Saturday, September 01, 2007

Reconsidering Something
(and a few miscellaneous items)

Now that I have had the time to focus on the study of the Hebrew Bible, I have had time to refine my views on certain texts. When you are taking classes in Hebrew Exegesis, and reading several books on the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, you are going to have the opportunity to refine your position on several things. I figured it would be good to get a post started, and get some feedback.

Upon further study, I am considering another interpretation of Genesis 1:28. As a theonomist and a postmillenialist, I found that it was somewhat of a departure from classic reconstructionist beliefs. To start out, here is my translation of Genesis 1:26-28:

26a. And God said,
26b. "Let us make man in our image,
26c. after our likeness
26d. and let them reign over the fish of the sea,
26e. the birds of the sky,
26f. the beasts,
26g. all the land,
26h. and the insects that crawl on the land.

27a. Then, God created man in his image.
27b. In the image of God he created him.
27c. He created them male and female.

28a. And God blessed them
28b. and said to them,
28c. "Be fruitful,
28d. multiply,
28e. fill the earth
28f. and dominate it,
28g. and reign over the fish of the sea,
28h. the birds of the sky,
28i. and every living thing that creeps upon the earth."

My position is that of Wilhelm Gesenius, the famous Hebrew grammarian, which is articulated in his grammar:

(c) To express a distinct assurance (like our expression, thou shalt have it)2 or promise, e.g. Is 65:18 but be ye glad, &c. (i.e. ye will have continually occasion to be glad); and Is 37:30, y Ps 110:2; in a threat, Jer 2:19. So especially in commands, the fulfilment of which is altogether out of the power of the person addressed, e.g. Is 54:14 be far from anxiety (meaning, thou needst not fear any more); Gn 1:28, &c. (for other examples, such as 1 K 22:12, 2 K 5:13, see below, f). Most clearly in the case of the imperative NiphÇal with a passive meaning, e.g. Gn 42:16 Wrs.a†'he ~T,a;w> and ye shall be bound; Dt 32:50, Is 49:9 (Is 45:22, see below, f).

There are many strengths to this perspective. First of all, it fits nicely with the context of God blessing them in 28a, there are other examples where where this combination clearly means a blessing [Genesis 17:20, 28:3, 48:4, Leviticus 26:9, Jeremiah 23:3, Ezekiel 36:11]. Also, it avoids the problems of having to deal with women who are infertile sinning.

However, Reconstructionism has historically taught that this text is one of the reasons why the Church will one day conquer the world through the preaching of the gospel, because God has commanded man to take dominion here in this text. Thus, if we do not take dominion, we are, in fact, going against the commandments of God. Thus, the question is whether or not my interpretation of this passage is consistent with the reconstructionist perspective.

My first thought is to think that I don't really need Genesis 1:28, as we also have the Great Commission. However, what if we took a different interpretation of this passage, one that enabled one to hold that this was a command, that the command is about dominion, and that women who are infertile are not sinning? I think the solution is to consider that this is a command that was originally given to Adam and Eve, but is, by extension, given to humanity in general, and not to every individual within humanity. Thus, humanity in general would be under the obligation to exercise dominion, however, only humanity in general would be under the obligation to "be fruitful and multiply."

The weakness of this position is that it is difficult to reconcile with the afore mentioned information, and is also difficult to reconcile with verse 22. For instance, if humanity does not increase and multiply, then they are engaging in sin. However, we would have to make sense of how it is that animals can sin. However, that is utter nonsense. It is an attractive view, but it is difficult to work out those issues, and make them consistent with the rest of the text.

Now, I also have had time to look carefully at this text, and consider the interpretation of our Mandatory Marriage friends. They would say that this text gives us a command for [almost] everyone to marry and produce offspring. This is also a text used by those who say that it is a sin for people to get married and never have children. However, that view is difficult to reconcile with 28e, as, if the commands to "be fruitful and multiply" are commands which imply that [almost] every human being is to have offspring, then, reading the text consistently, we would also have to say that [almost] every human being is to fill the earth. The reality is that I know of no one involved in this movement who is the father [or mother] of 7 billion children! However, to be consistent, the folks that use this text to say that [almost] everyone must get married and have children or that all married people must have children must be consistent with their interpretation and say that [almost everyone] should have 7 billion children, and everyone who is married must have 7 billion children. That is simply absurd. Yet, it seems like the people involved in this movement want to take one interpretation of the first two imperatives [making them applicable to individuals], and yet make the third imperative applicable to humanity in general. However, that is totally arbitrary. If you read the first two imperatives in a certain way, you have to read the rest of the imperatives in the text in that way as well.

