Wondering about Biblical Anthropology and African Kings

Here’s a post to get you all pondering the real meaning of Genesis.

I recently ran back across two odd little websites I had found a couple years ago, namely Just Genesis and Biblical Anthropology. The two blogs are run by Alice C. Linsley, an Orthodox Christian anthropologist. She is essentially on a one-woman project to correct bad interpretations of Genesis by studying the book from the perspective of anthropological study. She makes use of genetics, archaeology, studies in ancient mythology, and other such things to understood Genesis in a way which, she claims, is far more faithful to the text, the culture, and reality itself than the common approaches.

That said, Linsley has no interest in being a revisionist or progressive or liberal or whatever else. Her goal, as far as I can honestly ascertain, is simply to understand the Bible as God gave it. For example, in a welcome post to new readers of Just Genesis, she says:

People often say “I read the Bible, but I don’t understand it.” It is important to pray for wisdom before reading the Bible, seeking the Spirit’s guidance to understand and not misrepresent Scripture. People who insist on using Bible verses as ammunition in disagreements are not under the Spirit’s guidance. They are attempting to co-opt Scripture to serve their agenda.

Understanding the Bible requires looking at the material with fresh eyes. If you are attempting to force the material into a pre-conceived idea, you will never see the big picture. Outdated and erroneous interpretations are set aside when fresh eyes investigate the Scriptures. Biblical Anthropology is simply another tool to help us better understand God’s plan for humanity as it is revealed in the Bible. Biblical Anthropology does not rely on a single discipline, but rather seeks to understand by looking at how Biblical data aligns with findings in multiple sciences, including linguistics, DNA studies, anthropology, archaeology, and climate studies.

So, what’s so interesting about the way that Linsley reads Genesis? I won’t go into too much detail, but here are a few of her more notable claims:

  • The Hebrews of Genesis were actually the same as the Horites, a red-skinned, ruler-priestly clan who first originated in Saharan Africa, not Mesopotamia. In fact, much of Genesis 1-11 takes place in Africa, not Mesopotamia.
  • The genealogies of Genesis 4-5 are not simple birth genealogies, but Horite king lists, and this can be demonstrated on solid anthropological grounds.
  • Cain and Seth were Horite kings who married daughters of Enoch, another important African king.
  • Adam is therefore either a literary archetype for the father of the human race or perhaps a literal ancestor of the Horites.
  • Noah was an African king, and the Flood which affected his entire kingdom (colloquially the “whole world”) probably came from the Nile.

But perhaps the most interesting part of her project is the connection of Israel’s Messianic hope with the Egyptian religion of the Horites. According to Linsley, the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 actually was originally understood as a kind of Messianic promise (contrary to the conclusions of many modern scholars). This hope was developed and carried on by the Horites (read: Hebrews), who in the early days worshipped God by the Egyptian name Ra and his Son by the name Horus. They anticipated a day when Horus would come and save them, perhaps by his death. (This amounts to an inversion of many secular Horus/Jesus theories: many accuse the Jesus story of robbing from old myths like of Horus, but Linsley basically argues that the Horus myth was the development of a divine promise which Jesus actually fulfilled.)

Honestly, I’m neither an anthropologist, nor an Old Testament scholar, nor a student of Ancient Near East history and culture (or, if Linsley is right, Nilo-Sarahic). So I have no clear way to judge the plausibility of her claims, and I do have to wonder why no one else has picked up on this if it’s actually true. Nonetheless, if there happens to be any truth to what she says, it would be massively important to interpreting Genesis. This makes me very curious, and I wish I could find someone scholarly enough to check on what she says. If anyone has leads on that, let me know. In the meantime, poke around and see what you think about Alice Linsley’s work.

Two Thoughts from 1 Corinthians

I was reading 1 Corinthians 1-2 this morning and ran across a couple of passages that really stuck out to me. They speak fairly well for themselves (isn’t Scripture good about that?), but I will highlight the basic thoughts in them that I found so compelling.

