that what underlies the Armstrongite position is the view that all of Scripture is consistent, since it is the Word of God, a belief to which most conservative Christians would assent. But what if the Enoch story contradicts John 3:13, or the author of Hebrews 11 contradicted himself when he said that Enoch did not die, before saying later that "all these die in faith"? Human beings can make mistakes, such as not remembering every single passage of Scripture when they make a point, or writing something that's internally inconsistent. If the authors of the Bible were humans who made mistakes, does that thoroughly undermine the existence of spiritual truth, or the reality to which they were pointing?

Then there's the issue of I Enoch, which says that Enoch went to heaven. Some believe that I Enoch was based on Genesis 5, whereas, believe it or not, others hold that the passage about Enoch in Genesis 5 was a condensed version of I Enoch. Does this mean that the author of Genesis 5 thought that Enoch went to heaven? Then there's Jude 14, which overlaps strongly with I Enoch 1:9. Does that mean that elements of the early church viewed I Enoch as inspired, which would mean that they thought that Enoch went to heaven?

Perhaps, when it comes to the Bible on the translation of Enoch, the Armstrongs were both right and wrong---there is a case for saying that he died and did not go to heaven, and there's a case for saying otherwise. Does it matter? Perhaps what's important is that God took care of someone who tried to follow God's righteousness.

3. "Noah brought rest, maybe because he invented the plow, or his dad predicted that Noah would bring rest because he had high hopes in Noah (fulfilled in Christ)."

I read another view in John Van Seters' Prologue to History: Noah brought rest in Genesis 9, where he established agriculture and invented wine! As a recovering alcoholic, I don't go to the bottle to solve my problems. But the Bible does have positive things to say about wine (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 31:6), and it also has negative things to say about it (Proverbs 20:1; 21:17; 23:30-31; 31:4). It can be conducive to celebration and help people feel better, but it can also cloud people's judgment and place them in embarrassing situations, as it did for Noah. We have to make our own decisions about what to do with alcohol, remembering that there can be consequences from drinking.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Genesis 4 (2004)

In this post, I will comment on some of my notes for my 2004 weekly quiet time on Genesis 4.

1. "Why did God reject Cain's sacrifice? V 4 says Abel brought from the firstlings of his flock and the fat. I think this is the key---that Abel brought his best and Cain did not, demonstrating Cain's lack of regard for God. Cain would have been accepted had he done well, so God is not guilty of favoritism. God tells Cain to master sin, which can sneak up on him unexpectedly (and Cain's resentment does lead to murder)."

The first explanation that I heard for why God rejected Cain's offering was that Cain had an attitude problem and did not bring God his best. Later, when I was in high school, however, I encountered a different explanation. I read a book by E.W. Bullinger, which argued that God accepted Abel's offering because it was a blood sacrifice---one that atoned for sin---whereas Cain's offering was rejected because it was from the ground, which God had cursed (Genesis 3:17). For Bullinger, the lesson here is that God accepts us when we cling to what Jesus Christ did on the cross for our sins, whereas those who rely on the works of the law to be accepted by God are under a curse (Galatians 3:10), as was Cain for bringing his offering from the cursed ground. Bullinger said that our attitude should be, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling," a perspective that is in marked contrast with that of religion, which always tries to bring God something in order to earn his approval. For Bullinger, Abel epitomized justification by grace through faith, whereas Cain exemplified religion---an attempt to become right with God through works.

I heard Bullinger's interpretation in another setting---at a small Baptist church that I visited one Sunday morning. The pastor was criticizing a children's Bible story book because it said that God rejected Cain's offering on account of Cain's bad attitude, for the pastor thought that this message was promoting salvation by works. The pastor said that the lesson of the Cain and Abel story is that God only accepts people who bring a blood sacrifice, for blood atones for sins. Nowadays, according to the pastor, the blood sacrifice that God accepts is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. If we don't have faith in Christ and his atonement, the pastor said, then we will go to hell.

I liked Bullinger's interpretation when I first read it. I especially appreciated the line of "Nothing in my hand I bring," for I felt that I didn't have much to offer to God. But embracing and clinging to God's free gift of eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross? Sure, I could do that! And so I taught Bullinger's interpretation of Genesis 4 at a youth group, and, at a Sabbath school in which we were studying Cain and Abel, I made sure that Bullinger's view got a fair hearing.

Nowadays, my viewpoint is different. I think that God rejected Cain and his offering because Cain did not bring his best, for v 4 says that Abel brought the firstborns of his flock, whereas v 3 merely says that Cain brought fruit from the ground---it does not say that Cain brought the firstfruits! Was Cain's offering rejected because it was not a blood sacrifice? I don't think so, since God accepted offerings that were not blood sacrifices, but were from the ground (Exodus 22:29; Leviticus 2).

Of course, the ground was cursed when Cain brought his offering, but was it still cursed during the time of Moses, when God was accepting fruit and grain? Genesis 5:29 expresses Lamech's hope that his son, Noah, will comfort the people in terms of their work and toil, on account of the land that the LORD had cursed. Some have interpreted this to mean that Noah marked the end of God's curse on the ground. But does the text really mean that? It may just be saying that Noah will do something that will alleviate the toil of those trying to grow stuff on the cursed ground. One idea is that Noah invented the plow! But the ground could have remained cursed, even after Noah (or his plow). And yet, God accepted gifts from the ground. The ground was not cursed in the sense that God considered anything from it to be abominable; rather, it was cursed because it took a lot of work to grow stuff on it (Genesis 3:17-19).

