Confessions of a Badventist – Part 2 – God Said It…

Part 2.

In the 2014 speech to SDA educators, President Ted Wilson said, “If one does not accept the recent six-day creation understanding then that person is not actually a ‘Seventh-Day’ Adventist since the Seventh-Day Sabbath would become absolutely meaningless historically and theologically and most of our Biblically-based doctrines centered in Christ and His authoritative voice would become meaningless as well.”[1]

This is a common position to take in the church; that the seventh-day sabbath would have no relevance if the Creation Week wasn’t literally seven sequential twenty-four-hour periods. That if the seventh-day wasn’t really the seventh-day, there would be no reason for a Sabbath memorial or the fourth Commandment. I’ll address that in a minute, but first, I want to address the second half of Elder Wilson’s claim. I find it very odd to tie all the value of the doctrines of Christ and His authoritative voice to a specific interpretation of Genesis 1. How can we suggest that if someone accepts a different interpretation of Genesis 1, (of which there are many) then Christ and His authority become meaningless? The Gospel and Christology get through to all kinds of people who don’t dwell, at all, on what Genesis 1 literally says or what the Sabbath is. The historical accuracy of the creation story doesn’t validate or invalidate the Gospel or the concept of Christ (or for that matter, even the idea of a Sabbath memorial (more on that later.)

In fact, there are 7 Fundamental Beliefs that deal with “Christ” (#4 – The Son, #9 – The life, death and resurrection of Christ, #10 – the experience of Salvation, #11 – Growing in Christ, #14 – Unity in the Body of Christ, #24 – Christ’s ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary, and #25 – the Second Coming of Christ, plus a couple others that are tangential such as #15 – Baptism and #16 – the Lord’s Supper), and none of them reference or even footnote the Creation story in Genesis 1. Adventism as a denomination and worldview doesn’t connect the two inside of its very intricate system of belief. The denomination’s President declaring any portion of Christ’s work as being interdependent on an unshaken belief that “a day is a day” is highly suspect.

Be that as it may, I don’t think President Wilson’s statement is about Christ or Sabbath. It echoes a question of self-identity: Why would the Fourth Commandment, the key Biblical concept, seal, and sign of God’s remnant in the final days of Earth’s history, be based on something that isn’t literal? How can our Divine mandate be based on incorrect history?[2]

The issue, as presented, is one of inerrancy in inspiration: can you believe that the Bible can contain “errors.” Adventists, contrary to even internal belief, don’t truly teach that Scripture is inerrant to the point that no mistakes could be contained within it. The matriarch of Adventism, Ellen G. White, suggested taking some caution when defending the words of the Bible. She wrote that the writers were “God’s penmen, not His pen… “It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who under the influence of the Holy Ghost is imbued with thoughts. The words and thoughts receive the impress of the individual mind.” (1 Selected Messages 21.2).

Mistakes get recorded in Scripture, such as how 1 Samuel 16:10, 11 states that giant-slayer King David was Jesse’s 8th son, while 1 Chronicles 2:15 says he was the 7th. Prophets get things wrong sometimes, such as Nathan telling King David that God supports his building God’s Temple, just to have to come back and tell David he was wrong the next day in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.

Accepting that scripture was written by inspired men but “is not God’s mode of thought and expression,”[3] and that those inspired men could potentially mess up a fact or two, the 10 Commandments are an entirely different animal. The Ten Commandments were spoken aloud and written by the finger of God. The one part of the Bible that didn’t need to be filtered through any lenses of humanity first, were the Ten. As such, there should be no translation issues in melding the divine will and the human mind when it comes to them. If any part of scripture can be taken at face value for sure, it’s the Ten Commandments.

When they are given in Exodus, we see the Fourth begin with “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy….For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” This reference to the Genesis 1 Creation Story as THE reason to “remember the sabbath,” was carved in stone by the hand of God on Mount Sinai. This seems to be God, Himself, verifying the creation account in his Decalogue.[4]

However, the Bible is much more complicated than that. The Ten Commandments in Exodus were given to Moses on the mountain on stone tablets, but about 40 biblical years later in Deuteronomy 5, the Ten Commandments were given again. In this second recitation of God’s Ten rules, the fourth commandment is given a little bit differently. The Creation Week is no longer the reason to keep the Sabbath, nor is the Sabbath even the thing to remember. In Deuteronomy, both the reason to keep Sabbath AND the thing to remember is that God rescued the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt. In fact, the Creation Week isn’t mentioned in this second iteration of the Ten Commandments at all.

