When we take our study of God’s word seriously, it doesn’t take long before we begin to encounter passages or ideas that might cause us to drift a little. Hey, that’s okay. We just need to be sure we have our anchor set. Not so much set in the world of “pat answers” but in the belief that God’s word is authoritative and not all questions have, or even need to have answers—at least not in the moment.
A serious issue confronting today’s evangelical church is a group called “millennials”. It’s the 18-34 age group that has been bombarded with a liberal culture. They find that the hard questions they have about the Bible often go unanswered in their traditional church setting. Consequently, many of them are looking for alternatives. Actually they are looking for answers to their questions. Not so much cut and dried answers, but at least an environment where serious questions can be asked and serious answers offered.
The other day I read a quote from a Pastor that said; “I was taught a whole bunch of things ‘the Bible says’ that I no longer believe the Bible says. But yet I still believe.”
You may recoil when you read those words and think, “How can that be?”
It’s really pretty easy.
We often find ourselves surrounded by people who have held the same beliefs for so long that they’ve never allowed any of those beliefs to be challenged in any significant way. I recall one pastor commenting, regarding his interpretation of the Book of Revelation, “This is what I believe and no one else can convince me otherwise.” Really?
Now, there are some of us that have come through an environment where challenging beliefs and the biblical text is nothing new. It’s not to be shied away from, in fact, it has been encouraged. That’s threatening for many. But it shouldn’t be.
As good and faithful students of the Bible our job is to let the text lead us to the truth, not necessarily what others might say the text says. Here is a clear example of what I mean. In Genesis the text points out that God tells Adam (specifically) “…But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” It’s a pretty straight forward text. However, we all know that when Adam and Eve decided to eat from the tree they did not die. Not that day or any day shortly thereafter.
Now before you run too far ahead and jump to spiritual death as opposed to physical death and start quoting the Apostle Paul, it’s important to understand that the word “die”–mooth—is used first in Gen. 2:17 and then over eighty times elsewhere in Genesis. In virtually every instance it means or refers to physical death. So, if “spiritual death” is what the author has in mind, it’s in his mind in Genesis 2-3 and apparently nowhere else. That seems odd.
So that leads us to ask—whether it’s been asked a hundred times before or not—what does God mean when he says “You shall surely die”? If we continue in Genesis, it won’t be long before the killing takes place. It won’t be long before death for all creation will take place. It won’t be long before we see “die”, “dead” and “death” as a regular occurrence in the text. So what are we to make of it?
Let’s also note, it wasn’t from the tree of life that God gives the specific restriction and threatens “death”. It’s the tree of knowledge! Why and what’s significant about that?
This is where it becomes essential to use our resource tools, engage our mind, and find out what our options are. We don’t simply settle for what we’ve been told about the text. It’s our job to find out both what the text says and means. What did God mean when he said that? Why is “death” tied to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and not to the tree of life? Where, if at all, in Genesis, or even the Pentateuch, does the author use this Hebrew word “mooth” as an indicator of spiritual death?
We may conclude that the author’s intent is indeed death, as in sin’s shame, embarrassment and separation from God. But we don’t have to start there to let the text have its full force. And we need to let the text have its full force.
Go ahead, drop the anchor and have at it. Let me know what you find out.