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Digging Deeper: The Story of Adam and Eve

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., writer for Foundations by ICM

 

The Sense in the Serpent

I am quite interested in the work of those who investigate the details of the Genesis creation stories along scientific lines. I wholly support any honest study of the possibilities of things like a global flood1, genetic analysis to see if man really does trace its origins back to a single pair,2 or even questioning whether or not there is some evidence that serpents used to have legs. I do not believe, however, that these studies hold the keys to understanding Genesis.

 

How to Read Genesis

If you want to understand the theological messaging of Genesis, you have to read it like a pagan. That is to say that Genesis was written within a context of the global dominance of pagan worldview and was intended as a help for those struggling to understand and embrace biblical worldview under the great pressure of that pagan dominance. Stories of creation that sustained the pagan perception of god, man, and reality populated the imaginations of every society, and Genesis is constructed to preach the truth about God, man, and reality in intentional opposition to those stories. Genesis is about the true origin and nature of Divine order. It reveals how the world was made to function so that man could learn how to function best within it.

Let me illustrate by talking about the context for reading about the serpent in Genesis 3.

Only a child imagines that Genesis 3 is some etiological tale about why women don’t like snakes or why snakes have no legs. Given the role of the serpent dragons in so many Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts one would be foolish not to believe that there is a connection between it and them. Indeed, many Scriptures show a keen awareness of these ancient serpent dragon stories. Authors cast enemies in their image,3 and link the serpent figure with Satan Himself.4

 

The World through Pagan Eyes

My doctoral dissertation demanded extensive contrasts and comparisons between pagan and biblical creation stories and flood stories. We learn much about the pagan view of gods, man, and reality from reading their myths, and discover just how radical the biblical worldview was to them when they encountered it. So, if I were a pagan reading Genesis, let me tell you how it would strike me, and what I would intuit most from the story of the fall of man and the serpent.

In Genesis, the entire nature of Yahweh is radically different from pagan conceptions of God. Rather than being an untrustworthy, powerful but highly limited, self-absorbed, fickle, super-being bound to the created order that was established by someone else wholly unknown and unknowable… i.e. a pagan deity… Yahweh is the One Holy Creator of all. He is omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, transcendent but immanent.5  Yahweh is positively disposed to his creation as a loving and good Creator, can be trusted and personally known, and is the very source of all morals and ethics. All creatures spiritual and material are heading for a trial before the judgment seat of Yahweh to answer for their actions in Yahweh’s world toward Yahweh and Yahweh’s creations.

 

The World through God’s Eyes

In Genesis, the entire nature of man is radically different from pagan conceptions of man. Rather than being created as a barely tolerable slave of the gods, kept in check by suffering to keep him from proliferating and adding to his general annoyance of the pagan gods… rather than being on his own to work out his destiny for himself by manipulating pagan gods through ritual to achieve his own ends without any dependable moral or ethical guidance from the gods… in Genesis Man is Yahweh’s highest creation. Man was made to be filled with Yahweh’s Holy Spirit as His ruling and reigning image in the world. Man is given a mission and a blessing and declared with all the rest of Yahweh’s beloved creation, to be very good.

In Genesis, the entire nature of reality is different from pagan conceptions of it. Rather than being a random compilation of conflicting pagan gods who are the cosmic forces of the world cycling endlessly and purposely… the world of Yahweh had an intentional beginning and is driving toward an intentional end. In Genesis, nature is a body of material forces wholly subjected to the order of Yahweh and without personal volition. The wisdom of Yahweh is woven into the fabric of reality as a system of natural reward and punishment.

 

The Serpent’s Role in the Story

As the pagan’s mind reels in the face of such declarations, the role of the serpent appearing late in the creation tale blows his mind. The images of sea and serpent dragon are, in the pagan stories of creation, the very visage of chaos, the amoral destroyer of worlds, the enemy of an active and thriving cosmos. This ruinous force predates the populating cosmos, is at enmity with it, and must be conquered for it to progress. In defeat, the serpent dragon becomes instrumental in the natural world’s establishment as a necessary but ever-threatening part of its foundations.  If something could be said to be “wrong” with the world as the pagans conceived it, it would be the idea that chaos is part of the world’s primary wiring and only man is truly looking out for the interests of man in the cosmic battle against it.

