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“Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Psalm 51:5

My wife overheard a friend of ours say that she was so thankful to have her children on a schedule. She starts training them at two weeks old. Children need to be taught, she said, that the world does not revolve around them. I assume this means that at two weeks old, this mother does not pick up her child when she cries at night in order to train her to be on a schedule. Which for me brings up the question:  if an infant’s cries are to be ignored in order to teach her that she isn’t the center of the universe, then

Just how sinful are babies at birth?  More than once, my wife and I have encountered a belief from fellow Presbyterian parents that our babies’ cries from the crib are a form of selfishness, or at least can lead to selfishness if heeded too much, and it is our job, then, as Christians to oppose these seeds of sinfulness. In doing so, we are communicating that they are not the center of the universe. (I even heard from someone at work, who was recommending Baby Wise* to me, that one baby was caught on tape clearly manipulating his parents from the baby bed.) This misguided belief, I believe, stems from an overly zealous adherence to the doctrine of original sin.

So what does original sin look like in an infant? And do I even believe in it? Yes, I think that there is something in our nature that rebels against God, and I think that it is in our nature as soon as we are born and that it affects everything we do. But I do not think that original sin means that the sin inherent in our babies is full-grown. If anything, babies are less sinful than adults because they haven’t had time to develop their vices.

When an infant is crying in her crib at night, she is not thinking to herself, “I want my way now! I am the center of the universe! Come hither, Mother, and cater to my every whim!” She is thinking, “I feel afraid of being alone. I need my Mommy’s touch.” An infant has very real emotional and physical needs, and much of that involves the touch of a parent. She communicates the only way she knows how–through crying–and when she is ignored, her needs are not being met. Responding to an infant’s crying, on the other hand, is showing her that she is in a safe environment where she is loved and her needs will be met. She is not being told that she is the center of the universe, only that she is being loved.

Just who is the center of the universe anyway? I wonder if some parents are actually being hypocritical in their concern that their babies will think “everything’s about them.” If Mom or Dad strongly feels the need to make the baby’s schedule conform to his or her own, then perhaps Mom or Dad thinks the universe should revolve around them. “No, I can’t be inconvenienced by my two-week-old’s need for comfort or milk at one and three and five o’clock in the morning; she must learn to meet my schedule. After all, the world doesn’t revolve around her.” Then who does it revolve around? It revolves around Jesus, who teaches us to deny ourselves and serve others. In loving our newborns, perhaps we are really teaching them that their God in heaven loves them and will meet their needs.

Before you protest, know that I am speaking about infants here, not one and two year olds.

* Some parents believe that the Baby Wise method is “God’s way” for dealing with out babies. As Charlie Brown says, “Good grief!”

The following is Part 4 in a series reviewing the book Understanding Genesis: The World of the Bible in the Light of History by Nahum M. Sarna.

Chapter 1C: Genesis 3-4

It is a bit artificial to divide Sarna’s first chapter, which focuses on Genesis 1-4, into sections as I have done in these past four blog posts. Doing so makes it seem like the author is examining these chapters individually, but he does not. Genesis 3, then, is part of his ongoing discussion on Genesis 2.

Having focused on the garden of Eden and the two trees at its center, Sarna next looks briefly at the serpent. He notes that the creature is a common feature of Near Eastern religion, symbolizing both deity and fertility, but, as so often happens in the opening chapters of Genesis, the writer/editor of chapter 3 reduces him to a mere creature of God, devoid of magical properties. Unlike Adam and Eve, the serpent is not dignified with an interrogation by God after the act of disobedience, nor does he say anything in God’s presence. This seems to be an intentional attack against and negation of the pagan cultures surrounding Israel. Sarna, however, does not address the possibility that this episode is alluding to the lure of nearby religions for Israel’s devotion. Instead, he interprets the snake’s role as tempter in light of the cosmic conflict between God and Leviathan, since this creature of chaos who opposes God is commonly described as a serpent (cf. Isaiah 27:1 and Job 26:13).

Sarna concludes chapter 3 by noting the difference of emphasis in Genesis 2-3 from other Near East cultures. They are focused on gaining immortaility as seen from the prominent usage of the tree of life symbol, but the Hebrews are focused on godliness. The serpent’s temptation to become like God is a distortion of the need to emulate his character into the desire to be like him in power. Adam and Eve’s disobedience shows that we are indeed free to obey or disobey, and their punishment teaches that evil comes from our own decision to rebel and is not inherent in creation. This principle of human freedom and the consequences of disobedience is illustrated nicely in Genesis 4 with the story of Cain and Abel.

