Tag Archives: Adam

THINKING THROUGH A NARRATIVE SOTERIOLOGY (#2)

INTRO

Back in May 2018, I offered up a #1 in what I knew would become a series of articles on narrative soteriology (an understanding of salvation as understood through the Biblical story). In this article, I will continue, prayerfully with increased clarity, outlining a narrative perspective on how we should gain understandings of salvation.

You can read article #1 at the following link, https://mianogonewild.wordpress.com/2018/05/15/thinking-through-a-narrative-soteriology-1/

NARRATIVE THEOLOGY

In detailing Narrative Theology, I explained that, “This interpretative style not only runs against the all too popular method of “proof-texting” (which lacks context), it also stands contrary to the historical- grammatical method of interpretation, the continuous-historical method, and the redemptive-movement method. Many have seemingly missed how these interpretative methods influence their own interpretations, not to mention the various principles that are outlined through each of the methods. However, the narrative-historical method of interpretation is no easy effort, and often requires detailed explanations (akin to storytelling), rather than the easy answers and superficial responses many have developed and offered up (either by assumption or “Tradition”).”

TOTAL DEPRAVITY?

I had mentioned two particular areas of theology that I have recently come to understand, which stand in contrast to some popular teachings I may have previously agreed with. For example, I had previously held to a presupposed understanding of “Total Depravity” as 16th century reformer John Calvin would have outlined it. In article # 1, I stated “It would seem that all throughout the Scriptures, man is beset by sin (weakened not necessarily dead), oftentimes wandering in idolatry (darkness).  So, it also seems that God brings forth His light (Truth), and it shines offering those to whom it shines the opportunity to pursue, walk toward, and dwell in it. The determining factor seems to be what man sets his mind on and pursues. Those with good and honest hearts, God strengthens and draws in through the Gospel (Luke 8:15). Those steeped in idolatry and leaning upon their own understanding (cf. Proverbs 3:5), being unreasonable and set against the Truth, God rewards in keeping with their idolatry, and so they stay stuck in darkness (cf. Proverbs 4:19; Ezekiel 14:4; John 3:19-20).”

“IN ADAM”

Also, as I have studied and developed this narrative understanding, and furthermore have highlighted a metanarrative (story within the story), I noted in article #1 that, “I am becoming more and more convinced that it is improper to develop a systematic approach to New Covenant soteriology based upon what was revealed in and through Adam (as I have previously said and asserted a few times). Namely, because what is revealed through the story of Adam is the story of the Old Covenant.” I am currently working on some teaching resources in regards to proper “In Adam” teachings.

What I would like to do in this #2 article is share two recent learning points I have been blessed with and offer an update on my understanding of some of the details that come from this conversation. To preface this detailed study, I’d like to share a point I made on my social media earlier today, “I promote what I would call an “effective Christian foundation”, which is not getting caught up in the minutia/ details of repentance, confession, baptism, and maturity – but rather putting together the Biblical narrative (in context) and applying the details that seem simple enough and convict us (granted this may change per Believer). That is not to say that I won’t entertain conversation and study about the details, nor seek further conviction regarding how they apply. However, my stake and claim is found in maturity, not the rudimentary principles of conversion.”

LEARNING POINTS

At The Blue Point Bible Church (www.bluepointbiblechurch.org) we have been going through the details of the Exodus. This past Sunday I preached about the type and antitype of being “baptized into Moses”. The Apostle Paul emphasizes that this was an example upon them whom the end/goal of the ages had come (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). In the sermon that I preached I detailed significant factors such as “audience relevance” putting the antitype of “baptism in Moses” to be the shift of the covenant (i.e., baptism in Moses represented the Old Covenant, and “baptism in Christ” represents the New Covenant) and the correlation of water and wind/spirit in Exodus chapter 14 and John 3:5. Interestingly enough, Pastor Steve, Pastor Emiritus at BPBC made a good point after the sermon, the baptism in Moses was “in the sea, and in the cloud” (cf. 1 Cor. 10), yet the Israelites did not get wet. The water was not the distinction, rather the work of God (God with them) was the distinction. As you outline and follow with understanding the type and antitype of this baptism, it would seem to highlight more of identification with the covenant rather than the mode of the baptism. You can listen to that sermon at the following link,  http://www.buzzsprout.com/11630/785921-saturate-healing-the-historical-amnesia-in-the-church

Also, as we have been studying different aspects of God’s sovereignty and man’s ability in our Saturday Bible Study at BPBC, we came upon Ephesians  2:7, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved) and has raised us up together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus”.