Not so, in Genesis. There, the world is very good. Other portions of Scripture will work the poetic imagery of the sea as a barely controlled enemy, but in the Genesis creation, the sea is just one more purely material force among many. The waters of the deep divide at command, above from below, seas from land, just as the darkness flees the light, and the waters and land team when God demands that they do so.

World trouble is born in Genesis 3, not Genesis 1 or 2. The serpent comes as an enemy to entice the man and woman into rebellion against God. As regents over God’s world, the creation is cursed by their sin and not by the presence of the serpent, malicious as he is. The source of world evil, of world chaos, is found not in the sea, serpent, or Satan, but in the rebellious heart of man himself. Satan may tempt and lure, seduce and deceive, but it is man’s own selfish heart that spawns evil in the world. The fault of man is not his failure to create the right kinds of systems, cultures, laws, or institutions, but the fact that none of these are immune to the influence of his corrupt heart. Satan may seek our ruin, but man’s greatest enemy is himself.

You can debate the literalness of the snake and look for scientific evidence of his curse in his namesakes, but I want to understand his role in the creation story, the meaning and influence of his words, and the impact that he had on bringing human evil into God’s good world, and how we, the children of Adam and Eve can find stability, restoration, and redemption in the world that we, and not he, ruined.

 

1A global flood is not necessary in the Hebrew reading of Genesis 6-8. In fact, evidence, as I’ve seen it, points more strongly toward a massive regional flood in the Black Sea area, though some have brought forth some interesting data in support of the other.
2Some wonderful claims of this have come forth of late by those looking at DNA records, as well as genetic evidence for a spontaneous explosion of species around the same time mere tens of thousands of years ago.
3These serpents are usually the visual double of the primordial sea, the great enemy of creation. Leviathan shows up in Job 41, Psalms 74 and 104, and Isaiah 27. Rahab shows up in Job 9, Psalm 87, and Isaiah 30. Labu appears without name in Ezekiel 29.  We have great adversaries rising as beasts from the sea in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. There are more.
4Revelation 12 and 20.
5i.e. standing outside the created order, but wholly present in its operation, flow, and purpose, making Himself known to His creatures. 

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What is Sin?

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

It makes sense that many people wonder “what is sin?” First, sin is uncomfortable to talk about. Hearing the word sin might bring about feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or even anger. Second, many people may feel that sin is an outdated concept. Some may think that to sin is merely to violate some arbitrary religious rule and so we don’t really need to worry about it too much. Insisting that sin is relevant and important may seem presumptuous or naive. Nevertheless, from the Christian perspective, sin is an idea that matters very much and it needs to be understood. It is a central idea in the Christian story, the fundamental problem that needs to be solved. After all, Jesus came to save us from our sin (Matthew 1:21).

To understand what sin is, we first need to see that there is a way the world should be and there is a way that we should be as human beings. God created the world with a certain purpose in mind and he created us with a certain purpose as well. That purpose has never changed. Jesus helps us understand what that purpose is when he gives us the greatest commandments. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29–31).

 

Defining Sin

Here is a simple way to understand what sin is. Any time we fail to live according to God’s purpose for us, then we sin. One Hebrew word translated as sin is khata and it literally means to “miss the mark.”  Hamartia is a word often translated as sin in the New Testament and it refers to an “act contrary to the will and law of God” (Louw Nida).

The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe sin. Sin is described as a weight that keeps us from God and from enjoying God’s blessings (Hebrews 12:1). Sin is a restraint that causes our strength to fail (Lamentations 1:14). Sin is like a sickness that needs to be healed (Hosea 7:1). Sin is a debt that we cannot pay back; our sin results in destruction, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin is also sometimes personified as if it had the power to entice and entangle us (Romans 7:17).

 

Consequences of Sin

As we can see, the consequences of sin are grave. The Bible tells us that a life of sin is ultimately a life of suffering, defeat, and death. Some might think that sin has this power because it is literally some kind of force. And the Bible does sometimes talk about sin as if it was a force (cf. Romans 7), but that is likely only a metaphor. Sin doesn’t have any power of its own. Rather, sin is just the name the Bible gives to those acts which don’t align with God’s will and intentions for us. To sin is to rebel against our Creator. 

But that raises a tough question. If sin doesn’t have any power on its own, then why does it produce all these bad effects? There are two reasons for this. First, when we sin, we do what we weren’t designed to do. When we act in ways that run contrary to our design, it makes us unhappy. It’s as if a bird decided to live like a worm. Birds aren’t made to live like worms; that’s not their purpose. Its wings won’t be much use for burrowing and its beak won’t do for eating a worm’s diet. So the bird will be unhappy because that is the natural consequence of going against its design.

