Genesis 1-10 seems to be the ultimate ‘Reader’s Digest Condensed Book’. It covers a vast span of time and such critical events in a short discourse that could be easily written, carried about, and remembered by a nomadic and early-agricultural people. Much had to be omitted for that purpose, but some clues are given by which we may deduce the underlying story. There did, of course, have to be one original couple who were not just the fortunate offspring of an earlier version of man, otherwise they would have tended to regress toward the mean, just as is the case with the animal species. The time-scale is expanded by Dr. Hugh Ross in ‘Navigating Genesis’ with scientific evidence, including Noah’s flood as the infilling of a large basin by glacial meltwaters at the end of the last Ice Age, but the spiritual frame of reference has not been well explained by Christian theologians.
The Eden story on original sin is often presented with a simplistic literalism that invites scorn from atheists, and has probably created some of them. ‘Everyone punished because of a talking snake? Really?’ Can the symbolism be unfolded, from the Bible text, into an intellectually serious understanding of original sin for the modern mind? The record of history, and our daily news, indicate the truth of the doctrine. Sin is inherent, and manifests in many ways, and Christianity does change lives for the better.
I have read that according to Christianity, the purpose of the universe is not to be morally or physically perfect, but to provide a place where spiritual creatures can choose to love or reject God – to live with Him forever in a new, perfect universe, or reject Him and live apart from Him for eternity. That seems to be a good general summary, but it has little value in talking with unbelievers. Materialistic public-school education creates some big obstacles to the use of the Bible, and even to the concept of sin itself.
Having lived a good many years and passed through the common youthful stages of atheism and science-oriented agnosticism into a large Christian denomination, I wonder if this view of original sin might prove useful in outreach. First, a few paragraphs of development.
In speaking with unbelievers, the idea of ‘original sin’ is a serious stumbling block. Many believe people are born basically good, or at worst a ‘blank slate’ prepared by evolution, and easily dismiss the idea of objective good and evil. They mock the Adam and Eve story, saying even if they did wrong, why should that condemn all their children? C. S. Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity’ developed the idea that man has a conscience that goes as far as being able to judge whether people are being ‘fair’ in dealing with each other, and that the universal sense of ‘fairness’ is proof of the objective existence of moral law. This sense of ‘fairness’ is a strong objection to the idea of original sin as presented in the Bible. ‘If they sinned, still I wasn’t there, and I didn’t, so why am I guilty?’ is the complaint. There doesn’t seem to be a gene to inherit for sin, and materialism has no place for anything not directly detectable. But what if each of us had sinned, even before Eve? What is our true origin as immortal souls? Do we really start out as sort of a spark between some combining chromosomes?
If our immortal souls are created at or after conception, either they are created perfect or they are created imperfect. A worthy deity can create them perfect. Why then install them in mortal bodies constructed with animal instincts and weaknesses? Just to observe us struggle and fight and often lose to the weaknesses of the flesh? If the flesh proves stronger than the spirit, that’s poor workmanship on the spirit; why then could the soul be rewarded or punished? If the soul is created imperfect, same objection. Thus, the soul must exist independently of the body before conception as well as after. Individual memory seems restricted to the experiences of this mortal life.
I accept the Bible as inerrant in its original understanding, and believe it has been preserved with a remarkable degree of accuracy. It was not intended to explain everything. In order for the Old Testament to make sense to those to whom it was given, facts had to be reduced in volume, and expressed in a language that had a small (about 30,000 words) vocabulary which covered only the experiences of that culture. Otherwise, it would not have been copied and preserved. The culture had some basics to start from: there is a Creator, there is a moral law, people should find and follow that law to have fellowship with their Creator, individual personalities continue to exist after bodily death. Can the narrative given in simple terms to them be unfolded into a more complete understanding for us?
Our understanding is clouded by centuries of cultural and linguistic change. The intelligent-design movement is opening new and fruitful frontiers of thought. After reading Hugh Ross’s books ‘Navigating Genesis’, ‘Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job’, and ‘Beyond the Cosmos’, one can see there is a very large story being revealed a bit at a time. God knows there is a limit to what a culture can understand and accept, and He does not dump excessive information before we are able to handle it. He arranges for us to discover things about our world, and how elegantly it was designed, and lets the design force us to acknowledge the Designer. Those who start out by denying a Designer will spin fanciful tales to get around Him, but end in frustration. The evidence from modern science is that reality has at least ten space dimensions. This makes it unreasonable for materialists to reject the existence of unseen worlds. Furthermore, our own three dimensions of space and our one-way dimension of time had a specific beginning, and a cause that is outside of themselves, and may be just a temporary bubble within the greater reality. Those concepts were inexpressible to the Hebrews, and are difficult today.
