Was the Serpent a Real Serpent?

Karl Giberson writes of his de-conversion from orthodox Christianity, “I began to wonder how an old story about a guy named ‘Man’ in a magical garden who had a mate named ‘Woman’ made from one of his ribs could even be mistaken for actual history. And yet this was exactly what I had believed just one year earlier. Talking snakes, visits from God in the evening, naming the animals—the story takes on such a different character the moment one applies even the most basic literary analysis. The literalist interpretation I had formerly embraced and defended so vigorously began to look ridiculous, as did the person I had been just one year earlier.” Karl W. Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 8.

Some more orthodox Christians try to split the difference. D. A. Carson says, “I hold that the Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give us some historical particulars. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism. Sorting out what is symbolic and what is not is very difficult.” Carson introduces his discussion of the Genesis 3 by comparing the historical account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and Nathan’s parabolic parallel, concluding: “So in Genesis 3. This serpent may be the embodiment of Satan, or he may be the symbol for Satan, and the Bible doesn’t really care to explain which.” D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 15, 29-30.

Contrary to Giberson’s claim, however “the most basic literary analysis” points toward a real serpent’s presence in the garden. Geerhardus Vos comments on the claim that the serpent is a symbol: “This view is contrary to the plain intent of the narrative; in Gen. 3.1, the serpent is compared with the other beasts God had made; if the others were real, then so was the serpent. In vs. 14 the punishment is expressed in terms requiring a real serpent.” Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (1948; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 33.

In fact, it is surely no accident that Satan appears as a subtle beast, a form that enhances his opportunity to tempt, but as a beast, a form that Eve and Adam knew they had dominion over and should have exercised dominion over. In this light, the reality of the serpent is literarily and theologically significant.

The plausibility of an animal being controlled by a demon or being given the ability to speak should hardly be an obstacle for Christians (Mark 5:1-13; Num. 22:28-30). To materialists who deny the supernatural, such accounts do appear “ridiculous.” But giving up the supernatural is to give up Christianity.

Books and Articles Finished in May 2014

Books

Tolkien, Christopher. History of Middle-Earth II’>The History of Middle-earth II. HarperCollins, 2002.

Traces in great detail the manuscript development of the Lord of the Rings.

Verbeek, Theo. Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637-1650′>Descartes and the Dutch. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

This book documents the conflict between Descartes, his followers, and the Reformed Orthodox. The Orthodox had several concerns with Descartes.

First, they thought that his methodological skepticism was sinful: to doubt the existence of God is a breach of the first commandment. It is not a way to knowledge. Though Descartes did argue for the existence of God, the Orthodox found his arguments weak. They believed the net result of starting with methodological doubt and following with weak arguments for the existence of God would be an increase in atheism.

Second, they held that reason was an instrument of knowledge that should always be subject to Scripture. They rejected the concept that reason is an "independent source of knowledge." They were concerned that if reason was raised as an authority above Scripture that doctrines such as the Trinity, incarnation, original sin, and eternal punishment might be rejection as contrary to reason. The Orthodox were also concerned by Descartes dismissal of the human senses as reliable. They believed that since the senses were given by God they were, in general, reliable. Voetius indicated that, "People who reject the senses are like the philosopher who, for the sake of wisdom, put out his own eyes in order to meditate at his ease" (56).

Third, the Orthodox were concerned that Descartes approach was too speculative. Descartes argued that even God must be caused, if only by himself, since all beings must have a cause. The Orthodox held that speculations about the being of God are dangerous; they believed they could say from Scripture that God is not caused by anything else. Beyond this they did not wish to go.

Fourth, the Reformed Orthodox were also concerned that Descartes placed human free will over the sovereignty of God.

Wright, N. T. The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential’>The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential. HarperOne, 2013.

For anyone interested in an introduction to the Psalms, Gordon Wenham’s, The Psalter Reclaimed would be a much better resource than Wright’s Case for the Psalms. Though not without occasional insight, I did not find time, space, and matter to be the most compelling or insightful way to unpack the themes of the Psalter.

Articles

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion’>Institutes of the Christian Religion’>Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeil. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960. [2.9-14]

Chapters 9-11 deal with continuity and discontinuities between the Old and New Testaments. Calvin is right to see both present, but he is wrong to see the continuity as one covenant of grace under different administrations. I think he is further wrong to locate part of the discontinuity in making the OT about physical promises and the NT about spiritual fulfillments.

Chapters 12-14 deal with the humanity of Christ. Calvin does an excellent job of demonstrating why Christ must be man. He answers the objections of heretics to the humanity of Christ, and he lays out the orthodox position

Books and Articles Read in April 2014

Books

Lloyd-Jones, D. M. & Iain H. Murray. John Knox and the Reformation. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011.

This small book is a collection of two address by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray about John Knox. In the first address Lloyd-Jones first distinguishes between doing history for antiquarian reasons and in order to learn from godly men of the past. He argues for the latter. Lloyd-Jones emphasizes the authority of Scripture, the justification by faith alone, the assurance of salvation, simplicity of worship, the power of prayer, and the primacy of preaching. On each of these points he draws lessons from Knox’s life that can be applied to present-day life. In the second message Lloyd-Jones demonstrates John Knox’s formative role in the for Puritanism. Iain Murray provides the final essay in the book. His is a more biographical treatment from which lessons may be drawn for contemporary church life. Recommended.

Dallimore, Arnold. Spurgeon: A New Biography. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985.

Dallimore’s biographies are invariably edifying, and often the edification comes in his unpacking of the theology of his subjects. In addition the chapter on the downgrade controversy is excellent. It was my reading of Spurgeon on the downgrade controversy as a first year grad student that convinced me that the idea of separating even from brothers who tolerated false teachers within the church was biblically necessary for the health of the church.

Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: SPCK, 1996.