This seems to highlight the points I have been making in regards to the need to not only pay attention to pronouns, but also in recognizing the time of the Elect to be the first century. From Ephesians 2:7 it would seem that God did something for the “us” He raised up in that time (“showing kindness toward” them) in an effort that in ages to come (NOW), through His Church (Ephesians 3:10), He would “show the exceeding riches of His grace”. Our understanding of God’s grace comes from looking back at the kindness He showed to His elect during that time of transition until the time of reformation (AD 70). I know Tony Denton’s resources have been encouraging and challenging in regards to the “transition time” and the details of salvation. Two verses Mr. Denton brings to mind are Luke 21:22 and Hebrews 9:15, and obviously there are a host more that really challenge us to contextually put together the narrative and then apply the details.

BAPTISM

Speaking of Tony Denton, he makes some interesting points that need to be considered when gaining an understanding of baptism as it relates to the time of transition. View his video at the following link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNt8-r14sOo

I have continued my studies and conversations with preacher Holger Neubauer in regards to baptism and have finally begun to offer up some conclusive remarks. In early August 2018, I shared with Holger that through my studies I have come to see the need to develop an “effective Christian foundation” in a Believer’s life rather than dwell upon the specifics. I am outlining this “foundation” as the need to hear the Gospel, repent, confess Jesus Christ, participate in water baptism as an emblem of faith, and mature in Christ. This is built upon the estimation that our goal is to create lives that love with a pure heart, maintain a good conscience toward God and others, and possess a sincere faith (cf. 1 Timothy 1:5).

This is not me developing some new understanding. Rather, this is based upon study of a few resources, some of which I am continuing, and therefore offering up an understanding in clarity of what I see to be a rather confused and lengthy study. For example, in his series, ‘Where’s The Water’, Dr. Kelly Nelson Birks explains and details the proper parsing of the verbs in regards to the Greek word used for baptism.  Dr. Birks charges that most interpretations of “water baptism” are based upon assumptions of water. Also, Garth Wierbe, an online Biblical commentator, in an article on baptism offered up the following insight, “If the Scriptures really wanted to emphasize or limit the meaning of baptism to what we do in “water baptism” they would have used “bapto” (in the Greek) not “baptizo”.” In reference to Acts chapter 2, Mr. Wierbe notes, “What are each of them to be baptized into? Into the pardoning of sin…And when will that happen? When they change their minds based on what was just preached to them about Jesus Christ”.

This seems to be more in line with what “one baptism” we mark out as important. Baptism in Christ is not and “in and out situation”, like water baptism, but rather an immersion into something that absorbs and transforms. Matter of fact, it is because I believe baptism into Christ to be so much more than “water baptism”, I was able to agree with Church of Christ preacher Steve Baisden, in his article ‘Baptism For What?’, when he stated, “If baptism for the remission of sin is all that is involved for a baptism to be valid, why then did Paul demand the disciples to be rebaptized (cf. Acts chapter 19)? After all, they were baptized for the remission of their sins (Mark 1:4)”.

Baptism into Christ is far more than a remission of sins, far more than an obsession with water, rather baptism in Christ is belief in and immersion/identification with Christ (cf. Mark 16:15-16), or a repentance from a false belief and identification with the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2:38). In Romans chapter 10, the Apostle Paul says if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus (this is an act of repentance and confession/ belief) and shall believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (this is baptism/ immersion into/ identification with Christ, more than mere belief), you shall be saved”. Consider this, “For with the heart a man he believes in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (cf. Romans 10:10) sounds a lot like the point Jesus Christ made in Matthew 15:18 (if what comes out of a man’s mouth defiles him; therefore, they must also be able to make him clean). Consider the following texts that seem to make the case for this understanding – 1 John 1:9; Matthew 10:32-33; 1 Timothy 6:12.  Furthermore, Hebrews chapter 6 seems to urge us to a maturity that is beyond foundational things (which includes but is not limited to details of baptism and the resurrection of the dead). A maturity which I believe is expounded upon by the things listed in  2 Peter chapter 1.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

A charge of “let us move on to maturity” does not necessarily limit the importance of these details nor disregard them, but rather places emphasis on the fact that these need not be the things that constantly set us in opposition. I know I will surely continue my studies in this area, and prayerfully continue to be blessed and challenged by conversations with brother Holger Neubauer.

