Posts Tagged ‘Genesis’

In Genesis Why did God appear in 3 men? Sign for trinity?

January 17, 2010

It is debatable as to why God appeared in 3 men to Abraham in Genesis 18.  Tradition, especially Eastern Orthodox tradition, holds that this visitation was representative of the trinity.  But there has been debate over the subject since the earliest Christian theology.  Augustine believed that God’s appearance here was representative of the trinity, siting that there is no hierarchy.  However, others note that when the visitors go to Sodom to warm Lot, only two go and they are called angels.

No matter where you come down on the issue though it doesn’t not take away from the important part of the text which is that God met with Abraham again and confirmed his promise with him.

Andrei Rublev’s (1360-1427) icon “Trinity” depicts Abraham and the three visitors in Genesis 18. It is the most famous christian icon and is considered the greatest work of Russian art.

Jacob, Esau, and the short comings of biblical parents.

January 12, 2010

Question:

Isaac favored Esau.  Rebekah favored Jacob.  Isaac and Rebekah didn’t love both of their sons equally?  Rebekah told Jacob to put on Esau’s clothes so that he can receive Esau’s blessings from his father.  Why didn’t God stop Jacob?

Answer:

It is fairly obvious that Isaac and Rebekah did not love their sons equally.  This is nothing new though, Noah clearly showed favor to Japheth and Shem over Ham, Abraham showed favor to Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob infamously showed favor to Joseph over all his other brothers.  Remember that these men and women were not perfect people, they were sinful humans who had wills of their own.

Isaac Blessing Jacob Gioachino Assereto, 1640

Rebekah even stooped so low as to deceive her husband so to advance her own will and see that Jacob would get the blessing from Isaac.  God did not stop Jacob for a couple reasons.  First of all, we are not puppets and God is not a puppet master, God allows us to make decisions that are deceitful and evil, but he also allows us to make decisions that are righteous and ultimately glorifying to him (learn more about God’s will and our will here).  Secondly, God can accomplish his will despite our deception and evil.  Esau may have deserved the blessing by birth right, but he was also an impulsive glutton who had already traded away his birth right to Jacob for some soup (see Genesis 25:29-34).  God had his reasons for allowing this deceit to take place, and ultimately God’s will would be done even in the midst of it.  As you continue to read the story, you see the way that God establishes his people through the line of Jacob.  And as Jacob’s son Joseph says to his brothers at the end of Genesis, “what you meant for evil God meant for good,” this is also the case with Jacob and many others in scripture.

In Genesis 1 why is it called “heavens” and not just one “heaven”? Are there different heavens?

January 7, 2010

The passage in Genesis 1:1 is not referring to heaven in the sense of the dwelling place of God or the resting place of immortal souls.  The hebrew word here is shamayim and it is more clearly defined as “firmament” which means ‘the vault or arch of the sky’. It refers to what we can see in the sky i.e. the dwelling place of the sun, the stars, the moon, the blue sky, etc.  It’s for this reason that we often imagine heaven as a place that we go to up in the clouds, which is cute for cartoons but biblically unfounded when referring to life after death.

All that to say, the verse is not talking about multiple heavens, it is referring to the separation between the earth and what’s above the earth, i.e. everything.

How can there be a day when the sun wasn’t created until third day?

January 5, 2010

According to Genesis the first days were sunless.

There are three ways that we can understand the idea of a day…

The first is a 24 hour day.  Technically, the sun has nothing to do with a 24 hour day.  The 24 hour day has everything to do with how long it takes for the earth to rotate once.  Right now at the North Pole they won’t see the sun for another month or so, but it still takes the globe 24 hours to spin all the way around.  Many people believe that the earth was created in six 24 hour days.   And this view can easily be understood if for no other reason then the author 6 times says “there was evening and there was morning”.  This however may simply be a way of expressing the transition from one stage of creation to another.

The second definition of day has to do with the time when there is light outside.   Likewise, the time when it is dark outside is called night even though night is a part of the same 24 hour day.  The first order of God’s creation was to make light and separate it from the darkness.  God distinctly calls the light “day” even though there is no mention of sun for another couple ‘days.’  So in one verse God the author of Genesis used two definitions of the word day: the definition of day that associates with light, and the definition of day that associates with time.  But when it comes to time, 24 hours is not the only time-related definition of day.

