Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reading No. 3

I never made it past Genesis before I noticed that a lot of my reading could benefit from having read the whole Bible first. I wanted to read the whole Bible with the benefit of already read the whole Bible. To do that, I had to read the thing twice. Boy, oh boy. That took a long time. Now, I will start reading a third time. It will be very slow going at first, because the first three books of the Bible turned out to be the three that I believe to be the least likely to be inspired by the word of God. In general, I've come away from this experience believing that the Old Testament is not divinely inspired, unless God is illogical and prone to mistakes and changes of heart. I shall try to start posting at least twice a week, and although my only audience is going to be spammers and the occasional Google user, I shall pretend that I have a real audience, because that delusion will make my writing better.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Genesis 7:1-16

Genesis 7:1-16

1 The LORD then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made."
5 And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.

Okay, back we go. Genesis 7 tells of the great flood. The great flood has always been one of my great sources of doubt. We know that many different societies have their own flood story. The Mayans have one. The Babylonians and Sumerians had one. The Chinese had one. Why don't any of those mention Noah? Where did the water come from, and where did it go to? Now that we know that Mount Everest is more than five miles high, we know that there would need to be five miles of rain to fall around the world to cover every mountain. That's hard to believe.

The chapter begins with an odd sort of praise for Noah. In a world so wicked that God must destroy almost every innocent beast, he finds Noah to be "righteous." We later learn, in Romans 3:10, that no man is righteous. None. Didn't we know that back when Genesis was written? In verse 3, God says to take seven of every kind of bird, or seven pairs, I can't tell. Birds are fowl, though, right? Didn't God already say the Noah was to take two of every fowl (Genesis 6:20)? So is it two or seven? Then God warns that seven days later, He will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature. Why? How is that just? Only man was wicked. Why did all the monkeys have to die except one pair? How were the lucky pairs chosen? What about the fish and the sharks and the whales? They probably made out just fine. Forty days of rain won't hurt a fish? Why are fish ok but monkeys have to die? How did they pack up the entire ark in seven days? 5,000 years ago, all the animals known to the Israelites might have fit into a very large ship. Now we know there are millions. Or did most of the modern animals evolve over 5,000 years to the millions of species we have now?

Until I reread this chapter, I never noticed that the floodwaters came from both above and below, but it looks like some of the water came from "all the springs of the great deep" and the rest came fro when "the floodgates of the heavens were opened." Did this rain literally come from outer space? We now know that rain doesn't come from any sort of floodgate from the heavens.

I look around me, and I see the world, and I read my geology books, and I visit the zoo, and I read my biology books, and this just does not make sense. Do I have to believe that they crammed every kind of animal into a wooden boat built by one man and his sons in order to be saved? I hope not, because this sounds like a bedtime story, rather than something real.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Genesis 6:13-22

Not all of this part of the story is inherently unbelievable. But in context with other parts of the story, it is hard to take literally.

13 And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark--you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them." 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.
So, again, I am troubled by every single reference to God being so upset with the violence that He would want to destroy everything. Why does this bother me? Two reasons. First, because it was all as God made it. Our nature comes from God. In fact, He made us in His image. God is certainly quite violent at times, even if you assume that He has no blame in the current violence on Earth, He clearly rained violence upon His enemies throughout the Bible. And, although I can't think of the entire universe of victims, they included the people of Bable, the Egyptian babies, the women and children of Jericho, and so on. And the world rewards violence. God could have made a world in which violence was unrewarding. He didn't.

The instructions for the boat are a bit absurd, too. If you read this the way I was taught to read it, Noah packed in a pair of every living thing on the planet. And everything alive today descends directly from the breeding pairs that were saved by the boat, because everything else alive was to die.

Are there not millions of species of beasts? How big a boat would that have to be? The Queen Elizabeth couldn't do it. Noah's boat was better than anything man can build today. From what I've read outside the Bible, from those who both claim to believe Genesis and claim to know the weights and measures, the ark was about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. And it housed everything from the mice, to the spiders, to the wolves and sheep and elephants. And they all came to Noah's home to be saved. And after they landed, they all went their separate ways again.

When I was young, I loved this story. I loved to envision the pairs of animals, lined up obediently, walking up a ramp onto the boat, two by two. But I can't fathom it now. The carnivores ignoring all these meals on legs? Not likely. But, says my pastor, God inspired the animals. That's is how they knew to come. And that same divine inspiration caused the carnivores to not eat the other animals during the voyage. If so, that would have been the most compelling part of the story, but it goes untold. Besides, it would have made more sense for God to inspire the animals to swim.

And there was "a window for the ark, ... to a cubit from above." I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but it sounds to me like God reminding Noah to plug in a single window, for air and light. One window. Millions of animals, eating, and pooping and all that nasty business for several months, and you need one window. Or maybe they didn't have to eat or drink or breathe, because God intervened. But the story doesn't say that, and it would be remarkable enough to mention if He did.

