Saturday, September 30, 2006

What's in the Bible   Lesson 1.1 Creation

This is part of my current Sunday School, which is a basic tour through the whole bible. The primary text is What's in the Bible by R. C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Most of the maps are from the Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts and Maps

The approach here is big picture, less detail. The goal is to make you comfortable with the entire bible, so that when you look in detail at any one part you don't feel as though you're picking up a tome youv'e never read and starting in chapter 47.

I will maintain a list of links to the lessons in the left sidebar.


The bible contains sixty-six books written by about forty-five writers. The dates of the books span approximately fifteen hundred years. Even for those who have read the entire bible more than once, it is difficult to get your arms around the whole thing. Most of us struggle to place stories in their proper time, and to understand what was happening in the rest of the world while a particular narrative was taking place. It can make us shy away from the blessings found in the Old Testament, because it all seems so confusing.

The Bible is different from all other books, but in an important sense it is just like any other book: it is meant to be read and understood in its entirety, not as disconnected pieces. The bible is not an anthology of short stories. It is a complete book with a beginning, middle, and end.

Do you feel a sense of dread when a Sunday School or a pastor teacher mentions the Patriarchs, or the Exile, or the Second Temple, or the Tabernacle, or the Sanhedrin, or obscure Judges and Kings? If so, this course is meant to help you. The goal is to help each of us gain a better sense of the Bible as a complete book and to blunt its intimidation factor. As such, we will take an adventure ride through the entire Bible, trying to place each section in its proper context and to gain an appreciation of the whole.

1. Creation and Blessing

We might as well start at the very beginning:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
There is a great deal packed into this first verse. First, we see that there was a beginning. There was a time when the universe was not. The Bible says a great deal about history and archeology that can be tested. It says very little about science. But its most profound scientific statement comes here in its first sentence. A scientific prediction that, from the time it was penned took over three millennia to confirm: The universe began. There was nothing, and then there was something. As late as the middle of the 20th century many scientists held on to the theory that the universe always existed because they wanted to avoid the religious implications of a beginning. The great British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) wrote:
Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole
Einstein also championed a universe with no beginning. But modern cosmology unambiguously shows the universe is expanding. Run an expansion backwards in time and you get--a beginning. The score stands: Bible 1, Einstein 0.

But that's not all you get. The first verse tells us that in (our) beginning, God already was. He predates our universe. Even more, His existence is assumed. This is important--the bible does not prove God exists, it does not even pretend to prove God exists, and should not be used to try to prove God exists to unbelievers. In the Bible, God's existence is axiomatic. It then proceeds to answer the "what now?" question, given that God exists.

The creative work of God is described as ex nihilo, meaning out of nothing. There were no raw materials lying about for God to use when He created. God created supernaturally.

We should take a second to ponder what supernatural means. It means something that is "beyond" natural. In scientific terms, it means something that cannot be explained by the physical laws. Only God can act supernaturally, although he may act supernaturally through men. When we say that Moses parted the Red Sea, we know that we really mean that God parted the Red Sea.

When God acts supernaturally in the presence of human witnesses, we call His actions miracles. One way to describe miracles is to say that God temporarily and locally suspends the laws of physics. This seemingly obvious point is very difficult to get across to skeptics who want to show the impossible: that the bible is inconsistent with science. Many will point to the miracles as examples where the bible is incompatible with science--but miracles are exempt from any such discussion. That is why we call them miracles and not "tricks." Some bible critics understand this, but many do not.

In His Image

Most of us are familiar with the first chapter of Genesis. After creating the earth and the animals and pronouncing the good, God created the one creature that was unique; the only one created in His Image: man. In what way was man in God's image? Was it because man sort of resembles God physically? No, of course not. Man is in God's image in the sense that he is capable of rational thought. He has a free will. He has a moral compass. Man has human versions of these same attributes that God possesses--which allows man to know and to worship God. In this way, God's creation brings glory to God.

The Fall

Evolution argues that man's morality evolved. That is, starting from the idea of the selfish gene whose sole purpose is to replicate itself (from this view, a chicken is an egg's way of making more eggs) man developed a moral compass, because man has a better chance to survive in a law-abiding society. We can jokingly say: our selfish gene selfishly evolved selflessness because a selfless man selfishly has a better chance to survive the selfishness of others when they too behave selflessly, albeit for their own selfish reasons.

Christianity, on the other hand, doesn't believe that morality evolved. Quite the opposite: we believe it devolved. Our morality was at one level--and then it got worse, not better. We call that degradation the fall, or original sin.

We all know the story of the fall. Adam and Eve lived in a paradise. In Eden, God removed (almost) everything that would tempt man to curse him. There was no death at the mouths of predators. No childhood leukemia. No leprosy, yellow fever, ALS, or autism. It was God's biosphere--a laboratory in a certain sense, where the only temptation present to prompt man to curse God as unfair was kept as minor as possible--and yet man failed. Adam and Eve ate of the tree from which they were forbidden.

It is important to recognize what original sin means and what it doesn't mean. Original sin means, quite simply, that we are born to sin.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)
Original sin does not mean we stand charged with Adam's sin. That is a misconception. Lead a sinless life and God will not keep you out of heaven on a technicality: True you committed no sin, but you forgot that Adam's sin was in your debit column. Gotcha! Such a concept impugns God's justice. No, original sin means something much worse, that we are such a corrupted race that in our natural state we have no choice but to sin. Whatever we do as natural men, no matter what its outward appearance, is but filthy rags in God's eyes. Adam, you see was our representative. He sinned, and the race suffered for it. On the one hand it seems unfair. But only superficially.

For it is illustrative of the fact that God interacts with man collectively--in addition, of course, to individually. The fact that God interacts with mankind and not just individuals, obvious as it sounds, is often neglected in modern evangelism, with its emphasis on a personal this and a personal that. In fact, I am resolved that if anyone ever again asks me whether Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior I am going to reply: Of course not, what a ridiculous question! Why, the mind reels! Jesus is the Lord and Savior of all who trust in the power of his blood. Why would I consider him my personal savior?

The fact that God has allowed the many to be corrupted because of the sin of their representative sets the stage for God to allow the salvation of many based on the righteousness of a different, perfect representative.

What if there was no original sin? What if Adam's sin had consequences only for Adam, and not for his descendents? We all know what would have happened: You would still have sinned, and I would have too. And if we were not represented collectively by Adam, how can we suppose that we would have been represented collectively by Christ? In that case, we really would be in need of a personal Lord and Savior. This way, that we have a common Lord and Savior, is much better.

The fall sets the theme for all scripture: redemption. Of the 1189 chapters in the Bible, the first two are about man being in fellowship with God. One is about man falling out of fellowship. The remaining 1186 are about redemption. Before the fall, we walked with God. Ever since, we run from Him. Scripture is not about man seeking God, but God seeking man, as John tells us: We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19).

Next: the Abrahamic Covenant.

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