The third kind of day is also related to time, not lightness.  It is a long period of time, an age of time, or longer.  For example our grandparents may have said of their youth, “back in my day” in which case “day” may represent several years of their lives.  Sometimes we might say the day (or age) of the dinosaurs is over.  In those cases a day is not a specific length of time, but a very long time with imprecise boundaries.  It is very likely that this might be the proper understanding of day in Genesis 1, as God may have taken years or epochs to create things.  (see the post on evolutionism vs. creationism).

In short, the sun is only a small part of the meanings concerning the word day.  Thus, there could have been days before the third ‘day’ of creation.

Were there really giants in the Old Testament?

January 5, 2010

Was Lawrence Taylor an example of a biblical Giant or just a New York football Giant?

Question:

In Genesis 6 who are the sons of God, the daughters of men, and the Nephilites (Giants)?

Answer:

This is one of the weirder text in Genesis?  And with it come some equally strange ideas for interpretation.  Among these are the idea that the sons of God were Angels who married human women and bore giants as offspring.  Another theory is that the sons of God were the decedents of Seth, and the daughters of men were the descendants of Cain.  But this does little to explain the bizarre offspring that they have.

The most likely explanation is that the sons of God refers to the socially powerful men who had gained wealth and influence in the world to that point.  With such power they were able to exploit the “daughters of men” or women of lesser means.  In other words, they could ‘take what they wanted’ (verse 2).  The reference to the idea of Giants in the land who were the offspring of these men and women most likely refers not to their stature, but to their power.  They would have been like ancient princes, or aristocrats.  God’s anger came with the behavior of people doing their own wills, taking what they want, and doing evil to one another.

The later explanation can actually be explained within the limits of hebrew language and can make sense in the context of Genesis.  The other two explanations require wild speculation and imagination that is inconsistent with any other biblical material.

How important and how accurate are the life spans of men listed in Genesis?

January 5, 2010

When interpreting scripture it is important to consider it’s communicative intent.  In other words, what were the authors trying to communicate their contemporary hearers (not us).  Many of us make the mistake when reading scripture of thinking that the words were written to us.  The words of scripture are definitely for us, and all people, but they were not written to us (see the About the Bible page).  Many people may come to the texts of the bible looking for facts, evidence, etc.  but in doing so we miss what the scripture was actually trying to communicate.  We must also remember that we are dealing with ancient texts written in a time when ideas about things like dates were completely different from today, and numerical systems, and even written languages, were still in their infancy.

That said, let’s consider something like the problem of life span in Genesis 5.  How could people have lived hundreds of years, and how could those men have fathered children at such ridiculously old ages?  When considering the births of the children, I think it is important that we understand that the term beget, or the idea of becoming the father of, does not necessarily mean that that person is the father of the child that was born.  In fact it is more likely that he is the grandfather, great grandfather, or great great grandfather.  Those who recorded these genealogies likely only included the ancestors who lived lives of some type of significance, thus eliminating those who were less significant.  So when it says that at age 187 Methuselah became the father of Lamech it doesn’t necessarily mean that Methuselah was Lamech’s father, he may have been his great great grandfather.

Of course this still leaves us with the more difficult issue of the very old ages.  Hard to believe, right?  At this point I think it is important to do some interpretive work, i.e. what is the author trying to say to the people.  Specifically, what is he saying about God and people.  If you look closely at the entire chapter of Genesis 5 we shouldn’t be distracted by the great ages of these men, rather we should be struck by one recurring phrase… “and then he died.”  The significance of the Genesis genealogy is not how long these men lived, it is the fact that they died.  The idea being communicated here is that the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin is real.  God wasn’t kidding around when he said “if you eat the fruit of the tree you will surely die.”  And furthermore, it shows the serpent to be a liar, because he said to Eve “you will not surely die”, yet clearly people are dying.  The phrase “and then he died” is repeated 8 times in Genesis 5.  Only Enoch in verse 21 does not die, and the significant difference between Enoch and the rest of Adams line was that “he walked with God” (but that’s a discussion for another post). In Genesis 6 God makes it clear that most humans are not walking with him.  Thus he limits the life of humans, because he does not want to “contend with them forever”.