Does this mean God is no longer claiming to be the creator in Deuteronomy? No, of course not. This change has a much more obvious purpose: these Ten Commandments were given to two entirely different sets of people, separated by generations and traumas and the might of Israel’s God needed an update. These desert wanderers in Deuteronomy didn’t need a revelation as to how their world came to be. Their origins were not perfection and communion with God in the Garden of Eden, but slavery in a foreign land. The greatness of their God, that needed to be memorialized each week, was found in his deliverance after hundreds of years of Egyptian captivity.[5]

Wandering in the wilderness for forty years won’t make you grateful for the creation of the dirt stuck in your eyes and mouth, but not being enslaved will make you grateful about pretty much anything. The Israelites in Deuteronomy needed a different revelation and a different reminder of who Abraham’s God was for them. An emancipator. They were asked to keep a weekly Sabbath in memorial to the Power that freed them after generations of bondage. Though we aren’t sure exactly how long that was, it stands to reason that their captivity lasted more than 6 days. It would appear then, that not only can the Fourth Commandment to keep a weekly Sabbath maintain a Divine significance separate from a literal week, but God separated it from the Creation Week Himself to achieve something more directly relative to the people this revelation was intended to reach. Now we are left with “Sabbath” and “Sabbath rest” memorialized in the Ten Commandments for two completely different reasons. One directly connected to time. One not connected to time at all. Each ripe with its own historical and theological meaning.


 

It is not biblically unprecedented for God, or the people telling God’s story, to apply different significances to the same divine acts or commands but include both in scripture, even in the laws. However, from my view of the Adventist paradigm, this fact seemed to fly in the face of our ideas of God. God and His Word were to be “the same yesterday, today and forever,” but the Word shows God change several times. He regrets making Saul King in 1 Samuel 15. He regrets creating mankind in Genesis 6 and undoes his mistake in the Flood. After which, in Genesis 8, He also reverses course on His Genesis 3 curse of the earth that had made it hard to farm since Adam. Abraham changes God’s mind about Sodom and Gomorrah (for a while) in Genesis 19. God, in Jonah 3, changes His mind about the Ninevites once Jonah finally does his job.

Deep down, all I think we really seem to mean when we make these grand claims is that we believe that the messages contained in the Bible are as God intended and meant them. That’s the faith in the Bible I think we strive for. Stipulating to that point, can we say that 100% historic accuracy is what was intended?

Is that what infallibility or inerrancy in the biblical context has to look like? Why? Is the history of the Ancient Hebrew people, contained in the Bible, perfectly accurate? If so, which one because there’s a couple and things change on the second pass? For example, there’s something called the Deuteronomic Influence on theology that we get from the Hebrew histories. While writing Scripture, the Ancient Hebrew people expressed a theory of Godly command meeting Human action and resulting in reward/punishment. The good are blessed by God, the bad are cursed. Prosperity Gospel isn’t new. However, the details of this theory took time to flesh out.

In 2 Kings 21, King Manasseh is a sinful and unrepentant king of Judah who, nevertheless, thrives and is never punished. The people of Judah are punished for Manasseh’s sins 2 generations later during the reign of Josiah who was one of the most righteous kings in the original history. Josiah, though seemingly faultless, dies very young in battle.

In 2 Chronicles 33, written much later under much different circumstances,[6] Manasseh still does evil in the eyes of the lord, but this time the Assyrians come and take him into exile in Babylon, not Assyria, which is interesting (Babylon being an OLD Testament buzzword and noticeably absent from the prior telling of the Manasseh story.) While in exile, Manasseh repents and is restored, explaining why he individually thrived, despite the original story showing him as unrepentant. In a similar turn of fate, Josiah’s backstory changes as well. He is still killed in battle 2 generations after Manasseh, but he isn’t blameless this time. In 2 Chronicles 35, Josiah was warned by the opposing side that God wouldn’t let Josiah win the battle. In fact, the enemy tells Josiah that his God spoke to them and said if Josiah interferes, he’d die. Josiah ignored them and their message from God and went into battle wearing a disguise. During this act of defiance, he gets murdered.

The first telling of this story, in 2 Kings, records a fairly chaotic existence: bad kings can thrive, and good kings can die too young. The children of Israel see themselves as reaping the sins of their fathers. They see a system out of whack due to their corporate past. Ending up in exile, they wonder if God has turned His back on them for good?