This is the second book in N. T. Wright’s project on New Testament Theology, and its focus is on the historical Jesus. As is typical with Wright it is alternatively enlightening and problematic. Part I provides an excellent summary of the various debates and positions regarding the historical Jesus. Wright is firmly on the side of the synoptic gospels providing accurate historical information about Jesus; his critiques of the Jesus Seminar and other skeptics are incisive. However, Wright plays too much by the rules of critical scholarship. As Jonathan Pennington noted in Reading the Gospels Wisely, Wright presents readers not with Jesus as he is presented in the Gospels but with his historical reconstruction of Jesus developed from the Synoptic Gospels. The emphasis on historical reconstruction and the exclusion of John leads to a number of errors, not least the denial of Jesus’s awareness of his deity. On this last point Wright not only fails to engage evangelical author’s such as Geerhardus Vos, but his language is immoderate, calling the traditional Protestant position "would-be orthodox" and "docetic." In a similar vein Wright accuses the Reformation of not knowing what to do with Jesus’s life by placing too much emphasis on Jesus’s death and reducing Jesus to a teacher of timeless truth in the space between his birth and death. If this is indeed an error of the Reformation (of which I have doubts), Wright over-corrected. He has very helpful treatments of Christ as prophet and king, but very little on Christ as priest. Wright has a helpful treatment of the historical motivations of the Jewish leaders for seeking to put Jesus to death. He also affirms that Jesus died a sacrificial death to cleanse the temple and defeat Israel’s enemies, including primarily the satan, but how this sacrifice resulted in the victory of God is left vague.

Wright sometimes chafes at his conservative critics, but calling them "would-be orthodox," "docetic," and claiming once again that the Reformation got it wrong—without interacting at length with their actual writings, as he does with positions to his left—only invites critique.

Cooper, John W. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate. Updated Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

When Christians think of conflicts between prevailing scientific theories of science and the Bible, the creation-evolution debate comes readily to mind. But other areas of conflict exist as well, including whether the humans have a soul or not. For many the soul seems to be unneeded as scientists can map the functions of the mind to the brain, reducing the mental to the physical. Cooper defends the traditional Christian position that humans have distinguishable souls and bodies. He grants, however, that Scripture tends to speak of people holistically. In contrast to monists (who deny that humans have a soul), Cooper identifies his position as "holistic dualism" or "dualistic holism."

The heart of Cooper’s argument is that the Bible teaches that humans exist and interact in an intermediate state between death and the resurrection of the body. The fact of the intermediate state indicates soul and body must be separable. He considers alternative approaches such as "soul-sleep" or immediate resurrection and finds them exegetically lacking. Prior to making this argument, Cooper surveys Scripture and finds that it emphasizes holism but presupposes a dualism. In other words, the emphasis of Scripture is on the whole person though it can distinguish body and soul. After making his argument that the intermediate state requires a distinction between soul and body, Cooper examines theological, philosophical, and scientific objections. For instance one theological objection is that the Bible portrays the dead as bodily beings. In response, Cooper notes a number of responses are possible that harmonize with holistic dualuism: the language in those instances is not intended to be metaphysical, that souls maintain a bodily from, as Thomas Aquinas taught, or that the dead are "quasi-bodily" beings. The primary scientific objection is that states of mind and emotions can be mapped to the brain; indeed that these states of mind are not even possible when certain areas of the brain are damaged. Cooper responds on a number of levels: (1) The correlation between mind and brain is more complex than direct correlation. (2) He denies that even exact mind-brain correlation would not prove that it is the brain the causes all mental activity. While granting that the brain can affect the mind (something Cooper says has been known since people began to drink alcohol), there is no reason to deny that the mind affects the brain. (3) Cooper highlights the importance of distinguishing between empirical data from brain studies and the interpretation of that data. Materialism would be one interpretation, idealism another, and body-soul interaction another.

In all Cooper tackles a complex subject in an understandable fashion and with compelling argumentation.

Articles

D.A. Carson, "The Hole in the Gospel," Themelios 38 no. 3 (Nov 2013): http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/the_hole_in_the_gospel accessed 4/12/2014

This is the pith of the article:

"The gospel is the great news of what God has graciously done in Jesus Christ, especially in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, his ascension, session, and high priestly ministry, to reconcile sinful human beings to himself, justifying them by the penal substitute of his Son, and regenerating and sanctifying them by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as the down payment of their ultimate inheritance. God will save them if they repent and trust in Jesus.

"The proper response to this gospel, then, is that people repent, believe, and receive God’s grace by faith alone.

"The entailment of this received gospel, that is, the inevitable result, is that those who believe experience forgiveness of sins, are joined together spiritually in the body of Christ, the church, being so transformed that, in measure as they become more Christ-like, they delight to learn obedience to King Jesus and joyfully proclaim the good news that has saved them, and they do good to all men, especially to the household of faith, eager to be good stewards of the grace of God in all the world, in anticipation of the culminating transformation that issues in resurrection existence in the new heaven and the new earth, to the glory of God and the good of his blood-bought people.

"Once again, as in our brief treatment of sin, much more could be said to flesh out this potted summary. But observe three things:

"1. The gospel is, first and foremost, news—great news, momentous news. That is why it must be announced, proclaimed—that’s what one does with news. Silent proclamation of the gospel is an oxymoron. Godly and generous behavior may bear a kind of witness to the transformed life, but if those who observe such a life hear nothing of the substance of the gospel, it may evoke admiration but cannot call forth faith because in the Bible faith demands faith’s true object, which remains unknown where there is no proclamation of the news.

"2. The gospel is, first and foremost, news about what God has done in Christ. It is not law, an ethical system, or a list of human obligations; it is not a code of conduct telling us what we must do: it is news about what God has done in Christ.

"3. On the other hand, the gospel has both purposes and entailments in human conduct. The entailments must be preached. But if you preach the entailments as if they were the gospel itself, pretty soon you lose sight of the reality of the gospel—that it is the good news of what God has done, not a description of what we ought to do in consequence. Pretty soon the gospel descends to mere moralism. One cannot too forcefully insist on the distinction between the gospel and its entailments."

D.A. Carson, "The Hole in the Gospel," Themelios 38 no. 3 (Nov 2013): http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/the_hole_in_the_gospel accessed 4/12/2014

Luther, Martin. "Sermons on Psalm 110." In Luther’s Works. Volume 13. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Saint Louis: Concordia,1956.

Though the sermons could at places be improved in exegesis and theology, overall they present sound theological in a powerful exhortational manner.

