Saturday, May 11, 2013

Blogging through the Bible: So what's up with that?

In the short time since I posted my most recent post, I've had one essential reaction: Who the heck cares?

My post says nothing original, offers no meaningful insights, and really doesn't reflect any great amount of reflection on my part. For the most part, it's stuff I've heard or said previously, repackaged. Like I said in the post, the creation passages in Genesis are among those passages that have been read, studied and talked about so many times, it's hard to find anything new to say.

But let me ask this about Genesis 1, since I've never heard a satisfactory explanation. Why does God refer to himself in the plural?

I know Christians see this as Trinitarian thinking, since a being who is at once three distinct people and yet cohesively one distinct being, could conceivably refer to himself in the plural. But that's a latecomer to the passage, applied hundreds of years after the text was written, and it's not something the rabbis ever entertained, and the Jewish people owned this story long before Jesus ever the focus of Augustine's meditations.

Elohim is a noun both singular and plural in Hebrew, and so elohim can be translated as Capital God, or as lowercase gods. Without knowing the Hebrew text at hand, it looks like the translators are trying to have it both ways, saying singular God when the text grammatically says plural gods. And as I understand, this story appears to have literary roots in Babylonian creation myths, where there were plenty of lowercase gods running around and helping to create the heavens and the earth.

So what's up with that?

Secondly, what's up with the snake in the garden, in Chapter 3? Yeah, I know that Christians traditionally believe that the snake is Satan, and we've developed a whole extrabiblical mythology found in the works of John Milton, about a war in heaven where Lucifer rebelled and became Satan, the Adversary, and in Genesis 3 is working to mar God's creation.

The difficulty is that the war in heaven and Satan's rebellion is just that, mythology found in the works of John Milton. It's not in Scripture, and if sola Scriptura is our standard, I want this passage to make sense on its own merits.

I'll accept that the world was marred by Adam's disobedience, given that we have the testimony of YHWH to that effect in the Genesis 3 poetry, about women suffering in childbirth and men now facing toil and drudgery instead of pleasure in their work, and about the two sexes fighting for dominion over one another, but what's up with the snake?

Clearly from this passage, Adam did not bring evil into the world, because the snake already was there and working to undermine Adam's obedience to the command he had been given about what fruit to eat, so where did the snake's evil come from? And if Adam had no evil within him, what caused his evil choice?

I read once that in the Hebrew scheme of things, choice never entered into the argument of why there is evil in the world and why we suffer. I think the story is suggesting that our capacity for evil is something innate to us, part of our very design, and not just something that happened. I'm curious to hear the thoughts of others who have given this thought beyond "Adam sinned and paradise was lost." What is the nature of evil in this story, and from whence does it come?


Brucker said...

See, this is why I've attempted to shy away from deeper theological issues on my blog. It's hard enough to deal with the text without getting into subtext.

Even if we allow the standard assumption that the snake is Satan, and further assume the standard mainstream ideas as to the nature of Satan, it leaves open so many questions.

Satan is supposedly trying to get Adam and Eve to commit the first sin, but wouldn't trying to get someone to sin be sinful in itself? Whether there was some sort of large-scale rebellion that Satan led in the spiritual realm before this, it seems fairly clear that Satan is sinful, but what effect does Satan's sin have on the universe, since Adam's sin was supposed to have had such grave effect? Do angels have free will in the same sense that humans supposedly do, seeing as most angels don't seem to sin, and Satan never seems to repent?

The stance I've always taken in my blog on this story has been that Adam knew enough before taking the fruit that his choice was both free and genuinely sinful. I think in my own mind, whether I am able to explain it in a way that makes sense to others, it makes sense to me at least. However, I've got to admit that the snake's real role in the story continues to be a confusing one.

David Learn said...

Traditionally Satan's fall affected the angels, since he was the leader of the host. Adam was lord over creation, so his sin affected the entire created order.

Also traditionally, angels don't have the same capacity for repentance because angels are spirit and see God, and not flesh and spirit like men, who live by faith. Therefore, they are incapable of repentance because the pride behind their rebellion leaves their very natures irreparably warped.

More traditionally than Protestant evangelicalism, though, doesn't an angel, when it assumes its duty, effectively become endowed with the purpose of the Name? That is, when Raguel acts to take the Vengeance of the Lord, it is the Lord himself taking his own vengeance. Correct? So, when ha-Satan acts in his role of the accuser, it is really not only the purposes of God at work, but actually God himself at work, isn't it?

Setting aside the issue of angels and serpents, I've generally understood that Adam understood from the commandment that he was not supposed to eat from the forbidden tree; in a sense, that the tree itself embodied that knoweldge of good and evil because it was a true that God had said not to eat from.

I've also generally understood there to have been a choice at work, that Adam could eat from either that tree, or from the Tree of Life, but not both. Once he had eaten one, the other tree would be removed beyond his reach.

And yet the wording indicates that when he ate from the tree, his eyes were opened. That does sound like knowledge gained, greater maturity and self-knowledge, and growth and so on, doesn't it? Which raises the whole question of whether God was playing a game of "Don't eat that. No, really. Are you eating that fruit? Who's a clever boy?"

I have no idea what the snake's real purpose in the story is either.