Moreover, God actually tells Cain that he can master sin in Genesis 4:7. In my opinion, that differs from the Christian teaching that, apart from regeneration, we cannot help but sin on account of our corrupt state (as Romans 6-8 has been interpreted).

How do I apply this part of the Cain and Abel story (about their offerings) to my own life? To be honest, I don't. For one, I can't give my "best" to God, for it is impossible for anyone to give his or her "best." As a professor of mine once said, you can't give your "best" for the simple reason that you can always do better! Plus, it's stressful to try to make everything I do for God my "best." It was easier for Abel to give from the firstborn of his flock, than it is for me to give God my "best." Sure, there was a degree of sacrifice on Abel's part, for Abel could have chosen to enjoy the firstlings and the fat for himself. But at least he had a concrete "best" that he could give to God. I'm not sure what it would look like for me to give my "best" to God, and, quite frankly, I'd have a hard time worshiping a God whose approval I had to earn! That's why I like Bullinger's approach, although I can do without the "fire and brimstone" element that the Baptist pastor attached to it!

I do believe in honoring God, however. Cain brought an offering, but he was very casual about it---almost like it was an afterthought. I hope to love God more than that. That doesn't mean that my acts of worship will be perfect, for my mind may still wander when I'm praying or reading my Bible, or attending church. But I'd like to think that God is happy when we just show up to honor him and to hear what he has to say---whether that be in prayer, or at church, or at meetings, or in reading inspiring literature. I want a God who enjoys having us around, not one who feels that he has to be impressed! But I hope not to arrive at a state where my offering is meaningless and perfunctory, as Cain's was.

Can I overcome sin by my own efforts, as God seemed to instruct Cain to do? I believe that God is there to help me out. And I know that I need him.

2. "Matthew Henry presents a rather bleak picture of the aftermath of Cain's murder of Abel. For Henry, Cain complains of his punishment and even wants to die, but God keeps him alive to suffer and marks him so that people will shun him. He deliberately shuns the presence of God to start a city, and culture appears to be the product of sinful people seeking worldly things apart from God. Lamech is motivated to sin more boldly than Cain because of God's mercy in protecting Cain with a mark, meaning Lamech tempts God. The church begins with Seth, who precedes the phenomenon of people calling on the name of the LORD. Henry's God is still merciful in that he offers Cain an opportunity to confess, the prerequisite to receiving divine forgiveness."

I make a note in the margin: "Could the development of culture from Cain's descendants show God's ability to bring life out of death?"

I got a lot of this from Robert Di Vito, whom I read at Harvard Divinity School. Di Vito pointed out that, in other flood stories of the ancient Near East, the "Noah" character brings on board the ark the exemplars of culture, such as the musicians. But the biblical Noah does not do so. Is God anti-culture in Genesis 4, preferring the simple life?

What's interesting is that many scholars have tried to associate Cain and his seed with the Kenites---the nomads who were related by marriage to Moses (Numbers 24:21) and protected by Saul in his attack on the Amalekites (I Samuel 15:16). According to I Chronicles 2:55, Rechab was a Kenite. Rechab was the father of the Rechabites, who were fierce Yahwists (II Kings 10) and resistant to alcohol and settlement, preferring to live in tents (Jeremiah 35). Some have speculated that the Rechabites were metallurgists, who refused to drink alcohol because that could lead them to divulge the secrets of their trade, and they did not settle because their profession required them to be on the move, as they went to new places after using up the metal resources in a previous place. And sure enough, in Genesis 4, Cain is the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and work in metals, plus Cain went to the land of Nod, a word that concerns wandering!

Is the story of Cain a commentary on the Kenites? Not all of the biblical traditions about the Kenites are positive, for Genesis 15:19 includes them among the nations whose land Israel will eventually possess, and Numbers 24:21-22 foretells that the Kenites will be defeated by the Assyrians, regardless of how strong they are. Did some biblical authors believe that the Kenites were too wild, and even murderous, and that became the basis for the Cain and Abel story?

At the same time, the Rechabites resisted settlement, whereas Cain in Genesis 4:7 builds a city. And yet, metallurgy probably coincided with urbanization, and so the Rechabites likely had dealings with cities. Did the author of Genesis 4 express his preference for a simpler life by attacking cities and culture? If so, why would he criticize people who themselves lived a simple nomadic existence? Were they not simple enough for the author of Genesis 4?

3. "Abel represents the first of a long line of martyrs killed by resentful evildoers for their righteousness (Matthew 23:35; I John 3:10-12). Matthew Henry says that the blood of Christ is more powerful than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24) because Abel's blood screamed for vengeance, whereas the blood of Christ screams for mercy."

I am not as certain now that Abel's blood screamed for vengeance, although that is the view of I Enoch 22:7, Jubilees 4:3, and Philo (in Det. 48). A colleague of mine at Hebrew Union College, Chad Bird, wrote a paper for a class on Philo, in which he argued that, according to Hebrews 12:24, the blood of Abel cried out for mercy towards Cain, not vengeance. The point of Hebrews 12:24, according to my colleague, is that Christ's blood is even better than the blood of Abel in bringing God's forgiveness to people.

