Posts Tagged ‘Genesis’

Evaluating Links, Weak and Otherwise

“We cannot claim, on the one hand, that science is unnecessary or meaningless, nor, on the other hand, that the extensions [i.e. the inferences] we make from Scripture are absolutely accurate or that these extensions have the same validity as the statements of Scripture itself. But all that does not change the fact that biblical revelation is propositional, to be handled on the basis of reason in relationship to science and coordinated with science.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 36

Within evangelicalism there is a sharp and sometimes acrimonious divide about the doctrine of creation. It mostly comes down to how we read Genesis chapter 1 and its relationship to modern science. Young-earth creationism is probably the majority position within evangelicalism.

While I don’t have a book or article I got these from (they come mainly from my own experience), these are arguments I have heard Answers in Genesis’ founder Ken Ham fire off in rapid succession in debates. Ham’s method can make it hard to consider the merits of the arguments, so it seemed wise to me to slow them down and evaluate them individually.

I am not aiming to disprove young-earth creationism or creation science per se, I’m just looking to show some of the weaknesses in some of the justification for that position.

If you are a young-earth creationist and you see an argument that you would never use, please don’t take offense. No theological position has 100% agreement by all adherents and I’m not trying to treat young-earth creationism as if it does. I’m just reflecting on the defenses I’ve heard; there may be other, better defenses I’m not interacting with, here the ones I know:

The most straightforward way of reading Genesis 1 is to see it as six, 24-hour days. Let’s start by agreeing that that is the most straightforward reading of Genesis 1. But does that make it the best reading or the right reading?

If we try that straightforward approach with Genesis 6:6, “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart,” what do we get? The most natural reading is that God admitted he’d made a mistake in creating humanity and he regretted it. Is that the best reading? No. Is it the right reading? Again, no. God doesn’t make mistakes, but this verse seems to say that he acknowledged he did.

A proper reply might be that other scriptures tell us that God doesn’t make mistakes. We need to read all of what the Bible says about God’s nature in order to properly understand Genesis 6:6. Since there are no other scriptures that tell us the days of creation are anything but regular days, therefore they must be. This is a good response, but I’m not sure the Bible has nothing more to say on the days of creation than the first chapter of Genesis. This leads us to the next few points.

“Day” always means a normal 24-hour day in the Bible. This really is an application of the straightforward reading principle mentioned above, but it isn’t accurate. The meaning of a word is conditioned by its context. For example, if I say “rake” what do I mean? A gardening implement? A licentious man? The angle at which something slopes? Am I using it as slang for a comb? I need to put that word into some context for you to be sure what I meant by it. Within the immediate context of creation, “day” is used in a way that cannot mean a 24-hour period: Genesis 2:4 says “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Moses has just said God took six days to make it all, therefore, “day” in 2:4 cannot be a 24-hour period. Must it be in chapter 1?

A response might be that even though the same Hebrew word is used, there is a difference between the days of creation and the day in 2:4 and that line of reasoning might look like what follows.

In the Bible, “day” with “evening” and “morning” always refers to a 24-hour day. In my estimation, this is the strongest argument for a 24-hour day position because the rising and setting of the sun are parts of a normal, 24-hour day. The fact that it says “evening and morning” which is less than 24 hours is not a problem because it doesn’t say the day began at evening and ended at sunrise, a normal day contains these two events. This argument resolves the apparent conflict of “day” in Genesis 1 and “day” of 2:4 where no mention of evening or morning is made.

However, this argument crumbles under the weight of its own demands. Everywhere else in the Bible where “evening” and “morning” are used, they describe the setting and the rising of the sun but in Genesis 1 the sun didn’t exist until the fourth day. “Evening” and “morning” on days one through three must mean something other than sunset and sunrise, therefore, “evening” and “morning” could normalize only the fourth through sixth days creation. And if “evening” and “morning” meant something different in the first three days, then it seems the argument just defeated itself: “day” with “morning” and “evening” is not always a solar day right there within the context of creation.

“Day” with a number is always a 24-hour day. The idea is that when Genesis 1:5, for example, says “the first day” it can only mean the first of successive 24-hour periods because an enumerated day in the Bible is only a regular day. However, this isn’t how language works and, again, it isn’t accurate. Zechariah 14:7 speaks of a “unique day” using the exact same two Hebrew words Genesis 1:5 rendered as “the first day.” It should be clear from the context of Zechariah that “one day” there is not referring to a 24-hour period but to the day of the LORD, the time of Christ’s return, a unique epoch in history.

