Conversion: Reading the Biblical Story Anew

Noah saved from the flood

“Within the speeches of Acts, Jewish people might hear the familiar stories borrowed from their Scriptures, but these stories have been cast in ways that advocate a reading of that history that underscores the fundamental continuity between the ancient story of Israel, the story of Jesus, and the story of the Way. Israel’s past (and present) is understood accurately and embraced fully only in relation to the redemptive purpose of God, and this divine purpose comes to decisive expression in Jesus’s ministry, crucifixion, and exaltation, and through exegetes operating in the sphere of the Holy Spirit. The coming of Jesus as Savior may signal the fresh offer of repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel (Acts 5:31; 13:38-39), but the acceptance of this offer by Jewish people is dependent on their embracing this interpretation of God’s salvific activity…calls for conversion. And what is conversion, but transformation of the theological imagination, which includes incorporation into the community of believers and concomitant practices? Conversion as Luke develops it entails a reconstruction of one’s self within a new web of relationships, a transfer of allegiances, and the embodiment of transformed dispositions and attitudes. That this conversion is to a particular reading of that ancient story – a reading that insists that the only genuine line tracing the actualization of God’s purpose passes through the life, death, and the exaltation of Jesus, Messiah, and Lord.”

(Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth, pg. 47-48)

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Noah: Teaching us to Look to the Future Not to the Past

During this 3rd week of Great Lent, the daily scripture lessons from Genesis are focusing on the story of Noah and the great flood (Genesis 6:9-8:22).  Modern American Christians are often obsessed with trying to prove the historical accuracy of the flood story, doing archaeological studies to try to find the ark, or even building arks to show it all can be done.

Interestingly the New Testament makes use of the Noah story but shows none of the interest in the Noah narrative that we see in much of fundamentalist or biblical literalist thinking.  We can look at 4 New Testament references to Noah and glean what use the earliest disciples of Christ made of the Noah story.

First, we do have one instance in which the Lord Jesus Himself refers to Noah.  Here we will look at the version from St. Matthew’s Gospel (there is also a parallel version in St. Luke’s Gospel).  Jesus is teaching about the end times and says:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left.   Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”    (Matthew 24:36-42)

Jesus uses the Noah narrative to teach his disciples to be vigilant – alertly watching for the Lord’s second coming.  Jesus is using the great flood as a prophecy to prepare us for what is going to come.  Jesus is using the Scriptures in the manner advocated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:    “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”   The Old Testament is profitable for many things, but its most important role is not necessarily to teach history.  Jesus uses the great flood narrative as prophecy to exhort us to be prepared for the end of the world.  The Noah scripture is important because the return of Christ is going to come in the same way that the flood arrived: unexpectedly.   The people of old were not prepared for what happened, but we are forewarned.  We see what happened to them, and we are not to be caught unawares.  Thus Noah is a lesson gearing us for the future and what is coming, not mainly a way to investigate the past.

The second text comes from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.”  (Hebrews 11:7)

Here we have presented to us Noah as an example of a man of faith – he was faithful in preparing for what was for him the unseen future:  no great flood had occurred before.  Noah had no idea what was going to happen, but he was faithful to God in preparing for the future eventuality.   Once again the Noah story becomes for us a lesson in faithfulness as we await the future and the coming again of the Lord.  Noah give us an example as to how we are to behave now as we await the end times.

 Third we have a reading from St. Peter:

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.   Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.”   (1 Peter 3:18-22)

In this reading St. Peter engages in a form of scriptural interpretation which is called typology.  The flood story is significant because it tells us about something Christians now experience: baptism.  The Noah narrative anticipates the salvation story of Christ and the Church.  It’s significance is not in the past but in what was for it future events, including our own baptism.

