Common Thoughts (A Genesis Study 2)

The Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible, consists of 35 books broken into three sections: the Pentateuch  or first five books of the Bible considered “the law”; the prophets;  and the “writings”. The dates range from 1400s BC (Genesis) to 400s BC (Nehemiah). The Protestant Bible has 39 Old Testament books. There are at least 16 other writings that date after Nehemiah, the last writing accepted into the Canon. There were a number of criteria considered by both Jewish scholars and Christian scholars determining which writings would be considered for inclusion into the Bible including were the authors known persons, or persons who personally knew the subjects of their writing; verifying the truthfulness of their writing; the writing supported by other writings; used by affected population (Jews or Christian) showing the writings as acceptable.

The New Testament is made up of 27 books. The writings making up the New Testament began with Paul’s letters in the 50s AD, the Gospels not written until the 70s AD. Revelation, the final writing, sometime in the 90s AD. There are other writings beyond the Canon of 27 books, but not accepted because they didn’t meet the criteria for becoming canon books.

Let me restate something written earlier: As for what we know as the Bible, the Hebrew canon of books (what Christians call the Old Testament) was formed around 250 AD. The New Testament canon wasn’t formed until 393 AD (The Council of Hippo) and 397 AD (The Council of Carthage).

Going through this process tells us that at some point God stopped speaking his truths having said, I suppose, enough for us to know. Or so this is what we believe. How did both the Jewish and Christian Bible (Old and New Testament) come about? What we call “books” of the Bible are really a collection of writings that happened in the context of living history

Moses is somewhere in the 1400s BC. We have evidence of the first writing in 2500s BC. That is at least 1,100 years before Moses and that first writing that would eventually become part of the Bible. What took so long? What and how did Moses know about history before Him? And if God is in charge of history, kind of directing it, a Weltgeist or Zietgeist, as German philosopher George Hegel would describe it, what’s his plan?

All history up until writing was oral history. Even today when writing is like breathing air, oral history is important inside families. Most of what I know about my ancestors comes from oral history. A key class of people in Ireland were the seanchaí, (pronunciation shan-a-key)the keepers of history and tradition. So from Genesis 1 to its conclusion in chapter 50, which only takes up some 59 pages (using the count in The Jerusalem Bible; Reader’s Edition, paperback), 2,500 years of history are covered. And that’s not all of history during those years, it’s limited and focused only on the genealogical line of Adam and Eve. Until Genesis 6 and the story of Noah and The Flood, we know there are other people outside this family but we don’t encounter them until the story of the Flood.

When I travel the 250 miles to my childhood home I break the time into several parts, mile markers that give me comfort that I’m getting closer to my destination. One way to look at the Bible is that it is a story told in several acts. Act 1 covers creation through Abraham. Act 2 covers Abraham to Moses. Act 3 covers the establishment of Israel to Jesus. Act 4 covers from Jesus’s birth to his resurrection. Act 5 covers the establishment of the Christian church. Act 6 covers from the beginning of Revelation to the establishment of the New Jerusalem. The plot of this story, as I’ve said, is that God IS, that all creation comes from Him, that man was made differently from every creature and was intended to rule with God, then sinned, and God has a plan of redemption until the time man is reunited completely with God and we live happily ever after. It is not the story of everything, though we often treated it like it is. We certainly want it to be, but it isn’t. Get over it.

With a brief look at Cain’s historical line we in Genesis 5 return to the genealogical line of Adam and Eve beginning with their third son, Seth. Up until Enoch (a whole lot of generations later) do we have anything said about God in Genesis 5:24: Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” What does it mean to walk “faithfully” with God. There’s been no definition of religion. God has no, or at least we are not told, rules of worship and faithfulness. Two things obviously have to be true: what Adam and Eve knew of God was transmitted down through their generations, and God would have spoken to each generation along the way. There is no reason to believe God was silent after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden. Indeed, we know He wasn’t because He spoke to Cain.

When Noah was born, his father, Lamech, said of him,“ He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” Still no religious rites, no religious definition, yet they knew of God, and the curse, and waited for God to lift the curse and Noah would play some role in that. And all this time they had no Bible to give them definitions of what life meant. And about God. But they didn’t need a Bible, they had God with them.