This shows that adding a number to a word does not modify or restrict its lexical range of meaning. In short, enumerated days in Genesis 1 don’t really help us fix their meaning there.

The Sabbath is based on the six days of creation and it’s a 24-hour day therefore the days of creation must be 24 hours long as well. In Exodus 20:11, Moses says the seventh day is the Sabbath because God created the world in six days then rested. This proves the week of creation must have been six 24-hour days.

If we look at other feasts to see if the length of the memorial mirrors the length of the original event, we immediately run into a problem. The Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5 and in verse 15 Israel is told to remember the Sabbath because they were slaves in Egypt and God brought them out. That was not in a single, 24-hour day.

The exodus leads us right to the feast of Passover where we experience the same problem:

And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever… For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses.

Exodus 12:17, 19, emphasis added

Passover and Unleavened Bread last seven days yet memorialize a single night. The same principle is true in the other direction when it comes to the Feast of Booths. It also lasts seven days yet memorializes 40 years of wandering in the desert (Lev. 23:39-43).

In the end we have to say that the length of the memorial does not fix or agree with the length of the original event. So while creation could have taken six days, the Sabbath cannot be used to prove it.

If you don’t take six days literally what else will you take figuratively? If we noodle with Genesis 1, that opens the door to us noodling with the entire Bible. This is the slippery slope argument and I have a number of issues with it.

First, theologian B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) articulated what has become the standard evangelical definition of biblical inerrancy and yet was himself an old earth creationist. At one point, he even acknowledged that God may have used evolution. Belief in biblical inerrancy is not threatened here. Second, this argument starts with the assumption that six literal days is the right reading of Genesis 1 and assumes that any other approach is being dishonest with the Bible. What it is in effect saying is “If you don’t agree with how I read the Bible here, you may distort it in other places.” That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, it simply fails to prove the point. Third, it feels like manipulation, intending to scare anyone who might even consider old earth arguments by implying it puts them in danger of becoming theologically liberal. There are many faithful Christians who hold to an old earth and they haven’t fallen down that slippery slope. Finally, for the argument to work, it would require a literal interpretative method for every genre in the Bible. Poetry should not be read literally. Proverbs are not to be interpreted as promises. Yet, history should be read as history. Joshua sacked Jericho, Paul went to Damascus, Abraham was a sojourner in Canaan, etc. We should interpret scripture according to the context and type of literature being used. What lies behind this argument is an assumption as to which type of literature Genesis 1 is. But what if the genre isn’t history?

There is no other example in the Bible of poetry like Genesis 1. This is a response to the idea that Genesis 1 has the shape of Hebrew poetry and therefore is not strictly chronological. The introductory statement (1:2) is that the earth was “without form and void” or “formless and empty.” The subsequent “days” of creation give form to the earth (days 1 through 3) and then fill it (days 4 through 6). If this is poetic, then Genesis 1 is not a historical recounting of creation but a creative expression of that historical event. The fact that we see no other Hebrew poetry written like this is seen as proof that it cannot be a Hebraic poetical form.

But what if this is the only example of this type of poetry in the Bible? Must we always have more than one example for a thing to be valid? The millennium is only discussed in Revelation 20, does it mean that it isn’t real? What if Genesis 1 is an epic introduction to the Bible rather than a historical recounting of creation? The truth of what is being said doesn’t vanish, it simply turns out to be less than young-earth creationists have taken it to be. Also, reading it as poetry doesn’t mean it cannot communicate truth. Look in any good systematic theology at the attributes of God and see how often Biblical poetry is cited. Poetry is not the enemy of truth. The genre of Genesis 1 is not a sure foundation so it seems unwise to build an argument on it.

Before the 19th century no one took Genesis 1 as anything other than six literal days of creation. The thought behind this is that reading Genesis 1 as anything other than six literal days was introduced as an attempt to accommodate Darwinism. It is seen as a capitulation to atheistic science.

The assertion, however, is inaccurate from the start. Augustine believed that creation was instantaneous, and that God used six “days” as a way of explaining it to us. Also, there was a teaching circulated among some of the church fathers that said that since God created the world in six days, and a day to God is a thousand years, the universe would last six thousand years and then enter God’s rest. Since the application of this tradition focuses on the end of the universe, not it’s beginning, it is unclear how the fathers understood the days of creation, but it wouldn’t be out of the question if they believed those “days” of creation were a thousand years also.