In 2 Chronicles, with a little more time for reflection, we see repentant kings thrive despite prior bad behavior, and disobedient ones die despite prior righteous behavior. The Israelites have reflected back on history through the stories of Manasseh and Josiah, to make sense of what hadn’t made sense before. God had not deserted them. He was active, both corporately and individually. They now viewed their own history and their own God differently, but both reflections have been presented in the Bible that you and I have. Is the point to consolidate the two accounts or meditate on the reasons there might be two accounts?

While these examples show the Word of God changing as to historical accounts of the actions of men and, perhaps, show an evolving understanding of God, the two accounts of Israel’s history also show examples of God’s actions changing as well.

There’s a story in 2 Samuel 24, where God sends a pestilence that kills 70,000 Israelites and is about to have an angel completely wipeout Jerusalem before “repenting of His evil.” (vs. 16; always fun having verses speaking of God doing “evil.”) God did this because King David took a census (basically seeing how big his army was) at a time he wasn’t supposed to. If that seems like an overreaction, consider why David took the census in the first place. In the opening verse of the chapter, we are told that the “anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel” and in His anger God “incites David against them” telling him to count the people. Think about that for a second. God gets mad at Israel, so he tells David to take an illegal census. Then, because David did what God told him to do, God punishes David by killing 70,000 Israelites. So, God, angry at Israel, kills 70,000 Israelites and blames it on David even though God was behind the whole thing.[7]

That’s a rough story to have in your history and a tough characteristic of God’s to explain. Why would God establish a legal loophole for Himself, by manipulating David, just to justify killing tens of thousands of His own chosen people? If God’s anger was justified against Israel, why did he need David to sin as well before God could do anything about it? What kind of God sets up His own cover stories?

Enter, 1 Chronicles 21. It opens the story this way: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” The rest of the story remains pretty much the same. David takes the census. God gets mad at David, sends a pestilence that kills 70,000, and sends an angel to destroy Jerusalem before God again repents of His “destruction” (instead of His “evil” like before), etc. However, now, God didn’t do the original manipulating; Satan did. That’s quite a shift in history. Same awful results but an entirely different spin on the originating source. What we were expressly told God did in 2 Samuel, we are later told Satan did.

Does any of that make you uncomfortable?

Apologetics would suggest that Satan provoked David in both tellings of the story, and all 2 Samuel points out is that even when Satan plans to do something to us, he needs God to allow it or remove Himself from our protection. Because the Lord was angry, He allowed Satan to get into David’s head…then God went on to kill 70,000 Israelites.

Does that make you feel better?

If this historical change weren’t an interesting enough twist, it gets deeper. If you’ve gotten to 1 Chronicles and this story of Satan tempting David, you have read through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, and 1st and 2nd Kings; from the Creation of matter through Israel’s birth, enslavement, freedom, desert wandering, entering the promised land, the building of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem’s fall, and Satan’s name hadn’t come up yet. Not once. The first time the name is seen is right here in 1 Chronicles 21, where “Satan” is inserted where “The Lord” was in 2 Samuel.

Like I said, the Bible is very complicated.


 

So historical accuracy has its issues in the biblical text, fine. But we aren’t just talking about any text when it comes to the Creation story, right? Changes or updates in a couple of king’s storylines is different than the Decalogue.  Even if the reference to the Genesis 1 Creation Week was absent from the Fourth Commandment the second time around, that doesn’t change what God carved into that first set of tablets. I can see that point, but if we are going to discuss the absolute validity of a theological position based on its referential inclusion in the Ten Commandments, let’s not stick to just the fourth one. We should back up to the first one.

God appears to have included polytheism, the belief in more than one god, in the 10 Commandments as well. This should seem odd since, we, as Christians, are monotheistic and believe that God is the only God there is. We base that belief on Scripture. The ancient Hebrew people who produced Scripture, don’t appear to have been monotheistic. While the Shema definitely states “Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God. The LORD is One!’ and monotheism is one of the great lasting impressions of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the OT passages don’t speak of other gods as though they do not exist, just that Israel’s God is the strongest. The supreme. They didn’t believe in only one “god,” they believed in One being their God. This thought eventually turned into monotheism[8], but not all of the scripture was written from a monotheistic view.

