Friday, January 29, 2010

The Truth about Adam and Eve

The story of Adam and Eve is found in Genesis chapter 2 and following. In my last post, I wrote that I do not believe this story to be a factual account of human origins. Nevertheless, I believe the story of Adam and Eve to be profoundly true. I also said that Adam and Eve represent all of humanity.

In short, the story goes like this: God made a human being (“adam” in Hebrew means “human” or “humankind”) from the dust of the ground and placed him in a paradisiacal garden called Eden. There was only one rule in Eden: Do not eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” God, noting that it was not good for the human being to be alone, made all of the creatures of earth and sky. God brought them to Adam, who gave names to each one. None of them, however, was a fit companion for the human being. So, God caused Adam to sleep, and taking one of his bones, possibly a rib, fashioned a woman from it. Upon awakening, a delighted Adam called her “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” The author inserts a note that “for this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Adam also called his new partner “woman,” and later named her “Eve” (Hebrew for “life-giver”). They lived, for a while, naked and innocent in Eden.

A talking snake entered the scene and, promising Eve that she would not die but rather become “like God,” convinced her to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. She and Adam ate and realized that they were naked. They covered themselves with fig leaves and tried to hide from God. When God, rather anthropomorphically, took a stroll in the garden, he found and confronted the human pair. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. All three of them were cursed. They were thrown out of Eden, and ever since people have toiled to grow crops, women have given birth in pain, and snakes have crawled on their bellies.

Though this ancient story of Adam and Eve is couched in the male-dominant terms of the patriarchal culture in which it originated, it still has a powerful descriptive function. It tells us what our life as humans is like. We are creatures, made by God, and akin to the earth. We long for companionship. It is not good for us to be alone. We are subject to sexual desire, and to mortality.

We are made to live in right relationship to God, nature and one another but our relationships are broken. We live in a state of alienation. We still wish to be our own gods. We desire dominance over one another. We toil for our existence. We long for an ideal existence that we can imagine but cannot obtain.

These few conclusions do not begin to exhaust the truths about human existence expressed in the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are us.

Next: Genesis 2 and marriage.

This post’s image of Adam and Eve was painted by Lucas Cranach the Younger. I found it here. For a scholarly take on Adam’s “rib” bone couched in sophomoric humor, read chapter one of The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book, by John Kaltner, Steven Mckenzie and Joel Kilpatrick, HarperOne, 2008. If you don’t find low humor amusing, skip it. What can I say? I tickled me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are You Calling God a Liar?


The second chapter of Genesis tells the story of Adam and Eve. Let me be clear from the start. I do not believe that Genesis 2 is a factual account of human origins. You may disagree. Many Christians do. But, please bear with me while I present my evidence.

First, there is the internal evidence. The Book of Genesis contains two accounts of creation. The first is found in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. It includes the beautiful, poetic account of the seven days of creation. The second account begins at Genesis 2:4b and tells the story of Adam and Eve. The two accounts disagree in many details. For example, in the first account, birds are created before human beings (Gen. 1:20-23). In the second account, humans come before birds (Gen. 2:18-20). In the first account, plants are created before humans (Gen. 1:11-12). In the second, humans are made before plants (Gen. 2:4b-9). In the first account, man and woman are created simultaneously (Gen. 1:26 ff.). In the second account, the man is created first, and the woman is made from his rib (Gen. 2:21 ff).

Apologists try to reconcile these two creation stories. As with the story Judas’ death, their attempts only work if one ignores the plain meaning of the text. The very fact that anyone tries to reconcile the two accounts indicates the problem. As I see it, the two accounts were not meant to be reconciled.

Even the names “Adam” and “Eve” suggest that Genesis 2 was not meant to be a factual record of human origins. The Hebrew word “adam” means “humankind.” “Eve” means “life bearer” according to a footnote at Genesis 3:20 in the HarperCollins Study Bible. I take these names to indicate that Adam and Eve were not historical persons. Rather, they are symbolic representations of all humanity

Then there is the external evidence. The biblical accounts of creation indicate that the earth would be about 6,000 years old. Some young earth creationists will stretch that to 10,000 years. On the other hand geologists and physicists who examine the physical record tell us that the earth is closer to 4.5 billion years old.