Examples:

"How do you harmonize the statement that this King is to sit at the right hand of God and is to be almighty God and Lord with the fact that He is always to have many enemies and to meet with resistance of various sorts? Indeed, He is to be surrounded by enemies, as David also says later on: “Rule in the midst of Thy enemies.” How is it possible to say this of such a powerful King and the Lord of all creation? Why should He endure those who thirst to fight Him and who show themselves as enemies? . . . To all the world it seems an extraordinary kingdom, for it combines the highest authority and power with weakness and frailty."13:246-47.
"Thus it may be known, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 1:25), that what appears to be foolishness in His Word and work is wiser than all the wisdom and intelligence of men, and that what appears to be weakness in Him is stronger than all the strength and power of men. Therefore in this kingdom He does not want to be a God and Savior of the strong, mighty, wise, and holy—as human reason would like to see Him, and as it also pictures Him—who do not need such a God. He wants to be a God and Savior of the weak, the unwise, the insignificant, the miserable and afflicted poor sinners who certainly need such a God and Savior. This He does in order to make them strong while they are weak, righteous and joyful while they are convinced and frightened by sin, alive and blessed while they suffer and die; as He says (2 Cor. 12:9): “My power is made perfect in weakness.” He does this, and must do it, especially to thwart and vex both His enemies, the devil and the world, that they may experience in the end what His wisdom, authority, and power—which they judge to be impotent and nothing—really are and can do." 13:254-55

"Let Me handle those who despise and reject this or oppose themselves to it and persecute the Christians for it. I will take care of revenge. I will put a damper on their power and might and will overthrow them. I have more than enough power and might to lift them out of their thrones and cast them under the feet of this Christ. Sufficient for Christians—and let this be their comfort—is My promise that their enemies shall not accomplish their designs; for I have ordained it and spoken the judgment that they shall and must become the footstool of this Christ, whether they like it or not.” 13:255-56

Potential Interpretations of Genesis 5:29 in conjunction with Genesis 8:21

The Vineyard Option

Lamech’s words in Genesis 5:29 refer to Noah’s planting of the vineyard in Genesis 9:20. No connection is made to Genesis 8:21 (Held by Wenham, Waltke; held as a possibility by Hamilton).

Videtur quod sic [arguments in favor]

1. The growth of a vineyard shows the fertility of the ground.

2. The text says “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief.” Noah planted a vineyard and the wine that comes from the vineyard is a relief to man in a fallen world.

[Wenham and Waltke do not give argumentation, so the above are possible arguments in favor of this interpretation]

Sed contra [arguments to the contrary]

1. Mathews notes that verse 29 does not say the comfort comes from the ground, as this interpretation seems to presuppose. The mere growth of a vineyard does not indicate relief from the curse. Doubtless vines and plants also grew before the Flood.

2. The argument that wine itself provides man relief from runs contrary to the Scripture’s teaching that seeking comfort or relief from toil in wine is folly.

Respondeo dicendum [response & conclusion]

This is one of the weaker interpretations. It possibly rests on a misreading of the verse and, depending how it is framed, may stand contrary to biblical teaching about wine.

The Flood Option

Lamech’s words in Genesis 5:29 refer to the Flood. Lamech’s “wish” becomes a “nightmare.” “Comfort (nḥm) does come with Noah, but it is a different kind of comfort. What comes is the Lord’s repenting desire (nḥm) to destroy humanity. Thus Lamech’s wish turns into a nightmare" (Hamilton). Thus 5:29 connects with 6:6-7. No connection is made with 8:21

Videtur quod sic [arguments in favor]

נחם occurs only here and in 6:6-7 in this part of Genesis. It does not occur again until chapter 24. It is thus likely that there is a play in words intended here.

Sed contra [arguments to the contrary]

נחם is used in 5:29 in a different sense than in 6:6-7. The recurrence of the same word in a different sense doesn’t necessarily indicate a connection between the two passages. In addition Noah does bring blessing, so it would be more likely to understand Lamech’s words as fulfilled positively rather than negatively.

Respondeo dicendum [response & conclusion]

This is also one of the weaker interpretations. The arguments to the contrary are stronger than the arguments in favor.

The Remnant Option

Lamech hoped for relief from the curse. He does not receive his wish. However, Lamech’s desire finds an analogue in the preservation of the Sethite line that Noah achieves through the ark and the new beginning given to the human race (Wenham, Mathews). There is a loose connection to 8:21 in that there the preservation of the post-flood world is promised.

Videtur quod sic [arguments in favor]

1. Lamech’s words are not prophecy but a hope. Lamech’s hope is fulfilled but not in the way he wishes. What Noah actually does is not remove the curse from the ground but preserve the line of Seth, and brings a new covenant relation between man and God as a ‘new Adam.”

2. This interpretation is able to maintain a natural interpretation of both Genesis 5 and Genesis 8. It does not attempt forced readings of either passage.

Sed contra [arguments to the contrary]

1. The attempted connection between preservation of a remnant and hope for removal of the curse is rather tenuous.

2. An interpretation that demonstrates coherence between Lamech’s words and Noah’s life is to be preferred over an interpretation that posits a divergence between the two accounts.

3. Biblical narratives are economical. If Lamech’s words have little to nothing to do with the Noah narrative that follows, why are they given? This is especially relevant since Lamech’s words are embedded in a genealogy. The other comments added to the genealogy are those about Seth being in Adam’s image and those about Enoch’s translation.

Respondeo dicendum [response & conclusion]

This is a viable, but unlikely, option. It should be preferred if attempts to show Lamech’s words are fulfilled prove to be exegetically untenable. If the fulfillment of Lamech’s words are demonstrated to be exegetically plausible, this interpretation should not be preferred.

The Covenant Option

The covenant with Noah creates a “new . . . relationship between God and mankind,” and one that touches on the land. It is the Noahic covenant that fulfils Lamech’s words (Leupold).

Videtur quod sic [arguments in favor]

The nature of the Noahic covenant is to set bounds on the curse so that God’s plan of redemption can be worked out in the world. The culmination of the redemption made possible by the Noahic covenant is the removal of the curse. In this way Noah plays a significant role in God’s plan to bring the earth relief from the curse.

Sed contra [arguments to the contrary]

The covenant with Noah itself does not bring relief from work or painful toil.