Holger has charged that I am guilty of a “tautology”, which is an unnecessary repetition, is regards to my understanding of baptism. Sure enough this is an argument used by a Baptist to charge the need of Christian Baptism during the 1800’s. Richard Ingham, in his ‘Appeal To Friends on Christian Baptism’ remarked, “The supposition that Christ meant the baptism of the Spirit, …involves the most unnatural and improbable tautology”. You can read his statement and points at the following link, https://books.google.com/books?id=1FEqjQULJZYC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=tautology+baptism&source=bl&ots=rUvJKZpIAu&sig=gdl7lGKljp577iPvFrTNDkS1llg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjj78iesZDdAhUynOAKHWCRAUkQ6AEwBHoECAYQAQ#v=onepage&q=tautology%20baptism&f=false

Mr. Ingham and Holger have charged that this understanding of baptism (to be immersed into the teachings of Christ) that it would therefore create the unnecessary statement of “make disciples and make disciples” in Matthew 28:19-20 or “believe and believe” in Mark 16:15-16. This is not so. The Greek words used in both passages, matheteo – teach, and pisteuo – believe –  mark out mental assent, whereas the word baptize means to be fully immersed. Therefore, what Christ is ultimately saying is, Go and tell the nations the Gospel, teaching them and lead them to confess and repent, and thereby make disciples by immersing them into the faith and the works of following after Jesus Christ. No tautology.

In reference to why I place “water baptism” into my understanding of an “effective Christian foundation”, is that there are passages where simply put, water does show up. I am still looking for solid answers in those regards. In my going through various studies on baptism, noting that different “camps” have different versions of what they mark out as baptism in the Bible, it becomes a convoluted argument and many times hard to assess how important water baptism is. For example, Holger Neubauer shared a great Facebook post regarding the 7 Baptisms in the Bible, I had mentioned to him finding a previous article that listed 7 other versions of baptism, and sure enough I just finished reading through Dr. Peter S. Ruckman’s version of the 7 Baptisms in the Bible. Yikes!

I believe as I mentioned above, that our role as Christians “making known the manifold wisdom of God” and bringing “healing to the nations” through the Water of Life, is to help create and foster lives that love with a pure heart, maintain a good conscience toward God and others, and possess a sincere faith (cf. 1 Timothy 1:5). Moving forward I will continue to assert and maintain my convictions of a an effective Christian foundation – Gospel proclamation, repentance, confess, water baptism, and maturity – and not get bogged down by details, but rather teaching these things aiming for clarity and conviction, neither allowing hypotheticals to become to norm (a great insight from Holger Neubauer).
Blessings in Christ,
Michael Miano, pastor
The Blue Point Bible Church

 

“Salvation is more than a profession of faith, or a dip in a baptisty, or a moral life, or conformity to external rules of religion. It’s more than _______________________ (fill in the blank). Salvation is the supernatural transformation whereby one is renewed inwardly and thereby transformed outwardly”. – Richard Belcher, Journey in Grace

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THINKING THROUGH A NARRATIVE SOTERIOLOGY (#1)

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

In the past couple months, I have engaged much discussion pertaining to soteriology (the doctrines of salvation). In March 2018, I participated in an online debate against the “Israel Only View”, wherein I presented a case for understanding the continuance of Biblical salvation by developing the Biblical narrative and the overlapping meta-narrative, and I also asserted my Calvinistic leanings. Also, in March 2018, I presented two lectures at the Examining Crossroads: Biblical Controversies Conference regarding salvation – Conceptual Salvation (in which I explained that the Hebrew notions of salvation were oftentimes pictorial and abstract) and Soma Salvation (which detailed the salvation of a “body” of people as expressed in and through the New Testament; oftentimes understood as “resurrection of the dead”).

Due to the variety of interpretative styles that are brought to the details of Scripture, in my presentations I have harped on the need to develop a narrative-historical interpretation. This interpretative style not only runs against the all too popular method of “proof-texting” (which lacks context), it also stands contrary to the historical- grammatical method of interpretation, the continuous-historical method, and the redemptive-movement method. Many have seemingly missed how these interpretative methods influence their own interpretations, not to mention the various principles that are outlined through each of the methods. However, the narrative-historical method of interpretation is no easy effort, and often requires detailed explanations (akin to storytelling), rather than the easy answers and superficial responses many have developed and offered up (either by assumption of “Tradition”). The narrative-historical approach allows for us to truly think through the details as presented in the context of the story.