Finally, a 2nd reference from St. Peter to Noah:

“For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if  by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment…”   (2 Peter 2:4-9)

The Noah story is being used by St. Peter again as prophecy – it is a lesson about God  saving and rescuing godly people from the time of trial.  What happened to Noah is a lesson for us to prepare us for current problems and for the future day of judgment as well.  Noah’s story from the past is not there to have us look backwards in time to search more into the past, but rather to teach us how to live in the present and to prepare for the future.  For the New Testament authors, the Noah narrative, inspired by God, prophetically prepares us for the future and turns our gaze not to past history but to the future eschaton.

Throughout Great Lent, the Old Testament scripture lessons are being read to help us anticipate what we are preparing for during the Great Fast: namely, the resurrection of Christ and the establishment of God’s Kingdom.   Great Lent is trying to shake us from a wooden, literal reading of equating historical facts to truth, and making truth co-terminus with these facts, and replacing such thinking with an acknowledgement that Truth is eternal.  Truth encompasses all the facts of the universe, but is not limited by it.  Truth ultimately transforms facts by revealing their place in God’s plan of salvation.   Jesus was making a cosmic claim for the universe when He declared Himself to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

I’ve written other blogs on the story of Noah and the great flood, including a long blog series in which I commented on and offered Patristic comments on every verse from the Genesis chapters on the flood.  You can begin reading that blog series at God Questions His Creation:  The Story of the Flood (a).

All of the blogs in the series on Genesis and the flood are also available as PDFs, a few of them are:

Reading Noah and the Flood through the Source Theory Lens (PDF)

The Story of the Flood (PDF)

The Conclusion of the Flood (PDF)

You can find a complete list of PDFs with links to them at  Blog Series available as PDFs.

Theophany: The Feast of the New Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.   And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.   (Genesis 1:1-9)

The creation narrative of Genesis 1 portrays God bringing things into existence from nothing, and then shaping the chaotic creation by imposing an order on it.  Out of the watery chaos of the deep, dry land is revealed.  God then hems in the chaos of the waters so that life can exist on earth.   This account of creation in Genesis 1 is read in the Orthodox Church during Vespers on the Eve of Theophany.    It is read as part of the theme of the role of water in the creation and salvation of the world.

This theme of the vast waters of the world representing the chaos that threatens creation but which God contains is found in other biblical accounts as well.  Certainly we recognize these themes in the story of the Great Flood from Genesis 6-9 (which interestingly is not read at the Feast of Theophany).  The Flood story though has the same themes – ultimately the dry land emerging from the flood waters which signals a new creation, and the dove hovering above the waters is reminiscent of both the Spirit over the waters in Genesis 1 and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove over Christ at His baptism in the Jordan River.

We also find a similar theme in the Exodus narrative of the Israelites fleeing Egypt but finding themselves trapped between Pharoah’s pursuing army and the Red Sea (some of this is read at Theophany in Exodus 14:15-29).  We see in the story the chaos, the threat of extinction, darkness and the Light of God in the Pillar of Fire.    But then God works His miracle and the Israelites are able to cross over the sea as if it were dry land as the waters are piled up on two sides of them and walled in while the Israelites pass through.   The chaos of the water descends again when Pharoah’s army tries to follow suit and drowns them.  As in the Noah story of the Great Flood, God’s chosen people are saved while their enemies are destroyed.

The Exodus crossing of the Red Sea by the Hebrews is interpreted in the Wisdom of Solomon as Israel emerging from the chaos of the waters as a new creation.

“For the whole creation in its kind was fashioned again from above to serve Your commands, that Your servants might be kept unharmed.  The cloud was seen overshadowing the camp and the emerging of dry land out of the water previously present, an unhindered way out of the Red Sea and a grassy plain out of the violence of rough water,  through which those sheltered by Your hand passed with the whole nation after observing marvelous wonders.”  (Wisdom of Solomon 19:6-8)

The emerging of the dry land from the sea is certainly meant to remind us of Genesis 1 and Israel is emerging as the new or renewed people of God.  They are being given a new life, a new beginning, a new creation.