Respondeo dicendum [response & conclusion]

This is a viable option. Lamech has a hope or a prophecy about the curse in relation to Noah and God made a covenant with Noah that limited the curse that God would bring on the world. The weakness is that Lamech’s hope for relief from painful toil and the promises of the Noahic covenant don’t align precisely. The covenant preserves the world until that hope is fulfilled on the New Earth.

The Mitigation of the Curse Option

Lamech says that Noah will bring relief from the agonized labor brought by the cursed ground. The next passage in which the language of cursing appears in 8:21 (though the Flood itself as a curse on the ground does intervene). If 8:21 is translated, “I will never curse further the ground because of man” (Wenham), it would indicate that God will not add to the curse of Genesis 3:17. An implication of this view is that the curse had intensified from Genesis 3 until the time of the Flood and that this intensification would be arrested and reversed after the Flood.

Videtur quod sic [arguments in favor]

1. The account of Cain and the Flood itself demonstrate that the curse of Genesis 3 could be added to because of additional sin.

2. It seems from 8:10, 12 that the translation of עוד as “further” is viable.

3. This interpretation results in the closest harmony between 5:29 and 8:21, which is preferable.

Sed contra [arguments to the contrary]

1. The implication that God had been adding to the curse of Genesis 3:17 until the time of the Flood is speculative.

2. The translation of עוד as “further” is not attested in key lexicons such as CHALOT.

Respondeo dicendum [response & conclusion]

This is a viable option.

1. The speculation necessary for making this interpretation work is reasonable given the evidence in Genesis 4 and the Flood account itself that the curse may be intensified. However, the speculation could be avoided by adopting the previous solution.

2. More work should be done, but the usage of עוד within Genesis 8 seems to allow for the translation, “further.”

3. An interpretation of coherence between 5:28 and 8:21 is to be preferred. Whether this position with its tighter coherence but greater speculation or the previous position with its looser coherence and less speculation is to be preferred is an open question. I lean toward this position.

Books and Articles finished, March 2014

Books

Rowland, Tracey. Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

This is an excellent survey of Benedict XVI’s theology. Rowland begins with an explanation of the various competing groups within Roman Catholicism before and after Vatican II; discuses different views regarding nature and grace; outlines Catholicism’s views of culture, economics, and politics; explains Benedict’s views on Scripture and Tradition; discusses the relation of love to morality in Benedict’s theology; and overviews Benedict’s approach to liturgy.

I found the opening chapter with its discussion of differing factions within Roman Catholicism the most interesting. Rowland identifies these groups as the Neo-Thomists, the French Ressourcement scholars, and the German and Belgian transcendental Thomists. The Neo-Thomists emerged in the Counter Reformation. The developed a "two-tier" view of nature and grace in defense against Protestant teaching about depravity. Rowland notes that at Vatican II the Ressourcement scholars and the Transcendental Thomists united to defeat the Neo-Thomists. By the 1970s these two groups had split. Rowland notes that Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II "straddled . . . both circles." Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI is located with the Ressourcement group. The Ressourcement scholars opposed the Neo-Thomists because they worried that their dualism "unwittingly fostered the secularization of western culture." The Transcendental Thomists, led by Karl Rahner, were much more sympathetic to modernity than the Ressourcement theologians. Whether Ratzinger is conservative or not depends on one’s location. Rowland notes that he is not conservative from the perspective of a Neo-Thomist. He is "decidedly" so from the perspective of the Transcendental Thomists.

One interesting aspect of the nature/grace discussion is that theologians like Herman Bavinck leveled criticism against Roman Catholicism for its nature/grace dualism. Recently some have criticized Bavinck for misreading Thomas. Yet it is important to recognize that Bavinck was reading Thomas as he had been read by Roman Catholics from the time of the Reformation until Vatican II.

Though Rome has moved closer to a Protestant position on nature and grace (thus making it an attractive ally for Protestants in the culture wars), the substance of many Protestant concerns remain. Rowland unpacks Benedict’s view of purgatory and indulgences at one place. She notes his support for Mariology to balance masculine aspects of the church. Benedict’s views of Tradition and Scripture as well as his views of the liturgy also place him at odds with orthodox Protestants. In addition, conservative Protestants may well find that he has conceded too much to modernist scholars in his biblical interpretation. Worship practices also remain a point of division between Rome and Protestantism, though on the matter of music, traditional Protestants will find themselves in agreement with the pope emeritus: "Ratzinger concludes none the less that it is difficult to lay down a priori musical criteria . . . —’it is easier to say what ought to be excluded than included.’ He is, however, quite sure that all rock music should be excluded, ‘not for aesthetic reasons, not out of reactionary stubbornness, not because of historical rigidity but because of its very nature,’ which is neo-Dionysian."

For someone looking for a careful, detailed study of Ratzinger’s theology, which opens a window onto the theological schools and debates of modern Roman Catholic theology, there is probably not a better book.

Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. The Oxford History of the United States. Edited by C. Vann Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

This is another well-written contribution to the Oxford History of the United States. Of course any history of the Great Depression has to reckon with competing economic theories, and any history that largely covers the years of the Roosevelt presidency has to reckon with competing, partisan evaluations of FDR. Kennedy identifies himself twice in the book as embracing a Keynesian approach to economics. In interviews about the book he identifies himself as personally occupying a center-left political position. He noted, however, that he thought it his duty as a historian to write with fairness and accuracy rather than to champion his own political point of view. I believe Kennedy largely succeeded. I read this volume along with Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man. Reading the two together gave a pretty good feeling for center-left and center-right interpretations of the Depression. The World War II section of the book covers material more familiar to many readers, but this book provides a good survey of the war.

Broadus, John Albert. Memoir of James Petigru Boyce. A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893.

James Boyce is a significant figure in American Baptist life. He recognized the importance of an educated Baptist ministry, and he devoted his life to seeing a Baptist seminary founded in the most adverse of circumstances. John Broadus, a close friend and co-laborer with Boyce in this work, is in many ways an ideal biographer.

In addition to telling the life of the man, Broadus also does an excellent job describing the school he gave himself to founding. For instance, there is a fascinating chapter that explains how the curriculum of Southern Seminary was set up so that students with limited education and students with college degrees and knowledge of the languages could learn together effectively. There are insights here that could well be applied to small seminaries around the world that face similar situations.