God created us to love him and to love each other. When we don’t do that, we are like the bird who lives like a worm. We will be frustrated and suffer; we will be unhappy. Sin separates us from God. Apart from God, we cannot possibly be happy. That makes sense if loving God is our purpose. Loving him is the only way we can really thrive as human beings. Without God’s help, “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–everyone– to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Sometimes, sinning can lead to momentary pleasure, but it will inevitably result in an empty life in the end.

 

Judgment of Sin

Second, the Bible says that God punishes sin. Sin goes against our design as God’s image bearers, but it also violates the law of God. As a God of justice, God must punish violations of the law. God is the perfectly just God who enforces a perfect law. He is not like a fallible human judge who administers an often broken and bent human law. Since the law of God is “perfect” and since his statutes are “trustworthy,” trespasses are dreadfully serious (Psalm 145:7). A just judge cannot simply overlook infractions of a perfect law. So God justly punishes sin. Psalm 145:20 says that God will “destroy” the wicked. Jesus reaffirms this in the New Testament. Jesus says that sinners will “be thrown into hell… where the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47–48). This is another way that sin separates us from God.

That’s bad news. It’s especially bad news when we learn that the Bible teaches that all of us are sinners, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9–11). All of us have sinned and none of us can escape the justice of the all-knowing God. And if we refuse to love God, then the inevitable outcome is that we become hollow and empty. God is the only source of life, and when we sin, we cut ourselves off from that.

 

The Good News

But there’s a reason why the coming of Jesus is said to be “good news.” Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, and his death satisfied the justice of God. Because of Jesus, God can forgive our sins and still be a God of justice. And Jesus restores the broken connection between God and man so that we “may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Through the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love God as we ought. We can live the life we were meant to live. 

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What Does it Mean to Make Disciples?

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Jesus was the original disciple-maker. It is safe to say, making disciples was a focal point of his ministry. Not only did Jesus command his disciples to make more disciples, he modeled and taught them for around three years how to do so. His ministry principles recorded in the New Testament reveal the difference between a leader that people have to follow, and a leader that people want to follow. Disciple-making in simple terms is leadership. It is one Believer shepherding another to be made more into the image of Christ, our supreme example (2 Cor 3:18). So when Jesus was discipling his “flock”, he was teaching them to be like him, and to do what he did.

 

Calling and Commissioning

First words and final words hold great importance. When Jesus called out his disciples he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19 ESV).” After he assembled his twelve disciples for the first time, he provided them with more detail about what “fishing for men” means. These first words of Jesus to the Twelve are recorded in Mark 3:14-15, “…he appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (ESV).” Similarly, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were a commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).’”

This passage is known as one of the Great Commission passages and almost perfectly resembles his first words to the disciples. The Gospel author, Matthew, intentionally emphasizes Jesus’ first and final words in the structure of his writing. Disciples are called and commissioned by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus.

 

Who is a Disciple-Maker?

A disciple is a repentant worshiper and follower of Jesus. The term translated as disciple in the New Testament means learner and refers to a student or apprentice.  Jesus did not invent the term or practice of discipleship. In fact, the practice of being a disciple or apprentice was discovered in ancient Greek writings five centuries before Jesus began his incarnate ministry.1 When he called out his twelve young disciples, he said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’, he was inviting them into a discipleship relationship to learn how to be like him (Matt 4:19). After they were called out they, “went where he went, saw what he saw, heard what he heard, and attempted to do what he did.” A disciple is to be a close and obedient follower of Jesus. One church planter says, “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person.”2 Thus, a disciple-maker is a disciple of Jesus, who teaches others how to follow and obey Jesus also. When disciple-makers gather and covenant together, they birth communities of discipleship the Bible calls a church. Because we, the Church,  are a nation of priests, Jesus’ command to make disciples has been passed down to every follower of Jesus. Discipleship is not reserved for pastors alone, but for the whole body of Christ. Pastors, then, are lead disciple-makers in a local community of discipleship.

A disciple maker:

  • Is a follower of Jesus who has been sent with his authority and responsibility.
  • A Shepherd who humbly cares for others.
  • Has others’ best interest in mind and fights for their highest possible good.
  • Equips and empowers others to do greater works than they have accomplished.

 

Making Disciples

One of the famous great commission passages, Matthew 28:18-20, offers a simple but profound call for all believers that may be applied through a series of questions.