Again, a literal reading of Genesis suggests that human beings were created about 6,000 years ago but the fossil record indicates that modern humans existed in Africa 200,000 years ago.

And again, Genesis tells us that human beings were created in their present state. The best science tells us that human beings evolved from earlier life forms. Although some Christians reject the evidence, evolutionary theory explains physical reality better than the biblical accounts do.

The question of human origins is another case where the General Revelation contradicts the Special Revelation. If science is right in this case, then Genesis 2 is not factual.

At this point, I expect an inerrantist to exclaim, “Wait a minute. The Bible is the word of God. Are you calling God a liar?” To which I reply, “No. Are you?” After all the hand of the Creator is revealed in the creation. If Genesis 2 is a literal, historical account, then God must have falsified the physical record.

More importantly, although I do not believe the story of Adam and Eve to be factual, I absolutely believe that it is true.

I’ll take this up again in my next post.

Two recommended books for those who are interested in reconciling Christian belief with evolutionary science: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Francis Collins, Free Press, 2006, and Can You Believe in God and Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed, Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett, Abingdon Press, 2008. The HarperCollins Study Bible (Wayne A. Meeks, general editor) was published by HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. The painting of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder was found at

Friday, January 22, 2010

All Slogans are Lies!


If it can be printed on a bumper sticker, it is not the whole truth. Bumper sticker slogans may be clever. They may express a bald opinion, but they do not, and cannot, communicate subtle and nuanced thought. They do not reflect the reason, if any, behind the opinion.

The bumper sticker pictured above was distributed free-of-charge by Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. According to its conservative algebra “Marriage equals one man plus one woman.” I frequently hear this norm attributed to the Bible.

I counter with a bit of doggerel verse I memorized long ago.

King David and King Solomon led merry, merry lives
With many, many lady friends and many, many wives
But when old age crept over them with many, many qualms
King Solomon wrote the Proverbs
And King David wrote the Psalms.

–James Ball Naylor, 1935.

The simple truth is that the Bible does not define marriage. There is no verse in Scripture that says “Marriage equals one man plus one woman” or something to that effect. In fact, the Bible describes several kinds of marriage and does so without judgment. Certainly the norm of one man and one woman is most common in the Bible, as I believe it has been in every time, place and culture, but polygamy, concubinage and levirate marriage are also found in the Bible.

What-irate marriage?

Levirate marriage was the practice of a man marrying his brother’s childless widow in order to raise children for his dead brother. This kept the deceased’s name alive and his inheritance intact. It also provided a measure of security for the widow in a society that treated women as chattel property. The word “levirate” derives from the Latin word “levir" meaning “brother-in-law.” The practice of levirate marriage is described in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and features in the stories of Ruth, Tamar (Genesis 38) and Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees in Matthew 22:38 ff and parallels.

Jacob, who became Israel, and whose children gave their names to the twelve tribes of Israel, was a polygamist. His children were born to his two wives and their two handmaids. See Genesis, chapters 29 and 30.

As for Israel’s two greatest kings, David had multiple wives and concubines, but Solomon takes the prize with “seven hundred wives…and three hundred concubines” who led him into idolatrous worship (1 Kings 11:3ff.). If that seems a bit excessive, it may account for the command, no doubt written after the fact and postdated, found in Deuteronomy 17:17

And he (the king) must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away….

To sum up, the Bible does not mandate that marriage equals one man and one woman. The Scriptures recognize several forms of marriage, including polygamy, concubinage and levirate marriage.