But what if it is true? What if no one understood the days of creation as anything other than six 24-hour periods before the twentieth century? Does that make it the correct interpretation? Before we disagree with historical theology, we should have a good reason. The church has a long history of baptizing babies and following a pope. We disagree with those things with good reason. It turns out that there is historical precedent for allowing a proper understanding of natural science to correct a widely held yet incorrect interpretation of scripture.

Geocentricism, the idea that the earth is at the center of the universe and doesn’t move, had been the common interpretation of 1 Chr. 16:30; Psa. 93:1, Psa. 96:10, and Psa. 104:5 in church history. This interpretation was rooted in Plato’s explanation of the universe and these verses seemed to support it. In the 17th century, Galileo with his telescope, following on Copernicus’ work, challenged geocentricism and was branded a heretic because it seemed he was disagreeing with scripture. Eventually his cosmology prevailed and the church didn’t abandon the Bible. Rather, she wisely reassessed her interpretation of those verses in light of general revelation. The Bible wasn’t wrong, we were, and we didn’t figure it out for 1,700 years.

If we have been interpreting Genesis 1 incorrectly for 1,900 years, we needn’t fear that natural science is going to prove the Bible wrong. Just like geocentricism, it may show that our understanding is incorrect, not the Bible. At the same time, science doesn’t have the age of the universe nailed down either; research is regularly refining the age estimate. (Just as an aside, that age seems to keep getting younger, not older.) This, however, shouldn’t make natural science suspect either; it is how the scientific method is supposed to work. In the end, God authored both the Bible and the universe therefore they do not conflict. Our interpretation of them may be in need of correction.

The genealogies of Genesis chapter 5 and 11 don’t allow for an old earth. Here we’re taking a step toward allowing the rest of scripture help us understand the creation story, which is a good idea. By giving the age of people when they had children and when they died, these genealogies establish a time frame from Adam to Abraham. Even though Biblical genealogies often skip generations, you cannot get millions of years of Genesis 5 and 11. This is a fair assessment in my view.

However, for these genealogies fix the date of the creation of the universe, once again you have to presuppose six literal days of creation because that view places the creation of Adam very close to the creation of the universe.

But if Genesis chapter 1 doesn’t mean that God created the universe in six days, then the genealogies don’t fix the age of the universe but rather the age of the human race upon the earth. The universe may have been around a long time before God created Adam and Eve and therefore could be millions of years old and the genealogies still be essentially correct.

If the earth is old, then there was death before the fall. This argument rests on Romans 5:12, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” This is understood to mean that there was no animal death before Adam’s fall.

But that isn’t what Romans 5:12 is saying. When it says “sin came into the world” the assumption is that ‘world’ means the universe, the created order. But the word in Greek is kosmos which can mean the world but, as it does in 2 Corinthians 5:19, it can mean humanity, “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” You can tell this is what Paul means in Romans 5:12 because he ends by saying “and so death spread to all men” not “death spread to all creatures.” Paul is not talking about death in general but specifically about why human beings die.

This is consistent with the creation narrative. When God created Adam and gave him the law of the garden, the prohibition of eating from one particular tree, Adam was told “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God does not say that everything will die, only that Adam will. Because the Bible is silent on animal death before the fall, anything beyond human death must be inferred; if it turns out that animals died before the fall, Romans 5:12 and Genesis 2:17 would still be true.

Something else that makes this interpretation difficult is that if death came to all created beings at Adam’s fall, then it caused some really extensive changes in certain animals. Carnivores cannot live on an all-vegetable diet; their digestive systems are designed to process flesh. God could have changed animals this dramatically but that kind of change isn’t mentioned or even hinted at in the Bible. The ground is cursed (Gen. 3:17) and therefore changed but there is no mention of animal life.

A rejoinder to death before the fall is that death, even if it were only animal death, doesn’t fit in the perfect world God created and would make God the author of death and disease rather than Adam.

We need to separate these two charges and deal with them one at a time. First, God didn’t declare the world “perfect”, when he finished creation, he declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The world will be perfect when sin and death and Satan are cast into the lake of fire and the New Heavens and New Earth are forever free of them. It is possible that a “very good” world could include animal death; we know it at least included the death of plants since they were given for food. The “very good” world included fallen angels since the serpent visited the garden of Eden.