However, it is interesting that the afore mentioned view that I am considering can make sense of this problem. If God commands humanity in general to increase and multiply, he also is commanding humanity in general to fill the earth. Thus, as I said, it is an attractive view, but one I am not ready to jump on just yet.

Also, I happened to go over to Anakin Niceguy's blog, and found that he posted this article today. I clicked on the post he originally wrote, and that can be found here. It is about an article by Thabiti Anyabwile which can be found here. Now, I must say, to be fair, I like the idea of Anyabwile's article. Honoring your parents is something that we don't take seriously anymore. We need to love our father and mother, and, in doing so, we will be obedient to the law of God. However, Anakin rightly was disturbed by this comment:

But biblically, it seems that mature adulthood is defined by marriage and parenthood. In other words, the Bible reserves adult status for those who leave mother and father and cleave to a spouse (Gen. 2:24).

Apparently, Anyabwile has taken the time to reply to Anakin in the comments section of his blog here [his nick is "FellowElder"]. In his response he writes:

1. Pretty spiritual girl, marriage is not merely a "civil institution." It's a creation ordinance. It preceeds every civil organization/government in human history. It's established by God's governance at the beginning of creation. This is why marriage in some form is universal. Which is also why marriage and childrearing are normally associated with adulthood. Gen. 2:24 doesn't explicity state marriage is a marker of adulthood, true. However, the entire creation account establishes marriage and childrearing as typically central to adulthood.

Let us take a look at Genesis 2:24. Again, here is my own translation of the Hebrew text:

24a. Therefore, a man forsakes his father and mother,
24b. cleaves to his wife,
24c. and they become one flesh.

We need to understand what is being said here. The key to the interpretation of this text is the construction "imperfect+!Ke-l[;." This is a relatively common construction in the Pentateuch and the historical books, and thus, we should see how that construction is used in that context. Here are the instances by stems. For those who do not know Hebrew, I will use a bold font to indicate where the text is translating the specific Hebrew phrase:


Genesis 32:32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip.

Numbers 21:25-27 Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages. 26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. 27 Therefore those who use proverbs say, "Come to Heshbon! Let it be built! So let the city of Sihon be established.

1 Samuel 5:5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor all who enter Dagon's house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

1 Samuel 19:24 He also stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"

2 Samuel 5:8 David said on that day, "Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him reach the lame and the blind, who are hated by David's soul, through the water tunnel." Therefore they say, "The blind or the lame shall not come into the house."

Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.


Genesis 10:8-9 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD."

Numbers 21:13-14 From there they journeyed and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that comes out of the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD, "Waheb in Suphah, And the wadis of the Arnon,


2 Samuel 22:47-50 "The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation, 48 The God who executes vengeance for me, And brings down peoples under me, 49 Who also brings me out from my enemies; You even lift me above those who rise up against me; You rescue me from the violent man. 50 "Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the nations, And I will sing praises to Your name.


2 Samuel 22:47-50 "The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation, 48 The God who executes vengeance for me, And brings down peoples under me, 49 Who also brings me out from my enemies; You even lift me above those who rise up against me; You rescue me from the violent man. 50 "Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the nations, And I will sing praises to Your name.

The first thing we should notice is that the stem does not make much of a difference. The meaning of the phrase is pretty consistent throughout the stems, although the stems of preference for this construction are the Qal and the Niphal. We also need to be careful of not taking into account the context of Genesis 2:24. If we do not, we fall into the fallacy of termus technicus. It seems that, when we examine Genesis 2:24, we find that what is more important is the arrangement by context. Genesis 2:24 comes after a narrative, whereas 2 Samuel 22:50 comes in the context of a Psalm. Thus, while the meaning is similar to the other instances, it is not necessarily parallel to Genesis 2:24.

Now, note the meanings of each of these texts. The construction is telling us that an action happens in the present because of what happened in the narrative. For instance, because of what happened in 1 Samuel 5 with the priests of Dagon, they do not tread on the threshold. Because Nimrod became an excellent hunter, he is called a great warrior for the Lord in the present. Because Saul prophesied, people say "Is Saul among the prophets?" It is because of what happened with Jacob that the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the hip, and it is because of Israel's inhabitance of Heshbon that those who write proverbs say what they do. We can see that, over and over again, when you have this construction at the end of a narrative, it always means that something happens in the present because of what happened in the narrative.