THE BIBLICAL CONTEXT OF SALVATION

The consistent framework of understanding salvation as revealed through the Scriptures has been referred to as “historia salutis” (the summary of salvation history).  As I have studied through the topic of salvation and have come to have almost an obsession with developing the Biblical narrative, I have realized how tightly woven together other doctrines are with the details of our “common salvation” (cf. Jude 3). For example, the congregation at The Blue Point Bible Church recently participated in a group discussion about the influence of Preterism on the doctrines of salvation. Noting things such as the importance of the Old Testament influence on the New Testament, the different tenses of salvation found in the New Testament (simultaneously being saved and waiting for salvation), and much more – many of us admitted that coming to understand Preterism changed or enhanced our view of salvation.

A PRESUPPOSITIONAL CALVINIST

Admittedly, despite the all-too-common frustration many seem to have with the doctrines of Calvinism, I have felt rather comfortable in my “Calvinistic presuppositions” until more recently.  I preached an entire series on Calvinism while I was studying through the Institutes of the Christian Religion back in 2014-2015. My Calvinistic leanings have not gone un-challenged both than and today. You can read an article I wrote back in 2015 on the topic at the following link, https://mianogonewild.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/always-reforming-confusion-clarity-controversy/

Many students of Scripture seeking a “ring of truth” while examining doctrines of Calvinism have offered up differing explanations of the details. Navigating Calvinistic circles of influence, it’s common to hear people speak of what point Calvinist they are (“I am a __ point Calvinist). This is usually done to speak to which details of Calvinistic doctrine one holds to (also highlighting the tenets not held to). I had also read a great book a while back called, PROOF, by Daniel Montgomery, wherein he offered a different acronym (PROOF instead of TULIP) and clarifying details, as well as some challenges to the systematic theology as offered up by 15th century reformer, John Calvin. In my humble attempt to understand these things I have come out saying that “I am a presuppositional Calvinist”, which means I generally agree with the doctrines of salvation as noted in the Canons of Dort, and/or summarized through the acronym TULIP.

So…what I would like to do through this blog, which may become a series of blogs, is go through the systematic details of understanding salvation all the while surveying the Scriptures through a narrative-historical approach. As advocate of such approach, Dr. Andrew Perriman has said, “The narrative-historical approach to interpretation of Scripture provides us with a much more rigorous and credible connection with Scripture than the selective, reductive and distorting approach of much modern evangelical theology (paraphrased)”. That being so, our study will take on a few dimensions – looking at and examining various aspects of the redemptive story that graces the pages of Scripture, proving/ examining certain doctrinal tenets, and arriving at conclusions based on the developed narrative – not presuppositions or “proof texts”.

THE CREATION OF LIGHT IN THE MIDST OF A FORMLESS & VOID EARTH

A failure to read Genesis 1:1 in context of the whole of Scripture and to properly assess “heaven and earth” as a term used for God’s people has caused many to assume to that the “Genesis creation account” is about the beginning of the planet and/or the universe. “Rightly dividing” the creation account allows for us to begin a healthy understand of what God was doing in and through His covenant people to further develop His working in and through them. This has led me to embracing a view referred to as “Covenant Creation”.

Approaching Genesis chapter 1 through the lens of “Covenant Creation” highlights God’s sovereignty in calling and creating a people for Himself. In the ancient near eastern world (ultimately where the Book of Genesis finds its emergence), the people would develop cuneiform tablets called “temple texts” that highlighted the sovereignty of a certain God over certain things. When we look at those “temple texts” (many of which were unearthed during excavations in the 1950’s), we can see similarities between them and the Book of Genesis. This gives us good reason to read the Book of Genesis and the details therein as a “temple text” considering the historical context and audience relevance rather than the modern presupposed perspectives. Rather than obsessing about and noting all the confusion within Christian circles regarding what day God created certain things and the specifics of how long the days were, a proper reading of Genesis chapter 1 highlights all that the One True God is sovereign over (all the while appreciating the 7-day structure of the “temple text”). Outside of all the debated features of the text, one thing is for sure, the sovereignty of God is presupposed by the text (the silliness of modern atheism is defeated by understanding how the ancients viewed and valued the wonder of creation).

As the term “heaven and earth” denotes, God’s people, have a dual reality. God’s people are called by heaven all the while having purpose and a living situation on earth. Genesis 1:2 details what that living situation was like at the beginning – “formless and void, darkness over the face of the waters. However, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters”. Doing an in-depth study into the Hebraic words used in Genesis 1:1-3 reveals so much imagery and covenant details. The imagery of the head of a river (Hebrew word “bereshit”), a “tohu wabohu eretz” (formless and void land), a darkness over the waters, and the hovering of God’s Spirit, all point to God doing a work in the midst of a chaotic environment. Some have come to refer to this work of God as a “covenant creation”. Of great importance is that God’s first creative act in Genesis 1:4 is the creation of light. This is not to be confused with a physical/ material light (as is later mentioned in Genesis 1:14-19). Rather, this light as cited and detailed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is the light that brings awareness and knowledge of God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:5). It is the giving of that light that represents God forming something of value from the previous condition of being “formless and void”.

