Friday, January 29, 2010

Why was the forbidden fruit forbidden?

I've been attending a new church for a while, and I'm guardedly optimistic that this one could be as good of a match as I could ever hope to find. There was an orientation class of sorts to help new people know more about the church, and that 3-night class was held each of the past three Wednesdays.

In the second class, a woman asked the intriguing question as to why the tree in the Garden was forbidden in the first place. Why did God tell Eve not to eat from the tree?

This is a rather interesting question! Of course, if you are a Calvinist, these types of questions have no interest for you. Calvinists have no problem believing God planned for the race to fall from the beginning, so there needn't have been any reason for the tree being verboten. It could just have been the needed statutory law so that humanity would fall as part of God's overarching plan.

I'm not a big fan of that view, though of course I cannot claim it is utterly impossible. I don't think the Bible gives us enough information to be certain as to the wherefore behind the law given to Adam and Eve, but perhaps we can take a guess...

We are told in Genesis 2:17 that God explained to Adam "On the day you eat of the tree, you will surely die." The tree from the beginning is called "The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil."

One then asks the question: Why does having knowledge of Good and Evil cause death? Angels have knowledge of good and evil, and they do not die. What is the linkage between this knowledge and the death? If the linkage is "God said not to do this, and you did it, so you are punished," then that gets us no further into understanding why the tree was off-limits in the first place. If the death was not a punishment but a natural outcome, then it is a reasonable question as to wonder why.

We get another piece of information later. People often say that sin caused the death directly, but the view of Genesis 3:21 is rather different. That verse indicates God threw Adam and Eve out of the garden explicitly because it would have been possible for them to (otherwise) gain immortality by eating from the tree of life.

Based on Genesis 3:21, one could claim that God, for whatever reason, did not want Adam to be BOTH immortal AND aware of good and evil. Perhaps this was to separate humanity from the angels or perhaps it was for some other reason. Who knows?

Paul references the fall in Romans 5:12-14, and my claim is that Paul refers to spiritual death there (which explains why God was not wrong for saying "on the day you eat of it, you shall die")

With this in mind, I'm venturing to give as a conjecture that we were told not to eat from the tree for our own benefit. As Paul discusses in Romans 5, the thing that causes death is not sin itself but sin going against a known law. He separates "sin" in general from "rebellion." Thus, while people sinned after Adam and before Moses, they were not "rebelling" against God, thus their spiritual depravity could not be blamed on their own sin but must have come from Adam's.

Note this is a very important point for Paul. He is making a case for all being saved in the same way: through Christ. And part of the way he is arguing for this is to say that all were thrown into spiritual death through the action of one person, (Adam) so it makes sense that all could be healed by the action of one person (Christ). This is why he speaks about people sinning after Adam but not "sinning in the way Adam sinned," which he calls "transgression" or "Rebellion:" The sin against a promulgated, declared law.

So, if that is the case, perhaps the idea is that, without knowledge of good and evil, humanity would be "sinning in ignorance" whenever someone did something wrong, and those sins are still sins but do not cause separation between the person and God. That is the big difference between the type of sin Adam did (and later the Jews did after receiving the Law of Moses) and the type of sin people do in ignorance: outright rebellion against something you have been told by God not to do leads to a spiritual weakening and separation from God.

Note that there was plenty of sinning going on prior to Adam and Eve eating the apple. Eve appears to lie to the serpent about what God had said (changing God's command from "do not eat" to "Do not even touch"), the Jews would have considered Adam and Eve's nakedness to at least be shameful if not an outright sin, and both Adam and Eve committed covetousness before ever eating the apple [that is what covetousness is: the desiring of something that is not yours to have.] Indeed, I think covetousness was considered the father of all other sins by Jews for this reason [and note Paul's description in Romans 7:7-12, which is related to this whole topic of the danger the law poses.]

Anyways, I think it is an interesting question and one pretty open to discussion, what do you guys think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Zuke 'Em up for "Book of the Year"

Hi all,
As some of you may know, I also write chess books. I just wanted to post that a later edition of my very first chess book is being considered as a finalist for's book of the year contest! (The winner is chosen by votes emailed in).

You can read the details here:

Now...if only people received my Christianity books as warmly as they received my chess ones...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Sweetdreams asked a question on a previous post, and after writing up my response I decided I wanted to make it a full blog post.

Jeremiah 31:31-34, is one of the most important in all the prophets as it describes most fully the new covenant. It is an amazing passage in that it describes:

1. The partakers of the covenant. (verse 31)
2. The reason for the covenant. (verse 32)
3. The timing of the covenant (verse 33a)
4. The content of the covenant (verse 33b-34a)
5. The boundary between the last covenant and this one (verse 34b)

But I think the above is not even the best way to look at the wording (though it certainly suffices)

Instead, consider verses 31-32 as one block put in parallel with 33-34. The each indicate:
A. A timing
B. Who the covenant is with
C. How this covenant differs from the last.
D. An indication as to why this new covenant can stand over the last.

