Part 4: Back to Basics ii.
Featuring: Anthony Norris III and Steven Lot
Norris: [With an exasperated shake of the head, while looking at Lot. As if to say, “I told you he was a goat.”] The Bible is never wrong, and neither is Jehovah. He said Adam would die if he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam ate, and he died. Satan, meanwhile, was proven to be the “father of the lie” by claiming that Adam and Eve could disobey Jehovah and not die.
Socrates: But just a minute; what you just said is not at all what your Bible says.
It says that Jehovah told Adam that “in the day you eat from it you will certainly die.” Yet we read that, after eating from the forbidden tree, Adam did not die that day; he lived for more than another 800 years!
On the other hand, the talking serpent fruit-vendor said that the problem with eating from the tree was not that they would die, but as he told Eve: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad.” (Gen. 3:4-5)
And, sure enough, the Bible reports that as soon as they ate from the tree, “the eyes of both of them were opened” (Gen. 3:7) And Jehovah himself afterwards confirmed the truth of the rest of the serpent’s words, stating: “Here the man has become like one of us in knowing good and bad.” (Gen. 3:22)
So, it seems that Jehovah was the liar, while the serpent told the truth.
Norris: No, the Bible tells at Titus 1:2 that it is impossible for God to lie.
The answer lies in 2 Peter 3:8, which tells us that a day is as a thousand years to Jehovah. Adam died some 800 years after eating the forbidden fruit; within the thousand-year “day.” So Jehovah was telling the truth.
Socrates: And had Adam read 2 Peter?
Norris: Of course not. That was written thousands of years after Adam had died.
Socrates: Then how would he have a clue as to a day being a thousand years?
Lot: He didn’t. But we do, and that’s what matters.
Socrates: Why did Jehovah tell him, “in the day you eat from it you will certainly die,” if, given the way Adam would understand those words, it was untrue?
If I tell you that I can ascend to heaven by just using my own will-power, would you believe me?
Lot: Of course not.
Socrates: Ah, but you see, what I said is true: using my will-power I can get online and book a flight right now, and within a few hours I would be ascending heavenward.
Lot: Well, you tricked me: using words in a different way then we commonly understand them.
Socrates: Yes, I did. Very godly of me, you might add, because this is exactly what you say Jehovah did to Adam: using the word “day” in a way that Adam would not understand. All the while it was very important that Adam understood the exact consequences of disobedience.
For instance, if I tell you that if you commit a moral crime — let’s say coming back here on another visit after I’ve told you that I never want to see you again — then you will be sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating a no-trespassing order.
Might you visit me again if I phoned you and said that I had a change of heart, and needed to urgently see you?
Socrates: Without even checking with the authorities first to verify that the restraining order had been canceled?
Lot: I probably wouldn’t bother taking the time for such legalities if my urgently coming to you meant bringing a new brother into the Truth. After all, 30 days in jail is a small price to maybe have to pay in Jehovah’s service.
Socrates: But here’s the thing: when I said “day” — unbeknownst to you — I meant a thousand days.
Now, if you knew that the penalty was 30,000 days (82 years) instead of 30 days, might it have made a difference in your actions?
Lot: Yes: I would probably take the time to double-check the status of the restraining order first, in that case.
Socrates: So, it would’ve been unfair of me not to accurately explain the full consequences up-front, in a way that you would understand. My words led you to a different course of action than if I had spoken to you in a way you would understand.
A god of “all justice” would not behave this way, would he?
Lot: Of course not.
Socrates: And, knowing that you would understand a “day” to refer to a literal 24-hour day, I really lied to you when I said the penalty would be 30 days, didn’t I?
Lot: You certainly did.
Socrates: Yes, because when we know that someone will take the meaning of our words in a way that renders them false, then we are deliberately lying to them.
So, either Jehovah never said “in the day you eat from it you will certainly die,” or Jehovah lied. And you already told me that it’s impossible for him to lie.
It seems we’ve arrived at an impasse: either the Bible is wrong, or Jehovah lied. Yet you tell me that neither is possible.
[Long pause, with looks of perplexity exchanged between Lot and Norris.]
Norris: You reached this dilemma because you are using human reasoning: worldly philosophy, instead of relying on faith in Jehovah.
Socrates: But Jehovah has not spoken to me directly. All I have to go by is the Bible, and your interpretation of it. I’m trying to follow the path you are leading me along. But, I’m sorry, maybe I’m dense, but the path seems to dead-end. I hope you can help me understand, because I really like the idea of a paradise earth.
Lot: Look, it’s really simple. Satan tempted the woman (she hadn’t even been given a name as yet), and she tempted Adam into the sin of disobedience. Jehovah had given them freewill, and so let them live with their choice of having Satan as the ruler of this old world. They brought sin and death into the world, which in turn brought about all the troubles in our world today.
But Jehovah rescued us via the Ransom Sacrifice —
Socrates: Excuse me for interrupting, but I have questions about what you just said, and I need to ask them before I forget.