The creation of Adam as the “image of God” in Genesis 1:26-28 also bears striking resemblance to the image-creating and image-bearing of the ancient near east. Not only did the ANE “temple text” highlight all that the certain god was sovereign over, the “temple text” also made known what image should be used to represent said god. The Genesis creation account departs from being similar to other ANE temple texts in that it elevates humanity over other creatures, and humanity (specifically the progeny of Adam) is made to display the image of God. Unfortunately, many have tried to create a consistent theology of putting all men in the image-bearing identity (all men in Adam), which must be repudiated as inconsistent (we will deal with that as we go through this series of articles- simply by following the context of the Biblical narrative).

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (Genesis 2:4)”.

ADAM AS ISRAEL’S STORY

Reading through the unfortunate details of Genesis chapters 2-3, with a healthy understanding of the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation, should cause us to see what sort of story is being developed. Simply put, the creation of “heaven and earth” and the story of Adam highlights the beginning of Israel’s story, not the story of all mankind. This is an important and challenging concept, especially as so many have come to believe that Adam’s story is all humanity’s story. Therefore, our coming to grips with what is taking place through the Genesis creation account, and specifically Adam, will cause us to see divergent approaches to salvation as made known through the Scriptures. A proper frame of reference and following the historical context will demonstrate how and why the Gospel went forth to the Jew first, and then the Gentile (cf. Romans 1:16).

DARKNESS/IDOLATRY –  LIGHT/TRUTH

What this narrative approach does to our study in soteriology is it removes the all to easy approach of demanding that whatever happened to Adam and his progeny is the story and identity of all humanity (specifically, “dead in sin”, cf. Romans chapter 6). The Blue Point Bible Church Constitution states, “We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of what holiness required the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin…”.

Being fair, this is a citation from a Baptist Manual going back to 1853, and our congregation has seen much growth and thus changed in doctrinal details since that time. However, I believe us, and others are still prone to a subtle presupposed view of that quoted statement. Is it true? Prayerfully at this point you are catching my point, I will respond with a yes and a no.

So many get caught up in the discussion as to whether or not people existed prior to Adam (which seemingly involves a study of anthropology, history, and/or science). My goal is to move us past that, since so much has been done to prove that, into considering the outworking of how Adam represented “covenant life”, rather than the often-presupposed responses. How did Adam come to “covenant life”? How did Adam die to that reality? What would happen next?

Before we get to how Adam came to “covenant life” and his being the Image of God (which again I will assert becomes the story of “Israel of the flesh” through the Old Covenant), we must consider his state prior to that. Of course, many will assert that Adam was “uncreated”. While I agree with that notion regarding his position in relation to God, however I do not believe anything in the text speaks to Adam not being materially created (it’s imperative to realize the theology behind the creation of man in Genesis 2:7-8 –  is NOT material creation). Dr. John Walton, in his book, “The Lost World of Genesis One”, goes to great lengths in detailing that the non-creation in Genesis is speaking about the lack of function/purpose in regard to worshiping God, not the non-existence of material creation (this is also consistent with understanding the Hebrew terms for “darkness” and “formless and void” which seemingly necessitate human life before Adam). Simply put, prior to God bringing forth light, all (including Adam) were stuck in an idolatrous world (“in the world without God, without hope” cf. Ephesians 2:12).

If “darkness” is idolatry and “light” is worship of the One True God, as I believe is demonstrated from the text, then the next question becomes, “How does Adam come into the light?”

It would seem that all throughout the Scriptures, man is beset by sin (weakened not necessarily dead), oftentimes wandering in idolatry (darkness).  So, it also seems that God brings forth His light (Truth), and it shines offering mankind the opportunity to pursue, walk toward, and dwell in it. The determining factor seems to be what man sets his mind on and pursues. Those with good and honest hearts, God strengthens and draws in. Those steeped in idolatry and leaning upon their own understanding (cf. Proverbs 3:5), being unreasonable and set against the Truth, God rewards in keeping with their idolatry, and so they stay stuck in darkness (cf. Proverbs 4:19; Ezekiel 14:4; John 3:19-20).