Elohim, for instance, the term used to refer to God in a lot of the Old Testament, and most relevantly here in Genesis 1, isn’t God’s name. Elohim is a name for a type of being, a spiritual being. There are a bunch of Elohim in the Bible that don’t have anything to do with the Hebrew God. The Israelites were a nation built on proving Yahweh’s worthiness and faithfulness to the world through themselves as a people, but they were not necessarily proving His singularity. A huge chunk of the Old Testament consists of stories of prophets and kings, with the Hebrew God on their side, doing battle with the surrounding nations’ gods. In one event in 2 Kings 3, a foreign king’s sacrifice of his own son, to his god(s) actually works to produce “a great wrath” against Israel causing their retreat![9] God “hardens Pharaohs heart” to prevent him from letting the Israelites go in the Exodus story. Why? God was proving himself superior to each of the classes of Egyptian gods through the plagues. The Exodus plagues weren’t random; Israel’s God was playing the Game of Thrones.

When we are introduced to God in Genesis, He isn’t alone. The word Elohim, in Genesis 1 is a plural word. That’s why it’s not weird for God to say, “Let us make man in our image.” But who is “us?” As beneficiaries of the New Testament and a couple thousand years of creating a religion, modern Christianity places Jesus and the Holy Spirit in that story. However, that took John writing “in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God” for this notion to ever potentially take hold. No one placed Jesus in Genesis 1 before John Chapter 1, and now we all do.

Who did the Ancient Hebrew think of when they studied the Torah before Jesus was born? Who did the author of Genesis 1 think he meant when he wrote: “Let Us?” He must have meant something in addition to Yahweh, whom, by the way, he didn’t mention by name in the Genesis 1 story at all. Did he mean the Father and the Spirit, or Ruach? Probably, but is that all? Could he have also been including the Divine Counsel and other “Elohim” that show up several other times in scripture for Holy conferences? (see: Psalms 82, Job 1:6, and Deuteronomy 32:8 for a couple examples.)

I’m asking complex questions, to make a simple point: you, Christian man or woman, believe that there is ONLY one God, and you base that on scripture that reflects a people who didn’t necessarily agree with you. While we love to maintain that the Bible has given us a seamless interpretive string of infallible Truths from the one and only God, little key phrases like “thou shalt have no other gods before me” pop up in some inconvenient places. That’s a much different command than, “believe that I am the only god there is,” which is presumably a series of words God had at His disposal at the time. Despite the one God’s inspiration and influence on the authors of the Judeo-Christian texts, this conception of ‘other gods’ is immortalized within them and even present in the Ten Commandments.

So why would a Commandment be based on something that’s not literal?

I don’t know. You will have to ask a god.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.educatetruth.com/featured/ted-wilson-no-room-for-evolution-as-truth-in-adventist-schools/

[2] Other than the Great Disappointment thing.

[3] https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/98.59#67

[4] Full transparency here: this, to me is a reference back to Genesis 2, not Genesis 1. “The LORD” is not referenced in the Genesis 1 creation week story, and really isn’t mentioned as God’s name at all, but is simply a placeholder for the Divine name YHWH which wasn’t to be spoken or written. As a result, where YHWH appears in the Hebrew text, the name was replaced with “the lord” and/or “Adonai”, names/ titles we are familiar with, but aren’t actually in the original text. Elohim create in the Genesis 1 week. YHWH, or “the Lord”, is the name of the creative being in the Eden story of Genesis 2. This distinction may be splitting hairs, but it becomes relevant to the overall point.

[5] How many years for sure is unclear from the biblical text. Genesis 15:13 predicts the oppression would last 400 years, while 3 verses later says they’d return to the promised land in the fourth generation. Exodus 6: 14-25 says Levi to Moses, is four generations, which matches Genesis 15:16, but Exodus 12:40 says it lasted 430 years.

[6] I and II Chronicles are “misplaced” in the Christian Bible. They are the last books in the Hebrew Bible, which properly demonstrates the drama of their contrasting portions of history.

[7] Additionally, God didn’t just kill 70,000 Israelites. He gave David a multiple-choice test first. God told David to choose between 7 years of famine, 3 months of constantly being pursued and attacked by enemies, or 3 days of pestilence. 7 years, 3 months, or 3 days. David chose the God sent pestilence because God’s “mercy is great.” David thought that Israel stood a better chance subject to God’s hand and, in turn, God killed 70,000 people in 3 days and wanted to kill more.

[8] Kind of. The Doctrine of the Trinity is monotheistic but barely.

[9] 2 Kings 3:27: Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land. NRSV

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s