Norris: [With a big sigh] Go ahead.
Lot: [With a big smile] We welcome questions.
Socrates: You keep bringing in this “Satan,” yet I don’t see him mentioned anywhere in Genesis — or in any of the first five books of the Bible for that matter. This account only mentions a serpent. And this serpent was “the craftiest of all the wild animals of the field that Jehovah God had made.”
Yet you tell us that animals at that time were all herbivores. So, how was the serpent “crafty”? Did he sneak up on the plants he ate, or what?
Norris: No. Revelation 12:9 shows that this was all referring to Satan the devil. He was just using the serpent for his mouthpiece. Satan was a fallen angel: an opposer who had rebelled against Jehovah.
Socrates: It’s odd that the writers of Genesis never mentioned Satan, nor do the first five books of the Bible (which you say Moses wrote.) Seems like the authors didn’t know Satan existed.
But, according to you, someone writing the book of Revelation, centuries later, makes the claim that the serpent was a front-man for Satan. And, for some reason, you believe him.
If your conjecture is true, then it’s even more odd that Jehovah hadn’t banned Satan from the garden for his sin of rebellion. Then he wouldn’t have had to later banish Adam and the woman for having listened to Satan.
Lot: I never thought of that.
Norris: We can’t second-guess God.
Socrates: Maybe. But we can certainly examine this ancient account to see if it makes sense and follows the “clear-cut logic” you spoke of.
You say it was referring to Satan, not the serpent, as “the craftiest of all the wild animals.” So, Satan was a wild animal?
Lot: No, the serpent was the wild animal. But Satan was the crafty one. He used a creature that is not endowed with the power of speech, by what might be called ventriloquism, to make it appear that the serpent was talking.
Socrates: Well, then the account is very poorly written: to refer to two different individuals in the same phrase with no indication of having changed subjects.
If Satan was so crafty, it occurs to me that he might’ve used a disembodied voice to deceive the woman, instead of dragging the serpent into the picture as a ventriloquist’s dummy. The Bible tells us that the couple “heard the voice of God as he was walking in the garden.” So, if I’m Satan, wanting to trick the woman, why not imitate God’s disembodied voice? That would be more likely to accomplish the goal of getting them to eat the forbidden fruit (since they had already been obeying God’s voice up till that moment.)
Norris: Now you’re second-guessing Satan.
Socrates: I’m just putting us in his situation, and seeing what would be the “craftiest” thing to do. If the Bible tells us he did something less crafty, then it calls the veracity of the account into question yet again.
But when someone commits a sin, I’m sure it’s similar to committing a crime: there must be means, motive, and opportunity.
Jehovah had given Satan the means by creating him as the craftiest one, with the ability to “throw” his voice. And Jehovah had given him the opportunity by not protecting his guileless latest creation from Satan’s wiles. But what was Satan’s motive? What did he stand to gain by getting the couple to disobey Jehovah? That’s what is missing here.
If he was so shrewd, he must’ve known that all he would get out of the deal was a curse. So, it doesn’t make any sense that Satan would’ve done this.
What does make sense of all of this is when we take the account as a corruption of a still older myth: one that gave the serpent a comprehensible motive.
In Sir James Frazer’s Folklore in the Old Testament, chapter 2 delves into the ancient sources of this myth, which commonly relate that a snake was charged by God to deliver a message to the human couple: to eat from the tree of life in order to gain immortality. But the devious snake tells them to eat from a different tree, while the snake surreptitiously eats from the tree of life himself and so gains immortality (which snakes were believed to have due to the shedding of their skin, supposedly renewing their life.)
Sir Frazer concludes:
The story of the Fall of Man in the third chapter of Genesis appears to be an abridged version of this savage myth. Little is wanted to complete its resemblance to the similar myths still told by savages in many parts of the world. The principal, almost the only, omission is the silence of the narrator as to the eating of the fruit of the tree of life by the serpent, and the consequent attainment of immortality by the reptile. (p. 76)
This explanation fits the account, as written in Genesis, much better than taking the story your way. It explains why a serpent is involved in the story in the first place, and why the Bible calls the animal crafty. It also explains why such a minor infraction of a rule about fruit would garner the death penalty (which otherwise would suffer egregiously from the punishment not fitting the crime.)
And, if what you claim is true regarding authorship, then Moses also wrote about a talking donkey. You don’t claim that the donkey was another ventriloquist’s dummy of Satan’s, do you?
Lot: No, Satan wasn’t involved that time. Jehovah granted the donkey the ability to speak, and evidently it spoke its own mind.
Socrates: But, don’t you see what’s plainly before you? The author or authors of these books were so naive that they actually believed that animals could speak!
In the end, the talking serpent story is just a tale meant to explain to the primitive mind why snakes seemingly live forever, while people do not.
Norris: Well, we’re not concerned with primitive myths. We only go by what the Bible says.
What about the other tree? And can sin be inherited? Don’t miss the continuation of this discussion in Part 5!