Genesis 15:5-6: Are We Really Justified by Faith Alone?

righteousness-of-godIn Genesis 15:6, Scripture records Abram’s response to God’s promise to grant him as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. The Christian understanding of this verse is that God judges Abram to be righteous because of his faith.

This verse has profound theological implications because Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith [alone] rests largely on this understanding. But, is this understanding correct?

Probably not. It turns out that all English translations of Genesis 15:6 add words1)and punctuation! that are not attested in the actual Hebrew. Here for example, is a direct translation of the actual Hebrew (with no added English words):

Then he believed in the LORD and reckoned it to him righteousness.”

A straightforward reading of the actual Hebrew (above) has Abram recognizing the righteousness of God, not the other way around. It turns out that the translators of both the Septuagint and modern English Bibles beginning with the KJV felt it necessary to add additional words that were not attested in the original Hebrew. For example, compare the translation above with the NRS translation of the same verse:

(NRS) “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

or the KJV’s translation:

(KJV) “And he believed the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

In both of these translations, the translators added a semi-colon and a subject neither of which is attested in the underlying, actual Hebrew. A detailed analysis of this verse can be downloaded here and clearly shows that God did not justify Abram. A correct understanding is that Abram came to recognize God’s righteousness.

Now, go and study

References   [ + ]

1. and punctuation!
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Rationalizing the Narratives: Sodom and Gomorrah and The Binding of Isaac

leaving-sodom-and-gomorrah

Leaving Sodom and Gomorrah

Consider these two observations:

In the “Sodom and Gomorrah” narrative, Abraham tries to persuade God to spare the inhabitants of these two cities if just a few righteous individuals can be found. Justice (but also mercy and compassion) are at the core of Abraham’s persistent objections to God’s plan to decimate the two cities. In this narrative, Abraham is shown to care deeply for the innocent and to courageously contend against God’s plan on their behalf.

akeida

Abraham attempts to kill his son, Isaac

On the other hand, in the story of “The Binding of Isaac” (a.k.a., The Akedah), Abraham drops everything in order to carry out God’s wish that his son, Isaac, be sacrificed by his own hand. No objection. No negotiation. No pleas for mercy. Abraham’s is an unquestioning, almost slavish response. Where is the humanity he showed so obviously and persistently in the Sodom-Gomorrah narrative in light of the fact that it is his own [innocent] son that is to be murdered-  by his own hand, no less?

I don’t have the answer (and may never have – it’s a profoundly complex and culture-laden question). But, there are hints that might be pursued, one of which is that God does not actually command that Abraham murder Isaac. Rather, Genesis 22:2 turns out to be a request, not a command. Here is how the English reads from the actual Hebrew of the first part of Genesis 22:2,

And God said, “Please, take your son, your only son …”1)or instead of ‘please’, the Hebrew word from which this is translated can, and often is, translated as, “I pray you”

As far as I can tell, this verse is the only instance in all of the Hebrew Bible in which God says please. Is this significant? I don’t know but deviations from expected behavior are almost always significant. Nevertheless, at this point I’m grasping at straws. I’m left wondering what I (we?) may have missed in interpreting the lessons to be divined from these two famous narratives?

What do you think? I’m truly open to any and all suggestions.

References   [ + ]

1. or instead of ‘please’, the Hebrew word from which this is translated can, and often is, translated as, “I pray you”
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So, You Think You Know Your Bible

how well do you know the bible

Questions

The First Creation Story:

  1. According to the Bible was the earth created from nothing? Explain.
  2. Reconcile God’s omniscience with the observation that the universe is perfectly indeterminate (i.e., unpredictable). HINT: Reflect on God’s attempt at making fruit trees in vv 1:11-12
  3. Why did God NOT judge His creative work on the second day as good – like He did for the other 5 days?
  4. Mankind is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). What is the difference between the two?
  5. In most ANE (Ancient Near East) creation stories (including Genesis) the protagonist is made in the image of god (or gods). So, if being made in the image of God is commonplace, why do we make it such a big deal?
  6. In Genesis 1:28 mankind is commanded to rule over God’s creation. More specifically, mankind is commanded to rule differently for inanimate and animate creations. Explain the difference?
  7. What is the significance of the Sabbath?
  8. What is the last verse of the first creation story?

Second Creation Story:

  1. In the first creation story mankind’s purpose was to rule over all of God’s creation. So, what does the 2nd creation story tell us about why God created mankind?
  2. Who committed the very first transgression in the Garden of Eden (HINT: Deuteronomy 4:2)
  3. In Genesis 2:16, God gives Adam permission to eat from each and every tree in the Garden of Eden, including the tree of knowledge. Explain, then, how eating from the tree of knowledge was a disobedient act?
  4. What does the phrase “good and evil” (Heb: tov va·ra) really mean (HINT: It’s not what you’ve been taught)?
  5. Why did Adam and Eve not die after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?
  6. In what sense was it “not good” for Adam to be alone – Lack of companionship. Lack of a servant? Lack of someone to help him tend the garden? something else?
  7. Why did God banish Adam and Eve from Eden (HINT: it was not a punishment. It has to do with the answer to question ‘d’)?
  8. Read and Study Genesis 3:16. Are husbands really required to rule over their wives when they’re in pain? If yes, do you think such marriages are destined for success? If not, explain.

The answers to these questions will appear in two weeks, following the lecture and discussion next week at the “Lutrin Fly-Fishing and Bible Thumpin’ Conclave”. Stay tuned.

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Tolerating Moral Differences

The Bible has an interesting take on tolerating moral differences. After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were a force with which to be reckoned, and constituted a formidable nation in their own right. Ready to enter and take possession of the land of Canaan, God instructs them to attack and destroy the local tribes of Canaan before establishing their settlements. Why?

Because, as God informs the Israelites, the Canaanites “burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods”(Deut 12:31).

But, while God detests child sacrifice, His command has nothing to do with ridding the world of this practice! Rather, He is unwilling to have His people live among the Canaanites and yet tolerate child sacrifice. Thus, we read in Deut 20:17-18, that God commands the Israelites to annihilate everyone in Canaan “so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.”

God’s fear was that by coexisting with a culture that engaged in such practices, the Israelites would inevitably begin to worship the Canaanite gods.

Molek (Masoretic מֹלֶךְ) is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god or possibly an ancient form of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents as sacrifice for the deity.

Molekh (Masoretic מֹלֶךְ) is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god or possibly an ancient form of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents as sacrifice for the deity.

Child sacrifice to the god Molekh was an important moral obligation for the people of Canaan. So important, in fact, that when Joshua offered peace to any city that would give up the practice, all but one city refused the peace offering (Joshua 11:18-19). In offering peace, Joshua was not abrogating God’s command. He was executing God’s intentions. As God explained (see above), His purpose was to protect the Israelites from the temptation to worship Molekh. The intent of God’s command was to remove the temptation that tolerance encourages and implicitly supports.

tolerance-not-christian-virtueThe tolerance of moral diversity is simply not a Judeo-Christian value. So, are Jews and Christians then to murder those whose moral values differ from theirs? Of course not. As did Joshua, we are to seek God’s intentions which, throughout the Holy Scriptures, requires the exercise of critical thought and reasoned judgment. We are not, as many literalists would have it, to lose ourselves in the forest because all we see are trees.

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