We see again these same themes appearing in the Feast of Theophany.  For at the baptism of Christ, we encounter again water with the Holy Spirit hovering above, and the voice of God who in the beginning called all things from nothingness into being now at Christ’s baptism declaring the Word made flesh.  Creation is renewed and we are called to rejoice again in God’s new creation where water is no longer symbolic of the threat of chaos.  For now the forces of the waters – of the deep – have been tamed and transfigured into a cleansing force to take away the sins of the world.  In the Great Flood sins were wiped out by the chaos of the waters drowning humanity.  At Theophany the waters are transformed into life giving waters that drown sin not sinners and wash away even the sin of the first Adam.  For entering those waters are the same Wisdom and Word of God who tamed the depths and restrained the seas at the beginning of creation.  Today in Christ’s baptism – in our blessing of the water – the nature of water is sanctified and it becomes a means of our sanctification.

So perhaps it is not surprising that we Orthodox don’t read the story of the Flood at Theophany.  For at the Baptism of Christ the true nature of water is revealed – not a destructive force of chaos which drowns sinners but rather a life giving force that washes away sin so that we might be united to Christ in His death and resurrection.

Of old, the river Jordan turned back

Before Elisha’s mantel at Elijah’s ascension.

The waters were made to part in two

so the wet surface became a dry path.

This was truly a symbol of baptism

In which we cross through mortal life.

Christ has come to the Jordan to sanctify the waters!

(Theophany Hymn of the Royal Hours)

Evil: A Universal Power and/or A Condition of the Soul?

The lurking evil.

It is not a powerful semi-deity in a cosmic battle with God, but rather a negative condition of the heart.

Imagination likes to portray evil as a demonic power in the universe which comes ready to snatch and destroy everything in its path.  It is an external force threatening all that exists.

While such portrayals of evil make for good books and movies, we do find in Scripture and Tradition another image of evil.

“If evil is neither uncreated nor created by God, from when comes its nature? Certainly no one living in the world will deny that evil exists. What shall we say then? Evil is not a living animated essence. It is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good.” (St. Basil the Great on Sin, Suffering, and Salvation, pg. 15)

The condition of the soul opposed to virtue.  That is a theological opinion of St. Basil.  It brings evil down to size, something we have to deal within us; not something that can be destroyed by armies and nuclear weapons.

In Genesis, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good AND Evil stands in the middle of Paradise.  It is not evil, but the knowledge of evil.   The serpent in Genesis 3 who tempts Eve is portrayed in later writings as evil, but in Genesis it is just a creaturely serpent (albeit a talking one) not a semi-god Satan.  Genesis gives us a different idea as to the location of evil in the universe.

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   (Genesis 6:5)

God sees evil in the heart of His new creature – every imagination of heart was evil.  Evil was not an all-powerful force external to humanity, but in the human heart.   How does God react to this revelation?

“And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart”.  (Genesis 6:5-6)

God in His heart is grieved by the evil in the heart of man.  God gives us an image of repentance.   And God tries to cleanse the world of this evil by drowning it in a flood, according to Genesis.   And what does God woefully discover as a result of the destructive Great Flood?   The flood doesn’t change the reality of the location of evil.

“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”  (Genesis 8:21)

Evil lurks in the imagination of man’s heart.

The Lord Jesus too pointed out this same reality for He taught:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:21-23)

Evil – the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, the imagination of the heart.

It is no wonder that our battle with evil begins in our own spiritual lives.  In resisting sin, in practicing self denial and self control.  In repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness. That is the battle against evil that everyone of us can engage in.  We don’t need the police or an army for that fight.  We can turn away from evil and embrace virtue.   We do this by humbling ourselves and repenting of our heart’s evil imaginations.  We can seek the good virtues in order to destroy the evil which lurks within.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, …

he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts…”   

(Luke 1:46, 51)

 

Training for Spiritual Warfare

Ephesians 6:10-17

Brothers and Sisters:  Finally,be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

St. Isaac the Syrian wrote:

Remember God, that He too might always remember you; and when He has kept you in His memory and preserved you safe to the end, you will receive every blessing from Him.  Do not forget Him, your mind being distracted with futile concerns, lest He forget you in the time of your warfare.  When you enjoy abundance, be obedient to Him, so that in the time of your afflictions you may have boldness before Him through the heart’s persevering prayer to Him. 

