Unsettled Christianity

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Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

July 28th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Paraphrasing Genesis

The first chapter of B'reshit, or Genesis, wri...

The first chapter of B’reshit, or Genesis, written on an egg, in the Jerusalem museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The more I study Genesis, the more profound it becomes. I am not an OT or a Hebrew guy, but digging deep into Genesis has almost made me wish I was. Genesis is the result of so much reflection and is the spawn of much more. But, I have yet to find a commentary suitable to reading. After all, Genesis is story. Genesis is narrative. Genesis contains the beginning of Israel and the people of God. Genesis cannot simply be parsed into verses and pericopes but must be read as a continual whole. Every passage reaches back to another — and throughout Scripture we see other authors reaching back to it.

And we miss so much when we leave the text to find another.

So I’ve tossed around doing one long running paraphrase of Genesis that is part commentary (or rather, making use of other commentaries) without the footnotes or sidebars. Rather, these rather important details are themselves incorporated into the story. I’d imagine it at a running dialogue of sorts about God telling Moses the story. Like a third person annotated account of the supposed interaction between the Divine and the created.

How would I begin? I mean, Genesis 1.1 seems to begin mid-sentence with an ongoing action behind it. And, as a Christian, I cannot help but read Genesis 1.1 in light of John 1.1. Shoot, I cannot help but read Genesis in light of Jesus. (sorry for the pun.)

I’d begin with something like this:


The indomitable human spirit does not need a beginning; rather, the myths we tell rightly begin where we have noticed the divine and the Divine, having noticed us, sees it as his chance to tame us. This should be an easy task, thinks the Titan of Time, but unlike coalescing covalent bonds to create atoms (the same bond humans would work to break apart and thereby destroy cities) and then atomic structures and then to build light from photons and therefore bring about life — to tame the human spirit is impossible.

Whenever we see “in the beginning” we cannot so easily imagine that there was a time God was not Creator. This is instead a place, not a time as there is only place with God. Likewise, when we see “land” created we cannot help but to think that this is actually the creation of the Eretz Yisrael.

God tells Moses not of the creation of the entire cosmos and world, but of the carefully crafting of the land of the Jews, the covenanted land to where Moses is going. This isn’t that difficult to ponder, really. After all, if you stand on the shores of Tyre or Joppa, well, the world ends when Israel does – the world ends where the chaos of the ocean begins…

And of course, it would go on from there.

May 21st, 2015 by Joel Watts

Breasts and the end of the penis

"Isaac’s Circumcision"

“Isaac’s Circumcision” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my Thursday morning bible study class we are going through Genesis, albeit slowly. Why? Because you miss a lot when you read it fast. You miss the nuance. You miss the way the translations move things around and hide things. You miss the euphemisms. You miss solid discussion about what Scripture meant, what it means, and what it can mean. And you miss ways to read it that may make it more interesting.

For instance, we were previewing Genesis 17 for next week. It is here we are introduced to El Shaddai, often translated as God Almighty (because of the Greek, not the Hebrew). Better, it is God All-Sufficient. I say better because there are different understandings of the Shaddai bit. My Jewish Study Bible says “God from the Mountain” (in the notes). The translation really depends upon where you think the Hebrew loan word came from.

Some suppose it is to be translated as “breasted one.” Only if we demand a gender for God do we start to wonder if God is a male or female. I do not. I think we have ways of describing God that includes mother, breasts, etc… We see this really developed with Sophia and Logos. But, I digress. This is supposed to be a funny post.

We are introduced to El Shaddai in Genesis 17, just a few verses before the covenant of circumcision was given. I don’t mean to cut you short here, but that’s dang near funny. Especially if you read it from the point of a Breasted God giving Abraham the command to take a knife to his 86 year old penis. As some in the class pointed out, I mean.

I would never laugh at such a prospect.

“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it” – GK Chesterton.

Laughter is an invitation. 

April 6th, 2015 by Joel Watts

CTP: Noah, the First Messiah (Genesis 6–9)

This week’s reading will be Genesis 6–9, but I’m pretty sure this will take us a few weeks to get through so don’t make any giant reading efforts…because there is a flood of theology here. Sorry if the puns are so wooden, but I guess that ship has sailed.

The First Mourning

The First Mourning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” Genesis 5.29

There is little wonder why Noah is such an enigmatic person, figuring heavily into later Jewish literature, including the New Testament. He, alone of all the human race, found favor in the eyes of God. He and his immediate family survived the great worldwide flood. Was it chance? Did he earn it?

It does not appear Noah was merited grace, but was divinely appointed to have grace, or favor in God’s eyes. If you look at what Lamech says, Noah was always meant to do what Noah did. I do not think we can look at it any other way except to say Noah was… shivers… preordained…. shivers…to do what he did.