That could be. There are rabbinic traditions about God's forgiveness of Cain. Plus, in the biblical story itself, God does protect Cain after the murder, and Cain has a new beginning---as the founder of a city, a family man, and an ancestor of culture. And yet, the forgiveness Cain received did not clean everything up, for humanity went on a downward spiral, which culminated in the human depravity that God punished with a flood. Could Hebrews 12:26 be saying that Christ's blood is better than the blood of Abel---that Christ's blood brings, not just forgiveness, but cleansing as well (Hebrews 9:14)?

4. "Genesis 4 divorces sacrifice from prayer, a novelty in the ancient Near East perhaps designed to divorce both acts from magic"

Nahum Sarna makes this point. He bases his argument on the fact that, in Genesis 4, Cain and Abel bring offerings years before the days of Enosh, which is when people begin to call on the name of the LORD (which Sarna interprets as prayer); therefore, for Sarna, sacrifice and prayer have separate points of origin in Genesis 4, and are clearly distinguished from each other. I don't know what to make of this. As Sarna notes, there is no reference to prayer accompanying sacrifices in Leviticus, and some scholars, such as Israel Knohl, have made a big deal about this, arguing that the priests were advocating a sanctuary of silence. At the same time, there are Psalms that are set in the temple, and I Kings 8 presents the temple as a place of both prayer and sacrifice. And yet, there are scholars who will then argue that there was conflict between the priests and the temple singers. Moreover, there are passages in the Hebrew Bible in which prayer is elevated as better than sacrifice (Psalm 50), which may demonstrate a conflict between the two, in certain Israelites' minds.

I'm not sure how much weight to place on Sarna's point about the separation of prayer from sacrifice, but I should note: in Genesis 12:8, Abraham builds an altar and calls upon the name of the LORD. Abraham does not appear to have separated prayer from sacrifice!

5. "Enos means weakness. Is there a confession here that the human race has become weak, in light of the first murder occurring? Also, E.W. Bullinger says that Enosh corresponds with the rise of idolatry."

Bullinger's view is that of many Jewish exegetes, as is indicated by Jerome (who refers to Jewish exegesis), Targum Jonathan, and Midrash Rabbah 23:7. The idea is that Genesis 4:26 is saying that, at the time of Enosh, people profaned the name of the LORD. This could mean that they called other gods "the LORD," which is idolatry. According to Bullinger, Targum Onkelos says that, at the time of Enosh, people desisted from calling on the name of the LORD. So there is a tendency in Jewish interpretation to read Genesis 4:26 quite negatively---perhaps because Genesis 4 seems to present humanity on a downward trend.

I do, however, like what Sarna says about the verse: "[Prayer] is the consciousness of human frailty, symbolized by the name Enosh, that heightens man's awareness of utter dependence upon God, a situation that evokes prayer."

I know that I need God, for I am weak.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Genesis 3 (2004)

In this post, I will comment on my 2004 weekly quiet time notes on Genesis 3:

1. "The serpent tempts Eve by engaging her in conversation (he does not ask a question that receives a 'yes' or 'no' answer), presenting God as harsh and forbidding, persuading Eve to doubt the truth of God's word, representing God's word as less than a command, and inciting within Eve a proud desire to be like God (as if God were holding back from Adam and Eve something good). Eve may have been alone (the text is unclear---see v 6), in which case we learn that Satan can tempt us in solitude, whereas the communion of the saints can give us strength. Eve adds to God's word, which may have opened the door for the serpent to refute her additions and thereby claim to refute God's word itself. Eve allows herself to be tempted by her eyes, which often leads to disaster (Genesis 12:14-15; Numbers 15:39; II Samuel 11:2; in fact, people are enticed by their own desire---James 1:12-16). As a result of transgression, Adam and Eve felt guilty and became alienated from God (Adam blamed God for his sin by noting that God gave him Eve), from each other (Adam blamed Eve), and from creation---how far they were from the bold and enlightened gods they expected to become. Christ is full of wisdom and knowledge (I Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3) and encourages humans to seek wisdom in Proverbs, yet at this stage, perhaps, for Adam and Eve to know good and evil would be like a baby drinking a martini (to draw from Madeleine L'Engle). Does that show the folly of seeking knowledge apart from God?"

I probably got a lot of this from Matthew Henry, whom I valued at the time, since he had an interpretation of every single passage of Scripture. Before I read him, I often wondered exactly what I should be getting out of various Bible passages! He certainly made my quiet times more interesting.

When I first looked at my statement, I cringed. Now, I see some wisdom in the things that I wrote, but, for myself, I wouldn't make an absolute religion out of it. I'll show you what I mean as I discuss some bullet points.

Satan doesn't ask a "yes" or "no" question: My comment here rubbed me the wrong way because it appeared to promote closed-mindedness---that we shouldn't discuss things, but rather we should blindly obey and quote Scripture to end discussion. After all, did Jesus in Matthew 4 have a discussion with Satan? No. He just quoted Scripture as the last word. That rubs me the wrong way because, nowadays, I prefer to treat Scripture as something that encourages open-ended discussion, rather than ending it.

But there are times when I should affirm my right not to discuss something. When a person tries to shove religion down my throat and prey on my vulnerabilities, I have a right to say "I'm not interested." For people who want to sell you something, if you give them an inch by allowing them to engage in a discussion with you, they'll take a mile! I don't want to end up in a cult, or a religious group that I can't get out of. I don't have to debate with those people. I don't have to ask them questions. I can simply tell them to leave me alone.