CONCLUSION

If you have followed my studies and teachings for some time, you should have noticed a shift. I am becoming more and more convinced that it is improper to develop a systematic approach to New Covenant soteriology based upon what was revealed in and through Adam (as I have previously said and asserted a few times). Namely, because what is revealed through the story of Adam is the story of the Old Covenant. Sure, God’s covenant people were called from utter darkness by His creating the means for their salvation through His sovereignty and election. They were then subjected to death/ futility for the purpose of a greater reality (cf. Romans 8:20-21; Galatians 3:19-22). However, it seems that within that covenant, many were (and through the call of the Gospel today are) invited, however few were chosen to be His elect in that first century, and pertaining to that election, it would seem it was revealed through those who sought God with a good conscience and pursued His purposes (cf. Luke 8:15).

Thanks for following through these thoughts. Prayerfully, I have demonstrated a case for God’s sovereignty as expressed in and through the Genesis creation account. Also, I have marked out a difference regarding salvation for those “In Adam” and for those who come to Christ through the call of the Gospel today and have challenged some (if not all) of the presupposed views of being “dead in sin” due to identity in Adam. Lastly, I offered a contextually approach to the details of the Genesis creation account and the display and covenant and light as God’s sovereign work which calls all men to pursue Him.

Written by Pastor Michael Miano, The Blue Point Bible Church

WORKS CITED

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion

Walton, John. Dr. The Lost World of Genesis One
review – https://voice.dts.edu/review/john-walton-the-lost-world-of-genesis-one/

Morrow, Jeff. http://beyondcreationscience.com/index.php?pr=Creation_as_Temple_Building

Davis, Benjamin. https://www.academia.edu/6675210/GENESIS_1_1-2_3_AS_A_THEOLOGICAL_BLUEPRINT_FOR_GOD_S_CREATIONAL_ABODE_A_PROPOSAL

Scollard, Brett. http://gracemccook.org/blog/genesis-1-2-as-a-temple-text/

 

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Man of Dust – Genesis & Ancient Near Eastern Origins

Recently, I have been in discussion with someone regarding the “dust” and “death” found in the beginning of Genesis, specifically Adam (man) being made of the “dust” of the ground and thus returning to it. What is this saying?

Before I start, please allow me to assert that I believe in a honest handling of God’s Word, and the need to “study to show ourselves approved RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORLD OF TRUTH” (2 Timothy 2:15). That being noted, I do not want to impose an understanding that is not there, and I want to find the most “literal” understanding of the text possible, what is known as ‘sensus literalis’.

The words of Mr. R.C. Sproul, a well known Bible teacher, fit rightly here:

There is much confusion regarding the “literal” sense of Scripture…To interpret the Bible “literally” in the classic sense requires that we learn to recognize in Scripture different genres of literature. Poetry is to be interpreted as poetry, and didactic passages are to be interpreted according to the grammar of the didactic. Historical narrative must not be treated as parable, nor parable as strict historical narrative. Much of Bible prophecy is cast in an apocalyptic genre that employs graphic imaginative language and often mixes elements of common historical narrative with the figurative language.” (1)

This is where we must do the proper legwork. Sure, we can just pick up Genesis as 21st century Westerners and demand that the Scriptures make the points we want them to make about the things we want them to detail, as many do. Or….we can be honest and humble in our reading and studying and realize the ancient world is vastly different than ours. The concerns of those times are different than ours, and therefore the details of writing are as well.

Coming to an agreement concerning what type of genre the book of Genesis comes to us as is an rather intriguing study. The book ‘Beyond Creation Science’ by Tim Martin and Jeff Vaughn, first opened my eyes to taking a step back and really looking at the culture from which Genesis comes and the details it notes- finding Genesis to be more prophetic and apocalyptic than I had initially thought. Then reading through Dr. John Walton’s lectures on Youtube surely opened my eyes to understanding the concept of Genesis as a ‘temple text’ and it’s details in that environment rather than what I initially thought they meant.

Again….we must decide…do we really want the truth out of the text, essentially what it “literally” says, or are we content with just making things up and keeping our own view? That is exactly what has spurned by studies, and led me to the views I hold today.

Author Robert Gundry exhorts us in this regard:

…we must presume that the text as it stands had a meaning for the author and his first readers. We want to discover that meaning. The path to discovery lies along the line of historical- grammatical interpretation, which assumes that the language of the Biblical text, including its symbolic language, grows out of and speaks to the historical situation of the writer and his readers. To take a non-referential view of language, may open up possibilities of contemporary interest and deconstruction play, but it blocks the path of historical understanding.”