The first passage is 1 Corinthians 1:17-31. But I won’t quote all of that here, which would be rather long. So I’ll just present the heart of it.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.

Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

From the beginning, the Gospel has appeared foolish or even blasphemous to the rest of the world. The Jews thought it absolutely unacceptable that their Messiah would suffer crucifixion, much more so in the impossible situation of Him being God Incarnate. The Greeks, well, just thought the whole story was kind of dumb. But today it is little different. Christ crucified is a stumbling block to those who are all about success and self-advancement (*cough*Trump*cough*), a group increasingly large in our increasingly corporate world. The idea that a man who lived 2000 years ago spoke truths which carry divine authority even today is ridiculous to self-styled intellectuals. The claim that there is only one name given under heaven by which men may be saved sounds like blasphemy to a culture all about inclusion and multiculturalism. All of the Gospel, if you’re not just too used to it to noticed, sounds completely insane apart from the experience of its power. This is just something I keep noticing all of the time in relation to so many philosophies and politics and worldviews. Democrat or Republican, atheist or theist, rich or poor, Jesus sounds ridiculous and contradictory to all of the cultural defaults.

The other passage I notice is at the end of 1 Corinthians 2. People often get the meaning of verse 9 wrong. What do I mean?

But as it is written:

What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind — God prepared this for those who love Him.

Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. For

who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him?

But we have the mind of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 2:9-16

This passage comes right after Paul’s further argument about human vs. divine wisdom, and the power of the Spirit over and against the persuasive power of rhetoric. Verse 9 is often treated as a statement about the unimaginability of heaven. No eye or hear or head has a clue what’s coming! But that’s exactly not the point Paul is making. He’s making a point about the divine wisdom of the Gospel and its foolishness to men. This verse shows that no one was ever expecting what God did in Christ for us. God’s plans for us in the Gospel had never been seen before, heard before, or imagined by a human mind. If they had, as per verse 8, no one would have killed Jesus. But instead, Paul goes on to argue that even though this stuff was hidden before, we now know it. We have the Spirit of God, who is the only one to know the deep secrets of God. Because we have the Spirit, we know the secrets of the Gospel, not because we had seen or heard or known before, but because we have been taught the truths of the Spirit. We now have the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit, which means that we are those who know the Lord’s mind and understand what God has prepared for us. We know by revelation. There is nothing hidden anymore.

2 Biblical Issues I Think Calvinism Gets Wrong

I really am a rare breed when it comes to the debate over Calvinism/election/predestination/sovereignty. There are a lot of studied Calvinists who were once unlearned (and often non-professing, de facto) Arminians. Likewise, there are enough ex-Calvinists (who are now usually Arminians, Catholics, or unbelievers) who never knew the system well, and still repeat common misunderstandings and misconceptions about what it teaches and how it works. What you have relatively few of are ex-Calvinists who knew the doctrine well, in all of its ins and outs, with nuance, precision, and depth, able to mount detailed and comprehensive arguments both for the 5 points themselves and the basic system of causal determinism that accompanies them so readily, especially ones who are still Christians and don’t hate Calvinism. I fall into this latter camp, and I do not mean by the description I gave to “toot my own horn.” My point is rather to identify where I am coming from. Very little of the normal debate involves people from this place, and it cuts off some of the normal lines of argument.

Anyway, from this unusual perspective I just want to offer two simple Biblical points that I think Calvinism just doesn’t get right. This is not stuff at the theoretical, complex theological, or moral level, just two problems that involve Biblical interpretation. Hopefully this will provide some food for thought, or perhaps even provide a place for constructive dialogue.