And I guess that Christians have a right to do the same thing with what they consider a sin---to say that they don't want to do that, and that's all there is to it. But I wish they'd realize that there are others who see issues differently from them. Sure, quoting Scripture to end a discussion is fine when a Christian does not want to sin and desires to close the door to temptation rather than thinking about the positives and negatives of that sin. But to try to force others to have that same approach is pointless.

Eve was alone: I'm sure that I didn't totally agree with my statement here, even when I was writing it, for I have often been a loner because I prefer solitude and have difficulty making friends, plus I've met my share of jerks in the "communion of the saints." But there is a degree of wisdom to what I was saying (or drawing from Matthew Henry). For one, it's good to get outsiders' perspectives because one can come up with some pretty crazy thoughts in solitude---and I don't mean thoughts that contradict canned Christian group-think, but rather thoughts that could easily create difficulties for a person. Second, if a person chooses to walk on a path, it's helpful to draw strength from others who are also on that path. This is certainly the case for many in recovery groups: listening to the experience, strength, and hope of others can be more encouraging than trying to recover all alone. I don't impose on myself a legalistic command of "Thou shalt not be alone." At times, being alone can be an asset---it can give me strength and perspective. But it can also have drawbacks, just as being in a group can.

I guess my theme so far is choice: if you don't want to engage in something, you have a right to close the door to temptation by simply saying "No thank you." If you want to walk on a path, you can find strength in a group of people who are also trying to walk that path. Being alone and being in a group have their strengths and their weaknesses---but you get to decide what you want to do. And I say this realizing that choice is not an absolute: I definitely have no right to infringe on the rights of others. But there is a place for choice in our lives. I guess that my problem with Genesis 3 and my interpretation of it is that they say, "Obey God, in exactly this way. Don't question it. Don't add to it. Don't take away from it. Just do it." If God commands you to be an extrovert or to obey the church, for example, just do it. This is where Scripture is used to close the door on discussion and to control others, and I'm not cool with that. I think there should be some place for meeting people where they are, while helping them to go higher.

Eve adding to God's word: This is an interesting point, because one can reject God or a beneficial path simply through misunderstanding, or through over-interpreting. For example, does Christianity really require me to be a social butterfly who is friends with everyone on the face of the earth? Or is that a command that people have added, and there are low-key ways to love others that are perfectly acceptable? Some may say that such a question echoes what the serpent said: "Has God truly said...?" But I think that it's good to clarify what it is that is tripping me up: is it from God, or from human beings?

The mindset that the serpent was encouraging in Eve: Even in 2004, I liked some of what I wrote here because I wanted a God of love and grace, and, in the midst of all of the discouraging "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" that I was getting from Genesis 3 and my interpretation of it, there was a notion that I should view God as loving---as someone who desires the best for me. That may be the case, but I wonder if I can say the same thing about the authors of the Bible, or Christians.

Enticed by the eyes: There's wisdom to this. Personally, I'm not going to stop watching all shows that have an attractive woman, or avert my gaze from all attractive women in real life. But lust can become a path to disaster. Pornography addiction is a problem for a lot of people, even Christians. I am against acting as if I'm not a sexual being, and I think that a lot of conservative Christians want me to do just that. But I also realize that lust can lead people to bad places. These are things to keep in mind.

Alienation: I like this part because it shows that there was something about the original sin that ended up debasing human beings, when they expected to become like God. Was it an absence of humility? That may be part of it. But Adam and Eve also were not ready to know good and evil at that point. God could know good and evil, but Adam and Eve were not ready for it, and such knowledge produced shame and alienation within them. I drew from the testimony of other parts of Scripture the idea that God actually is not against us having wisdom. I realize that one can read Genesis 3 to mean that God thought that wisdom was his prerogative, and he did not want human beings to have it. As a professor of mine said, the tree of knowledge was like God's chocolate ice-cream: it was his, and his alone. There are times when I will respect the text in its uniqueness, but there are other times when I choose to draw from the testimony of other parts of Scripture.

2. "God in punishing Adam and Eve set limits on their sin and kept it and its effects under control, as well as humbled them. Man worked while women had children, and, while there appears to be a subordination of the female to the male, the woman is honored in what the whole human race is saved by her childbearing---the birth of Christ to a woman (I Timothy 2:12-14?)."

I still like this because there's a sense of practicality to it. God set limits on sin. What would happen if God did not do so? We could become like the Goa'uld on Stargate SG-1: godlike, yet proud---walking disasters! It's good to have tasks in life and things that humble us, since that makes us better people.

On the subordination of women, I'm against sexism. I'm against men telling women what they can and cannot do. Men should not suppress women's fulfillment or contribution. At the same time, somebody in the family needs to make decisions for the family. I don't think that the decisions should be made unilaterally, without discussion. I also don't believe that the authority of the head of the family is absolute. But somebody should have a degree of authority---of saying that the family will do such-and-such, after discussion about what is best.

On I Timothy 2:12-14, I don't think that's talking about the birth of Christ. Rather, it's saying that women are saved through childbearing, if she or her children (I'm unclear on this) continue in the path of righteousness. What's this do to salvation by grace through faith alone? It contradicts it, in my opinion, but why should I assume that all of the Bible says the exact same thing?