Before the war begins, seek after your ally; before you fall ill, seek out your physician; and before grievous things come upon you, pray, and in the time of your tribulations you will find Him, and he will hearken to you.  Before you stumble, call out and make supplication; and before you make a vow, have ready what things you promise, for they are your provisions afterwards.  The ark of Noah was built in the time of peace, and its timbers were planted by him a hundred years beforehand.  In the time of wrath the iniquitous perish, but the ark became the shelter for the righteous man.           (The Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, pgs48-49)

Archbishop Seraphim of Canada Arrested

News about the arrest and charging of Archbishop Seraphim of Canada on two counts of child sexual assault circulated widely yesterday (American Thanksgiving Day).  You can read articles: CTV Edmonton, Canada.com, Global Winnipeg,  The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The arrest means Canadian authorities believe the allegations have sufficient merit to warrant a trial.   The OCA’s Synod of Bishops had in their recent meeting (November 15-18) also approved a commission to look into these allegations.

However painful such a story is for the Church, the Church as an institution was called into existence to deal with sin in the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The purpose of the Church is to deal with sin and sinners, and now we will see how the Church, with its very human leaders deals with sin and sins, not only in the world, but in the Church.

While news within the church of allegations of misconduct comes as a shocking surprise and is often met with incredulity, I am much reminded of the Gospel lesson of the Last Supper as recorded in  Mark 14:16-23 (and the parallel account in Matthew 26:19-30):

And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

Images of the last supper resonate with us not only because of Holy Thursday and iconography but more because of Holy Communion which we receive each week.  We understand the event of the Mystical Supper to be one of high points of the liturgical remembrance of Christ during Holy Week – for Communion becomes our real participation in the life of Christ, in His death and resurrection as members of His Body.

In the midst of this Mystical and sacramental participation in Christ, we see the Twelve Disciples one by one verbalizing the fear of their own hearts: “Is it I, Lord?!?”  For Christ informs them around the Eucharistic table that one of them is going to betray Him.   Each disciple does not express the firm conviction and disbelief, “No!  It is not true, don’t say that, Lord.”  They each do not ask, “How can you say that, Lord?”  Rather each one asks aloud, “Is it I, Lord?”   Is it I, chosen apostle, one of the Twelve, who will betray you?  They each knew themselves.

What a scene!  The chosen and holy apostles each is able to vocalize that dreaded fear, “Is it I who will betray you, Lord?”  For each in that moment realized the truth and the depth of his own heart:  for each it was a possibility.  We each need to think about this truth before we rush to judgment or lose all faith in the Apostles or the Apostolic Church.   “Is it I, Lord, who can betray you?”  “Is it I, Lord, who does betray you by my sins?”

We deceive ourselves if we believe that church leaders are sinless for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  All includes priests, bishops, apostles, and saints.   We each stand in church as sinners, perhaps penitents, perhaps seeking forgiveness and mercy, perhaps redeemed by Christ, but sinners nonetheless. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.   (1 John 1:8-10)

This is the reality the Church claims to believe.  It is not for nothing that before receiving the Eucharist we recite in the creedal prayer, “Neither like Judas will I give you a kiss.”   The incredible truth about us as disciples is we are human and we are capable of betraying Christ – not only that, but betraying Him by the kiss of peace.   We do contemplate Judas each Holy Week as well, as a reminder of what it is to be human.

The reality of humans, the reality which God so grudgingly acknowledges in Genesis 6:6 and 8:21 in the story of Noah and the great flood, is that there is evil in the heart of humans even from when we are young. 

We are created in God’s image and likeness, capable of bearing God in us, capable of theosis.  We also are beings in whose hearts evil can and does dwell.  Both are the truths about humanity, and both are supposed to be included in how the Church sees itself, its members, and the world.  In the Church we deal with truth, even when it is painful and cuts to the heart.  “Is it I, Lord?”