As to the second argument, it may accidentally push too far. If God never intended death and disease and they are exclusively the result of Adam’s fall, then creation went beyond God’s control. On the other hand, if God created the world knowing that sin and death would exist until Jesus came and destroyed them, then death may not be his desire but it is necessarily part of his plan so it can be destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This argument opens up a rabbit’s hole of theological discussion that is beyond the purpose of this post so I’ll let this rest here.

A strength of this argument is the emotional reaction it creates against animal death being part of God’s original creation. How could that be considered “very good?” But here again we have to rely on an inference either way because the Bible is silent on the issue. Perhaps animal death did not exist before the fall but if it did, no matter how we feel about it, God declared it very good and therefore it was.

Conclusion. None of this is offered as ultimate defeaters of young earth apologetics. Nor are these observations likely to completely answer the young-earth defenses they respond to. My point is simply to slow us down and allow us to consider them clearly. Maybe they’re good, maybe they’re not. Hopefully we can see why they’re not always as persuasive as we think they should be.

God Judges Social Constructs

Nearly everyone now says gender is a social construct and therefore fluid or a spectrum rather than a binary. Many conservatives dismiss or ridicule the idea while many progressives chant it enthusiastically. Similarly, Rachel Doelzal (now Nkechi Amare Diallo) uses skin darkener, hair dye, and gets her hair permed in order to be a light-skinned black woman. She claims “race is a social construct” and considers herself “trans-black.” But along the way, no one has stopped to ask what we mean by “social,” how it constructs anything, and what God thinks of social constructs. Let me take a few moments to consider these questions.

By “social constructs” what I believe we mean are generally agreed upon definitions of what we expect of people. When you see photos from the ‘40s and ‘50s, men commonly wore jackets and ties and hats. Now men wear them (minus the hats) in more formal settings. In Burma men commonly wear long skirts tied at their wastes with a particular kind of knot and carry their belongings what we would call purses. Likewise, they wear suits in more formal situations. So what we mean by “social” is what we agree upon. Social constructs are the rules that societies have so people can live together.

How these rules are made is immensely complex. In older societies, they are rooted in deep traditions. For example, a friend from New York was surprised when she went to a party in the Midwest and saw people sit down. She said in New York you would never sit down at a party because it would be rude. The society in New York is older than it is in Chicago; Chicago was at one time considered the frontier. The further West you move across America, the more lax the rules get, yet there are rules or ‘constructs.’ Constructs are formed by things like tradition, media, necessity of survival, reaction against old rules, influences from other societies, etc.

Read On…

Singularly Collective

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement…” – Then President Bill Clinton’s testimony before the Starr Commission, 1998

In Galatians 3:16 Paul seems to pull a linguistic fast one almost Clinton-ian in magnitude in order to make his point. The Hebrew word zera is translated by the Greek word sperma which is translated into English as either “seed” or “offspring”. These words are “collective nouns” which means that though they are in the singular form, they actually refer to many. “Seed” can be singular as in “I swallowed an apple seed” or it can be collective as in “I believe we got enough seed for next year’s planting” or it can be plural as in “I got a bunch of blackberry seeds stuck in my teeth.” And that goes for zera and sperma in their respective languages also. So how do you know if the word is singular or collective? The only way to tell the difference between singular and collective is by the context. Plural is obvious.

So here’s what Paul says:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

There are a handful of places Paul may be quoting from in Genesis, God told Abraham this often. Something else God says to Abraham about his offspring is really important.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6)

This is very important for two reasons. First, Paul has already cited this verse as proof that we’re justified by faith, not works. Second, the context is abundantly clear that “offspring” is collective and not singular. So no matter how you slice it, Paul is clearly aware of the plurality of Abraham’s offspring.

So what do you think? Is Paul pulling some funny business with words in order to make his point? I don’t believe he is. Though the point seems strained here, Paul is really just following God’s lead. Consider this:

The LORD God said to the serpent…
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14)

Did you see what God did there? He started by talking about “offspring” which sounded like warfare between Eve’s children and Satan’s. But then God switched to a singular pronoun “he”. So we understand it to be a singular person because the context made it clear. Or did it? Consider Romans 16:20 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” The “your” there is plural, as in ya’ll or you’uns. What it shows is that this is a more complex issue than at first blush. When it comes to these covenant promises, there is a way in which the “seed” is singular and in which it is collective.