In the first chunk we are told:
A. The covenant is in the future.
B. The covenant is with Israel and Judah (“Israel” later stood in metonymy for all nations outside Judah).
C. The covenant will be unlike the first one because it will succeed where the first had failed to produce a godly nation.
D. The new covenant is allowed because Israel and Judah violated the older one.

In the second chunk we are told:
A. The covenant is “when Israel is planted back in the land.”
B. The covenant is with the “whole nation of Israel.”
C. The covenant will be unlike the first in that the laws would be written on the hearts of Israel.
D. The covenant is allowed because God will forgive all the sins Israel and Judah had done prior to it.

This last part is standard fare in the prophets: After Israel/Judah suffers, God forgives them…and then delivers them or proffers a hand of reconciliation. We see the same thing in the Exodus: the Israelites are forgiven for all their past idolatry, which allows God to start anew with a clean slate. The Israelites are never punished for any sins done prior to crossing the Red Sea, when they were “baptized into Moses.”
This has a strong counterpart in Jewish philosophy of Jesus day. When someone converted to Judaism, it was considered their own person crossing of the Jordan/Red Sea and everything about the prior life was blotted out (even to the point that a Gentile converting to a Jew could, in theory, marry those people who were his blood relatives, for the new convert was considered not to have a mother or father). The most common day for such conversions were on Passovers, which has other obvious connections to the crossing from the dead life of Egypt to the new life found in the wilderness with God.

The point of all this is to understand the “For I will forgive their sins and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” It refers to God’s setting aside the sin done by Israel and Judah to allow for the new covenant and a new slate, just as was done in the Exodus, and just as Paul refers to in Romans 3:25 when Paul (already speaking in the past tense) refers to the sins “previously committed.” [In other words, sins committed previous to Christ’s death, the event he refers to. However, just as in the Jewish conversion, this forgiveness would apply on an individual level upon conversion: the sins done by a Christian prior to entering the New Covenant are washed away.]

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Penal Original Sin and Ezekiel 18

I was walking home from a bar last night (first time I had gone out to shoot pool in a long time!) and I had an imaginary theological conversation in my head. I do this pretty often, envisioning discussions that could occur after someone cites a prooftext taken out of context that has nothing to do with the point being discussed. I don't get to have these in real life often because I don't hang around proselytizing evangelicals very often any more.

Anyways, the verse I had in mind was Ezekiel 18:4 or Ezekiel 18:20. A snippet of the first says "The soul who sins will die." The other says "The person who sins will die." They could each be used (and have been used) to suggest that death is the appropriate punishment for any sin.

But that isn't what Ezekiel 18 is saying at all. Ezekiel 18 is laying out that the punishment for sin will lay on the sinner rather than his offspring. Furthermore, it is indicating that righteous conduct done in the past does not insulate someone from the danger of death as punishment for sin in the present. It is most definitely not saying "Once someone has sinned one time, that person is subject to death." Indeed, Ezekiel 18:21-22 (among other places) indicates the exact opposite:

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.

The realization I made last night is that this whole chapter argues against one interpretation of Original Sin. Some people believe that we are actually liable for the sin of Adam because Adam is the father of humanity. The whole point of Ezekiel 18 is that one generation is not punished for the sin of its ancestors.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Another interesting "eternal Life" connection

I haven't been doing much theology blogging recently. Sorry guys.
However, I realized something pretty interesting recently. It actually strikes me as something I may have seen earlier and forgotten.

As most of you know, a central premise to my first book on Christianity is that the term "Salvation" is misunderstood today, taken to mean something that 2nd temple Jews living in Jesus day would not have meant. Indeed, even the church did not see "salvation" in the sense of "saving people from hell" sense for hundreds of years. [Note, for example, Athanasius' understanding of the term presently indirectly on page 18 of my extra topics pdf.]

Anyways, part of the argument for this understanding comes from the way that John [and I think Paul, but it is less clear] used the Greek term often translated "eternal life." My claim is that this referred to the Jewish O'lam Ha-ba in general and the New Covenant and its attendant indwelling of the Holy Spirit in particular.

I give several reasons for considering this plausible in chapters 3 and 4 of my book, but one that I don't think I referenced is this interesting pair of verses:

John 4:13-14 says:
Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

And then John 7:37-39 says:
Now on the last day, the great {day} of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.' " But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet {given,} because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Note how similar these passages are...not only do they both speak about water, but they also speak about the water flowing out from the inside him, they both include a message about people coming to receive something from Christ, and they both come right before a reference to Jesus as Christ. If we can take these as being connected in their metaphor, we are left with another at least reasonable argument for "eternal life" being a reference to the indwelling of the Spirit.

Monday, January 4, 2010