God Questions His Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood (b)

See: The conclusion of the flood (a)

A brief final comment about the Source Theory which I utilized in my reflections:  Source theory in a very particular way reveals to us that the final editor of our Bible, himself inspired by God, recognized God’s hand in giving him more than one version of a story to include in the Scriptures.  The editor is indeed a third human hand in the writing of the Scriptures; he adds his work to that of the J-Source and the P-Source.  However, if we unwind the story into its two component parts – J and P – each strand seems to read pretty well by itself, which suggests the final editor didn’t add much material but utilized what he had.  He did rearrange a few lines, but if he added anything to what he received it is minimal. Some Source Theorists actually think the same “hand” that recorded the P-Source is the same hand that is the final editor of the text.  If that is true, what is amazing is that he kept in the final edited version (our Bible) ideas from the J-source that contradict his own thinking.  In that sense he apparently did think the J-source material was in fact inspired by God and so dared not edit it out!   Thus Source Theory actually lends credence to the notion of the divine inspiration of Scripture.   The human temptation to clean up the story and to get rid of materials contradicting his own ideas were stayed by the hand of God which was guiding what the final editor wrote.

If the story of the ark is one of salvation, what constitutes salvation for Noah?  The story certainly is about escaping death, which in the story is an “ultimate” destruction.  Though the rest of the world dies, destroyed by the flood, Noah and his family elude death – at least for the moment.   However, the story of the ark is not about getting to heaven or about eternal life.  There is no discussion in the story about life everlasting or the grandeur of heaven or about anything invisible.   The story is about this earth and life in this world, yet it sets the stage for understanding Christ and life in the world to come.     The story is very importantly a typology.   It gives us a glimpse into what salvation is, and what it means to overcome death.  But it still is all about events that happen within the confines of this fallen world.   It is only when we understand the story as a typology, do we see how it is but a sketch or model of the real salvation which will be revealed in Jesus Christ.  The Noah story is very much like the Exodus story which is also a typology.  In the Exodus story the people of God move from captivity and slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.  At Pascha in the Orthodox Church we recognize the Passover and Exodus story as a typology of Pascha, the resurrection of Christ.   In the final and fulfilled Pascha, the people of God no longer move from Egypt to the Promised Land, but now as we sing at Pascha, we sojourn “from death to life, and from earth to heaven”, for that is where Christ our God leads us.    The Exodus Passover is a prototype of the ultimate Passover which is the event to which the original Passover points and from which it derives its meaning.  Similarly, the story of the flood is a typology which helps us understand salvation in Jesus Christ.   However, there is a great difference between the Noah story and the Christ story.  In the Noah story Noah escapes death – a first time – by being in the ark. Nevertheless,  despite being saved from a destruction which kills every other human being except Noah and his family, Noah eventually succumbs to death (Genesis 9:29).  Jesus Christ on the other hand does not escape death the first time.   He dies on the cross.  He however is raised from the dead to live eternally.   Noah escapes the death which kills all the rest of humanity, only to die later.  Christ does not escape the death which claims all of humanity, but then rises from the dead and destroys death.  In Christ we begin to see the symbolic and real importance of the Noah story.  The ark story is a type – it shows us the way in which God deals with evil, sin and death.  But God’s ultimate plan, of which the Noah story was just a preliminary sketch, is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.   It is the fulfillment of the plan which ultimately shows us what the sketch was trying to reveal.  That is how typology works.  Noah’s salvation was for the life of the world, but it was a temporary sparing of his life.   Christ’s life was not spared – also for the life of the world – but His death is an eternal destruction of death and the bestowing of life on all.

Next: God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 10:1-14 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9 as one PDF Document

Your comments, corrections and reflections are always welcomed.