In looking at this further, Cain’s line did not care nor really experience the curse. After all, they had time to build the industry of civilization as well as enjoy its luxury. They created poetry, music, and the cities of the antediluvian world. Seth and his descendents, however, seemed to dwell only on the land, worshiping God as evidenced by Enoch’s story.

But, then comes Lamech (son of Seth) who sees in the birth of his son the end of God’s cursing of Adam. Noah, whose name means “Rest,” flips the notion of the flood as giving rest to the gods. In Gilgamesh, the gods are tired of humans who cause all sorts of disturbances to the gods, thus they curse the humans by sending a flood. In Genesis, Noah is the Rest that undoes the curse given by God to the humans as well as the wickedness that has arisen to the ear of God.

The Mesopotamian gods sent the flood because the disturbances of the human world were preventing them from getting rest. So in that case, the flood provided rest for the gods. Here Noah is rather associated with bringing rest for people from the curse of the gods.1

We can look at the birth of Noah in several different ways. If we stick strictly to the Genesis account, we see something that doesn’t quite make it into our Western theology. The curse of Adam was upon the soil. Noah relieves that curse. (By the way, the soil is the same place from which Abel’s blood cries out.) He gives it rest (Sabbath, and if so, think of the implications of this consider the notion of Rest throughout Scripture).

You can find more about Noah here.

Genesis 6:

If you look at Genesis 4 and 5, you will see a summarized, straight down the line, genealogy and history from Adam to Noah. But, beginning in Genesis 6, the story starts over with the history of the human race spreading over the earth. Then daughters are born. That’s when things start to mess up. The angels (sons of God) see them, fall in love, and do what angels and humans are apt to do, I guess. Before you get too far ahead, look at Numbers 13.33. The offspring of angel and humans were herculean heroes.

In the middle of this, God declares something missed in many translations.

In Genesis 6.3, the KJV and some others make it seem like God is saying He (or His Spirit) will not always be with the human race. Yet, other translations drive the point home better. (See here for different translations compared.)

In the ESV, Genesis 6.3 reads: Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

The REB says it pretty much the same way: “My spirit will not remain in a human being for ever…” which is why the lifespan of the human is now to 120.

I think this fits well with the overall notion of God breathing into Adam and giving him a living soul. God’s breath, the divine spark, is placed into humans but cannot remain there long (thus, death).

Look again at the introduction to the story of the Flood. Genesis 6 doesn’t tell you much about when all of this is taking place. God gives humans 120 years, yet the genealogies are still extensively long. Shem lived 502 years! Genesis 6.4 says “in those days as well as later” meaning, possibly, the prologue here is not meant to be placed on a calendar, but to serve some grander purpose.

For some reason, the giants are placed in the prologue but not given as the cause of the Flood. What is the cause?

I think that once we really talk about Noah — what it means that he was to lift God’s curse of Adam’s sin, what he means that he “found favor” with God (Genesis 6.8), and how the prologue looks a whole lot different when one actually reads it, we are going to be done with our hour-ish!

There are some suggestions the Noahic flood is copied/modified/uses/borrows Babylonian flood stories. There are equal suggestions that Noah’s flood is a real event (even though some suggest while it was real it was real only for Noah’s world, i.e., an isolate geographical location).


If you examine the lineage of Cain and Seth, you will names that are either the same or phonetically similar:


For fun and I wouldn’t base a lot of theology on this, you can see this post here. It includes the name similarities and even some supposed hidden meanings in the names themselves.

Also, as we discussed last week, there are several possible reasons why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice but accepted Abel’s. One of them may have to do with Abel as the second son, a common theme in Scripture. Or, it could have something to do with the animal is always the sacrifice. But, I think we should look at the similarities in the Adam/Evan and Cain/Abel story. Both sin. Both are exiled. Of course, Cain is moved further away from Eden than Adam and Eve where. But, look at the similarities between the first clothing Adam chose — the fig leaf. God then took animal skins. Cain offered fruits and vegetables (figs?) but Abel offered after the pattern of God.

  1. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 5:32.
March 31st, 2015 by Joel Watts

CTP Bible Study Class – Genesis 4–5

English: Cain and Abel; as in Genesis 4; illus...

English: Cain and Abel; as in Genesis 4; illustration from the Sunrays quarterly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, we will begin to cover Genesis 4–5. This is not a lot because you can skip chapter 5 after Genesis 5.1-2. Indeed, 5.1-2 seems to be real important.

So, what happens in Genesis 4? Well, this is the first sacrifice. The first jealousy. The first anger. The first murder. The third baby boy.