  1. Biblical use of election: Calvinism frames mostly all discussion of election/the elect in terms of an unconditionally chosen collection of individuals destined for eternal salvation. This does not seem to ring true with the actual Biblical use. Bearing in mind that to elect literally means to select or choose, most of the incidents of election do not appear to fall in line with this systematic concept. Election doesn’t usually appear to be about all the individuals who are going to be saved. Instead, it appears as God’s choice of a people or an individual for a specific purpose in redemptive history. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all Israel, Moses, Aaron and his descendants, the Levites, King David and his descendants, even King Cyrus, Jesus, the Twelve, Paul, and the Church all were chosen, selected by God to accomplish particular tasks for God’s design in the midst of history. These people and groups are truly elect, that is, chosen by God. This isn’t to say that God said, “Let’s make sure this person gets to heaven,” but rather that He picked and called them to do His will, bear His word, and share His blessings. Going right along with this, these elect groups and individuals were not chosen merely for their own sake or salvation. Their very election was the grounds of blessing for those who were not elected. Israel was elected to bless the rest of the world (Gen. 12:3, Mic. 4:1-3, cf. Gal. 3:8). Moses was chosen for a role and relationship with God unique in all history (Exod. 3:10, Deut. 34:10), yet this election was for the liberation of all Israel. Jesus is referred to literally as the Elect One of God (Lk. 9:35), and His mission was clearly not for His own benefit, but “for us and for our salvation,” as the Creed says. When taken all together, the picture of God’s choosing is one of graciously bestowing a call, a word, and a blessing on historical persons and groups in order to accomplish His redemptive purpose. This is what I believe the Scriptures generally mean when they speak of God’s chosen ones/elect. (Granted, this does not mean the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and reprobation is false. At most it simply means that, true or false, “election” would be the wrong Biblical word for it. Yet I think that this alternate understanding of the terminology removes much of the weight behind the occurrence of words like “elect” from general Calvinist argument.)
  2. Limited atonement: I am convinced that limited atonement is the weakest point of Calvinism, and I am convinced of this primarily on exegetical grounds. When it comes to the plain statement of Scripture, I think there are few other doctrines without Christian orthodoxy with as little support. Generally, texts cited in favor of limited atonement rely entirely on deductions. John 10 is applied by extracting certain logical deductions from a certain reading of the text. Phrases like “save His people from their sins” and “gave Himself up for her [His bride]” are taken to imply that what they say is not true in any sense to people besides the immediate referents. Texts worded so that they could mean Jesus only died for the elect are taken as they they must mean so, and on that basis texts worded so that it seems abundantly clear that Jesus died for all are taken as though they cannot mean so. Basically, the most direct statements in Scripture on the matter (e.g. Heb. 2:9, 2 Cor. 5:15, 1 Tim. 2:5-6) are interpreted more difficulty based on logical interpretative deductions from less explicit passages (e.g. John 10, Eph. 5). Yet Scripture interpretation is meant to run in the opposite direction: passages less directly about a particular topic ought to be read primarily in light of the more clear and direct statements on it. In the case of atonement, “He died for all” is much more clear and direct than, “the Bible says Jesus lay down His life for His sheep, therefore He must not have intended to die on behalf of anyone who is not ultimately saved.” The latter sounds like it makes sense, but is a couple interpretive steps down the road, and if those steps don’t mesh with the prior clear statements, they ought to be reevaluated.

Well, those are what I’ve got for now. I could write more on each of these, especially the first, and perhaps I will. Nonetheless, this is a basic overview of two major Biblical objections I see to Calvinism. There is probably one other major Biblical category, all further theological, philosophical, and moral questions aside, but I will get to it some other time.

As always, I do not wish anyone take any offense, for I am not on the offense. I’m mostly writing this to keep you guys informed on where I’m coming from, and to invite anyone who has questions about my views to find answers. I still love Calvinists and respect Calvinism far more than any other ex-Calvinist I’ve met, so make sure to take it all in benevolence. Until next time, may God bless you and keep you.

Don’t Believe What Everyone in the Bible Says

Narrator and character. Biographer and subject. Whenever people talk in a written work, there is a difference between how you are supposed to take the words of the author versus the words the author wrote down from various people.