Thus, if we apply the study of this construction to Genesis 2:24, we find that the text means that the reason why people get married today is because of what God did back in the garden of Eden. Therefore, any reading of this text that says that the text is stating that marriage is a "marker of adulthood" is exegetically unwarranted.

However, as I said, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Anyabwile has hit the nail on the head when he talks about how children need to be more obedient to their parents. I see way to many children get into their teens, and then they just go wild, and don't care about their parents at all.

Also, it is good to see Anyabwile doing work on Islam as well. James White, Michael Haykin, and Thabiti Anyabwile will be doing a conference on Islam. Also, there is a debate of Anyabwile debating a Muslim here. So, again, we have to be careful that we don't become imbalanced, and make sure that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Anakin Niceguy said...

Hi PC,

Good post. I remember Captain Sensible trying to reinterpret Gen. 2:24 to something binding today on a post at Boundless. You might remember my response to him/her ...


I note with interest Captain Sensible's remark about Genesis 2:24 ...

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.'

But wait! Adam and Eve didn't have a "father and mother"!
So these must be "general, timeless statements about humanity" (very nicely put Stephen), and even having a mother and father -- or community generally -- will still not ease the aloneness of man.

Perhaps if Gen. 2:24 began with "For this purpose, a man must leave his mother and father," I might concede something to CS. But, in actuality, the Hebrew equivalent of "For this reason" actually carries the connotation of "therefore" or "because of this." According to Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew-English lexicon (p. 487), it introduces "more a statement of fact than declaration" ... and is "used to indicate the "origin of a name, custom, and proverb." Gen. 2:24 is listed in such a usage (especially with the preposition that the root word takes).

It makes sense as my NKJV renders it "Therefore." I have always taken that passage to be explanatory, not a mandate. Gen. 2:24 sums up the creation narrative by commenting on why the sexes are attracted to each other (because a woman was created for a man who was alone). It does not necessarily indicate that people feel the same degree of isolation that Adam did (much in the same way men cannot say that their wives are actually taken out of their bodies), but the text simply comments on where sexuality came from.

Why did sexuality continue beyond Adam and Eve? Obviously because of Gen. 1:28. Yet, there is something we should note: being fruitful and mulitplying is tied with filling the earth, just as God commands the fish to fill the seas (v. 22). Did humanity fill the earth? Gen. 9:19 seems to indicate that they did. It's quite stretch to take a blessing for two people and turn it into an ongoing commandment even after (1) its purpose was fulfilled and (2) the New Testament allows people to choose to be single (those who have "MADE THEMSELVES eunuchs" - Matthew 19:12).


With respect to Gen. 1:28, too many commentators, I believe, do the following:

1. Overlook parallel language indicating blessing, not commands: Gen. 1:21-22; Gen. 24:60

2. Take "be fruitful and multiply" out of context and ignore it's connect with filling the earth and subduing it. I believe Gen. 9:19; Psalms 8:4-8; Acts 17:26 shows that God has accomplished what he purposed in Gen. 1:27-28.

wombatty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wombatty said...


Thanks for your analysis in the earlier post Debbie Maken On Women's Accountability. If it was ever in doubt, the fact that the core of Maken's project is 'letting women off the hook' should now be clear. Maken's main goal seems to be finding a 'personal scape-goat' for each and every Christian girl.

One of Maken's chief complaints about men is their purported immaturity. It seems to me that one of the unmistakable indications of immaturity is the unwillingness to take responsibility for oneself.

Yet, here we have Maken actively promoting the notion that women are not accountable. If a woman is unmarried, it's men's fault. If she is a slut, it's men's fault. If a married woman cheats, it's her husband's fault. All such faults are simply chalked up to a 'failure of male leadership'. Is such a notion not the very core of immaturity?

Given the biblical principal of being afforded 'more' when we are faithful with 'little', might some these women simply be suffering at their own hands? After all, if they refuse to be faithful (responsible/accountable) with what they presently have (their own lives), on what basis do they deserve more (marriage)?

Ted Slater said...

Interesting analysis. I appreciate your thoughtful exploration of these passages of Scripture.