Since ‘all Scripture is God-breathed, useful... (2 Tim 3:16)’, there must not be any useless loose ends in it; everything should fit into the story being told. Pulling on the apparent loose ends may prove useful. Genesis 2:2 says ‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.‘ If His work is finished, new things are no longer being created by God. See also Hebrews 4:3-11. There is a lot of creating being done by mankind, and all in a materialistic sense. We can even create and birth new people, but where does their eternal soul come from? That seems a most unlikely product of the intertwining of some DNA spirals. Only God can create something eternal, that image of God that each of us bears. We observe no ‘noetic’ phenomena from chemical reactions; Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of a ‘soulish’ component of matter was rejected.
God had created the animals to reproduce after their kind. They were mortal and were endowed with the necessary programming (often referred to as ‘instinct’) to survive and reproduce, and varying degrees of learning abilities. Man is made after that design with the addition of a spirit, the ‘imago dei’. In this, God gave His most daring gift – free will, which psychologists and politicians are trying to debunk and deny so they can use our lives in accord with their wills. While the animal survival-programming leads to competition and conflict, the spirit is supposed to control our animal behavior and bring our individual free wills and actions into compliance with God’s will. But the natural human spirit seems corrupt – even infants turn easily to lying and self-centered opposition. We need to acquire a new Spirit. This may be the internal conflict Paul speaks of in Romans 7:14-25 and Galatians 5:16-25, as the new Spirit in him struggles with the natural.
The Genesis 1 overview speaks of mankind in the plural as filling the earth. We could think of this as the design phase; Adam and Eve were designed somewhere other than in Eden, after the earth was created and prepared for them. But in the details of Genesis 2 Adam at first was created alone, apparently destined for immortality, and he enters the material world with some privileges and a set of rules. Then God said in Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Or perhaps Adam was to be the helper? Could the perfect man be useful in doing something God wanted done? This creation was declared in Gen. 1:31 to be perfect in God’s sight; ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ Might there be some unfinished business from before Genesis that needed correcting? In Genesis 3 a third party, a created being with the ability and intent to deceive, seeks to turn their free will away from the rules – and man can no longer be trusted. We know evil only by living in it and seeing others live it. The living conditions of Eden are thus changed to those we know, and eternal life is withdrawn and guarded by a sword; might that be the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 5?
God and the angels existed in the heavenly dimensions before the creation of our space and time dimensions, and those dimensions are still separate from ours. God is not limited by our time, and the time sequence of prophetic events becomes indistinct and clouded by symbolism. John in Rev. 12 speaks of a rebellion in heaven;
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.
7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Thus, God did create beings with free will aside from, and probably before, Adam. That whole chapter seems to be out of place in the narrative, sort of an explanatory flashback in time. One-third of the angels would seem to be a substantial loss. There is no clue as to the number of angels in heaven – it could be in the billions. Thus, there does exist a substantial pool of individual spirits separated from God. God has ceased His creative activities in this seventh day. But many people with immortal souls have been born in this seventh day. Man creates the body, but God gives the spirit;
Eccl. 12:7, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Zech. 12:1, The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person,…
I suggest that each human spirit (soul) is not a fresh creation, but is assigned out of a pool of previously disobedient ones to inhabit a human body. By their free will they followed one of their number, and by their free will they must free themselves from his power by choosing to adopt God’s will and imitate His character.
Isaiah 14:12-15 speaks of one who sought to usurp God’s throne and was cast down.
12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.
16 Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate:
“Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble,
17 the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities
and would not let his captives go home?”
Captives? Apparently his desire was for power over others, a desire that lives also in too many of us.
And then there is Ez. 28:11-19:
“‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you,
guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
That too is often interpreted as referring to Satan. Is it too much of a stretch to think that all 3 references speak of the same rebellion, and that it occurred somewhere before Adam? Those angels, spirit beings, freely chose to join Satan and separate themselves from God. Being in heaven, they knew only good. What could Satan promise to get them to follow him? The knowledge of good and evil, perhaps? Genesis 3:5 does come before the banishment from Eden…
In Luke 10:18, Jesus says “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven“, but He does not say when. God’s love for His immortal creations might lead Him to purpose this material universe for the recovery of His errant creations by bringing their free wills back into sync with His own will. This would require the creation of a limiting environment, (Romans 8:18-22): I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
It required a physical body that a spirit could interact with, and a culture that could receive and transmit His word. He could then offer the opportunity for those who had joined the rebellion to enter into physical human bodies near the time of conception and learn their way back to compliance with His will, or make a final rejection of Him. Some would be chastened by their separation from God and accept, others would reject the offer and work demonically against God’s plan. There seem to have been some angelic ‘managers’ who also lost their way and fraternized with their subordinates, in Genesis 6:
2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them.