This story only makes sense if you view it as a small boat, enduring a localized flood, with a small collection of local animals and a large stock of food and water. And as such, it would be a great story. But the author of Genesis goes to great pains to make it a flood that covers the entire Earth, killing everyone and everything. And it just doesn't make sense that way.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Genesis 6:5-12

Once they started mating with sons of God, people fell out of favor with the Lord. Almost immediately,

5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
Clearly one of two things is going on here. Either someone is taking literary license, and exaggeration or speculating to make the story interesting, or God is being exposed as imperfect.

God was sorry He had made man? God knew, did he not, that he made man this way. Because man is made this way. And God is the One who made us like that. He knew when He first made us. Is it that God regrets His horrible decision? But God makes no mistakes, right? The other day, when someone urged me to read James 1:5-6, I read the rest of James 1, too. I found this to be of interest:
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
With God, therefore, there is no variation or shadow of turning. God does not change. God certainly would not change His mind. Yet, here He is, in Genesis 6, lamenting His error in the creation of man, and deciding to fix this error by killing, killing, killing.

And why does God decide to punish all the beasts of the ground and birds of the air? What did they do wrong? And if they were wicked, too, why have Noah save breeding pairs of each wicked breed? And what was so great about the fish that the destruction was to come in a form that would not harm them? If God wanted to kill mankind, why not just unlease a virus (other than because the ancients didn't understand viruses)? Why do billions of innocent creatures have to perish? The decision appears to be arbitrary, cruel and unjust.
9 This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
So Noah was just, and "perfect in his generations", whatever that means. I'm sure it cannot mean that Noah was perfect. He was only a man. In fact, we learn later that Noah is going to be quite imperfect, but perhaps compared to the wicked, he was pretty good. It doesn't say whether this is why he walked with God, or if walking with God made him just and perfect.

But the world was filled with violence. Much, I suppose, like it is today. It makes me wonder why God isn't flooding the Earth again. Yes, in a couple of chapters, God is going to promise not to do that again, but why? Could this ancient time have been any more wicked than today's world? If not, why would God destroy the ancients, but promise not to destroy us? We are undoubtedly many times more wicked and dangerous than people were 4,000 years ago. So why this and why then? Unless God does not see the future. So far, the context is telling me that perhaps God is not clairvoyant. An all-knowing deity who sees the future should never regret any prior decision, as God clearly does in Genesis 6.

Once we start getting into the animals and the ark, we will be reading my favorite story from my children's Bible. But, now, reading it carefully as a grown man, I find no sense in it at all.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Genesis 6:1-4

In terms of reading, I'm done with Leviticus. In terms of writing, I'll still stuck on the flood. I'll try to write about Genesis 6-9 for the next day or two.

Like most of what I've discussed so far, Genesis 6 confounds me. Verses 1-4 start the confusion.

1 Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. 3 And the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." 4 There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
What in the world does all this mean?

"The sons of God saw the daughters of men..." What does this mean? I once read a text that claimed that early Christians debated whether Jesus was divine for the first 400 years of Christianity's existence. Christ's very divinity depends upon the view, advanced in the New Testament in John's Gospel (John 3:16), that Jesus was God's only son. Someone in my study group said that these were angels. But it doesn't say that. And if it means that, wouldn't it also leave open the possibility that Jesus was only one of many angels? That can't be the solution.

So what is this all about? There were other sons of God. And from the context, it appears that there were a bunch of them. And then they took wives from among the "daughters of men?" And they made babies together? And the babies were giants?

I remember reading about some hoax in New York a hundred years ago in which people thought one of the Biblical giants had been found. I remember wondering "What giants were they talking about?" This is it. They all died in the flood, I suppose, because there is no mention of Noah or his three sons being giants. And yet, there is that nagging sentence fragment "and also afterward," which makes it sound like more of God's sons came down and made more giant babies.

One of the arguments I hear fundamental Christian literalists use to argue against the theory of evolution is that there are scarcely any human fossils. If man had been around for millions of years, there should be more fossils. But there are no fossils of these giants, either. This is just plain weird. I had no idea that I was supposed to believe this.

In verse 3, God puts an apparent end to all of this living for 900 years stuff. God said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." So the life span will be just 120 years. Yet, Noah lived 950 years (Genesis 9:29), and many more people will live well past 120 after this. I'm also confused by the reference to God's spirit not striving with man forever. What does that mean? Is this an explanation for why God seemed to be in close contact with the ancients, but seems to have very little interaction, if any, with modern man?