First, though, Sarna rejects the interpretation that this episode reflects a preference in Israel for the nomadic lifestyle rather than the agricultural one, as some have commonly posited based on the rejection of farmer Cain’s offering and the acceptance of the shepherd Abel’s. He notes that the evidence for a nomadic ideal in Israel is very flimsy and that the opening chapters of Genesis itself argue against it. It is, after all, Adam’s occupation both in the garden and after his expulsion, and the sons of Cain after him are not given their father’s punishment. Instead, they the inventors of herding cattle, playing music, and working metal, all of which are “the three pillars of semi-nomadic culture.” Cain and Abel are treated as individuals, not types, and interpretating the story in that way departs from the intentions of the author.

Next, Sarna argues that the Cain and Abel story’s incompletion is an indication that it existed elsewhere as an independent and complete story. He notes that there is no explanation given for why Cain’s offering is rejected; how God communicated his opinion of the two offerings; who Cain, one of only a few humans alive, was afraid might kill him; where the “land of Nod” is; who inhabited it; and how he got a wife there. Such questions are often answered by literalists in terms of Adam’s descendents multiplying and Cain marrying one of his sisters or relatives, but this explanation seems to me to do injustice to the story. It seems more likely that this episode was pulled from tradition by the writer/editor and used for his own purposes in compiling Genesis. Questions about where Cain got his wife were not that important to him.

Sarna’s commentary on the story begins with the idea of worship. Cain and Abel both make an offering to God without any indication from the text that they were commanded to do so. To make a sacrifice to God, then, is an innate desire, but even this can be corrupted, as the story tells us. There is not an explicit reason given for why God accepts or rejects the offerings, but we do read that “Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground” while Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions” (Gen. 4:3-4). Worship, then, is a matter of the heart, not of form.

The story also continues the idea of man’s ability to choose between good and evil. God’s warning to Cain that sin’s “disire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7) indicates the presence of a conflict within us between good and evil and the necessity of mastering the latter. Of course, Cain’s failure indicates our need for God’s power in overcoming the evil within.

Sarna also points out that even though the reader knows that Cain and Abel are brothers, the chapter indicates this fact seven separate times. The point of this emphasis is brought out in verse 9: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is that we are indeed our brothers’ keepers, and furthermore, “that all homicide is at the same time fratricide.”

Sarna draws out a few other points, as well. He addresses the fact that there was an unspoken moral law forbidding murder and that it is a sin against society and against God; the question of why God did not carry out the penalty against Cain for murder; and the principle that acts of injustice cry out to God.

I appreciate looking at Genesis 3 and 4 through Sarna’s lens. His commentary on Cain and Able especially shows me how much meaning and richness is packed into Genesis and how much we can gain from understanding something about the nature of ANE culture. When the distraction of wondering how Cain found a wife is removed, the story has a lot more to tell us. To me, the historicity of this story does not negate God’s inspiration. He is free to use this medium as he is free to use others.

Walking on the beach one beautiful summer night years ago, I breathed in the scene of the crashing waves and circling stars and, with some disappointment, thought about the passage from Revelation 21:1, “And there was no more sea. ” Similarly, verse 25 reads, “there will be no night there.” Really, God? But I love the ocean, and the night sky is beautiful. If heaven doesn’t have these, then I can’t help but feel a little bit  of disappointment. And while we’re on the subject, what about the new Jerusalem? Living in a huge city always seemed a lot less attractive than relaxing in a garden. I don’t really care that much about streets made of gold either.

A lot of you will be smiling at how naively literal my reading of Revelation was, but I don’t think I was alone. In college, I was crazy enough to agree to teach Revelation to a group of teenagers, and whether they got anything out of it or not, I was exposed to a very valuable resource in Paul Spilsbury’s book, The Throne, the Lamb and the Dragon:  A Reader’s Guide To the Book of Revelation. Spilsbury thankfully draws his readers away from the contemporary obsession with just how the end times will unfold, pointing out that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, almost similar to a fantasy. The strange images of the book come from a long tradition of similar figures, symbols, and numbers running through the Old Testament.

The sea, for instance, is consistently a place of fear for the Israelites, who were not much of a seafaring people. It is constantly pictured as chaotic, and out of it come all sorts of evil creatures (often sybolizing various kingdoms) who are a threat to God’s people. When John describes heaven as being without the sea, he isn’t giving his readers a physical description of its geography, but is making a statement about the existence of evil there. There will be no more evil monsters from the sea; all of Israel’s/the church’s enemies will be gone. In fact, the place where they originated will be gone.