For a quick example, consider the following text:

Suddenly, out of nowhere a large, metallic woman appeared out of nowhere. “It’s my mother!” Dornob exclaimed. Little did he know just how wrong he was.

In this text, two people make statements. The first is the narrator. He is (in most writings) assumed to be correct. The other person saying things is Dornob. He is a character in the story, and unless the narrator tells you that Dornob is infallible or just right, we assume that he is no more or less reliable than the average bear. In this particular case, Dornob is quite wrong, and the narrator tells us so. Of course, the narrator doesn’t have to tell us explicitly that Dornob is wrong for him to be wrong. Past, future, or outside material may make that clear.

This same logic applies to real world writings, too. A reporter can write a piece on the events of the day, but that doesn’t mean he thinks every person he quotes is correct. Sometimes he’ll say so specifically, but other times he may quote something someone said that he knows is not entirely correct without comment, simply because we know he doesn’t agree 100% with everyone he interviews.

To most of you, this probably sounds like common sense (if I’m speaking clearly, that is). But for a lot of people, this basic logic seems to disappear when the Bible is involved. What do I mean? I’ll jump to an example:

His servants asked him, “What did you just do? While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food.”

He answered, “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:21-23

Now, this text is in narrative form. The author is telling a (historical) story. So we have to remember that there’s a difference between what the author/narrator says and what the people he is writing abut in the narrative say. The author was divinely inspired, but the the people he wrote about were just people saying what people say. We would probably agree already that the servants didn’t say anything divinely inspired, so what about David? He is just a person in the narrative, and he is not the inspired author/narrator. Therefore we should also read his words as merely his own, not divinely inspired.

Of course, if you recognize this verse, you may see where this is going. Many Christians use verse 23 to argue that infants who die go to “heaven” (something I do believe, by the way). After all, the Bible says that David would go to his baby, right? Completely wrong. The author/narrator under the inspiration of the Spirit does not say that David will go to be with his child. David himself said that, and the author of 2 Samuel just wrote down what David had said. David had just sinned against God big time, and he had just lost his child. There is no special reason to think that he is speaking God’s words here. Seeing his child again was his own expectation, which could be right or wrong. (As a side note, since God had revealed so little about life after death at this point, David probably wasn’t talking about heaven. He probably just meant they would be together in the grave.)

There are other examples of this kind of thing throughout the Bible. For example, David, the same person from before, lied in 1 Samuel 21 (which was written by the same author, probably). The author doesn’t specifically say that David lied, but the story shows he did. In Genesis 30:18, Jacob’s wife Leah says that God has rewarded her for letting Jacob make a baby with her slave girl, and the text never mentions that she was wrong, but we know from the whole of Scripture that polygamy is wrong.

We always, then, have to make a distinction between what the inspired author says himself and what the people he is writing about said. Otherwise, we can be led into any error of the people the Bible talks about. But since we don’t trust everything the Pharisees, the serpent, or lying Jacob said, we must also remember that we can’t trust everything even the good people said when they are just characters in the story, not the author.

Basically, don’t believe what everyone in the Bible says.

May God Destroy You and Your Children

Isn’t the Bible so wonderful? Day after day, we are presented on Facebook with the many inspiring and heart-warming promises and truths from the Good Book. We all know them. We can be confident in all our pursuits since “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Never do we need to worry about the future, because Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you—this is the Lord’s declaration—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Yes indeed, we have many sweet hopes to cling to in the Bible. But not everything is quite like you’d think. Truthfully, most of the pretty little quotes we pull out of the Bible—especially the Old Testament—and put on pillows are arbitrarily ripped out of context. They sound nice, so we use them without paying any attention to the who, what, when, where, and why behind them. This, however, isn’t an entirely appropriate way to handle God’s written word.