As a resident of Greenville, SC, the first location of Southern Seminary, I found additional interest in Boradus’s descriptions of the falls on the Reedy River, Paris Mountain, and other Greenville landmarks. Also interesting were his remarks on church life in the Greenville area. Greenville and its environs have long been blessed with many faithful gospel ministries. This is a heritage to cherish and perpetuate.

Nettles, Thomas J. James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009.

Thomas Nettles’s biography at times reads more like a nineteenth century biography than Broadus’s. It is overloaded at times with details that could have better summarized into key points. In general I preferred Broadus’s biography to Nettles. That said, Nettles gives an excellent account of the case of C. H. Toy. Broadus touched on the issue but did not delve into it. Since there are so many similarities in Toy’s move toward liberalism and some segments of left-leaning evangelicalism, that section is valuable. Nettles also gives a very helpful overview of Boyce’s theology that is lacking in Broadus’s Memoir. I’m glad I read both books, but if I were to read only one book on Boyce, it would be Broadus’s.

Articles

Anyabwile, Thabiti. "The Glory and Supremacy of Jesus Christ in Ethnic Distinctions and over Ethnic Identities." In For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. Edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Reflections on John Piper’s theologically informed efforts to combat sins of discrimination against people of various ethnic backgrounds. Key ideas include common creation as image bearers of God, God’s sovereignty in the formation of people groups, God’s delight in the variety of ethnicities as shown by Revelation 5, and the unity that Christians of all ethnicities have in Christ.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Edited by Timothy McDermott. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1989. [Dispositions, Virtue, Sin and Vice; 220-75.

There is a renewed emphasis on Thomas as a biblical scholar in the literature these days. Thomas scholars are translating and commenting on Thomas's biblical commentaries as a counterbalance to the caricature that he was primarily a philosopher theologian rather than a biblical scholar. And yet, in reading this section of the Summa I more than once wished that Thomas would have justified his theological claims by interacting with Scripture. More specifically, I'd like to see some scriptural grounding for Aquinas's adoption of Aristotle's virtue ethics and some discussion about how this ethical approach connects with the Scriptural themes of law and grace.

Vos, Arvin. Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought: A Critique of Protestant Views on the Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985. [Read chapters on faith; pp. 1-40]

Vos compares the thought of Aquinas and Calvin on various points. His thesis is that Aquinas and Calvin are in less conflict than normally thought (thought he grants some points of conflict). He takes Calvin’s critiques of the Schoolmen to be directed more at the Parisian theologians than at Aquinas (with whom he thinks Calvin was relatively unacquainted). In general Vos may well be right, though he seems inclined from the outset to minimize differences. His balancing position may itself need to be balanced.

Luther on Psalm 110:2

Psalm 110:2: “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies” (ESV).

How do you harmonize the statement that this King is to sit at the right hand of God and is to be almighty God and Lord with the fact that He is always to have many enemies and to meet with resistance of various sorts? Indeed, He is to be surrounded by enemies, as David also says later on: “Rule in the midst of Thy enemies.” How is it possible to say this of such a powerful King and the Lord of all creation? Why should He endure those who thirst to fight Him and who show themselves as enemies?

Luther, Works, 13:246.

But Christians have no armor and weapons. They must become the victims of their enemies and allow themselves to be plagued and tortured, killed and massacred. The whole issue presents itself to our senses in such a way as though this Christ were able to do nothing at all against these enemies, but had to succumb and go to pieces, together with His flock and kingdom.

This exactly is the great offense. Here is where human reason and all the wisdom of the world are offended; for “if this Christ actually were the kind of king who sits at the right hand of God, He would not rule in such a fashion.” … Well, why does God act this way? Those smart alecks and critics of God and His Word and work will neither know nor understand this but become fools with their intelligence and wisdom (Rom. 1:22), deceiving themselves. But it is disclosed to Christians that they may learn the true, divine wisdom through which He wants to be recognized. The reason is that this kingdom is to be a kingdom of faith, in which God rules in a manner strange and different from what men are able to understand or conceive. Therefore His wisdom, authority, and power are hidden to all reason. In fact, He will demonstrate them precisely by the opposite, which is called foolishness, frailty, and nothing everywhere and by all men. Thus it may be known, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 1:25), that what appears to be foolishness in His Word and work is wiser than all the wisdom and intelligence of men, and that what appears to be weakness in Him is stronger than all the strength and power of men. Therefore in this kingdom He does not want to be a God and Savior of the strong, mighty, wise, and holy—as human reason would like to see Him, and as it also pictures Him—who do not need such a God. He wants to be a God and Savior of the weak, the unwise, the insignificant, the miserable and afflicted poor sinners who certainly need such a God and Savior. This He does in order to make them strong while they are weak, righteous and joyful while they are convinced and frightened by sin, alive and blessed while they suffer and die; as He says (2 Cor. 12:9): “My power is made perfect in weakness.” He does this, and must do it, especially to thwart and vex both His enemies, the devil and the world, that they may experience in the end what His wisdom, authority, and power—which they judge to be impotent and V 13, p 254 nothing—really are and can do.

Luther, Works, 13:252-54.

To put it succinctly, the enemies are defeated and subdued by the divine power and miracle alone, without the resistance of the Christians or any physical power at all. “For I will do it Myself,” He means to say here, “and in such a way that Christians will need neither armor nor sword nor weapons. Let them remain quiet and do nothing but attend to their duty of preaching about this Lord and His kingdom, and tell how God has ordained Him King at the right hand of God and Lord of all creation. Let Me handle those who despise and reject this or oppose themselves to it and persecute the Christians for it. I will take care of revenge. I will put a damper on their power and might and will overthrow them. I have more than enough power and might to lift them out of their thrones and cast them under the feet of this Christ. Sufficient for Christians—and let this be their comfort—is My promise that their enemies shall not accomplish their designs; for I have ordained it and spoken the judgment that they shall and must become the footstool of this Christ, whether they like it or not.”

Luther, Works, 13:255-56.