The last blog on Genesis  9 was Genesis 9:24-29 (b)  and there you should find a link which enables you to trace back through all of the blogs on Genesis 9.  You can also find all the comments on Genesis 9 as one PDF document at https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/genesis-9.pdf

You can also find the Bibliography for my reflections on Genesis at  https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/gqhc_bibliograph.pdf

A Glossary of terms used in my reflections is at https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/gqhc_glossary.pdf

The Introduction to the entire series is at https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/gqhc_introduction.pdf

When all of the individual blogs covering Genesis 10 have been published, I will publish the link for where to find the reflections on chapter 10 as a single document.

The reflections on Genesis 4 as one PDF document: https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/gqhc_gen4.pdf.

The reflection on Genesis 5  as one PDF documentt:  https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/gqhc_gen5.pdf

The reflections on Genesis 6 as ond PDF document:  https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/gqhc_genesis6.pdf

You can find “The Story of the Flood” as one single PDF document at:  The Story of the Flood

You can also read as a single PDF document,  Reading Noah and the Flood Through the Source Theory Lens, which also contains Genesis 6-9 separated as two stories following Source Theory and then set in parallel columns for comparison.

The reflections on Genesis 7 as ond PDF document:  https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/gqhc_genesis7.pdf

The reflections on Genesis 8 as ond PDF document:   https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/genesis-8.pdf

Final comments on the story of the Flood are at:    https://frted.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/the-conclusion-of-the-flood.pdf

God Questions Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:24-29 (b)

Like Genesis 1-3, the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9 is as much if not more about us today and what it means to be human than it is a story about the past and the history of ancient peoples.  The story of the flood is fully empowered by symbolic thinking – symbols that God chose to use and men inspired by God recorded to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).   It isn’t meant to be read just as past history.  The New Testament writers did not limit the flood story to being a record of the deeds of men of old. The story isn’t merely about the history of an ancient flood; it is the story about how God relates to a fallen and sinful world.  It is the story about God’s judgment of humanity, as well as God’s impending judgment of humanity.  It is a story of prophecy, preparedness, expectation and fulfillment.   God has a particular relationship with the world. The story is also about the future, and a Creator God who has expectations for the world and will hold the humans on earth accountable for what they do with their stewardship of the earth.  God doesn’t interfere with our free will.  However He does hold us accountable for what we do.  To limit the value of this Scripture to whether the story is literally true and to get bogged down in the literal details to the exclusion of its symbolism and higher meaning is to miss much of the importance of the story.  It is to fall seriously short of how Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers understood and made use of the story.   The story is a warning – whether it is history, a parable or a prophecy – the end result is the same:  we are told by the Lord that He is a God of expectation and judgment and we must conform to His will and His standards.  It is not our standards which count. It is not how we judge the story of the flood which matters, but how ultimately the story will be judgment on us if we fail to understand its deepest prophetic meaning.

Cuneiform unlike Scripture can only tell us about the past

How are we supposed to live as a result of the narrative and the lessons Genesis 6-9 contains?  The point isn’t “what kind of science does it teach us?”   Rather we are to ask, “What does it mean for our future and for our present?”    We don’t read it mostly to learn about past history or to learn about science. The story intentionally points beyond itself to a future reality – to the reality of God’s purposes, for the story tells us about God even with grief in His heart accepting the role that the sinful humans must play in His plan.    If the story’s main purpose is to teach ancient history, what difference does it make?  God promises in the story never to flood the earth again, so why should we care about something that will never happen to us or the world again?   The story is prophecy and revelation, it is a teaching story and it teaches pretty well.  The lesson is about how we are to live today in this world and why.   Why should we care about what God thinks?   How am I to act knowing there is a God who is Lord, Creator, Judge and Savior of the universe?   The believability of the story doesn’t lie in its literal accuracy of describing past events, but in its revelation that God is Creator, Savior and Judge, and that I am answerable to Him.   Belief isn’t mostly about accepting the literalness of the text, but is about “how am I to live as a believer?”  St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) argued that Genesis does not tell us everything that can be known about the early history of humankind; rather it offers us only that which is “useful for orienting one’s life.”  The story is essential to us because it speaks about how to live today not because it teaches us past history.  Belief isn’t mostly about what I think about the ancient past, but what I think about the future and therefore how I am to live now.   “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old received divine approval” (Hebrews 11:1-2).    Belief is the basis for our actions as we move into the future.  Belief is not mostly our position in regard to the literalness of the Bible, for the Bible itself never makes a literal reading of scripture the test for whether or not we are believers.  The test of our being believers is how we live – are we willing to love God and neighbor as ourselves?  Are we willing to live in this world always bringing to bear the Kingdom of God which is to come into our every decision and by our decisions witnessing to our faith in that coming Kingdom?  The story of the flood is important because of how belief shapes our daily lives.  “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