So…in my honest study, I have begun to look at the world of the Ancient Near East. Most within ‘critical scholarship’ have now begun to point those who want to understand the Book of Genesis in this direction. Granted I have made these remarks before, have written about understanding the Bible “literally”, (2) and defended these positions in debates- yet herein I want to show the proper understanding of the creation of man and the story that tells- from the Ancient Near East to the overly Hellenistic Western world.

The ANE audience hardly was concerned nor would have attempted to explain in graphic detail how God had made man, save for understanding the function of man in the world. Genesis serves as a ‘polemic’, or argument against the cultures of the Ancient Near East, as blog writer T.E. Hanna notes,

Rather than adopting the mythologies of the surrounding Ancient Near East, the Hebrew cosmologies were written as a criticism of them. As theological education for an emerging Israelite nation, the purpose of these narratives was to emphasize the nature of the God of Israel in contrast to the surrounding polytheism, while also conveying His superiority over competing religions.”

Now that we have made ourselves somewhat aware of the context of the Book of Genesis, let’s begin to take a look.

Please turn in your Bibles to Genesis 1:24-31.

Here we read that God made all the animals and then goes about to create man – In His Image, and to have dominion over all of that which God created.

As one becomes familiar with the Ancient Near East, we would see that this Genesis story runs contrary to the contemporary understanding of that culture. As Wheaton proffessor, Dr. John Walton has noted, “In Mesopotamia the cosmos functions for the gods and in relation to them. People are an afterthought, seen as just another part of the cosmos that helps the gods to function. In Israel the cosmos functions for people and in relation to them. God does not need the cosmos, but it is his temple. It functions for people.” (3)

I have a writing on this called ‘The Ancestral Story of the ‘Image of God'(4) which can be found on the internet, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of Mrs. Rebekkah Devine (or Giffone as I note in my article). When I came to understand how in Genesis man was set up as the ‘image of God’ in contrast to the way the ANE viewed man, I was amazed. Man is created to display the glory of God, not the idols, nor the “created things” that man turns into idols.

Now let’s take a look at Genesis 2:4-9.

Studying out the details of “heaven and earth” in Scripture is a praiseworthy study. Verse 4 here gives us a beginning of understanding the way this phraseology was used by the ancient Hebrews, and essentially was was being ‘made’ by God in this account. Surely you don’t believe that what God is saying here is that the ‘heaven and earth’ has a genealogy, do you? Oddly some have made some strange interpretations, yet if you study out the term in its context and usage- you find this term simply applies to God’s people.

What we are reading in Genesis chapters 1-3 is the “creation story” of the one True God and how He formed His “heaven and earth”.

In Genesis 2:7 we have, God ‘forming’ man (adam) out of the ground. The text reads: ‘v’yyitzer YHWH ‘Elohim ‘et ha’adam ‘aphar min ha’adamah’ – or in the English – “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.”

There are some who simply would rather avoid dealing with the historicity of the writing and would assert that this is talking about God materialistically forming man out of ‘dust’, just as they would say that this text is talking about the material creation of Heaven and Earth. If you are ok with imposing a foreign interpretation on the text, that would have hardly been understood by the ancients, then there is nothing I can show you. However, after searching for the definition of the term ‘dust’ (which in Hebrew is ‘aphar’ meaning ground, earth, ashes, or powder), then reading all the passages in Scripture that apply that term, I did not find much clarity as to what is saying. Therefore I turned to historical context for clarity.

It is interesting to further note that in Ancient Near Eastern literature not only is man debased, but the creation of man is usually of the clay of the ground and the blood or spit of the gods- both good and evil. In the Biblical text, man is created of the earth and then God breath’s life into him- giving man a dignity above all other created things. Surely a radical thought in the Ancient Near East that most modern people miss the point of.

A writing that further helped provide clarity pertaining to Genesis :4-7 was an internet writing by Don Stoner. You can access that writing by visiting this link: http://www.dstoner.net/Genesis_Context/Context.html

So in Genesis chapter 2, man is created by God forming him of the dust of the ground, earthy, and is animated as a ‘living soul’ once God breathes into him.

In Genesis 3:14 as well as 3:19, we read that the serpent will go on his belly and eat “dust’ all the days of his life, and Adam after the fall is told he shall return to the dust.

