Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Faith Seeking Understanding: Genesis 3:8

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:8 NASB)
The Difficulty in Understanding the Text: The Spirituality of God

In teaching my son the children's catechism, I ask him, "What is God?" To which he replies, "God is a spirit, and does not have a body like men." This question and answer emphasize the spirituality of God: not just "that he possesses a spiritual nature, but that his nature is exclusively spiritual" (Boyce, Abstract of Theology, 62). This assertion is in contradistinction to Mormonism (as well as various other heresies that have arisen from time to time), which asserts that God the Father is an embodied being.

The assertion that "God is a spirit," and that (especially prior to the Incarnation) He has no body is based on a systematic reading of Scripture. J.L. Dagg notes that, "The texts of Scripture which directly teach the spirituality of God, are few" (Dagg, Manual of Theology, 57). Dagg does cite a few key passages: John 4:24, Isaiah 31:3, and Hebrews 12:9. Dagg also argues for the spirituality of God based on the second commandment of the Decalogue (Exo 20:4-5), especially due to how this commandment is explained in the second giving of the Law (Deut 4:12-18).

J.P. Boyce takes a different approach than Dagg in demonstrating the spirituality of God. While Boyce, like Dagg, cites John 4:24 and Hebrews 12:9 (along with Acts 17:24-25), Boyce's main proof for the spirituality of God comes through a consideration of God's attributes that necessitate essential spirituality: attributes such as infinity, independence, immutability, and absolute perfection.

Challenges to the Spirituality of God: Anthropomorphisms and Theophanies

Obviously, anthropomorphisms are no proof against the essential spirituality of God. In 2 Chronicles 16:9a it is written, "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him" (ESV). Taken in a wooden literal fashion, the idea of "eyes" running "to and fro throughout the whole earth" is quite grotesque: this is, instead, a metaphor, not describing God's anatomy, but His perception. Similarly, when the LORD's "nostrils" are mentioned in a poetic passage (Psa 18:15), it is no more proof that the divine nature has nostrils than the description of trees clapping their hands in another poetic passage (Isa 55:12) proves that we should look for cedars to have pinky fingers.

More difficult than anthropomorphisms are theophanies. Theophanies occur in the narrative portions of the biblical text. In a theophany, God appears to have some physical form. It should be noted, however, that in theophanies, God's appearance is not consistent: He seems to take whatever form best suits His purpose on the occasion, according to His wisdom; in fact, theophanies are so widely varied that if one were to take them as giving a description of what God in His nature looks like, it would lead to a great deal of confusion regarding whether the divine essence should be pictured as a person, some kind of angelic being, a cloud, or a fire, etc.

Theophany in Genesis 3:8

Genesis 3:8 obviously records a theophany. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology refers to Genesis 3:8 as "[t]he first biblical reference to a theophany" (816) [though I would suggest that the locality that may be implied in Genesis 1:2-- in which the Spirit of God is said to have been "hovering over the face of the waters"-- may be considered a theophany as well].

The exact nature of the theophany in Genesis 3:8 is disputed by scholars. The controversy is focused on two terms: the word translated "walking" and the phrase translated "in the cool of the day."

"Walking" is translated from the Hebrew Hithpael participle of the verb halakh: "to walk, to go." The NET Bible translates the word "moving about," noting, "While a translation of 'walking about' is possible, it assumes a theophany, the presence of the LORD God in human form. This is more than the text asserts." [While it may be true that the text does not necessarily assert "the presence of the LORD God in human form," it must be conceded that some kind of theophany takes place in this text, as "moving about" certainly indicates some kind of appearance of locality and the man and wife "heard the sound of the LORD God" "moving about:" i.e., God was interacting with His creation in such a way as to make a noise as if He was a physical body.]

Interestingly, G.K. Beale notes that, "The same Hebrew verbal form... used for God's 'walking back and forth' in the Garden (Gen 3:8), also describes God's presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26:12; Deut 23:14 [15]; 2 Sam 7:6-7)" (Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission, 66); and again, "The verb form used in Lev. 26:12 is hithpael, the same form used for God 'walking back and forth' in the Eden sanctuary (Gen 3:8)" (Beale, 111 n. 68). Beale compellingly argues that Eden was a type of sanctuary, tabernacle, or temple, meant to expand and fill the earth (based on Gen 1:28), and that since the fall of humankind into sin, God has been reestablishing this purpose-- ultimately through the redemption in Christ Jesus-- which shall be fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth.

"In the cool of the day" is translated from the Hebrew phrase l'ruakh hayom. Ruakh is the Hebrew word for "wind, breath, or spirit," (l' is a preposition), ha represents the definite article attached to yom, the word for "day." Many scholars have been intrigued by J.J. Niehaus' proposal that yom in this case should be associated with the Akkadian cognate umu, meaning "storm." If Nieuhaus is correct, then (as the NET Bible notes), the picture in Genesis 3:8 is of God "coming in a powerful windstorm to confront the man and woman with their rebellion." This translation is attractive, especially due to the fact that it would seem to connect the text with other biblical texts in which the LORD speaks from out of a storm (Job 38:1; 40:6) or in which the voice of the LORD itself is depicted as having the destructive force of a storm (Psalm 29). However, without compelling evidence to the contrary, it seems unwise to disregard the history of interpretation on Genesis 3:8; l'ruakh hayom seems most naturally understood as "the breezy time of the day," i.e., the evening [the LXX simply translates the phrase with the more general to deilinon: "the afternoon"].

Though the exact nature of the theophany in Genesis 3:8 is controversial, the basic meaning of Genesis 3:8 is clear; when the man and his wife hear the sound of the LORD God, they hide: their fellowship with God has been broken due to their sin, and they are ashamed. This is soon followed by God cursing the serpent who tempted the first people (though promising a serpent-crushing offspring from the woman), punishing the woman and the man, and cursing the earth, expelling the man and woman from the Garden. The main story in the rest of the Bible involves God restoring this original relationship (and even bringing about something more than was originally present), ultimately through the last Adam, the predicted seed of the woman, Christ Jesus.

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