Tag Archives: Genesis

Noah’s Curse

Noah curses his son Ham, a 19th-century painting by Ivan Stepanovitch Ksenofontov. Ham looks pretty white to me here, but for thousands of Christians in the American South from at least the 19th century to recent times, thought Ham had black skin.

Noah curses his son Ham, a 19th-century painting by Ivan Stepanovitch Ksenofontov. Ham looks pretty white to me here, but thousands of Christians in the American South, from at least the 19th century to even fairly recent times, thought Ham had black skin (photo credit: Wikipedia).

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:24-27 ESV)

It was my first Christian retreat in college. I met another student just a few years older than me the first night of the weekend, and we struck up a friendship. But the next day, we had a conversation that has stuck with me for years. I have no idea how it got started, but it was about whether or not the Bible allows interracial marriage. My new friend, growing up in a rural part of southern Virginia, insisted that God absolutely forbids white people from marrying black people.

Where is that in the Bible?,” I asked with curiosity and amazement. I had only recently started reading  the Bible, so perhaps there was something in there that I had not seen yet. His response bothered me:

Well, I am not exactly sure where it is. But I know it is in there.”

Later that weekend, I asked him again if he could show me the verse.

He never was able to find it.

Let me rewind a few more years. I was a mere toddler when the famous Loving v. Virginia case was resolved in 1967, overturning Virginia’s statute forbidding “miscegenation.”  The Lovings, a black and white couple, from Caroline County, about an hour away from where I grew up, had driven up to Washington, D.C., to get a marriage license, where interracial unions were permitted. Upon returning to Caroline County, Virginia police raided their home, but the couple responded to their arrest by going all the way to the Supreme Court to defend their case … and they won.

Such action to change the law that had been embedded in the culture of the so-called “Bible Belt” was not a concern to my new college Christian friend in the early 1980s. In his mind, the Bible still forbade mixed marriages between people of different skin colors, and that was all he needed to know. He had no animosity towards African-Americans. He was really a nice guy, and a devout believer. It was simply and clearly taught in the Bible that God does not allow interracial marriage, according to him.

The problem was… and still is…. he had no verse from the Bible to back up his belief.

So, where did this whole thing about the Bible forbidding interracial marriage come from?
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Your Desire Shall Be For Your Husband

Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946). Missionary to China and activist for women's equality, spent a lot time studying the original Hebrew meaning of Genesis 3:16 (photo credit: Boston University)

Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946). Missionary to China and activist for women’s equality. Bushnell spent a lot time studying the original Hebrew meaning of Genesis 3:16 (photo credit: Boston University)

To the woman he [God] said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)

The beauty and simplicity of the early chapters of Genesis ironically leads to a pitfall when reading these chapters. The story of Adam and Eve is very terse and yet captivating. The details are sparse, but the narrative is engaging, as well as being foundational to Christian theology and practice. The story invites the reader to explore the imagination, going deeper in trying to figure out what it all means. But sometimes, the imagination can take you far away from the text itself, and thereby importing an alien sense of meaning that does not belong there.

For years, I have wrestled with the meaning of the curse given to Eve in Genesis 3:16, subsequent to the Fall. In contemporary Western culture, where concerns about women’s rights flourish, many readers bristle over the idea that Eve might somehow be the one to blame for the Fall of Humanity. After all, she interacted with the serpent and then offered the forbidden fruit to Adam. Does Genesis teach that Eve was truly at fault?

More specifically, by asserting herself so forwardly in her dialogue with the serpent, was she subverting her role as a supportive helpmate to Adam? If one reads the Apostle Paul in one of his letters to Timothy,  you might get the idea that Paul really believes that it was all Eve’s fault (1 Timothy 2:13-15).

But even when reading Paul, such a neat conclusion is not so simple. In his most profound work of theology in his letter to the Romans, Paul squarely places the responsibility for the Fall on Adam’s shoulders (Romans 5:12-17). Eve is not even mentioned.

So, perhaps the wisest conclusion to make is that both Adam and Eve share in the downfall of humanity, though in different ways. You can not pin it all on Eve.