Am I willing to be obedient to:

  • Commit a few hours a week to share my life with others?
  • “Go” and preach the gospel to a different people group than my own to whom the Lord sends me?
  • Baptize new believers?
  • Teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded in the Scriptures?
  • Trust that Jesus’ Spirit is with me everywhere and always?

If you answered yes to these, you need no other authority than Jesus’ to make disciples. However, a first step may be that you need someone to disciple you. Pray for this person, and be encouraged that Jesus is our primary discipler and his Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

The apostle Paul stressed Jesus’ principle of multiplication to one of his disciples, Timothy. In writing his final letter to Timothy, Paul’s final words mirrored Jesus’ final words, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2 ESV).” Effective disciple makers equip and empower others to equip and empower others. The intention of discipleship is that those whom we disciple will be obedient to go and disciple others. This is popularly referred to as making disciple-making disciples. One of the men who discipled me through a season of life reminded me that we all multiply. The question is what or who are we multiplying? Disciple makers’ aim is to multiply disciples of Jesus, not simply themselves.

 

What Discipleship is Not

In my experience, the men who discipled me that had the greatest impact on my life did not just fill my head with a lot of knowledge, they shared their own lives with me as well. They led by example and often invited me on short trips to the market, to help neighbors, and oftentimes to sit with them at their family dinner table. They made time for me even when it was not always convenient for them. They used the bible as the training material and taught me how to read it prayerfully and apply it carefully to my own life. While information transfer is an easier form of discipleship, information alone is incomplete. As disciple makers, we must share not only our knowledge but our very lives as well.

 

Model, Assist, Watch, Leave

A helpful paradigm for discipleship exists in the four phases of modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving (and launching). First, a disciple-maker models for others how to follow Jesus in obedience. Second, the discipler assists the new disciple in living out Jesus’ character and commands. Third, the discipler watches as the new disciple grows in confidence and competence. Fourth, the discipler leaves and launches the equipped and empowered disciple to go do the same for others. Jesus and Paul most clearly represent this fluid paradigm in the Scriptures. While leaving their disciples physically after a time, Jesus sent his Spirit and promised he would be with them even after he left them. Paul also continually visited and wrote back to those he had once discipled and left. The goal of discipleship is that we would empower others to “do greater works” than we have (John 14:12).

 

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1Robinson, George G. “Grounding Disciple-making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Accessed November 10, 2021, 3. https://www.academia.edu/33940384/Grounding_Disciple_making_in_Gods_Creation_Order_Filling_the_Earth_with_the_Image_of_God.
2F. Chan, Multiply (Farmington Hills, MI: Walker Large Print 2013), 16.

 

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Our Guide on How to Study the Bible

Author: Charles Hegwood, M.Div., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

How to Study the Bible

So, you have decided to start studying the Bible? Or perhaps you are a seasoned pro looking to further sharpen your skills? For whatever reason at all, you have decided to read God’s Word, reading is the first and most important step. This brings up the question, “How do I study the Bible?” Well, you have maybe heard of the S.W.O.R.D method, FA.I.T.H., R.E.A.P., H.E.A.R., and on and on they go. There are enough Bible study methods out there to make your head spin. So many options can leave us paralyzed. Yes, that’s right. Too many options can leave you spending more time trying to figure out which method to use than reading the Bible itself. What I want to do is to boil these methods down to their core and get back to the reason we have made so many of these methods, to begin with; actually reading the Bible. When we read Scripture we want to hit these three areas: observation, interpretation, and application. Let’s take a look at each one of these components of reading the Bible while looking at Joshua 3.

 

Observation

So recently I taught a lesson on Joshua 3. I want to use this passage as our example as we look at how to study the Bible. When I begin the observation stage I first look at what genre of Scripture I am reading. Noting the genre will help in correct interpretation and application. Some books of the Bible have different genres within them. Joshua 3 is a narrative. Now that I have noted the genre I want to read through the chapter. Then I want to read it again slowly. Why? Well, there are no points for speed reading Scripture. In fact, if we read fast there is a danger of missing key details hidden within the passage. Since this particular passage is narrative, we may want to ask some questions like, “who is talking?” We see that in Joshua 3 God is talking with Joshua and Joshua then talks to Israel.