Next: a look at Genesis 2

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

God is Ambidextrous


The Two Kingdoms doctrine is a standard trope in Lutheran theology. Essentially it says that God works in this world through two distinct spheres. The Kingdom of God’s right hand is the Church where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered. The Kingdom of God’s left hand consists of the civil authorities that exist to promote peace, reward good and punish wrongdoing.

These two kingdoms are distinct, but God is at work in both of them. God has given them both for the benefit of humankind.

Luther’s reforms included a reduction in the number of Sacraments from seven to two. Baptism and Holy Communion, both commanded by the Lord Jesus, were retained. Confirmation, ordination, last rites, confession, and marriage were not considered Sacraments because Jesus did not command them. Effectively this made marriage, for Lutherans, a part of the Kingdom of God’s left hand.

Marriage is regulated by the State, not the Church. This makes sense because the institution of marriage exists also in non-Christian cultures. Marriage benefits society by promoting order, ensuring inheritances and property rights, providing stability for families and so on. Marriage is good. Marriage is God-given. Marriage may be blessed by God’s right hand, but it is given from God’s left hand.

In my last post, I linked to Ted Olson’s article providing a politically conservative rationale for same-sex marriage. I would argue that a political rationale is a theological rationale. The State is free to regulate marriage as it sees fit. Whether the Church chooses to bless a marriage is another question.

Next: some thoughts on marriage in the Bible.

The illustration of Martin and Katie's wedding came from the ELCA website. Please pray for the people of Haiti, and if you are able, give to their relief. Give through any reputable charity of your choice. ELCA Disaster Response is my choice.

The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

Theodore B. Olson presents good social and Constitutional arguments for same-sex marriage in an article in Newsweek. Read it here. It is not, of course, a theological case but gives us all something to think about.

If I agree with almost everything Olson says, does that make me a conservative?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Argument from Anatomy


In biblical times, the concept of sexual orientation did not exist. It was thought that sexual nature was determined by anatomy. If you had male parts you were male and you were expected to fulfill a culturally defined male role. Likewise, if you were born with female parts, you were expected to fulfill a culturally defined female sex role. To do otherwise was “unnatural.”

This, I believe, is the notion behind Paul’s references to “natural intercourse” in Romans 1:26-27.

Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

This argument from anatomy is also behind the condemnation of homosexual sex in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Leviticus is not a moral code, but a holiness code. It divides world into “clean” and “unclean.” Just as dirt is “matter out of place” (In the garden it’s earth. In the kitchen it’s dirt.) so, anything in the wrong place is “unclean.” Since male parts are not supposed to go with male parts, in this thinking, homosexual sex is prohibited.

Today we understand sexual nature to be a more complex matter of “chemistry, brain and hormones.” Still, the argument that anatomy determines sexual nature is sometimes heard. Last summer, David Housholder invoked the argument in a blog post.

Any fifteen- year old can tell you what part goes where (sexually).

That short line is a miniscule sound bite from a lengthy post. I disagree with most of what Housholder says in it, but will not subject you to the tedium of a point-by-point rebuttal. Instead, I will stay focused on my theme.

A creative fifteen year old can probably think of any number of ways that the various parts can be put together (sexually). A fifteen year old who, because of “chemistry, brain and hormones” is homosexual by nature will probably prefer to think of ways in which same-sex parts go together (sexually).

In biblical times homosexuality was thought of as unnatural. Today we know that same-sex attraction is a naturally occurring subset of human sexuality. Do the Bible’s condemnations of homosexual behavior still apply in the light of our current knowledge, or are there ways in which homosexuals can ethically express their love?

Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The phrase “matter out of place” is taken from Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, by Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Fortress Press, 1998, page 94. Durer's paintings of Adam and Eve were found here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Questions about Patriarchy, Slavery, Racism, Sexism...


If the Bible is patriarchal, does that mean God is patriarchal?
Does it mean that Christians should be patriarchal?

If the Bible is pro-slavery, does that mean God is pro-slavery?
Does it mean that Christians should be pro-slavery?