So it appears that Paul picked up on the thread of the promised seed, which is Jesus, and he just read Abraham that way. He didn’t quote Genesis 15:5-6, which clearly is talking about a collective seed but rather any of the other places where God makes a promise to Abraham and to his seed and Paul’s explanation is that God’s promise is to Jesus through Abraham. I’ll come back to how the collective can be true at the same time the singular is in a moment.

I think the singular interpretation that Paul uses in 3:16 actually helps in verses 19 & 20, which are a bit confusing:

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Tim Keller in his brief commentary/study guide, Galatians For You said, “The rest of verse 19 and verse 20 are extremely cryptic…No one is sure what Paul means or how this fits into the argument” but Keller then reassures us that it wasn’t crucial to the rest of Paul’s point. And really, he’s right. I can’t be really certain that the way I’m reading this is best and the rest of Paul’s case is so clear that we’re okay if we leave this cloudy. But I think Paul’s handling of collective nouns earlier in chapter 3 gives us some trajectory to think along when we get here.

The law was given to Moses by the instrumentality of angels. I don’t know what they actually did, maybe they were the ones holding the stone tablets as God used his finger to engrave them with the Ten Commandments. But the angels were there when God gave the law to his intermediary, Moses. God spoke to Israel and they freaked out, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exod. 20:19) But the promise didn’t have an intermediary, God spoke it directly to Abraham. But, according to Galatians 3:16, the promise was to Jesus so wasn’t Abraham the intermediary in that case? Nope, since God is one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there was no intermediary when the Father spoke the promise to the Son. Abraham was not an intermediary, he was simply a witness.

So what about the collective nature of the word “offspring”? That is, of course, true also. And, not surprisingly, Paul answers that for us in Galatians chapter 3 as well. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” The promise is to Abraham’s Seed, Jesus, and we’re heirs to the promise as we’re in Christ. So the promise is made to singular Seed and collective seed since Jesus is bringing in the gentiles to the promise as well.

Evil, More or Less

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Gen. 20:3-7

choose_determinism_medGod prevented Abimelech from sinning. He acted to protect the promise he had made to Abraham and Sarah. God restrained Abimelech’s evil, why didn’t he do it for Sodom and Gomorrah in the previous chapter?

Why didn’t he do it for all of humanity before the flood?

Why didn’t he do it in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve before they fell?

Why doesn’t he do it today for Eric Garner and the two cops killed in Brooklyn?

If God is able to restrain evil, as he demonstrated here, and yet he doesn’t, does that mean he is wrong and at least complicit in the evil?

A few thoughts on this:

  1. We are not robots. God spoke with Abimelech and Abimelech responded. Abimelech was a free moral agent in this transaction. God didn’t make a race of robots, he made image bearers with whom he wants to have a relationship. “We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards
  2. When the men of Sodom saw the visiting angels, they attacked, unlike righteous Lot who sought to protect them. Noah preached righteousness as he built the ark and no one listened to him. God sent prophets to Israel and Judah and they ignored, imprisoned, and murdered them. God himself took on flesh and came to the world and Jews and Gentiles illegally nailed him to a cross. There is a measure of wickedness that can occur in the human heart which will cause a person to not listen to pleas for righteous behavior. We don’t know that level but God does.
  3. Evil came into this world through the voluntary act of Adam. God had already announced what the price of that would be: death. All of humanity is engaged in treason against him. God is not obligated to restrain evil caused by free moral agents. The situation he announced to Adam was that sin would be met with death. And yet, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree and did not die in that day. God had mercy on them. It is mercy that God warned Abimelech or has ever warned anyone. But he did and he continues to.
  4. God is no stranger to personal injustice. Jesus Christ was the most innocent, the least deserving prisoner ever executed. God entered into our suffering and sorrow. He does not stand aloof from it and look on as an uncaring voyeur. God can restrain and sometimes does evil but Jesus came and bore it in order not to just restrain it, though he is for a while, but ultimately to destroy it. To judge it as evil. He is reconciling everything through the blood of his cross.
  5. At the same time, the Bible is clear that faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8, Heb 12:2) and so is repentance (2 Tim 2:25). He appoints some to eternal life (Acts 13:48) and Judas was predestined to betray Jesus (Acts 1:16). God choses to grant faith and repentance to some but not all. In the end, God does deal with all sin, one way or another. Either in hell or at the cross of Christ.