What about women who don't bear children? I'm not for excluding them from salvation, as if I even can! I guess that I don't take I Timothy 2:12-14 as an absolute, but I draw from it the lesson that I should honor women who raise children and teach them to do what's right, through their word and example. Many have portrayed the pastoral epistles as sexist, and, in a sense, they are. But it's one-sided to focus only on their sexism, for II Timothy I:5 praises Timothy's mother and grandmother for their faith, which they passed on to Timothy.

3. "The serpent (later seen as Satan in Revelation 12) is speechless before God and crawls about in dejection licking dust (see Psalm 44:25)."

I'm not sure if Revelation 12 is referring to the serpent of Genesis 3, but, even in 2004, I was recognizing something that was important: the view that the serpent was Satan was a later development. Genesis 3 itself is not saying that. Who was the serpent? He could have been a heavenly being, since Isaiah 6 and ancient Near Eastern artifacts present serpents as part of a deity's entourage. A professor once said that the serpent of Genesis 3 was such a being, and he was sharing with Adam and Eve knowledge that he had: that the forbidden fruit would actually make them wise and like God. Or the serpent could have simply been a snake, which was Josephus' interpretation.

As far as Psalm 44:25 goes, that's not talking about the serpent, but it does show that licking dust is an act of dejection.

I think that my point was valid in the sense that it teaches that I don't have to be overly afraid of the devil (here, I'm using a canonical approach of reading a later interpretation into Genesis 3), for he's under God's control. Max Lucado once made a similar point: that he long viewed Satan as Darth Vader of the Sith, but, actually, when thinking of Satan, he should view him as a punk kid, asking God for permission to hit us.

4. "Job 31:33---I did not cover my sin as Adam."

When I wrote this, I may have been unaware of the scholarly view that the Adam and Eve story was late, on account of the absence of references to them throughout the Hebrew Bible. But I appear to have realized even in 2004 that they don't show up that often, and so, when Adam did show up, I made a note of that.

What's interesting, though, is that there are other translations. The NRSV says it means that Job has not concealed his sin, as other men have. The Septuagint's version of the verse talks about sinning unintentionally.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Genesis 2 (2004)

Here are some of my 2004 thoughts on Genesis 2, along with my current reflections:

1. "God made us and loves us, so he knows what we need. We see his care in not just creating man but forming him with meticulous attention, his blessing man not only with food but with food that is tasty and pleasurable to the eyes, and his concern for man's loneliness. The things we are supposed to do are not only commands but coincide with our created nature, and thus make us happy: work, marriage, etc. (While we should still do some of these things, they have been corrupted by the fall, when we became alienated from God, ourselves, other people, and creation.)"

I still agree that Genesis 2 demonstrates God's love. My impression is that a number of scholars read Genesis 2 in light of ancient Near Eastern tales, in which a deity creates humans as slaves---so that the gods don't have to work. And, indeed, God does put Adam in his garden (which could be a royal pleasure garden) to keep and to tend it. And yet, for the reasons that I enumerated in 2004, I believe that God in Genesis 2 shows concern for human beings.

As far as God's commands coinciding with our created nature is concerned, sure, that may be true at times. In my experience, however, it isn't always the case. Christians often say that God created us for community, for example, and, while I have felt happy when I have loved and been loved, I feel more comfortable by myself. Reaching out to others is not natural for me, and I feel awkward and alienated in communities. That may have been why I mentioned the Fall: I could identify with the alienation that it supposedly brought.

Nowadays, I'm not sure if I believe in a Fall and blame all of evil on it. The sciences offer us alternative ideas about human origins and development, and they do not entail our ancestors being perfect at some stage, and then falling from that perfection. Death has existed for millions of years, as fossils demonstrate, plus, as a friend of mine has stated, entropy (disorder) has been built into the cosmos from the very beginning---and it plays a role in the order that exists in our pocket of the universe. So I guess my view now is that we have always been imperfect beings, in a world that falls short of some people's standards of perfection. Does God want to restore us to an idyllic past? Maybe God wants us to grow so that the past that we idealize can become our future---in the sense that we become united with God and with our fellow human beings. (I'm not advocating nudism here!)

2. "Nahum Sarna says that the Tree of Knowledge gave people the ability to make independent judgments about human welfare. Matthew Henry says the Tree of Life was a visible symbol to Adam and Eve of their dependence on God for life, whereas the Tree of Knowledge itself gave Adam and Eve knowledge of good and evil (without them eating the fruit) in that its presence put Adam and Eve in the position of making a moral choice: obey God, or disobey and choose death."

I wrote this because I wondered what many have asked: What was so bad about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Isn't it good to know good and evil? I think that Sarna may be on to something when he says that the Tree was about us making independent judgments about our own well-being, rather than depending on God. In wisdom literature, that essentially is what knowledge about good and evil is: making moral judgments (only wisdom literature wants us to seek divine guidance). But I disagree with my statement above that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was called that because its existence placed a moral choice before Adam and Eve. Rather, I think that the tree was called that because eating its fruit would enable Adam and Eve to know good and evil, as God did. We see explicit statements about that in Genesis 3.

I've not arrived at a satisfactory answer about what is so bad about knowing good and evil. I'm fairly comfortable with something an Adventist once told me: that God wanted us to know only good, and not evil. But, in Genesis 3, for some reason, knowing good and evil entailed Adam and Eve realizing that they were naked, and covering themselves. What was so evil about that? Well, some have said that they started having impure thoughts after eating the fruit, but an anti-sex attitude doesn't make much sense to me. Should we see sex as a gift, or as a curse? Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve were to be one flesh.