(These ‘sons of God’ may be the ones spoken of in Jude 1:6)
6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
After the fall, few mortals seem to have pleased God except Enoch. Finally He picked Noah and his family as the best of a bad lot, eliminated the rest, and started over. Eventually He noticed some redeeming characteristics in Abram and told him to leave his native culture and go to Canaan. Abram obeyed, later made a daring rescue and did not seek a share of the captured goods. Up until this point, Satan has lost none of the spirits that followed him except Enoch. The dead, in Sheol, are still his. But now God starts speaking to man and making promises; this is a threat to Satan’s power over them. Even after God had created this universe, prepared the earth to receive human life, and began routing the rebellious spirits through mortal life so they could learn from the general revelation, Satan had plenty of distractions and deceptions to retain his hold on them. The general revelation requires a lot of study before one can understand the patterns that show natural laws and point to the Designer and Creator. The sinful nature tends toward short-term thinking and self-gratification, not careful study. Misbehavior led to the Noah episode. When the mortal bodies met death, their spirits still belonged to Satan. Few were able to retain any contact with their Creator among the demands and limitations of mortal life. The spirits had no example to lead them away from Satan, who would not release them (Is.14:17), no power to resist, no memory of God’s love. God chose to take the initiative with Abram.
In Genesis 15 we see a very curious covenant being made. When Moses wrote the Pentateuch, he had two sources available to him: the 400-year-old oral traditions passed down from Jacob, and God. The account of the covenant could have come from Abraham, or one of his 318 herdsmen who had gone to battle with him in Gen. 14, or from God. It must be both necessary and sufficient (2 Tim 3:16).
In the ancient world, the blood covenant was particularly strong. The parties to a covenant cut one or more animals in halves and walked together between them saying the words of their agreement and something like ‘if I violate this covenant may it be done to me as it has been done to this animal’. Each party consented to death should they fail to keep their agreement. Gen. 15:17, When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.
Abram did not pass between the pieces, so the covenant was not with him. He was apparently in a deep sleep but yet heard God speak. Two other entities made the walk, and Abram was at best a witness – or perhaps the subject of the covenant. I suggest that the parties to the Genesis 15 covenant were God and Satan. Satan knew that God had all power and could take back all his followers, and felt threatened by this relationship between God and Abram. Satan had gained his followers by taking advantage of their free wills, probably making promises he could not keep, and believed that he could keep them separated from God if they retained their free will. I suggest that Satan wanted a covenant with God that neither of them would use supernatural powers to interfere with the free will of humans. This would leave Satan free to use deception, pleasures, earthly power and natural substances to hold his following.
I suggest that God knew a way to use that covenant and still triumph. By that time, Satan had been dealing with humans for so long that even he was probably thinking in earthly terms. His intent was that God be kept from displaying His supernatural powers, His love, and even His existence, to man – and he thought that a violation of his intent would be a violation of the covenant, and that God does not violate promises. But looking at the big picture, there are two ways to keep such a covenant. One is to accept the limitation on actions, the other is to reject the limitation and accept the penalty depicted in the butchered animals – a bloody and violent death without resistance. A true violation would be for neither of those two to occur. The choice before God was (A) do no miracles; Satan keeps his captives forever, God need not die: or (B), continue speaking and showing miracles to man, try to awaken their spirits to God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness as they live mortal lives, but God must suffer death. He was promising to do either A or B. He chose to manifest His fullness in Christ and go to the Cross. God knows that death is an experience, not a state of being. He passed through the experience, He lives and continues His works among mankind, having paid the price of sin although He had no sin. That price bought for us the right to become children of God (John 1:12) as we learn and follow His example in our own mortal lives. If we believe in the Resurrection, we have been freed from Satan’s power – we can appeal to God for His help and guidance in following Him and serving Him and our fellow man.
Each human soul, then, is an active, learning, creative being with free will and an eternal existence. Each of us chooses how to act, what to learn and create. Such a being could do an infinite amount of good, or evil, over its eternal time. Such beings must be individually evaluated (judged) by some moral principles, and some separation must occur or there would be eternal conflict and victimization. Christians have faith that there is such a Judge, Who is just and righteous in His decisions. The Church, or at least those who choose to believe in the Holy Spirit, is His agent. God still respects our free will, our right to choose, even when we choose evil. He has the power to force surrender (... every knee will bow…and every tongue acknowledge, Romans 14:11) but He prefers that we come of our own free will as did the prodigal son. Having once chosen to separate ourselves from Him, we are exposed to danger, disappointment, damage and death by the self-serving actions of others. Satan, however, is limited in his actions against us. The covenant is still in force, and fortunately the price of violation is still too high for Satan to pay, for Satan cannot form a body to live in, he will not humble himself to experience death, and he cannot resurrect a body that has died. Satan must get voluntary cooperation or an invitation from humans to manifest in this world, but there are always those who will seek the dark side to get something they want. Some people seek to avoid judgment by claiming they are influenced by Satan or mistreated by society. It’s up to each of us how we think of or personify that predatory principle that seeks power over others, but such personalities are clearly at work in this world and must be opposed.