So why didn’t he restrain the evil in Sodom? It appears that Lot was resented in Sodom (Gen 19:9) so God may have been restraining it to some degree through Lot’s presence. Also, God agreed to spare the entire city the punishment for their evil if there were ten righteous people found in it. But there weren’t. God is not a sadist waiting to chuck another soul into hell. But he will not nod at evil either. Bottom line: Abimelech feared God and Sodom feared nothing.

In both Sodom and Gerar, where Abimelech was king, God dealt with evil. In Sodom, he judged it, in Gerar he restrained it. He doesn’t sit idly by while evil ravages his creation and his creatures.

A Covenant of Promise


The above quote is from an anonymous 17th century Particular Baptist. “The wha?” you say. In the 17th century there were Baptists who were Calvinists and they were referred to as “Particular Baptists” because they believed in particular redemption rather than the General Baptists who believed that Jesus died for the sins of everyone. Today, we’d call them Reformed Baptists because they believed a lot more Reformed theology than just particular redemption. This chap probably chose to be anonymous because for a while in the 17th century it was illegal to be a Baptist in England.

Anyway, this particular Particular Baptist (sorry) denied that the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17 was the Covenant of Grace. Now, as far as that goes, I’m fine with it. The two covenants are not the same. However, that doesn’t make the covenant of circumcision a covenant of works either. I would put it in the category of a covenant of promise (Eph 2:12). Here’s why:

In Galatians 3, Paul pits the law against the promise of the covenant of circumcision. You can tell that he has Genesis 17 in mind because in verses 15-18 he cites it when he says “and to your offspring” which he explains is talking about Jesus. According to verses 2, 5, 14 and 4:6 the promise is the Holy Spirit. So Paul’s understanding of the covenant of circumcision is that it promised and pictured the Holy Spirit. That makes a lot of sense biblically since in Deut 30, God promises to circumcise Israel’s heart. In Col 3:11 we are told that we have received Christian circumcision done without hands. In Romans 2:29 circumcision is called “a matter of the heart.” And Paul asked the Galatians in verse 2, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Since the promise of the covenant of circumcision is the Spirt and we receive the Spirit by faith, not works, the covenant of circumcision cannot be a works/law covenant.

What of the fact that it can be broken (Gen 17:14) which our anonymous Baptist cited in his quote? The way a child is said to have broken the covenant if he was not circumcised. This helpless infant is not relying on his own works but the faithfulness of his father. Since we receive Christian circumcision in the same way, while we were helpless and by the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, this condition pictured God’s grace.

What of God’s command to Abram “walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1)? Isn’t that a law of the covenant of circumcision? No, it isn’t. God explained why he required this of Abram, “that I may make my covenant with you” (Gen 17:2) and then immediately says “Behold, my covenant is with you.” (Gen 17:4) so Abram had already met those requirements. How? He’d met them the first time God established this covenant: “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6). This covenant of circumcision was a gracious covenant.

What of Galatians 5:3 which says that if you’re circumcised you’re under obligation to keep the entire law? That cannot be speaking of Genesis 17 since Paul has already contrasted that covenant with the law in chapter 3. Also, when Abram entered the covenant of circumcision, the law had not yet been given. Abram couldn’t have been under obligation to keep the entire law since it would be another 500 years before God would give it. In Galatians 5, Paul is talking about the Mosaic covenant which was a law/works covenant.

Hold the Ham

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:24-27

It can be surprising what you can learn from seemingly simple passages like this. This is just Noah getting ticked off at one of his kids and praising his favorites, right? Not by a long shot. There is nothing that says Noah was being prophetic here but he was. He was, after all, a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) and though Jacob isn’t called a prophet, his blessings on his kids proved to be prophetic (Gen 49) since the scepter didn’t depart from Judah, for example.

In the past, some in the church have talked about “the curse of Ham” and “the mark of Cain” being upon different people groups, whom they refer to as ‘races’. This was then used to give Biblical justification to treating those ‘races’ as less-than-human. Obviously, Cain’s mark was on Cain and not anyone else. Cain complained that once others found out what he’d done, they’d kill him (Gen 4:14). God’s purpose in putting his mark on Cain was to prevent that (Gen 4:15). After the flood, God had a different solution for murder: execution (Gen 9:6) not Cain’s mark. Besides, Noah was from the line of Seth (Gen 5:6-28) not Cain’s so if the mark was genetic, it died in the flood.