Aside from inner peace and the rare coincidental event that could be interpreted as a sign, I have never had a prayer answered. God has never walked with me, or appeared before me. If I am wrong, it is only because God hid himself from me, because I have never recognized Him in any physical form during my lifetime. I'm praying for guidance right now. Yet, the conclusions I am drawing are not what any of my Christian fellows would urge me to draw. So, does God's spirit no longer strive with me? It certainly feels like that right now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

[Out of Turn] James 1:5-6

At the suggestion of anonymous, who does most of the commenting here (I can't complain, I'm staying anonymous myself), I have skipped ahead and read James 1:5-6, which deals with the concept of faith.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
Passages like this comforted me when I was younger, and, I believe, less wise. I remember being six years old, and being told that a person who dies while wearing a brown scapular will go straight to heaven. The exact quote was "Whoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire." I believed every word. Did that faith save me? Could it have? Was I free to blaspheme and sin, even kill people, as long as I was wearing that key to heaven around my neck?

Looking back, the concept was absurd. But I had faith in it. I wore that thing to bed. I wore it to school. I wore it to basketball and soccer and baseball practices. I wore it until it fell off my neck. And when that happened, I was horrified, because I knew that if something were to happen to me before I could get another scapular, I'd have to get into heaven the old-fashioned way, with good works, repentance and the mercy of the Lord.

Another commentor wrote that I need to seek advice from someone in my church. I am afraid to do this. I value the love and community I share with my church. But I am not sure I believe all that they believe. And I am dearly afraid that, if I even express my doubts, I will be a pariah. I do not want that.

No, if I am going to speak to someone, I'm afraid it will have to be someone from another church, in another town, who doesn't know me, and doesn't know my name, and doesn't know my congregation. Because the question I am asking is a question that the people in my church dare never ask. In essence, it boils down to this: is my Bible (New King James version) God's roadmap to everlasting life, or is it just a brown scapular? And if it is just a brown scapular, where is the right map? I want faith, but not just blind faith. I also want confidence.
The simple believes every word,
But the prudent considers well his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
I'm trying to consider well my steps. It isn't easy.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Genesis 5

Genesis 5 deals with the family of Adam. Basically, it just lists who begot whom, how old they were at the time of begetting, and how long they lived.

This is the first chapter that I just couldn't stand to read. It is boring. Why does God care whether I know this? It's just an opportunity for someone to mess up a genealogy later in Bible study. And if this genealogy is so important, why don't we have chapters following the geneology all the way to today?

Aside from the boredom, I have really only one major issue with this chapter: the old age these guys achieved. I don't think I believe it. Adam, as you may recall, should have dropped dead the day he touched the fruit of the tree of knowledge. (Genesis 2:17) However, in chapter five, we learn that Adam lived 930 years (Genesis 5:5). Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Jared and Methusaleh lived over 900 years as well.

Adam has already been dispatched from the garden, so he was living in the same imperfect world that houses us today. Except his tree of knowledge didn't give him knowledge of such life-extending scientific discoveries as penicillin and other modern medicines. We know, from historical records, that during the time Adam was living out these 900 years, nearby cultures, such as the Egyptians, had flourishing societies, sophisticated argriculture and ranching, and rudimentary knowledge of medicine. And they were considered old men if they reached 40 years. Infant mortality was high, and parasites and infection meant that a drink of stale water, a simple hand wound or a throat infection could kill a healthy man in a few days. There is no apparent reason why they would have lived such long splendid lives. 900 years without war, famine, disease, injury? Not on this planet.

I've heard only two explanations for this: (1) it is literally true, for reasons we can never know until we die and all will be revealed to us ; and (2) a "year" meant a shorter period of time back then. A lunar cycle was suggested by some as being called a "year." This would put Adam's death at a more believable 77 years. The problem with this analysis is that these guys were 90 years old or younger when they started having kids. If a "year" was really a "month", than Enosh, the 90-year-old father of Cainan, was only seven when his wife conceived. Which means this is as far-fetched as explanation number one.

Yesterday, I went over the explanation that Cain's wife must have been a sister. Well, Genesis 5:4 seems to confirm my initial view. "4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters." This is the first mention of daughters of Adam. No mention of daughters before Seth was born to replace Abel. Yet, daughters were clearly important enough to mention.

On a petty note -- and this was from an email that an atheist sent -- verse two says "Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created." God called the women "Adam", too? Said atheist also says this passage says man and woman were made at the same time. I don't think the language is that clear. But that problem was really flushed out in my discussion of chapters one and two anyhow.

And I was initially confused about Lamech being Noah's father. But then I went back and noticed that Cain's descendant Lamech was the son of Methushael (4:18). Noah's father Lamech, descendent of Seth, was the son of similarly named Methuselah (5:25).

Now that Noah has been begotten, I know I am about to embark on the most fundamentally unbelievable literal story of the Bible. So I'm going to work on it over the long weekend. As I do so, I will also ponder this: can I be a Christian if I think the Jews were wrong in believing that Genesis was the divine and inerrant Word of God?