First of all this is where you should begin to notice that this book is a foreign text and not intended to be taken literal. If you hold to a literal walking/ talking serpent that is cursed by God to travel on the ground, then you need to consult the local psychologist.

After noting that simply point, we can begin to search out what the text means in its proper context.

‘Dust’ as used through Scripture and historical context also carries the thought of humility and desperation. When Adam and Eve sin and suffer “the death” due to sin, they are ashamed and hide themselves from God- no longer freely roaming in the blessedness of God’s garden as He provided to them. This will later be the story of fleshly Israel as well- they violate the command God gives them and thus suffer shame.

Adam and Eve are now “dead”, as God told them the day they eat of the tree they shall surely die. God provides them with a covering and removes them from the Garden where they enjoyed God’s presence and possible “immortality” through the Tree of Life. From dust they were created, to dust they shall return.

It is when we study out the “resurrection of the dead” that these things get hopeful. The “resurrection of the dead” will undue the damage of the garden.

Adam and Eve had a beautiful & free relationship with God- based on the “covenant” of one law- don’t eat of that tree- be His image- they failed and died in that covenant relationship- thus returning to dust.

Israel inherited that story, and was provided a covering. They do the same as Adam (Hosea 6:7) and get worse and worse- suffering the fate of returning to the dust and face future judgment (Daniel chapter 12). One writer noted that the “futility” spoken about in Romans 8 is detailing the same “futility” to which creation was subjected in Genesis 3 – it has to do with the idea that it would not do that for which it was designed or intended.

All of this is to note that Genesis chapters 1-3 are not talking about the material creation of the cosmos nor of man, but rather are covenant claims. Genesis is the creation of God’s people- heaven and earth- and how that Old Covenant people were subjected to futility- being of the dust and earthy.

One poet noted, “The sons of Adam are formed from dust; if not humble as the dust, they fall short of being men.

In conclusion, let us praise God for the ‘Second Adam’ as revealed through the New Testament. We, in Christ, do not bear that “dusty” semblance and “death is defeated”! After all as 2nd century Church Father Irenaeus noted, ““The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

This is the goal of our faith- to note that which happened “in the beginning”, the death that comes because of sin, and then rest and proclaim praise in regards Christ’s sacrifice and righteousness. To provide to who would attest to the power of this as the “Christian faith” I will use quotes from 7th century Church bishop Maximus who said, “Christianity is an entirely new way of being human”, and 20th century century German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who remarked, “Christianity is not about religion- it’s about humanity, and making it as God intended it to be.”

Below I will provide a short list of Works Cited. As well as a list of Scriptures that mention “dust” for further study, and of course a host of links that further inform on the context of the Ancient Near East.

Works Cited

  1. R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus
  2. https://mianogonewild.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/how-do-we-literally-understand-the-scriptures/
  3. Dr. John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve
  4. http://www.academia.edu/9695120/A_Must_Read-_The_Ancestral_Story_of_the_Image_of_God_

Scriptures Pertaining to Dust:

Genesis 2:7; 3:19 – dust; Genesis 3:14; Genesis 13:16; 28:13; 1 Chron 1:9; Genesis 18:27; Genesis 26:15 – translated as earth; 1 Kings 16:2; 2 Kings 13:7 ; Num 19:17; 2 Kings 23:4 – ashes ; Job 4:19; Job 7:21; Job 10:9; Job 14:8 – ground; Job 17:16; Job 21:26; Job 30:19; Psalm 22:15, 29; Psalm 44:25; Psalm 113:17; Lev 14:42, 45 – mortar;2 kings 23:6, 15- powder; Job 42:6; Ecc 3:20; 12:7; psalm 103:14; Neh 4:2, 10 – rubbish; Isaiah 25:12; Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 47:1; Lamentation 2:10; Nahum 3:18

Websites about the Ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis:

http://www.theologymatters.com/Novdec97.PDF

http://www.newfoundationspubl.org/dust.htm

http://questions.veritas.org/science-faith/origins/what-genre-is-genesis-1-2/

http://tehanna.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/OfDustAndKings_HebrewCosmology.pdf

http://www.indiana.edu/~jsp/docs/2013_14/Bern_Essay_winner_Bloom,%20D.pdf

https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/interpreting-adam-an-interview-with-john-walton

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0825439272/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0825439272&linkCode=as2&tag=michsheiscom-20&linkId=LVYPNGNYCGRJSJSD

http://davidjohnstone.net/blog/2009/12/notes-lost-world-genesis-one-john-walton

http://oyc.yale.edu/transcript/945/rlst-145

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