If the Bible is racist, does that mean God is a racist?
Does it mean that Christians should be racists?

If the Bible is sexist, does that mean God is a sexist?
Does it mean that Christians should be sexist?

If the Bible advocates genocide, does that mean God is genocidal?
Does it mean that Christians should be genocidal?

If the Bible is anti-Jewish, does that mean God is anti-Jewish?
Does it mean that Christians should be anti-Jewish?

And of course, if the Bible is homophobic, does that mean God is homophobic?
Does it mean that Christians should be homophobic?

Arguably the Bible is, at least in some parts, patriarchal, pro-slavery, racist, sexist, genocidal, anti-Jewish and homophobic. Also arguably, the Bible, at least in some parts, teaches us that God is not patriarchal, pro-slavery, etc. What does this mean for Christians and our use of Scripture?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Romans 1 and the Cause of Homosexuality


We do not know exactly what causes homosexuality. Research into the subject is ongoing. We can be quite sure, however, about some things that do not cause homosexuality. Bad parenting, for instance, does not cause homosexuality. In spite of the fact that some prominently placed preachers claim that a weak father and a domineering mother will create a homosexual boy, the best research says otherwise.

We can also be certain that idol worship does not cause homosexuality. Some homosexuals may worship graven images, but others are devout monotheists. I have known some homosexuals who are, in fact, committed, church-going, God-fearing, Jesus-loving, devout, dedicated, pious Christians.

Yet, in the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul states quite unequivocally that homosexuality is caused by idolatry.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:22-27)

Either we have here another case of the general revelation contradicting the special revelation or the Apostle Paul had in mind something other than what we know of homosexuality. From context, I am inclined to think that Paul was referring to orgiastic pagan temple rituals.

Again, though we may not know exactly what causes homosexuality, we do know that it occurs quite naturally. Yet, in Romans 1, Paul refers to homosexual sex as unnatural. In the time of the Apostle Paul, sexual identity was thought to be determined by anatomy. What kind of genitalia you were born with determined your sexual nature. We now understand sexual identity to be much more complex. Factors such as “chemistry, brain, and hormones” contribute to our sexual nature.

In an earlier post I wrote that the Bible does not say what we think it does about homosexuality. In fact, the Bible says nothing about homosexuality as an orientation. In the five passages that address the subject, the Scriptures are negative about homosexual behavior, but none of those passages can legitimately be used to universally condemn all homosexual behaviors. This does not mean that the biblical writers would approve of same-sex acts. The truth is we now understand homosexuality very differently than they did.

The quote from Romans is taken from the New Revised Standard Version. The phrase "chemistry, brain and hormones" is borrowed from The First Paul by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus J. Borg, HarperOne, 2009, page 163. I lifted Emil Nolde's painting of the the worship of the Golden Calf from this website.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In Memoriam

Art Clokey, the creator of Davey and Goliath, born October 12, 1921, entered eternal life January 8, 2010. I never knew the man, but I grew up with Davey and Goliath.

Rest eternal grant him, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him.

The image of Davey and Goliath came from their official website:

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Apostle Paul is Pulling Your Rug


Pulling the rug out from under your audience can be a powerful rhetorical strategy. First you raise their outrage against a common foe. Then, with a great “Aha!” you show them that they are that foe.

When King David seduced another man’s wife, and then arranged for that man to be killed in battle, he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, who told him the sad story of a poor man. This man’s pet lamb, Nathan said, was stolen and slaughtered by a wealthy man in spite of the fact that the wealthy man had many flocks of his own. The King, outraged, declared the wrongdoer worthy of death. Then Nathan pulled the rug out from under him. “Thou art the man,” he said in good King James English. You can read all about it in 2 Samuel 12.

Martin Luther also engaged in a little rug-pulling in a masterful Christmas sermon. He described the sad plight of the holy family who were cruelly turned away from the crowded inn so that Mary had to give birth to Jesus in a stable. Of course, he said, no one in his congregation would be so cold-hearted. Surely they would provide warmth and shelter for the newborn Savior. Then Luther accused them of hypocrisy for ignoring the needs of the poor, hungry and cold in their own midst.

