Literal Meanings of the Bible
Written by: Robert D Brinsmead
The following are comments made in reply to people who have put forward to me, ideas on various texts of the bible. I have attempted to answer these questions with an assurance that my whole approach is governed by the principle that there are no bad guys; only bad ideas.
Genesis 2-3 is a simple story, much like many versions of the same story doing the rounds in the ancient world of the Nuclear Near East. They are stories that try to explain the human condition, answering such basic questions as are alluded to in Genesis 3, – Why do we have to strive against a harsh environment to scratch out a living, or why does the ground tend to grow thorns and weeds? Why are animals so destructive or even dangerous to humanity? Why do women have such difficulty in childbirth unlike most of the other animals? Why are women supposed to be under male authority? Why are humans alone born naked, without a natural covering like the other creature and why is shame associated with nakedness? Why does a snake, which is cunning enough to keep living by shedding its old skin, go on its belly? Why all these curses – curse this and curse that, curse the ground, curse the snake, curse on the woman, curse of death, etc. Why must humans die?
All these matters are specifically raised in the story, and are simply answered: Man sinned and was expelled from the environment of the peaceful garden where he could have had access to the tree of life and live forever.
I don’t believe that this interpretation is embedded in the story and in fact, your interpretation of it is contrary to the sense of the story anyhow. I suggest that the principle of ‘Occam’s Razor’ means that the most simple and obvious explanation is generally, as in science, the right one.
Taking the text at face value as Judaism, Christianity and Islam has done for thousands of years makes about as much sense today as denying the findings of Galileo and continuing to belong to the Flat Earth Society. Besides, the old story is not compatible with a more humane view of God. The God of that old story is mean, jealous, and retributive.
Oh, there is just one more point: You said there was nothing in this Genesis story that contains the Zoroastrian idea of a great conflict between the sons of light and the sons of darkness – this very basic religious outlook that
On the question of the Genesis story containing the Zoroastrian idea of a great conflict between the sons of light and the sons of darkness; this is a very basic outlook that divides humanity into the good guys versus the bad guys, and this cursed paradigm has for 3000 years stuck to humanity like glue. For example; “I will put enmity [hatred] between you [the Serpent] and the woman, between her children and your children (complete with imagery of bruising heels and crushing heads).” Ah yes, surely this brings to mind some OT passages wherein God brags about crushing the heads of his enemies, and the Psalmist glories in dashing the heads of little children against the rock. God is portrayed in the sacred text as a head crushing God, no ifs or buts about it. So the God of OT scripture orders his people to get out there and utterly kill their enemies – God’s enemies -, men, women and little children, and not have any pity on them. Really? Can you imagine Jesus telling us to kill masses of people, including little children, without showing any pity on them? Well, the Crusaders did!
Yes, I know there are those Christian scholars who are embarrassed about the very sadistic and inhuman doctrine of the blood atonement. They are therefore re-working the Pauline texts to find a more humane interpretation. I don’t accept their efforts to rescue the sacred texts. They are turning all kinds of summersaults to show that Paul does not say what he appears to say. I not only can see what Paul says but I even know the background of his ideas. We should take his statements at face value even if that makes us cringe. He means exactly what he says: the sacrifice of Christ was offered to propitiate God’s wrath, it was retributive justice, it was the apocalyptic Judgment Day of God’s wrath against sin when Hell, deeper than anything in graphic imaginings, opened its maw and devoured God’s son – instead of us, in the place of and as a substitute for us. So in Paul, God spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he gave himself for our sins, we are saved from wrath through him, etc. Hebrews is not out of harmony with this line of thought when it says, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Or Matthew, “this is my blood, shed for many for the remission of sin.”
The moderate Muslims are now trying to show that the Muslim Fundamentalists (terrorists) are misusing their sacred text, taking it out of context and misinterpreting passages from the Qur’an. They are not. They are just taking their sacred text at face value. The texts will read the same way if you stand on your head and read them. One may argue about the context, but the text is still violent and advocates violence against infidels, and promotes world conquest by Islam, etc. The moderates are trying to rescue the text from extremism. They are not facing up to the fact that the problem is with the text, the meaning of which is all too plain to deny. So it is with the sacred Scripture of Judaism and Christianity. To illustrate, there is no legitimate way to rescue and sanitize the barbarism and genocide of Deuteronomy and the book of Joshua. The problem is not any misinterpretation of the text. The problem is the sacred text.
To the suggestion that God is not into retributive justice, I would agree. But how do you harmonize this passage with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5/Luke 6: “Those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.” Deuteronomy 7: 10 This doesn’t sound like Jesus telling us to love our enemies just like God does, sending his rain and sunshine on the good and the bad alike. But Paul reflects that what it says in Deuteronomy is replicating Jesus’s words, “Leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written ’It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” Romans 12 20. “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire…taking vengeance on all of them” that find themselves on the wrong side, 2 Thessalonians 7-9. There is no way you can rescue these clear texts from their obvious punitive, vindictive, retributive meaning. Paul’s doctrine of the Second Coming has the same wrathful, punitive and retributive side to it as his doctrine of the blood atonement of Jesus. I believe the problem is inherent in the plain and straightforward meaning of the text itself.