To see what I mean, think about verses like these:

Let his children wander as beggars, searching for food far from their demolished homes. Let a creditor seize all he has; let strangers plunder what he has worked for.

Psalm 109:10-11

Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 137:9

I will bring distress on mankind, and they will walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung.

Zephaniah 1:17

Indeed, I am about to send snakes among you, poisonous vipers that cannot be charmed. They will bite you. This is the Lord’s declaration.

Jeremiah 8:17

You will eat your children, the flesh of your sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you during the siege and hardship your enemy imposes on you. The most sensitive and refined man among you will look grudgingly at his brother, the wife he embraces, and the rest of his children, refusing to share with any of them his children’s flesh that he will eat because he has nothing left during the siege and hardship your enemy imposes on you in all your towns.

Deuteronomy 28:53-55

None of these have quite the same inspirational quality, do they? They’re actually a bit scary and difficult. But without context, there’s no less reason to think that these apply to us than that the happy stuff does. What, after all, makes Jeremiah 8:17 different from Jeremiah 29:11?

So what? Are we, again especially with the Old Testament, forbidden from quoting anything to encourage? Clearly not. Paul does this himself on multiple occasions. But if we can do encouraging quotes rightly, how do we do so?

Basically, the key word is context. We have to pay attention to the who, what, when, where, and why. To make my point simple, I’ll just dive into two examples.

First, an example of my scary verses. Deuteronomy 28:53-55 speaks of God sending such a harsh judgment that people in their distress will resort to eating their own children, and even then not sharing any with others. So what’s the context? Can this be applied to us? In the passage’s original place in Deuteronomy, God is declaring the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant to Israel. If they obeyed His laws, they would receive many blessings. If they disobeyed, they would receive many curses, including this one. Of course, we modern Gentile believers are not under the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant in Christ (Heb. 9:15). There are no curses in the New Covenant (Rom. 8:1, Gal. 3:13). This means this passage clearly is not about us.

There is, however, a twist. Even though this passage does not directly apply to us, such a harsh judgment does reveal the intensity and severity of God’s condemnation against sin. How serious must disobedience be if God even punished Israel by letting their enemies terrorize them so much that they ate their children? And if God would provide such a punishment to those who received only types and shadows, how much greater will those who refuse the fully revealed salvation of God’s only Son be punished (cf. Heb. 2:2-3)? Moreover, if Jesus bore the full wrath of God for our sin, how much of a sacrifice must that have been! So even though this passage isn’t directly about us, there are applications which affect us.

Now for an example of thinking context through for the happy verses. I’ll take Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…” What was the original context of this verse? Jeremiah was writing a letter to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. In verse 10, he told them that God promised to bring them back to Israel after 70 years. The good plans involved Israel’s return to the promised land. God’s judgment, the Exile, was not His last word, because His plans were for their good. Again, then, we run into a verse which is not directly about us. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to and for exiled Jews in Babylon to reassure them of God’s promise to bring them back to Israel. We are obviously not in the same situation, so this verse is not about us.

Even still, there is clearly a way that this verse can be applied to us. We who are the Church are the true Israel, according to the New Testament. We are not at home in this broken age; we are exiles waiting for our restoration when God makes the New Heavens and New Earth. And God has promised to do this, to bring us safely home to the recreation of the new age. He will indeed resurrect us just as He did His beloved Son, who brought the beginning of the kingdom to the world. Like the exiled Jews, God is promising to bring us safely home. For “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Therefore Jeremiah 29:11 can actually be applied to us as well, just in a secondary way.

Hopefully these two examples are helpful. The Bible is filled with texts which were written neither to us nor about us, but all of them were still written for our benefit (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When we look at the Scriptures, we must be discerning, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Many verses are not directly to us, but they do have wider applications which affect us. This is especially the case when looking at the Old Testament. Only context (both the immediate context and the context within the whole story of the Bible) can tell us exactly what is for, about, or to us. So let’s keep that in mind, that we may be approved by God.