Well, what of the curse of Ham? Ham’s descendants settled in Africa so the theory goes that the children of Ham bear his curse. Except, Ham didn’t get cursed. Noah/God cursed not Ham, for that would be a third of humanity at that point, but he/they cursed Ham’s son Canaan. Canaan’s descendants didn’t make it to Africa, they settled in the Promised Land (Gen 10:15-19). God endured with them not for only 400 years while Israel was in Egypt (Gen 15:16) though that would be significant. But more than that, God endured with that cursed people from the days of Noah! Their deeds were exceedingly evil (cf. Lev 20:2-5) and yet it took that long for the full measure of their sin to equal the full measure of God’s patience with them.

What happened was that Ham was not curse. Nor was he blessed. He was simply cut out. The blessing to Japheth was that he be enlarged. It is a play on Japheth’s name which is the same Hebrew word as “enlarge” but it is more than that. Japheth will, one day, dwell in Shem’s tents. Shem who’s God is Yahweh. Those tents. We can see this idea of Ham being ignored again in the genealogy of Genesis 10. When we get to Shem’s descendants, Shem is introduced as “the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth.” “Eber” is where we get the name “Hebrew” and Shem is his father which is where we get the term “Semite” as in “anti-semite”. Also, Shem is the elder brother not of Ham and Japheth, but only Japheth. Moses is pointing out that Ham’s descendants will be included in Japheth’s blessing (he will be enlarged) and only Canaan will be cursed.

Seem thin? Let me fill it in just a bit then. Back to Genesis 10 but let’s take a look at Ham’s descendants for a moment. One is Nimrod, a mighty man and a mighty hunter. He founded two important cities, Nineveh and Babylon. These become very important later in redemptive history when God judges Israel and Judah for their faithlessness. Nebuchadnezzar is the king of Babylon and God repeatedly refers to him as “my servant” in Jeremiah (Jer 25:9, 27:6, 43:10). In Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are delivered from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace he makes the proclamation that “Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Dan 3:29). Then in chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar himself seems to be the author of inspired scripture, God doesn’t destroy Nebuchadnezzar for his sin but sends him a dream and Daniel to interpret it. He then causes Nebuchadnezzar to go mad for a time so that when he is restored he praises God. Sounds like this son of Ham is dwelling in Shem’s tents. Also, God sent Jonah to Nineveh and extended his mercy to them.

Another son of Ham is Egypt (Gen 10:6). When God brought Israel out of Egypt he judged their gods, not them (Ex 12:12, Num 33:4). God later calls Egypt “my people” and Assyria “the work of my hands” (Isa 19:24-25). And these two sons of Ham will surely be among the “strong nations” that will lay hold of the robe of a Jew and say “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech 8:22-23). Again, that sounds like they are dwelling in Shem’s tents.

I’m not saying that these men or nations were eternally saved, but they had an encounter with Yahweh that the Canaanites didn’t. That isn’t to say that God didn’t extend opportunities for repentance to Canaan, he did, but he didn’t take the extraordinary steps he took with others of Ham’s children. Caleb’s father, a Kenizzite (Num 32:12, Gen 15:18-19), turned to Yahweh. Rahab and her family heard about Yahweh’s might and turned to him (Josh 2:8-13). When God’s wrath fell on the people of the land of Canaan, these were saved so even in his judgment, God saved some. In the end, Japheth is enlarged and dwells in Shem’s tents while Ham is pretty much ignored.

The Israel of God

Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children…But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-25, 30-31)

Paul is saying here, via allegory, that Jerusalem as it was in his day was cast out. He said that Jerusalem was Hagar and then cites scripture that says Hagar and Ishmael were rejected.

And if you consider the context of the quote from Genesis 21 what God told Abraham to do was follow the wishes of his wife Sarah “for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This promise of offspring, according to Galatians 3, is the promise of Jesus and the promise was given in the form of a covenant. The blessings of the covenant would come through Isaac, not Ishmael therefore Ishmael was to be cut off and sent away. So what Paul is saying in chapter 4 through this allegory is that Jerusalem was cut off from the blessings of Abraham’s covenant. That doesn’t mean that God is going to completely ignore Israel any more than he was abandoning Ishmael. God promised Abraham “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:20-21)

The covenant doesn’t belong to national Israel because they rejected the promised Offspring and choose instead to remain under the law. God may still bless them, indeed history seems to show that he is still watching over them, but the covenant is with Sarah and her children. This is why at the end of the letter to the Galatians when Paul picks up the pen himself, he says “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) The rule is a rejection of circumcision and blessing is upon those who agree with that and the Israel of God, that is, the offspring of the free woman, the church.