Also, Satan must be the deity of Islam; the deity’s self-description given in the Quran (3:54, 8:30, 27:50, 13:42, 10:21, 14:46, 43:79) is that he is the greatest of deceivers. He commands his followers to kill, steal, and destroy. (2:193, 8:39, 9:5, 9:29, 47:4) In the Reformation, a corrupted Christianity returned to its holy book and got serious about following it. The Muslim fundamentalists are already following their holy book, so reformation is not an option. Islam endorses the use of deception for personal and religious advantage. (3:28, 16:196) Be careful what Quran translation you seek, Muslim translators are likely to use taqiyyah in their work. Taqiyya and kitman, or not showing their faith openly by means of pretense, dissimulation, or concealment, are a special type of LYING which is taught and used by Shi’a Muslims. ‘nasikh’ is used to resolve contradictions; later writings are considered to abrogate (nullify) earlier writings. (2:106, 16:101) The earlier writings are often peaceful and are cited in conversations with non-Muslims, the later ones are warlike and rarely admitted. Abrogation shows that someone changed their mind, which God does not.
Satan also seems to be the inspiration behind such secular ‘isms’ as socialism and communism, which are dependent on lies, deception, and man’s continuing quest for power over others. These are more easily excused when people do not believe in God. People who promote those socio-economic systems do all they can to suppress churches, make life difficult for believers, and promote ungodly behavior through government actions and media pressure. Since they deny the existence of the soul, they consider human life expendable in pursuit of their earthly goals. These characteristics are also found in the zealots of capitalism and environmentalism, who are willing to sacrifice ‘the little people’ and their God-given rights in pursuit of the elite’s secular goals.
In the Bible, Satan is referred to as a liar, a deceiver, a devourer of souls. One might think that the victims of deception would be worth an attempt at enlightenment and rescue. That could be the meaning of Matt. 18:11, and Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
He is obviously speaking of human souls. “That which was lost” logically implies that those souls once were “not lost”, but an event occurred which caused them to become “lost”, i.e. separated from God. He also knew His mission went beyond Judaism: in Matt. 15:21-28 He did honor the Canaanite woman’s request, and in Matt. 8:5-13 He healed the centurion’s servant, who would not have been a Jew, since Jews did not associate themselves with Gentiles in that manner. The prophecies of His coming were addressed to Jews, but they did include the blessing of all the peoples of the earth.
Jeremiah 1:5 – ‘Before I knit you together in the womb, I knew you‘
may imply that spirits have some character prior to having a body, and can be assigned to a body whose circumstances offer the kind of choices that can lead it back, or give the opportunity to serve God.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
– knit together, woven together – a spirit assigned/intermeshed with the flesh?
When God makes Eve from Adam’s material with a few modifications, after designing both in Gen. 1, He does not specifically breathe His spirit into her. Did He begin then with assigning the deceived angels to enter into flesh, or would that have begun with their children? This would explain all the sin and evil since Cain slew Abel. Thus, our original sin is that each of us once rebelled and rejected God, and all our efforts and frustrations are part of the process of proving to ourselves that God’s will and God’s word are the true object of our own free wills. It gives real meaning to the parables of the prodigal son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep in Luke 15.
This places real responsibilities on all of us. Those who become parents must in fact train up their children with respect for God and His word, because Satan does exist along with his fallen angels. They have used deception, pleasures, earthly power, and natural substances to lure people away from God. Many cultures have used natural hallucinogens to access what they considered to be the ‘spirit world’. Nowadays people use both natural and unnatural substances to alter their consciousness and relinquish self-control – thus voluntarily opening the mind to evil influences as well as loosening restraints on the fallen nature. It is worth noting that the word translated ‘witchcraft’ in the Bible is ‘pharmakeia’ from which our word ‘pharmacy’ is derived. The results of psychotropic drug use are consistent with, and tend to confirm, that condemnation of witchcraft. Peer pressure is often used to lure the young into drug use. All of us, in our own self-interest, must apply peer pressure and social pressures against ungodly behaviors, else we will be robbed of the personal liberty and security intended for us by God and established for us by America’s founders. That process of robbery is already far along, and is being advocated by drug legalizers and many activist groups whose cause is in opposition to one or more of the Ten Commandments.