Homosexual Actions and the Race Analogy

The belief that homosexual acts are immoral is not the same kind of claim as the belief that black people are inferior because they are black. When we deem homosexual acts immoral, we are not stigmatizing a class of persons; we’re exercising our moral reason about the rightness and wrongness of actions. Unlike racism, principled opposition to homosexual rights has a firm basis. It’s normal to judge behavior, including (and perhaps especially) sexual behavior. That’s why describing homosexual acts as immoral is not at all like calling black men and women inferior. To merge sexual liberation into the civil-rights movement dramatically raised the stakes in public debate. The Selma analogy makes traditional views of sexual morality as noxious as racism, and in so doing encourages progressives to adopt something like a total-war doctrine. The implications is that people who hold such views should have no voice in American society and that homosexuality should be aggressively affirmed in our public and private institutions, while dissent is punished.

R. R. Reno, "The Selma Analogy," First Things (May 2012): 4-5.

Some Thoughts on Legalism

Dan Doriani in this post outlines four classes of legalists: (1) Those who believe they can "earn God’s favor" and merit salvation, (2) those who "require believers to submit to man-made commandments, as if they were God’s law," (3) those who "obey God and do good in order to retain God’s favor," (4) those who "so dwell on God’s law that they neglect other aspects of the Christian life."

Among conservative Christians there is broad agreement that class 1 is unbiblical and is legalism.

Class 2 is where much of the debate exists. It is no doubt true that a real danger exists in exalting man-made rules to the status of divine commands. But there is also a danger in not allowing for applications of Scripture that extend beyond the explicit letter of Scripture. This too is a form of legalism. So it would be legalism to insist that, as a timeless divine directive, men should not wear beards or women should not wear jeans. But it is also legalism to deny that a father could tell his son, "I don’t want you to dress or groom in a way that identifies you with a certain subculutre known for its opposition to God" or say to his daughter, "I don’t want you to wear this specific style of clothing because it is immodest" (or vice versa).

Class 3 also deserves some clarification. If by retaining God’s favor Doriani means maintaining one’s salvation or position in Christ before God, this certainly would be legalism. It would be a variant of class 1. If it means that the person thinks he has to work his way back into God’s favor after sin, then that also would be legalism. However, it is not legalistic to understand that God is pleased when we obey him and displeased when we disobey him; (1 Pet 1:7; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 12:5-6). This is a difficult truth to keep balanced. Christians must rest in the fact that God is unchangeably their Father who loves them and freely forgives them while also recognizing that their sin grieves God’s Spirit and can result in chastening. To employ a Puritan distinction, Christians should have a filial fear of God, but not a servile fear. They must recognize that God does chasten, but he chastens those he loves.

Class 4 is, I think, more properly labeled moralism, which the OED defines as "religion consisting of or reduced to moral practice; morality practised impersonally or without sympathy." Labels aside, however, Doriani is correct that a Christianity that consists of checking off the boxes next to a list of rules is sub-Christian, not least because it neglects the two great commandments upon which all the Law hangs. Of course Christians who are concerned about loving God and the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness are also concerned to tithe mint and dill and cumin (Matt 23:23). These need not, ought not, be pitted against each other.

Books and Articles Read in February 2014

Books

Austin, Jane. Sense and Sensibility.

Gouge, William. Building a Godly Home, Volume 1: A Holy Vision for Family Life. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013.

This is one of the best expositions of Ephesians 5:21-6:4 that I’ve encountered. Gouge does an excellent job of explaining the text, explaining difficulties, and reconciling apparent contradictions. His seventeenth century perspective is an advantage rather than a liability because it enables us to see this text through different cultural eyes. In this regard his comments on equality were especially insightful. Reformation Heritage has done an excellent job in laying out the text, inserting headings and footnotes, and making the text readable for a contemporary audience.

Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Knopf, 2013.

Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

The gist of Nagel’s argument is that Neo-Darwinism cannot provide a materialist explanation for consciousness, cognition, and values. The explanations they do offer actually undermine our ability to have confidence in our reason―including the reasoning for Neo Darwinism. Nagel rejects theism and intelligent design (while appreciating their work and defending their critique of Neo Darwinism) for what seems to be a teleological evolutionary approach that embraces panpsychism rather than materialism. I found the critique compelling (aside from some spots that I had difficulty following). The positive vision was left underdeveloped because a paradigm shift in science would be necessary to develop it, Nagel says. Christian theism would provide answers to the questions that Nagel raises, but Nagel doesn’t consider theism in the book because he is "strongly averse" to the idea of God.

Hensley, Alexia Jones. Hidden History of Greenville County. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2009.

This book contains interesting accounts from Greenville county ranging from the colonial period until the early twentieth century. For the resident of Greenville, it reveals the stories behind the names of local neighborhoods, roads, and landmarks. At times the book could  benefit from better organization. Maps that pinpointed the locations of the events discussed in the book would  also add to its value.

Denault, Pascal. The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism. Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013.

Denault proposes that the root of the difference between Particular Baptists and Paedobaptists of the Seventeenth Century was their different covenant theologies. Both held to similar views of the Covenant of Works, but they differed regarding the Covenant of Grace. Paedobaptists argued that the Covenant of Grace had a single substance but different administrations. The New Covenant was simply a different administration of the Covenant of Grace. The Baptists, on the other hand, held that the New Covenant was indeed something new and distinct from the Old Covenant. Regarding the Mosaic Covenant, Paedobaptists disagreed about whether it was part of the Covenant of Grace and unconditional in nature or whether it was akin to the Covenant of Works and distinct from the Covenant of Grace. The Baptists held that all the Old Testament Covenants were part of Old Covenant. This is why circumcision, a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, is so closely connected with the Law. In this view Abraham was given the promises of the Covenant of Grace, but the Covenant of Grace, though progressively revealed in the Old Testament, was not enacted until Christ. The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Thus Abraham stands at the head of two seeds, a physical and a spiritual. Once Christ comes the purposes of the physical seed and its covenant are finished. Unlike the Old Covenant, which was mixed, the New Covenant is unconditional, entirely effective, and made up entirely of those who know Christ.

Denault does a good job of introducing the reader to significant seventeenth century figures from both sides of the debate. Nehemiah Coxe is introduced as the Baptist who most clearly developed this version of Covenant Theology, though other Baptists, such as Benjamin Keach, are also drawn on. Interestingly, though not a Baptist, John Owen is also claimed to have held the Baptist Covenant position. This is especially clear from his Hebrews commentaries.