On the whole issue of making independent judgments about my own well-being, I like that concept. The only thing is that I should evaluate the consequences of my actions, and I should take care not to hurt others. Depending on God in the process of decision-making is good, but I'm not sure how to discern God's voice. I can say that, nowadays, beating me over the head with a "Thus saith the LORD" does not have much of an effect on me. "God commands you to be an extrovert!" Maybe, but he did not equip me to be that, so I'll work with who I am rather than trying to be something I'm not, thank you very much. "God says that people who don't believe in Christ will burn in hell for all eternity, and so you should witness!" But God has not equipped me with the will or the passion to witness---plus, that doctrine about hell strikes me as rather psychotic.

3. "Matthew Henry had some good things about how Genesis 2 relates to salvation. We are dry earth, yet God sends the rain that causes fruit to sprout. Sometimes, he can send a cool mist to refresh us and those around us. The God who can create can also recreate. Christ is the Tree of Life (Revelation 2:7; 22:2) and will be the source of life-giving rivers (Revelation 22:1). Adam never complained because God was with him---whereas a sinner will complain about paradise. For Jews, the Tree of Life is the Torah, and Proverbs 3:18 calls wisdom a tree of life to all who hold fast to her and all her supporters are happy."

Does God water us? I'd like to think so. I remember one lady at a church who said that God was looking out for her, and that, whenever she despairs, somebody calls her to see how she is doing---whether it be her pastor, or a friend. I'd like to think that God rescues me from despair---that he arranges for me to hear an encouraging word that will re-orient my thoughts in a positive direction. But does God do this all of the time, and for everyone? If so, why are there suicides?

God Recreates: I come back to what Matthew Henry said about Genesis 1: that God creates and recreates in stages. That speaks to me more than the notion that, somehow, I became a new man after I made a decision for Christ, or was baptized. I still feel that there's a lot of old man in me, to tell you the truth!

Complaining. I complain a lot, but, nowadays, I count my blessings a lot more. But I don't count them because I bind myself under a rule to count them: that was how I operated when I was religious. Rather, I am thankful for my blessings because I realize that I cannot take them for granted. What is gained can be easily lost.

4. In the margin, I have a note: "Also, God made men from ordinary dust. He did so outside of the garden (for Adam) so he would see it not as his by right but as a gift of grace."

Ordinary dust: I liked this concept because it showed that God could use ordinary people to do his work. I was always ordinary---I was never really the popular type, if you know what I mean. But I hoped that God would use me in a position of prominence. Nowadays, I don't worry about whether or not God will use me. If he wants to do so, then I'm right here, but I prefer to enjoy each day rather than to worry about being "used." Plus, I no longer have the agenda of converting people to evangelical Christianity, so what would God use me for? I guess I can help others, but why can't I just help others, without interpreting it within a dramatic context of God "using" me?

Gift of grace: As I said above, I've learned not to take my blessings for granted. But I now reject the Attila the Hun image of God which I was conveying in my 2004 statement. I'm not saying that I should walk around with a sense of entitlement---though, come to think of it, I actually do think that every human being should be entitled to love and at least the opportunity to make a good life for himself or herself. But I'm not big on evangelical statements that I used to hear, which said that I should be grateful that God keeps me alive, since he can easily snuff me out. What is God? A mafia boss? Why can't I just accept God's love for me, without feeling that I'm putting God out by receiving his gifts?

But I liked that little nuance about God making man outside of the Garden because it's fun to see new things in Scripture, rather than just seeing the same details over and over again.

5. "In marriage, man leaves his parents---the closest people to him naturally---to be one with his wife, showing that marriage is valuable and serious. I Corinthians 6:16 uses Genesis 2 to say men should not sleep with prostitutes."

I guess. Back then, I thought I'd one day get married. Seven years later, I wonder if that's even the case! I Corinthians 6:6 does treat sex as a very serious manner, though, as an act of intimacy. I believe that I should see it that way.

6. "Gender hierarchy: I Corinthians 11:3, 8-10; I Timothy 2:13. Interdependence: I Corinthians 11:11-12. Plus Eve is a helper, a term applied to God."

I was interested in the academic issues of Genesis 2 and sexism. I saw that Paul used Genesis 2 to promote patriarchy, but that he also tried to show that men and women were interdependent---that the woman came from man, and yet, the man came from woman, and both were created for each other.

Nowadays, I don't care if Paul promoted patriarchy. That doesn't mean that I have to believe in patriarchy, does it? Consequently, I don't get bogged down in the complementarian-egalitarian debate---though I guess I can understand why those who view Scripture as authoritative would take such a debate seriously. Personally, I try to go with love and compassion for human beings, and, whenever the Bible encourages that, I'm with it.

7. I'm superstitious about writing posts with only six items---especially after I have expressed some pretty unorthodox thoughts!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Genesis 1 (2004)

I studied the Book of Genesis in 2004, and maybe also in early 2005. But I'll just put "2004" in the titles as an approximate time-frame, and I'll probably be guessing at the years that I studied the other biblical books.

Here are some points about Genesis 1 in my notebook:

1. In my notebook, I start with a quote by Joel Rosenberg, who wrote the notes for Genesis in the HarperCollins Study Bible. Rosenberg states:

"Remarkably, the story's order of life-forms resembles that of our modern theory of evolution: vegetation, swarming creatures, fish, birds, animals (mammals) and human beings."