The same principle applies to the banishment of night, the creation of a city, and the composition of the streets. These are not intended to be literal details about heaven. Instead, the Lord is telling us that the dangers of night will be gone;  that God’s people will be together in perfect community; and that the perfection of heaven will so outshine this world that the most valuable material we have here, gold, will be used for the basest of functions there.

Reading Revelation in this way truly unlocks its secrets. It is not a clue book to the future. Instead, it is a fantastic story to encourage us in our present state of troubles. Happy reading to you all as you jump back in the book.

I was flipping through the channels early Sunday morning, trying to let my wife sleep a few extra hours while I held our son. Let me tell ya, Sunday morning Christian shows/church services can be downright depressing. The television portrays a Christianity obsessed with a million things other than the one thing we ought to be obsessed with–the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ has taken a back seat to more pressing or interesting issues, or maybe it is viewed as that event that gets us into Christianity and from which we move on to bigger and better things. The idea of obsessions in Christendom is an interesting one to me, and I have been thinking about a few that I wish Jesus would cleanse from his Temple. Here are a five:

1.  An obsession with the end times. I am sick of hearing preachers treat the Old and New Testament prophets as if they are a code book for the coming apocalypse (which is always, incidentally, imminent, depending on when Russia or Iran decides to attack Israel). Please, I beg you, study the original context and the type of literature that these books were written in, and be willing to hear a different view of the end times. May I suggest a little book on the Revelation called The Throne, The Lamb, and The Dragon by Paul Spilsbury? 

2.  An obsession with thickening our wallets. Please stop promising that those who are hearing you will be free of their house payment within a year. Please stop implying that those who are blessed will be driving high end cars. The Bible says nothing of the sort. In fact, there was a guy in the Bible who had a lot of faith and yet still lived in poverty–what was his name? Oh yeah, Jesus.

3.  An obsession with positive thinking and other self-help stratagies. There’s a wonderful aisle in your local bookstore that talks about the power of positive thinking. I’m pretty sure the Bible isn’t on that aisle.

4.  An obsession with being hip and sexy. Church services become concerts or stage performances. Cute video skits are played in the middle of the sermon, which the guy with the spiked hair and tatoos is preaching. What I find offensive is that these styles of worship are specifically contemporary, i.e., they are for people in their teens, twenties, and thirties. What about those who are forty, fifty, or older? Do they matter? Or do you have a separate, more traditional service for them, so that now you have a church devoid of the influence, wisdom, and leadership of the older crowd?

5.  An obsession with literal creationism. If you think that the Bible teaches that the earth was made 6000-10,000 years ago in six literal days, then that’s fine. However, if you think that anyone who believes in an old earth is a compromiser, an apostate, a heretic, or an ineffective Christian, then you’d better be careful. You have entered the realm of judging your neighbor, in my opinion. Does creation science dominate your religion? Maybe it’s become an obsession.

There you have it. What do you think about these obsessions? Do you have any to add?

I recently returned from a two-week class at the University of Florida in which we talked a lot about the use and purpose of invective in Greek and Latin literature. Our professor argued that when the apostle Paul prohibited filthy language (aiscrologian:  “foul language, abuse”) in Colossians 3:8 that he had in mind the iambic tradition of invective.* One of the students was skeptical about how the apostle Paul would know about this Greek literary tradition (Archilochus, Hipponax, et al.), and in response, the professor argued that the apostle was in fact very steeped in Greek literature. He pointed to Paul’s speech on Mars Hill in Athens, where he says in Acts 17:26-27, “And he made from one  blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though he is not far from each one of us…” (New Geneva Study Bible). The word for “grope” is pselaphao, which according to our professor, occurred only one other time in all of Greek literature.** Where? In the Odyssey, when Odysseus blinds the Cyclops, and the poor monster is left to grope around. What an interesting picture the Holy Spirit through Paul gave to the Athenians. They were searching for God, but like a blinded Cyclops, they were groping around in the dark for him. Here, in the gospel, the Athenians had the opportunity for real sight. If my professor was right, this passage shows just how well-read Paul was.
*  I am not convinced that this was really what Paul was referring to.
** He was wrong. A quick search on shows that the word occurs three other times in the New Testiment, but in the sense of touching or handling (e.g., touching Jesus’ side). It occurs eleven other times in other Greek texts besides Homer. However, the word is rare enough that my professor’s point is still valid, I think.

Most young earth creationists who have studied the issue will make a distinction between evolution within a species (micro-evolution) and evolution from species to species (macro-evolution). The former they liberally embrace; the latter they reject as unbiblical. The distinction is that in microevolution, the gene pool is diminished, whereas it is increased in macro-evolution.