But then there is the whole matter of the curse placed on Eve, specifically, that “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” What is that all about?

This past summer, our church held a Summer Bible Study on Genesis 1-11, and this very question came up. Here is a TableTalk session where Tommy Vereb, our worship leader, poses the question to our lead pastor, Travis Simone:

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The Nephilim and the Wisdom of Not Knowing

Darren Aronofsky's Nephilim in his 2014 film, Noah. Rock-creatures that look like the tree-creatures in the Lord of the Rings?... Yeah, right.

Darren Aronofsky’s Nephilim in his 2014 film and environmentalist manifesto, Noah. Rock-creatures that look like the tree-creatures in the Lord of the Rings?… Yeah, right.

This summer, our church has been doing a “summer Bible study” on Genesis 1-11. Interestingly, the sermons have skipped over the part about the Nephilim, in Genesis 6:1-4:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown (ESV).

I can understand that there are good reasons for skipping this passage. First, this passage is … uh.. a bit… weird. Secondly, no one really has a clue as to what this really means…. That is right. No one really knows for sure what Genesis 6:1-4 is all about… and neither do I.  Still, I think there is something we can still learn from the Nephilim passage. Continue reading


Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Talk about a dysfunctional family! Cain and Abel, 15th-century by unknown German artist, from Speculum Humanae Salvationis

Talk about a dysfunctional family! Cain and Abel, 15th-century by an unknown German artist, from Speculum Humanae Salvationis (credit: Wikipedia). Is it not the story of every family?

So, where did Cain get his wife?

This question is a real head scratcher, a favorite of skeptics and a longtime puzzle for those who want to understand the Bible. The difficulty in trying to resolve this question is that the Bible does not give us an obvious answer. We have to look at different clues from within the text to try to figure this out. Nevertheless, the question of Cain’s wife allows us to explore some of the challenges when trying to interpret difficult passages within the Bible.
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Saint Augustine on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis

Saint Augustine.  Champion of the biblical doctrine of Grace..... but troublesome to many regarding the damnation of unbaptized infants.

Saint Augustine. Bishop of Hippo. (354-430)

In recent years, some have argued that anything other than a “literal” reading of the first few chapters of Genesis would be a compromise against the authority of the Bible. Any other approach is a capitulation to the spirit of the modern age that would undermine the faith of the believer, smuggling in a materialist, evolutionary worldview that is inconsistent with and hostile to Holy Scripture.

The modern concern is genuine, and it should not be taken lightly. The idea of injecting philosophies that are at odds with Christian faith should indeed be rejected by those who care for the absolutely supremacy of God’s Word. Nevertheless, such an argument with respect to materialist evolution would have been completely incomprehensible to the early church scholar and Bible teacher, Saint Augustine.

For the great African Christian intellectual of the early 5th century, Augustine had other concerns. An atheistic, “Darwinian evolution” could not be anachronistically inserted into his thought or vocabulary. In his classic work, De Genesi ad litteram, known in various ways in English as “On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis,” Augustine wrestled with the most appropriate way to interpret God’s Word faithfully. For Augustine, to interpret something “literally” means to interpret “in the sense intended by the author.”

Studying the history of the church is a neglected task in today’s evangelical Christianity, which is obsessed with the supposed virtues of “newness,” continually reinforced by rapid changes in technology (would you have read this blog on your phone ten years ago??). But church history can tell us a lot about ourselves today. Do we have the courage and discipline to learn from our forebears?

In the early church, Christians held different views on the interpretation of Genesis, just as we find today. On one side, there were those like Basil the Great, who saw the days of Genesis as being 24-hour creation days, thus rejecting the allegorizing approach advocated by Origen of Alexandria. Augustine was well aware of these debates, and he sought a different way to work through the issues. Augustine’s theory that God created everything instantaneously, based on his understanding of Psalm 33:6-9, is surely out of step with most Christian views of earth’s origins today, but nevertheless he still offers some advice that might help believers who wrestle with these challenging biblical texts.

Does Augustine help you? Read on, and let me know what you think.

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