Just taking the timeline offered from Adam to Noah we find this:

So if you add all the years together: 130 + 105 + 90 + 70 + 65 + 162 + 65 + 187 + 182 = 1056. So Noah was born in year 1056. Positing Adam as 0 BC, we have 1,056 years of history, at least the history of man. For those thousand years what’s been going on outside Adam’s genealogical history? We know that inside that historical line back to Adam there are people who have been faithful to God. But . . .

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said,“ I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8 NIV.)

Let’s go back to Genesis 1:26 when God said,“ Let’s make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves,” (The New Jerusalem Bible.) This is mankind, not just the specific two we know as Adam and Eve. Whoever those people were east of Eden, they were creations of God. In them was the same image of God that was in Adam and Eve. God’s expectations for them was the same expectations of Adam and Eve.

Here’s a problem because inquiring minds want to know. If there were people outside the Garden of Eden, and we have no real idea how long the Garden existed, what was life like outside the Garden for these people? The Garden had to be more idyllic than outside or why else the test inside the Garden when it could be just as easily given outside? Since the earth was not changed to a negative until after Adam and Eve failed the test (and remember they represented not only themselves but all mankind) life could not have been that bad outside. Okay, these are fun questions, but they really are nothing more than exercises in futility. One day life was beautiful inside and outside the Garden, next moment everything changed, maybe not instantly but over time, but it did change from wonderful to “man, this is hard work, living.”

Fun is over, let’s get back to reality. We follow the direct line of Adam and Eve because their prodigy remained faithful to God. What we now learn unquestionably is that those outside Adam and Eve’s direct descendants did not faithfully follow God. Some of this could be laid at the feet of Cain who went away mad at God and would have passed on his hatred of God. Whatever,  by the time of Noah people have become decadent, so evil in their behavior and minds that God Himself regrets having made this creature in his likeness. He questions Himself, should I just do away with man and move on?

End of story. Oh, no, it doesn’t end. There was that faithful line of people and at the time of God’s frustration there stands Noah reminding God that there is hope for his experiment. This kind of sounds like a typical mythological story where the gods have human emotions. But there is no Zeus in this story and we must take this account as simply as it is written: the further mankind gets away from God the more depraved they become because the only source of goodness is God. It’s like light and darkness. Darkness is not real, it’s only the absence of light. Where there is light there is no dark, Where there is God there is no evil.

In Genesis 9 God makes an interesting Covenant with Noah and his family. But first let’s set the context by going back to Genesis 1:28-31:

“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said, “See, I have given you every herbthatyields seed whichison the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

“Subdue” and “dominion” is not pejorative, mankind is responsible for the whole earth, including animals. We are in charge. Now, while I love prime rib and tri-tip and salmon and chicken and turkey, I was not made to eat these meats but to be a vegetarian. Okay, I like most vegetables and fruits. But while meat is available to me I love meat.

The change to this comes with the Covenant God makes with Noah and his family, and with us all, which is this:

  1. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
  2. “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
  3. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.
  4.   Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:1-6,11 NKJV.)

The first mention of a religious rite (hence something religious) comes when Noah and family exit the ark and we read in Chapter 8, verse 20 that Noah built an altar and sacrificed animals to God on it. In their Commentary on the Old Testament, authors Keil and Delitzsch write about this:

“The first thing which Noah did, was to build an altar for burnt sacrifice, to thank the Lord for gracious protection, and pray for His mercy in time to come. This altar—a place for the offering of slain animals is the first altar mentioned in history. The sons of Adam had built no altar for their offerings, because God was still present on the earth in paradise, so that they could turn their offerings and hearts towards that abode. But with the flood God had swept paradise away, withdrawn the place of His presence, and set up His throne in heaven, from which He would henceforth reveal Himself to man (cf. chap. xi. 5, 7). In future, therefore, the hearts of the pious had to be turned towards heaven, and their offerings and prayers needed to ascend on high if they were to reach the throne of God.”