Rosenberg doesn't say what the implications of this are. And, in my notebook, I don't try to come up with any implications. I just liked what Rosenberg said, and so I wrote it down! I think, though, that my views on Genesis 1 in 2004 were pretty much the same as my views today: Genesis 1 was a view about how the world began, which means that I don't buy into that whole "Genesis 1 wasn't written as a statement of history or science" spiel. In my opinion, Genesis 1 was believed to be historical by the person who wrote it. But modern science contradicts Genesis 1! And yet, maybe I can still try to glean some theological meaning from the chapter---on the purpose of the universe, for instance. But I'm not big on trying to reconcile the Bible and science, for I think that such an approach compromises both. I prefer to let the Bible be the Bible, and to let science be science!

But, if we let the Bible be the Bible, and we notice that the Bible overlaps with science, that's pretty cool! I'm just not sure what the implications of that are. Is the implication that Genesis 1 is advanced scientifically, and is therefore divinely-inspired? But Genesis 1 also appears to differ from modern science in areas. Unlike Genesis, modern science says that the sun existed before the earth, and that the earth existed much longer than 6,000 years. Moreover, Genesis 1 overlaps with its ancient Near Eastern environment on points---for instance, in its presentation of a deity splitting the waters and dividing them between the heavens above and the earth beneath, and creating by word. Marduk does these things in Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation story.

2. Here, I synthesize stuff by Nahum Sarna and Sharon Keller, a professor I had at Jewish Theological Seminary. I'm not sure which points are from Sarna and which are from Keller, but here's what I say:

"God is exalted [in Genesis 1] while the 'gods' of other nations are demythologized and de-deified. The sun (which is called a 'light' but not 'shemesh,' since the latter word is close to the name of a sun god) is not the source of light and vegetation, for God creates these things before he creates the sun. God, unlike Mesopotamian deities (and yet perhaps like the Egyptian creator god Ptah) does not have a birth: he just is. God also creates the sea-monsters, the ferocious agents of anti-creation in the ancient Near East and elsewhere in the Bible. Although Genesis 1:26 ('Let us make man') seems to contradict extreme monotheism, Genesis 1 presents creation as the product of God."

I guess that I still buy into a lot of that: Genesis 1 is a polemic against paganism. The Hebrew Bible has plenty of polemics against paganism, so Genesis 1 could be one more!

But what is the implication of God creating the sea-monsters, the agents of anti-creation? That God is the author of evil? Or that God has evil under control, for it came from him, and he may use it for his purposes---which are good and orderly?

3. Drawing from Sarna, I state: "God's image in Egypt applied only to the Pharaoh, yet the Bible democratizes the notion to include all men. We are therefore not to kill or curse other human beings (Genesis 6:6; James 3:9). Sarna also notes ancient Near Eastern examples where image means representation; we as humans are representatives of God."

I agree with this---though, nowadays, I'd replace "the Bible" with "Genesis 1," since the Bible is a diverse book, and not all of it is particularly democratic. In those days, I was eating up this stuff about biblical democratization of the image of God because it implied (in my eyes) that the Bible was superior to other ancient Near Eastern religions---and, to me, that implied its divine origin. Nowadays, I'm not sure if I'm on that page. I wonder what historical factors contributed to the author of Genesis 1 arriving at the notion that all human beings---and not just kings---are created in God's image. Once Israel lost its monarchy, it may have been receptive to democratization, for Isaiah 55 (according to a number of interpreters) applies the Davidic promises to all of Israel. Fine, but why would an Israelite author democratize a concept such as the "image of God" so that it encompassed all people, Jew and Gentile? Of course, the exile was also a time when the Jews were gaining a deeper appreciation for the concept that God was to be the God of all peoples---although, at the same time, there were strands of nationalism, as Jews sought to preserve their own identity against assimilation.

Another possibility: Suppose that Israel came into being as a result of a peasant revolt, as some scholars have argued. With these sorts of roots, it's not surprising that there would be a strong current of democracy within ancient Israel---a view that all people, regardless of their social class or their position---were valuable, since they were made in God's image.

Or maybe God did have something to do with a biblical author arriving at the notion that all human beings were made in God's image. Certainly God can elevate people's thoughts to higher ideas! But why didn't God do this all of the time, for God allowed a lot of oppressive mindsets to exist within the Bible? The answer may be that God doesn't treat us like robots, but like human beings.

On Genesis 6:6 and James 3:9, the reason I cited those verses was that I was looking for some motivation to love people. I've often been more comfortable with "just me and God," but, once other human beings are brought into the picture, I begin to get uncomfortable. I like passages that say that I should avoid doing harm to others because they are people of value---and Genesis 6:6 and James 3:9 are like that. The former says that we should not kill others, and the latter says that we should not curse them. But the Christian teaching that I should reach out to others and sacrifice myself for them? I find that difficult!

Does the concept that people are made in God's image make me love them more? I'm not sure. The concept is pretty abstract, to tell you the truth. I should love people because they look like God, or because they resemble God in certain attributes (i.e., intelligence), or because they represent God as rulers and custodians of creation? Those things do not make people lovable! Plus, I like animals better than I like people. What helps me to love others is the realization that all people are loved by God and, like me, have selves---with the wants and needs that having a self entails.