This is really just a fragment of a larger discussion on the covenant and the place of Israel in it. This little post doesn’t say all that is to be said on that subject. Consult a theologian before using this post.

Made by Not Made of

And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. – Genesis 4:4-5

Why did God accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s? Some have said that it because Abel offered blood and Cain didn’t. That won’t work because in the law there were commanded grain offerings, even as sin offerings. (Lev 5:11) There’s nothing in Genesis 4 that indicates the offerings they made were supposed to be a sin offering, it was most likely a fellowship offering. No, the problem wasn’t the offering, it was the offerer. Hebrews 11 says that “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”. By faith Abel did that. Cain lacked faith. And why did Cain kill Able? “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12) God rejected Abel’s offering because it was made by a faithless, evil man not because it was made of grain.

In Canaan and in Egypt

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:1-4

Israel was in Egypt for four hundred years and how many of those years as slaves? We hear nothing of them during that four hundred years and so we’re tempted to think that God had left them during that time. But what God told Jacob when he sent him into Egypt was “I myself will go down with you to Egypt.” God was with his people when they were celebrated and brought in and when they remained and were enslaved. He didn’t forget his people. When the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Genesis 15:13-16), then “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:24-25) He didn’t suddenly remember his people, his covenant with them was brought to mind when the right time had come.

If you are Christ’s, God doesn’t forget you when things are tough. Jesus promised “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) That is true when Peter was at Cornelius’ home and when he was in prison. That is true when you have a day of magnificent worship and when things could not be worse for you. God is with us in Canaan and Egypt. Do not be afraid. Go down to Egypt and let God bring you up again as well.

Genesis: How’d We Get Here?

We all know what’s in the book of Genesis. We’re familiar with the stories of creation and Noah and Joseph and his coat. But what is Genesis about? Another way to ask the question would be to ask why Moses wrote it. One way to try to determine what a story is about is to track narrative time. How much time passes across how many pages? When narrative time slows down, there is probably something important going on. So take a look at this:

Let me walk you through this. What I did was to pick out the major themes of the book and put them across the top with the chapter divisions. I was surprised to see it line up in pretty neat quarters.

  • Chapters 1-11 introduce God and how he created. They also explain why the world is a mess and show how bad and how far reaching that problem is but they also include the promise that someone will do something about it, the Seed of the Woman.
  • Chapters 12-24 tell us Abraham’s story. God carries his promise forward in one man. The promises to Abraham are a land, a people and a blessing to the nations.
  • Chapters 25-36 cover the lives of Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Isaac is covered very briefly and the majority of the section is spent on Jacob. We meet Jacob’s sons.
  • Chapters 57-50 focus on one of Jacob’s boys, Joseph. He goes in to Egypt as a slave and soon rises to the second in charge of the nation. At the end he’s reunited with his family and they are brought in to Egypt as celebrated guests.

That’s the story in a nutshell. The sections receive pretty much the same amount of paper but consider the bottom line of the chart. The first section takes thousands, maybe millions of years. The next two sections take about 100 years each. But the final one, though equal in length, covers only about 56 years. Moses really slows down and includes a lot of detail in Joseph’s story.

The reason, I suppose, Moses does this is because in Genesis he’s explaining to the Israelites where they came from. He covers how Yahweh created the world and worked to preserve it through Adam, Seth (not Cain), Noah, Shem (not Ham), Abraham, Isaac (not Ishmael), Jacob (not Esau) and Joseph. He spends the most time on Joseph so the Israelites will understand how they came to be in Egypt. Not as a captured people but as honored guests.

This is very interesting. Consider how much the New Testament talks about Joseph versus how much it talks about Abraham.  Joseph is seldom mentioned whereas Abraham is prevalent in the Gospels and in Paul. So what are we to take from this? We are Christians so we should follow the New Testament. Abraham has more to do with us than Joseph. But then again, Abraham has more to do with Joseph too. If it weren’t for Abraham, there would be no Joseph. I think all of this shows just how important Abraham is to biblical theology.  Joseph explains how Israel got to be where they were, Jacob explains how they came to be but Abraham offers an explanation of why they are who and where they are. And he offers the same explanation to us: And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:29.