I believe that Adam and his ancestors did live those long lives, but whether or not they did or did not is not the key issue, the significant issue is that they died.  And that is what the author of Genesis was trying to communicate.

Who wrote the book of Genesis?

January 5, 2010

First of all, we hold that the Bible was divinely inspired, in other words, God wrote it through people.  So at the end of the day, whatever human hands wrote Genesis, it was inspired by God.  This is a critical part of our faith, see About the Bible.

Tradition holds that Moses wrote the book of Genesis and the other books of the Law, or Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy).  Yet clearly, Moses lived long after the creation accounts so he could not have written eyewitness accounts of creation.  Thus it is likely

Tradition holds that Moses is the author of Genesis and the other books of the Law.

that there were several generations of oral tradition.  Even this though is debatable, as written tradition may have existed earlier then Moses.  Whether it was written or oral Moses is traditionally the one credited with putting the Torah together for the first time.  It is important though that when we consider the idea of ‘oral tradition’ that we understand that it was a much more sophisticated tradition then we can comprehend.  Our spiritual ancestors used very unique memory devices to ensure the proper passing of history from generation to generation.  They sang songs, they wrote poems, and structured stories in a way that allowed them to remember.  You’ll see the depth of details in places like the genealogies in Genesis 5.

One of the toughest things to understand is how the creation account could have been recorded, remembered, or understood.  Rather then getting into the different areas of debate (between believers, and between believers and non believers) I would rather emphasize the fact that God was there, and he communicated with his people.  That is important for us, and while it may be difficult for some of us to understand or swallow, it is also a great comfort to me that God does speak to his people, and inspire his people.

What’s the deal with with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

January 5, 2010

Wouldn't it have been better if God didn't make The Tree of Knowledge and Evil?

The significance of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has everything to do with God’s glory and the way that God is glorified when we do his will.  Yes, God could have made a creation where it would have been impossible for us to sin and disobey God.  But instead he designed a creation that had the potential to give Him the utmost amount of glory.  Let me explain…

When God made everything, it’s very existence and perfection radiated glory to Him.  But God designed his creation in such a way that he could be even more greatly glorified…  He made humans in His image who could choose Him or not choose Him.   As humans, when we choose to worship God, when we choose to do his will, he is glorified more greatly.  God is not conceited, but He is perfectly self-centered, after all, what else would he be centered on, He’s God!  That is often hard for us to understand because it is so hard for us to grasp the infinite worth of God.  But God gets it, so he designed a creation that he could love and that could choose to love him back, and in doing so he would be most greatly glorified.

Enter the tree… God made the Tree of Good and Evil because he wanted us to be able to choose him.  If he had made us robots without a will, then we would not have been able to choose him, obey him, and worship him.  Think about that for a minute… think how great God’s glory must be if he was willing to make a creation where his creatures could choose to not even believe him.  This may seem like a great design flaw, but if you think about it, this really points to how much God is glorified when we do choose him, when we do worship him.  It was worth it because God wanted us to choose him.  And when we do he get’s what he deserves… supreme glory.

What does it mean that we are “made in the image of God”?

January 1, 2010

There are a few important points to see here…

Firstly, it is clear in Genesis 1 & 2 that human beings are different from the rest of creation.  So while evolution may be a part of God’s creation, it is unlikely that humans evolved from some other animal, because we were set apart and made differently.

Michelangelo portrayed God as looking like a human. While that is not the meaning behind "being made in the image of God" it is a powerful reminder that humans have uniquely close relationship with our creator.

Secondly, this statement from Genesis is not about what we look like or what God looks like.  Rather, the concept of being “made in God’s image” is about our role on earth.  It says in Genesis 1 that God commanded humans to rule over creation, to subdue it.  In other words, just like God is a ruler, he made us stewards and rulers over creation.  No other part of creation has ruler-type status, humans are on top, for better or worse.  So you can forget those movies like “Avatar” or “Day After Tomorrow” where Mother Nature steps in and takes control.  That’s not the way God made it.