In the first chapters of his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul used the same rhetorical strategy. First he engaged the Roman Christians’ outrage against the depravities of the pagans. God’s wrath burned against them because they worshipped idols! (Rom. 1:22-25). They were God-forsaken, engaging in depraved sex acts! (Rom. 1:26-27) And therefore…

They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Rom. 1:18-31)

It’s shocking! It’s horrible! They deserve to die! (Rom. 1:32). Right?

Rug-pulling is a powerful rhetorical strategy, but it is also a dangerous one. Like sarcasm, the one using this rug-pulling technique runs the risk that their audience just will not get it. Maybe they will tune out before they hear the point. Maybe someone will come along later and undermine the point by inserting a chapter break in the text just before the rug gets pulled.

I have said it before and I will say it again. Anyone who uses Romans 1:18 ff. as a blanket condemnation of homosexuals has not read as far as Romans 2:1.

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Thou art the man.

Still more to come.

I snagged Matthias Scheits' painting of David and Nathan from wikipedia.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Homosexuals and Haberdashery...


It was during the period of debate, discussion and study leading up to last summer’s Churchwide Assembly that I had a conversation with a pastor who belonged to one of the more conservative Lutheran church bodies. He said, “How can the ELCA even think about approving of homosexual relations when the Scriptures are so clear?” I told him, “Assuming that your question is sincere, I’ll answer it. But first let me ask you a question. Do the women in your congregation cover their heads when they pray?”

He knew what I was referring to. In 1 Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul takes up the question of head coverings. Men, he says, should pray with their heads bare, but women should cover their heads.

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “Paul was referring to a cultural custom. Besides, it was just one point in a larger argument.”

I said, “Exactly. And that’s how the ELCA can consider approving of same-sex relations. Paul’s references to homosexual acts were culturally conditioned. In our culture we understand homosexuality differently than he did. What’s more, in Romans 1 Paul mentions homosexual acts among the Gentiles as one point in a larger argument.”

Anyone who uses Romans 1:26-27 as a blanket condemnation of homosexuals apparently has not read as far as Romans 2:1.

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Paul’s point is not that homosexuals are sinners, but that everyone is a sinner, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23)

More to come.

Scriptures quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version. I found Raphael’s painting of Paul preaching, bareheaded, here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Story So Far

It might be wise, at this point, to recap some of what I have been saying about the Bible and homosexuality.

First, the general revelation, i.e. reason and experience, has given us a new understanding of homosexuality. We now recognize that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexual orientation. This new understanding was foreign to the thinking of the biblical writers.

Second, while the book of Leviticus prohibits same-sex acts, the prohibition applied only to the men of Israel (not to women, nor to Gentiles). The Levitical code is not a moral code but a purity code. It was intended to set Israel apart from other nations as the Lord’s people. Christians freely disregard most of the laws found in Leviticus.

Third, there are three passages of the New Testament that address same-sex acts. I’ve looked at two of them. The Greek word malakoi occurs at 1 Corinthians 6:9. It literally means “softs” and is, I think, approximately equivalent to the derogatory English term “sissies.” The word arsenokoitai (literally “man-beds”) is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. This word is notably difficult to translate, as 1 Corinthians is its first known occurrence. It is likely, though by no means certain, that both of these words describe practitioners of some homosexual act. Neither of them can legitimately be translated as “homosexuals” since the concept of homosexuality did not exist in biblical times. Nor can they be taken as a condemnation of same-sex marriage as that concept did not exist in biblical times either. This does not, of course, mean that the writers of the Bible would approve of same-sex marriage. Even had they shared our new understanding of homosexuality, we cannot say what they would have thought.

In my next post I will be looking at the last of the New Testament passages dealing with same-sex acts, Romans 1:18 ff.