Now as we read through the passage slowly, we want to note details. First, observe the big details. What is the context? Well, here it is Israel about to cross into the promised land. They had been rebellious in the past and now are in a change in leadership and geographical location. You also want to notice little details such as Joshua 3:15 where we will get some detail on what the Jordan River does in harvest season. Spoilers, it overflows its banks. This detail is not trivial to the story. Sometimes I make mental notes of these details and sometimes I write them down.

We want to ask questions about the text as well. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but it is okay to ask questions when reading the Bible. One of the questions that I had was: ‘why does Joshua note the detail of the Jordan River’s seasonal overflowing?’ This seems to be a trivial detail but it actually will help us build our interpretation. Ask questions about what, how, and why things are in the text. Why does God ask the priest in Joshua 3 to step into the water before it parts? Note any words you do not understand. It may help to look at another translation or a dictionary. Like the word “consecrate” for example. It is not a word we use much in everyday life.  Ask questions even if you know the answer again because it helps us to get to the overall meaning of the text.

Before we move on to interpretation, let us have a word about words. One thing I do when I observe a text is take note of the words used. For example, when you see ‘so that’ this phrase is a purpose clause. Conjunctions tell us there is a change in the story or pros. I personally like to underline or highlight these words in my Bible. That way next time I read a passage I can observe quicker the textual details, words, and phrases. Before moving on from words, observe repeated words or phrases. Words are repeated for a reason. Observing word usage as well as all that was mentioned above will help us in the next section, interpretation.

 

Interpretation

Following observations made in Joshua chapter 3, we now want to begin to interpret these observations. Israel is in a time of transition of leadership (Moses to Joshua) and geography (wilderness to promised land). They are scared, they have sinned. So Joshua tells them to “consecrate themselves” or make themselves holy before God. God tells Joshua to tell the priest to step into the river holding the ark of the covenant and then the waters will part. We observe that it may require some faith to step into the water. And we must observe that the ark of the covenant represented God’s presence for the people of Israel. Interpretation is connecting the dots. God is calling the people of Israel to faith. After all, remember the Jordan river is overflowing its banks at this time in the story. This is a tactical nightmare. And yet that is the point. Joshua will not lead Israel across the river on his intuition of tactical genius, but instead completely reliant on God’s power to do what God has asked.

Now we have locked in on the theme of faith we may interpret that God is calling His people to have faith in Him to do what He has called them to do. The previous sentence is the main idea by the way. But it is not blind faith, instead faith that is preceded by God’s presence. See how I took all of the observations and plugged them in to find the theme and then the interpretation of a seemingly odd, unimportant story becomes knowable and important to the life of Israel and to our lives today. But we are not yet done. We must now work to apply the interpretation to our lives.

 

Application

This step is perhaps the most difficult. It is easy to be too generic here. Such as Joshua 3, have faith in God, the end. But that is not really application. In your personal study, this is the part that might take you hours to suss out. Yes, that is right. It is a process. Just like we did not want to rush observation, we do not want to rush the application. I personally will read, observe, interpret and then pray. I meditate on the text as I go about my day. This allows God to let His word seep into my soul. Take your time.

Write out big applications; for example, Joshua 3, “have faith in God to do his will.” And ask specifics like, “where is my faith lacking in God in certain areas of my life.” But wait, there’s more. Then ask, “Where am I seeing God’s presence in my life right now. And how is do I see His presence in that area.” Application is personal and can change as your life changes around you. For example, God is leading my family and I into a new place and ministry. There are a lot of fears. And fear can lead to disobedience. God has called my family to trust in Him to do what He has led us to do. God has promised to go before me. I have the works of Christ behind me and all around me. God is calling me to trust in light of who He is. I must step forward into these next steps trusting He will carry me and my family through. See now that is personal. I could go on but time and space will not allow it, but you can see how it is personal and my next step in application is to make specific steps and things to do. Application is a process that takes time and prayer.

Just make sure that your applications are always tied to the main idea and interpretation of the text. If your application seems untethered from the passage then you need to go back and repeat the above steps.

Let me end with this: We observe the text so that we may better interpret the text. Once we have observed and interpreted we must now apply it to our lives. There are different levels of application. You saw that above. We whittle the broad application down over time and through thinking on what we have read. Reading the Bible is not easy, but it is always worth it and rewarding. Take your time, saturate every moment in prayer, and think about what you have observed, interpreted, and applied throughout the day. After all, it is not a to-do list item but a time of communion with the King of all Creation. He promises to meet us in His Word and through prayer. Go and read and find yourself in the presence of the King.

 

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