4. I draw here from Matthew Henry. (I may even draw from his language, albeit with some paraphrasing on my part):

"Creation reveals the beauty, majesty, wisdom, thoughtfulness, and love of God---contemplate creation, and we worship. All things, even the less glorious moon, perform a function. God's creation in Genesis 1 reveals aspects of God's new creation. God shines light into our hearts, giving us illumination and understanding (II Corinthians 4:6). He does not make us perfect at once but he works through stages, the latter becoming better than the former. He recreates us after the image of God so that we might be transparent reflections of his love and righteousness (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). He speaks, and the new creation occurs, meaning he is the sole source of salvation (though we, like God, are to contemplate our work)."

The part about creation revealing God's nature appealed to me, for it's rather inclusivistic: in Genesis 1, we've not yet gotten to the point where you have to believe in Christ or burn in hell for all eternity. You just look at God's creation, and you see his good attributes. One can do this apart from a Christian context! I think that's why I liked that aspect of Matthew Henry's comments then, and that's why I like it now.

I was hoping back then that God would change me, and that's why I mention that stuff about "new creation" and becoming a reflection of God. Nowadays, I don't worry about that a great deal. A lot of it has to do with spiritual burn-out: praying and believing in God alone did not make me better. I was still shy, introverted, and afraid. And, even then, that part about contemplating my work (or spiritual activity) did not resonate with me, though I wrote it down in my notebook because it sounded like a clever interpretation of Scripture. I looked at myself, and I saw flaws. And when I looked within, I didn't see light or understanding, for I hated Christianity: its God did not strike me as unconditionally loving. Yet, I still felt a need for God's love and peace, and that's why I was performing religious functions in the first place. But I doubted that I could change. Over time, I wondered if God could change me, or even wanted to do so.

Nowadays, I pray to God to cope through situations. I still run into despair, but there's also hope within me. I cling to a God of unconditional love, regardless of what I read in the Bible, or hear from certain Christians. Is God changing me? Maybe he is, little by little (as Matthew Henry says). But it's good for me to gain guidance from other people rather than just waiting for God to zap me and make me better. Often, I wonder if I'm making any progress---if I'm going anywhere! Life often feels like it's one step forward, and one step back. But there are plenty of times when I ask, "Why worry about it?" Why not just enjoy life, instead of thinking about how good or bad I am?

And maybe I should contemplate creation more. I'm not sure if it will always lead me to a loving God, since nature can be pretty strange (as God demonstrates to Job). But perhaps I should try it some day, to see what I find!


Hello everyone! My name is James Pate. Some of you may know me from my blogs, James' Thoughts and Musings, and James' Ramblings.

Don't fret---I will continue to write on my other blogs, hopefully every day. Also, I will not be writing every day on this new blog of mine---"James' Quiet Times." So the best place to read my regular thoughts is on my other blogs!

So why am I starting "James' Quiet Times"? I'd like to have a blog that contains my thoughts on every chapter of Scripture. For the past year, or maybe even longer than that, I have blogged through my weekly quiet times, which are my studies of Scripture every Sabbath day. Essentially, I study a chapter each week, as I read the chapter and commentaries on it. I've blogged all the way through I-II Kings and Ecclesiastes, but, for other books, I've blogged through some chapters but not others. It was when I arrived at I Kings in my study that I decided to blog through each chapter that I read. Before I got to I Kings, however, I didn't blog through every single chapter.

And so, whenever I feel the desire, I will write a post here about one of my past quiet times. My goal is eventually to have a post about every chapter of Scripture. Some people read my other blogs for that purpose---to find thoughts about a particular chapter of the Bible, as they try to understand it for themselves.

It will take me a while to post on my past weekly quiet times, which encompass the Pentateuch, Joshua-II Samuel, and the prophets. On this blog, I will copy and paste from my other blog my posts that I have written on chapters from those books---for my weekly quiet times, and, sometimes, my daily quiet times. And I will write new posts here on the chapters that I have not covered on my other blog.

I want to emphasize that I am a work in progress. In this new blog, I will be using notes that I wrote from 1999-2008---and, as you can imagine, I did not read the Bible in the exact same way throughout all of those years! How I approach Scripture now is not the same as how I approached it in the past---though there is some overlap. In many cases, what will probably happen on this blog is that I'll share my thoughts from back then, and discuss where I am today in comparison.

My quiet times have changed over the years. One reason is that I have changed as a person. But another reason is that I have and use more resources today. As a result, in my opinion, my write-ups on my weekly quiet times nowadays---the ones that I write each week for my other blog---are better than what I was coming up with a long time ago.

I could redo my weekly quiet times on the books that I studied in the past, but I really don't have the time or the energy to do so. For me, a weekly quiet time can be an all-day affair! I spend enough time doing my current weekly quiet times, and so I don't want to redo my past weekly quiet times as well!

At the same time, I feel that I learned some decent stuff, even before I got the resources that I use today. Or, let me say this: I think that my studies through the Pentateuch and Joshua-II Samuel were good, whereas my studies through the prophets (except Isaiah, who was fascinating) were rather stale. But we'll see how things turn out! Maybe I'll look at my weekly quiet times through the prophets and notice some gems that I can share!

I hope that this blog can help people. As I said, you most likely won't find a post here every day. There may even be gaps of time between each post! But, as time passes, this will hopefully become a blog that shares insights on every chapter of the Bible, as well as chronicles where I have been in my relationship to it.

Welcome! And enjoy!