As you can imagine, there exists several millennia of commentary on these chapters. This is a summary of some Jewish commentary. Here is a singler, modern, source. This is from the Book of Jubilees.

This is a set of stories that shows Cain and Abel in different cultural contexts.

This is a modern commentary, not necessarily Jewish or Christian.

One of the things you need to look at is 5.1-2 and how Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve re-creates Creation.

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

That returns us to Genesis 1.26–27 but adds to this. Now, we have a blessing and a naming.

Why does that happen? Why does the editor/author/redactor feel the need to restate this seminal point at the beginning of Seth’s line?

March 16th, 2015 by Joel Watts

CTP Class — Reactions to Eden (Genesis 3.8-24)

Creation of Adam ( )

Creation of Adam ( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to do something a little different with our reading of Genesis. As I have said from the beginning, if we read Scripture as Christians we should do so at some point in that cycle (the ‘T’ in CTP) canonically. Because of this, I want to read Genesis 3.8–24 next to later understandings of the text from within Scripture.

If you have just the books in the Protestant canon, you will miss the development of Adam and the Fall. Let’s define the Fall just a bit. This is the usual notion that Adam’s eating of the fruit brought death and despair to all people who are also his descendents. Only in Christ is the remedy found. But, this almost requires a particular view of how hold the earth is and where we all came from, i.e, Adam about 6000 years ago.

There are other alternatives that rely on Reason, and Tradition to interpret Scripture. For one, Adam could be Israel, or representative of Israel (perhaps even an ancient tribal king). Since the Old Testament doesn’t mention Adam any more, nor afford any cause of the condition of humanity to him, it is likely Adam is simply a progenitor of Israel. Remember, Israel is the only one with covenants with God and is a product of a covenant. It is better to see Adam as the first human in covenant with God. Another thing to think about — there is no sin outside of the covenant (just as there is not rewards from God outside the covenant). So, Adam could still bring sin to the world (i.e., the knowledge of what it means to be without God) because he finally knew what it meant to be with God.

A side note, and you don’t have to agree with me. I see Adam as the first person God covenanted with. This is not the first of humans, although he is the first of God’s creation, with creation remaining not the physical but the method of God and humans. Adam is the first of living beings, so Eve is the mother of living beings, with living being defined in Genesis 2 as “living soul.” When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they took with them the knowledge of God and in doing so, the covenant and hope of God which culminates in Christ. Is Adam historical? Maybe. Could be. But not as the first human, but as the first human in God’s plan. 

A few verses to consider when seeing the theology of  Adam and his sin develop. We see it really take off in what we Second Temple Judaism. Both of the books below are in Catholic and Orthodox bibles as well as Anglican Articles of Religion, deuterocanonical lists, and liturgies (PDF).

  • Wisdom 2.23–24 and Wisdom 10.1–2. I think these are very important, especially when exploring how wisdom became Wisdom, the female attribute of God and how she saved Adam because of his sin. (Compare this to 1 Co. 1.24.)
  • Sirach 15:14; 17:1-4; 25:24; 40:1; 49:16. Sirach 25.24 is particularly important given how many see Eve as the root cause of the sin.

I favor a date of 50BCE for Wisdom, placing it among the Hellenized Jews (perhaps in Alexandria. Hellenized means those Jews who used Greco-Roman philosophy to interpret Judaism). Sirach shows some Hellenization, but is dated much earlier. Both are used by the writers of the NT, which I also afford a certain measurement of Hellenization.

St. Paul, then, is the first of those we could call Christian to use Adam as a means to understand Christ.

In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul uses Adam as a way to exalt Christ and the benefits of the Resurrection. He does this only by comparison, with Wisdom’s view of Adam’s death in mind. See:

  • 1 Corinthians 15.22 and 1 Corinthians 15.45–47.

However, in Romans 5.12–21, St. Paul gives us something more. He gives us a new reaction to the Genesis story.  Adam is no longer just a comparison between the temporal and the eternal, but now provides a problem Jesus resolves. Focus specifically on Romans 5.15, but look at different translations (especially the Revised English Bible’s translation of this).1

For those following along elsewhere, last week I asked for songs that make use of the Adam and Eve story. This time, I am thinking of songs that remind us of God’s grace or perhaps, better, what we want to think of God’s grace.

Back to Genesis 3.8–24. Look at God’s reaction to Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Look especially at God’s fear in 3.22–24.

Admittedly, I’m more interested in St. Paul’s reaction than I am God’s, but…

Also, Prince is now covering Nicole Nordeman.

  1. “But God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam’s wrongdoing. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many, its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of that one man, Jesus Christ.”
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