Is evolution really limited to occurring within species only? What about within a genus? Or a family? At what point does a YEC draw a line in the sand and say, “This far you may evolve and no farther!”

In the Answers In Genesis article “Were Dinosaurs On Noah’s Ark?“, the author makes an interesting observation about micro-evolution as he explains how so many different species could fit on the ark:

Creationist researcher John Woodmorappe assumed, for his calculation, that each “kind” would be the ancestor of all “species” in a modern “genus” (plural genera), meaning that only about 8,000 animal genera (including some extinct animals), and when multiplying by two, meant that over 16,000 animals had to be aboard. When you realize that horses, zebras, and donkeys are probably descended from the horse-like “kind”, it should be clear that Noah did not have to carry 2 sets of each such animal. Also, dogs, wolves, and coyotes are probably from a single canine “kind”, so hundreds of different dogs were not needed.

According to this article, the line in the sand for a YEC is the genus. Evolution can take place as much as it wants but only within the confines of a genus. But what if we go back one classification, from genus to family? Can evolution take place within a family? If we take Woodmorappe’s definition of “kind” strictly, then the answer is no. But let’s consider this within the following example. Lions are in the Panthera Genus, but house cats are not. Both, however, are in the Felidae Family. I do not doubt that a YEC would have no problem lumping both cats and lions under one “kind.” So should we include families, then?  If we can include families, what’s to stop us from going up an order, phylum, class, etc.?

If a YEC finds it acceptable that a horse “kind” can result in zebras, mules, and horses, why would it be unacceptable that a carnivorous “kind” should result in cat-like animals, dog-like animals, etc.? It all seems sticky to me. I would imagine that a YEC would say that the difference has to do with the gene pool increasing or diminishing. My knowledge of genetics is close to nil, so I really can’t contradict or agree with that answer. Even if this explanation is accurate, why can’t we say that a carnivor-like “kind” lost genetic material and became a lion in one instance and a wolf in another instance?

I think the issue goes back to Genesis 1:24, which says that God created animals according to their kinds.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.

It seems to me that there is an awful lot of straining over where evolution may happen and where it may not, all for the sake of maintaining the “kinds” mentioned in the above verse. This seems so unnecessary to me. Does evolution in any way negate the fact that God made animals according to their kinds? Whether God uses evolution or fiat creation, the end result is the same:  different kinds of animals. Verse 24 is still true.

So tell me, wordpress people (YECs and non-YECs alike). Am I missing the boat here? Is there a case to be made that it is one thing for a species to form within a kind and another thing for a species to form into a species that is markedly different? Is genetic information really lost going from the original horse kind to a zebra or a mule?

Sometimes I wonder if writing about theistic evolution will cause some to doubt their faith, and that is certainly not what I want. For some people, if evolution is true, then Christianity is false. That is not what I believe, but if any of you possible readers do believe this, then I would not want you to read what I am writing and be troubled.

My quest to reconcile science and Christianity is far from over. Most of the books I have been reading (see the “Books” page of this blog) have dealt with the issues of evolution and an ancient universe primarily from the scientific perspective. They have been concerned primarily with explaining the evidence from the geological record, the fossil record, the stars’ light, DNA, carbon dating, etc. What I am hoping to do now is start reading books that address these issues from a Biblical and theological perspective. I recently checked out one promising read from my church’s library called The Christian View of Science and Scripture by Bernard Ramm, and I hope to write about it in future posts. Another book that I am interested in reading is Beyond the Firmament by Gordon J. Glover. If any of you have suggestions, please let me know in the comments section.

At this point in my journey, there are many difficulties that I see for theistic evolution. No doubt these are not new to any of you, but here they are, in no particular order:

1.  My understanding of the Bible is that physical death and suffering are not the way things are supposed to be. My own nature bears witness to this:  I dread death; I think that my own father’s death in a car accident was an undignified way to go; I think it’s cruel that animals prey on one another; it is depressing that we become old and weak. The list goes on and on. How can God use a process that is often cruel and always dependent on death?

2.  How do we account for the geneologies in Genesis that seem to indicate the earth is young?

3.  How do we account for the rationale for the Sabbath, i.e., that God created all things in six days and rested on the seventh?

4.  Doesn’t the apostle Paul teach that the earth has been subjected to futility? Doesn’t this suggest that the earth at one time was free from that futility?

5.  Doesn’t Paul teach that Adam was a real person? How can his explanation that all have fallen in Adam be reconciled to a non-literal interpretation of him?