Overall Denault seems to have presented the historical information clearly and accurately. This is not merely a historical monograph, however. Denault wishes to recover Baptist Covenant Theology for the present day. I found this position most convincing when critiquing the Paedobaptist one-covenant-under-many-administrations approach. I think the case for a disjunction between the New Covenant and Old is clear. And I am in full agreement that the New Covenant is a unconditional, effective, and unmixed covenant. The equation of the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant is more convincing than the Paedobaptist construct of a Covenant of Grace made up of many different biblical covenants. However, this Baptist Covenant Theology has its own construct: the Old Covenant. In Scripture it seems clear that the Old Covenant and First Covenant are the Mosaic Covenant. Despite providing an explanation for the connection of circumcision and the Law, I’m not convinced exegetically that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants can all be subsumed under one Old Covenant.

Meyer, Stephen C. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York: HarperOne, 2013.

Darwin’s Doubt is a sequel to Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. The earlier book told the story of the discovery of DNA and made the argument that the origin of life (with its information-bearing DNA) could not be explained apart from an intelligent designer. Meyer also makes the argument in that book for Intelligent Design qualifying as science. In the Prologue to Darwin’s Doubt Meyer notes that most of the critiques to Signature argued that mutation and natural selection could account for biological evolution. Meyer notes that these critiques missed the point since Signature was addressing the origin of life rather than the evolutionary development of life. It is the latter topic that he addresses in Darwin’s Doubt. The central story in Signature was the discovery of DNA. The central story in Darwin’s Doubt is the discovery and explanations that surround fossils in the Cambrian explosion. With the Cambrian explosion a wide variety of different forms of life appear in the fossil record with no developmental precedents in the fossil record. Meyer guides the reader through the various theories that have been proposed to explain or explain away the Cambrian explosion and finds why, even according to Neo-Darwinists, they are found wanting. He concludes that Neo-Darwinism cannot account for the new genetic information necessary for the Cambrian explosion "because: (1) it has no means of efficiently searching combinatorial sequence space for functioning genes and proteins, and (2) it requires unrealistically long waiting times to generate even a single new gene or protein. It has also shown that the mechanism cannot produce new body plans because: (3) early acting mutations, the only kind capable of generating large-scale changes are also invariably deleterious, and (4) genetic mutations cannot, in any case, generate the epigenetic information to build a body plan" (411). As with Signature, Meyer concludes that the new information must come from a designer.

Young earth creationists reading Meyer’s work must recognize the extent of both their agreements and disagreements with Meyer. Meyer is an ally in his critique of Neo-Darwinism. This is so not only in the major thesis of the book but also, perhaps, on the issue of common descent as well. He also notes that Intelligent Design dose not necessarily reject common descent (411). Nevertheless, he does seem to provide a critique. He notes that Darwinists have proposed multiple conflicting trees and have resorted to convergent evolution to explain similarities that in divergent branches. Meyer notes that "invoking convergent evolution negates the very logic of the argument from homology, which affirms that similarity implies ancestry, except–now we learn–in those many, many, cases when it does not" (133). I was left unclear as to whether Meyer himself embraced common descent, but his arguments seemed to provide ammunition against it. Despite the helpful information provided by Intelligent Design, Christians must recognize that it is not sufficient. Reconciling science and the Bible has to go far beyond simply affirming the existence of a designer–even a Designer believed to be the God of Scripture (which Meyer, an evangelical, affirms). The Bible also contains exegetical information that explains how creation takes places and theological teaching about the goodness of the original creation and the effects of the fall into sin. Because Intelligent Design simply affirms the existence of a designer, it often accepts account of science that remain at odds with Scripture. Nevertheless, Meyer provides an eminently readable, well-argued critique of Neo-Darwinism.

Grudem, Wayne and Barry Asmus. The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

The thesis of Grudem and Asmus’s book is that the solution to national poverty is to produce more goods and services. They further argue that the free market system is the best economic system for producing greater numbers of goods and services. Grudem and Asmus defend the free market system by arguing that it promotes virtues such as freedom, integrity, care for others, punctuality, courtesy, and fairness. The further argue that free markets moderate selfishness and greed and result in better care for the environment. They conclude with the conditions that are necessary for a free market system to work: the governmental conditions, the necessary liberties, the necessary cultural beliefs. They argue that governments must establish the rule of law, an impartial justice system, eliminate or make rare corruption. The government must have enough power to protect its people against crime, disease, invasion, contract and patent violations, and environmental destruction while at the same time having its powers limited and separated so that it does not stifle economic growth. Necessary freedoms include: freedom to own property, to travel, to start businesses, to work a job of one’s choice, etc. These freedoms must exist not merely legally but also practically. Important cultural values include: belief in God and in a final judgment, honesty, productivity, education, patriotism, etc.

Overall, I believe Grudem and Asmus are right. The solution to poverty is to produce more goods and services and free market economies do this better than other forms. However, I was left with two questions. (1) What are the other goals that a society ought to have? Does the free market system ever stand in tension with these other goals? For instance, they highlight the importance of a society being willing to change in order to compete. This is certainly true on a technological level. But certainly Christians have to resist cultural changes that erode aspects of culture shaped by Scripture. All citizens should worry about societal change that undermines social cohesion. (2) How has the Fall affected the free market system? I’m suspicious when Christians can’t locate the effects of the Fall on a certain area of life. This often happens in discussions on music. It seemed to happen in this book’s discussion on economics. The free market system was held up as the solution. I would have found the book more convincing if they had noted the effects of the Fall and how to mitigate them.

These criticisms noted, overall I found the book a helpful read. I think the authors established their primary point.

Clendenin, E. Ray and David K. Stabnow. HCSB: Navigating the Horizons in Bible Translations Nashville: B&H, 2012.