The story of the flood invokes in us memory of the opening sentences of Genesis 1 in which God creates dry land from the chaotic abyss of waters.  God imposed His order on creation and defied all the other powers of the universe- malevolent or simply chaotic.   The order that exists in the universe according to Genesis is the result of God’s own intervention in the abyss when he tames the powers of chaos to produce an orderly universe which allows life to exist.  Today some biblical fundamentalists, creation scientists and Intelligent Design adherents want to argue that the order in the universe is the ultimate proof of God’s existence.  Interestingly, as historian Robert Wilken noted, the Christian apologists of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries took a different tact when considering the laws of nature which seem to govern the universe.  “They did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God.”  (TSOECT)  Or as Hebrews 11:6 puts it: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”   In other words, those who fear that science and evolution disprove the existence of God are demonstrating their own lack of faith; they are not proving or even defending the existence of God.  The stories of Genesis are not as much an accounting of the exact history of our human ancestors as they are an exposition of what it means to be human, an explanation for the existence of evil, and a contextualizing of the human dilemma and story within the context of the larger narrative of the universe which is being told by God and still unfolding before us.

Next:  The conclusion of the flood (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:24-29 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:24-29 (a) 

Noah & Family in the Ark

Genesis 9:24   When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 27 God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. 

 “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be…”   Though Noah curses his grandson, Canaan, to be a slave to his brothers, in Psalm 105:27, Egypt is referred to as the land of Ham where ironically it will not be Canaan who will be enslaved, but where the descendents of the blessed Shem will be enslaved by the descendents of Ham.

St. Paul

 

Genesis connects slavery to sin, a theme picked up by St. Paul:   “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. …But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:16-18,22-23). 

Chrysostom did not believe that the original sin doomed us all to sin.  “If, however, we are on the alert, these evils that came into life as a result of the sins of our forbearers will in no way be able to harm us, going no further than the level of terminology.”  We are not somehow predetermined to be sinners by what Adam or any of our ancestors have done.   Humans can resist sin, but it requires great vigilance and determination.   We are not predestined to sin.   In his thinking St. John follows the wisdom of Sirach:   “It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination.  If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.  He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.  Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him” (Sirach 15:14-17). 

“Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem…”  Noah’s second sentence is not so much a blessing on his two other sons, but an acknowledgement that God has blessed them (9:1).   Canaan, Ham’s son is cursed to become slave to his uncles.  He is not to be treated as kin but as chattel.  He is disinherited from the family tree.  What did Ham feel when he realized what effect his sin had on his son’s life and fate?  No reaction is recorded of how the sons responded to their father’s blessings and curse. 

Old Testament Patriarchs

 

When Noah dies, Abram the next major hero of Genesis is already born.  Noah is the 10th generation from Adam, and Abram is the 10th generation from Noah.  Noah’s was the first birth recorded after Adam’s death.  So Noah’s life stretches virtually from the time of Adam’s death until the time of Abram’s birth.   He is thus a key figure in the genealogy connecting the father of mankind Adam who was a man of great promise to the father of the people of God’s promise Abraham.   Adam, Noah and Abraham thus each in their own way become the father of us all.   

Next: God Questions His Creation: The Conclusion of the Flood (a)