6.  Doesn’t Genesis clearly teach that the Flood was universal? How can we account for the detail that the waters rose above the mountains or that God promised never to destroy the earth again?

7.  At what point did God breathe a spirit into humanity?

8.  Were Adam and Eve real or symbolic?

I am sure that there are other questions, but these are the main ones I hope to be thinking through. From my experience as a Christian who has taken a literal view of Genesis 1 and 2 for many years, these are the main objections from literalists. Questions like these are used to justify a false choice that is often laid before Christians, namely,  it’s either God or evolution, but never both.

While these objections to theistic evolution are a significant obstacle, I do not think that a literal six day interpretation fairs much better for a Christian. Here are difficulties that I see:

1.  As I understand it (as a layman with little scientific background), the scientific evidence from geology, astronomy, chemistry, and biology is against a young earth.

2.  Again, as I see it, the case from DNA, the fossil record, and the present variety of animals is pretty strong for evolution.

3.  The arrangement of Genesis 1 is highly structured and even poetic, suggesting a non-literal reading.

4.  The creation of the firmament and the placement of the stars in the firmament under the waters above suggests an ancient cosmology. This would indicate that God spoke to the Israelites in a way that they could understand and further suggests a need to read Genesis 1 in a non-literal way.

5.  The creation account of Genesis 2 can be read in such a way as to tell a different story of creation order. True, the NIV’s version can be harmonized with Genesis 1, but I am not convinced that the insertion of the word “had” in “Now God had created” is warranted.

6.  The Genesis 2 story has elements to it that are strongly mythological, e.g., the creation of Eve from a rib, the trees that impart eternal life and the knowledge of good and evil, and the explanations for pain in childbirth, etc.

Of course, there are others. The point is that there are problems with both views that are not easy. A spirit of humility ought to be present in all believers looking into this issue.

So that’s where I am in my spiritual quest. Your prayers are most welcome.

Genesis 1:6-8 confused me for the longest time.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

I was always confused by what the “waters above” were. Was it a thick mist? Was it simply the atmosphere? Was it just a poetic way of describing rain? Like many other Christians, I concluded that it was mist or rain. But the Bible says “waters,” not mist or rain.

The problem is further complicated by verses 16 and 17:

16 God made two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth…  (emphasis mine)

If the sun, moon, stars, and even birds (see verse 20) are in the firmament, then the firmament has to refer to everything above the ground, from the atmosphere to the farthest galaxy. This understanding presents a problem for modern readers, however, because the “waters above” would then be located over the sun and other celestial beings. If we interpret the “waters above” as rain or a mist, then we run into a conundrum.

Perhaps the best way to reconcile the problem is to understand that God spoke to the Hebrews using the cosmology of the day*. He spoke in a language that they would understand. Almost all Christians recognize that this happens in other parts of scripture. For instance, when we read that the sun rises and sets, we understand that the ancients probably imagined a geocentric universe and that God is speaking within this understanding. Likewise, when a passage talks about the floodgates of heaven opening, it is likely reflecting the beliefs of the day about where rain comes from.

So what was the Hebrews understanding of the universe? Did they know that the earth was an orb, that the universe was unimaginably extensive, or that the earth revolved around the sun? I hardly think so. This article may be a helpful explanation of their cosmology. Check it out and decide for yourself. To summarize the article, here is an image (taken from this blog) that illustrates many scholars’ view of Hebrew cosmology.

According to the article, the Hebrews believed that the firmament was a solid dome that formed a physical barrier between two bodies of water–the waters below (oceans, etc.) and a body of water that existed above the sky. If this understanding of Hebrew cosmology is correct, then a whole lot of light is shed on the subject of the firmament. The firmament and the waters above are not actual objects; they represent the Hebrews’ understanding of the sky and the universe beyond.

Bringing an understanding of Hebrew cosmology to the text dramatically affects the way it should be interpreted. This is really the whole point of this little exercise in thinking out loud. I have heard many Christians say that the correct interpretation of Genesis 1 is a strictly literal one because this is the “plain reading” of the text. In my last post, I tried to show that the passage was poetic and finely-crafted, and therefore, it was not intended to be strictly a plain account. In this post, I am suggesting that the passage is told in a way that made sense to the ancient Hebrews and to their understanding of the universe, and therefore, the account is not wholly true to what we have observed in outer space. That is not the point of the passage. The point is that the giant blue dome-like thing in the sky where the sun, moon, and stars move and the birds fly was built by our God. The passage is not any less true just because some of the elements are not literal.



* It is true that Hebrew cosmology is a reconstruction of scholars looking at the Biblical texts.

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