The last decade and a half has seen the emergence of several new or revised Bible translations. Often with these translations come books that explain and defend the translation philosophy of a given translation. Leland Ryken has written several books that do this for the ESV. This book was written to explain and defend the philosophy behind the Holman Christian Standard Bible. The authors argue for making a fresh translation rather than revising a translation with roots reaching back to Tyndale. They defend a translation philosophy that values many of the priorities of functional equivalence but which is willing to sacrifice them at points where naturalness and clarity are at stake. Thus the HCSB will seek to follow reflect the grammar and even word order of a passage, but it may render an idiom with an equivalent or resolve an ambiguity with a translation that reflects a specific interpretation. The authors also discuss specific translation decisions such as use of Yahweh, Messiah, and slave in many cases instead of Lord, Christ, or bondservant. The authors also provide a primer on textual criticism.

This is an interesting read for those who wish to peer behind the scenes of a good Bible translation. In comparison with Ryken’s books, this work is more accurate in discussing linguistic issues. Ryken has a better understanding of literary issues. Thus I remain unconvinced regarding the treatment of metaphors that Clendenin and Stabnow promote. Ryken and this volume also clash on the value of revisions versus fresh translations. I think both male excellent points, and in this regard I’m happy to use both translations. Regarding the specific translation issues, some (such as the use of Yahweh and Messiah) I like while on others, such as the use of "slave", I remain ambivalent.

Overall I prefer the ESV as my primary translation. I prefer its preservation of original metaphors when practical and approve of their choice to do so when the metaphor is understandable in English rather than only when it is natural, as in the HCSB. Nonetheless, I often turn to the HCSB and I am often impressed with their translational choices.

Articles

Schafer, A. Rachel. "Rest for the Animals? Nonhuman Sabbath Repose in Penateuchal Law," Bulletin for Biblical Research 23.2 (2013):167-86.

Argues that the care for animals, both domestic and wild, specified in the Sabbath commands (book weekly and every seven years) implies responsibilities for animal care. The exegesis of the article does support the claim that humans are to give requisite care to God’s animal creation. The concluding footnote that suggests becoming a vegan is the best practical way to exercise this care does not follow from the argument.

Hannon, Michael W. "Against Heterosexuality." First Things (March 2013): 27-34.

Argues that the heterosexuality/homosexuality constructs are recent (mid-nineteenth century), already being questioned by LGBTQ academia, and probably on their way out once their usefulness in creating civil rights analogies grants the legal status and compulsions desired. Hannon argues that Christians should resist the construct on the grounds that sinful behavior should not be embraced as an ontological identifier. In addition the label "heterosexuality" should not be used to designate a "normal" that obscures other kinds of sin.

Peter Lombard. The Sentences, Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs. Translated by Giulio Silano. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010. pp. 136-233 [Extreme unction, ecclesiastical orders, marriage].

This section of The Sentences deals primarily with marriage. Given the prominence of marriage in contemporary political discourse, this discussion is very interesting. Peter’s view stands in stark contrast with the prevailing American view of marriage, as the following quotation demonstrates: "And so the principal final cause for the contracting of marriage is the procreation of offspring. For it for this that God instituted marriage between our first parents., to whom he said: Increase and multiply, etc.—The second is, after Adam’s sin, the avoidance of fornication; hence the Apostle: Because of fornication, let each man have a wife and each woman her husband.—There are also some other honourable causes, such as the reconciliation of enemies and the re-establishment of peace.—There are also other less honourable causes because of which marriage is at times contracted, such as the beauty of the man or the woman, which often impels spirits inflamed with love to enter into marriage so that they may fulfil their desire. Advantage also, and the possession of riches, frequently is the cause of a marriage, as are also many others, which it is easy for anyone with diligence to discern" (Bk. 4, Dist. 30, ch. 3.2 [§180]). It is interesting that beauty and passion ranks low with Lombard whereas they probably rank toward the topic in the modern conception whereas procreation is far more significant as a purpose of marriage than it probably is for most moderns. And yet Lombard is also a significant reminder that appealing to traditional views of marriage is not sufficient for the Christian, for he sees the physical delight of a husband and wife in each other as a venial sin. Scripture, not tradition or contemporary culture, must be the touchstone of our views on marriage.

Land: Genesis 7

Land words occur in Genesis 7 at a higher percentage per verse than in any other chapter in Genesis.[1] Land words occur in several contexts in the chapter. In several instances God is promising to keep alive earth-creatures by bringing them on the ark: “to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth” (7:3); “. . . and of everything that creeps on the ground, tow and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah (7:8-9); “and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth . . . went into the ark with Noah” (7:14-15). In several other instances the emphasis is on the death of all creatures not in the ark: “and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground” (7:4); “and all flesh died that moved on the earth . . . all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth” (7:21); “everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died” (7:22); “he blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground” (7:23); “they were blotted out from the earth” (7:23). Finally, earth is repeatedly the destination of the great flood: “I will send rain on the earth” (7:4); “. . . when the flood of waters came upon the earth” (7:6); “the waters of the flood came upon the earth” (7:9); “and rain fell upon the earth” (7:12); “the flood continued forty days on the earth” (7:17); “the waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth” (7:17); “the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth . . .” (7:18); “and the waters prevailed on the earth” (7:24).

It is clear from these verses that the earth stood at the center of God’s judgment, that the earth-dwellers faced certain death unless they received rescue and life through the ark. The centrality of the earth to this judgment is made clearer by the many echoes back to Genesis 1 in these chapters.[2] In the Flood God is reversing the creation and then recreating his earth. This shows the great extent of the judgment—sin required a recreation. It also shows the depth of sin—even a recreation and washing of the earth with water cannot rid the world of the problem of sin. Finally, it demonstrates the centrality of the earth for God’s purposes. Land plays a large role in the promises of God, and it plays a large role in the judgments of God.

A number of different land words are used in Genesis 7. אֶ֫רֶץ is the most common (14x). אֲדָמָה occurs three times. In verse 4 it is used to recall the curse of Genesis 3:17-19.[3] In 7:23 it is used alongside אָדָם, which may be a literary association designed to highlight that man who came from the ground is returning to the ground.[4] חָרָבָה, which means “dry land” or “dry ground” is used in 7:22 to note that all life on the dry land died in the Flood.


[1] In terms of straight number of occurrences, only Genesis 1, 41, 47 exceed chapter 7.

[2] Mathews, 1:376; Wenham, 1:182; Sailhamer, 80.

[3] Mathews, 1:373.

[4] Mathews, 1:381.