Finally, there is a very specific thing that comes along with the whole package of being made in the image of God.  Namely, that we have a will.  We can choose what we want to do, we can go the direction we want to go, just like God.  So when God gave humans the command to care for and rule over creation, we actually have the option to say ‘no’.  No other creature is like that.  God has a will and as creatures who are made in his own image we have our own wills.  God gives us commands to follow, but we can choose to disobey.  Thus sets up the great tension of the Bible.

Was the world really created in 6 literal days? (Creationism vs. Evolutionism)

December 30, 2009

What's the deal with evolution?

This is a question that comes up often when considering the first 2 chapters of Genesis.

As I read Genesis 1 and 2 and I think about creation and evolution, I think that there is only one question and one answer that means a whole lot to me.  Q: Where did the world come from?  A: God made it.  One thing all scientists have had to conclude is that the world had to have a beginning, no matter what got us here in 2009, it had to start somewhere.  Some scientist give it a name like “the big bang” and that’s fine,  but who made the big bang?  The fact is, that if evolution does exist God made evolution.  God also made science. And he made our minds, and gave us freedom to deny him or believe him with those minds.  Pretty trippy, huh?

But it is important when considering this to do a real heart check about why you think or do not think it is an important question to answer.  You can almost bank on the fact that any time you put an “ism” at the end of the word, it means that there are lots of people out there who have made a religion out of whatever that ism is about.  CreationISM and EvoltionISM are two good examples.  I think that these are people in two distinct groups who sound like they are talking about the origin of humanity but between-the-lines they are saying either “the bible is literally accurate” or “the bible is a fraud”.  Of course they are both making it far too simplistic.  Personally, I believe in evolution, but not the way the evolutionists do.  I also believe in creation, but not the way the creationists do.  Creationists want to say that the world was created in 6 literal days as described in the bible.  Pictures of people with dinosaurs are ways of emphasizing those believes.  These people are also called literalists.  While I do believe that God could indeed created the world in 6 days (or a mere snap of his finger), I don’t think this is the point of Genesis 1 and 2.  The point is simply that God was first, and he is the one who created.  The 6 days may simply represent some important divisions of God’s creation, as well as emphasizing the all important 7th day where God rested (something I hope to do someday too).

By the way, this worldview has a name, it’s called “Intelligent Design”.  It’s simply the belief that our world was indeed created by a higher being.  Whether that was in 6 days, or 600 billion years, it was still created by something, someone, greater.  2 Peter 3 says that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.”  So even 6 days as written in Genesis, could really be a long long time.  As a follower of Jesus, I believe that the higher being that created everything was God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Most evolutionists who don’t believe in a creator are atheists who don’t believe in God at all, or agnostics who believe that even if there is a creator or ‘initiator’ that being has no connection or interaction with us.  These are also the same people who hold up Charles Darwin as a kind of ‘hero’ of evolutionary thought.  However, what is rarely discussed among evolutionists today, is the fact that Darwin’s theory of evolution has very serious scientific holes in it.  If you’re curious, check out best sellers like “Darwin’s Black Box”.   This is not to say that evolution is not credible, but only to say that the man that is so widely renown as a hero to scientists and atheists was really only the author of a theory not a scientifically proven fact.  Even my high school science book called it Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, but this theory was  taught like it was fact, and it is always talked about like that, as if the word ‘theory’ doesn’t mean what it really means.  I mention this only to point out the fact that there must clearly be some religious-like biases on the side of many people to promote the ideas of evolution as if they are proven fact.  Similarly there are religious-like biases on the side of the creationists who talk about 6-day creation like it is a proven fact.  Obviously we are dealing with a case of radical beliefs that have radical followers.  But at the end of the day the important thing is still who made it, not how it was made.

The final thing that I didn’t mention is that it’s not just a creation vs. science thing.  Science is often on the side of the idea of creation, and there are lots of great, credible scientists out there who are great men and women of faith.  They simply know when to stop looking for proof, and when to start believing in something greater than they could ever comprehend.

Any thoughts?