Exposition of Romans 4:9–10 Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is “what are the sources of that which we know?” Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has recently commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which “instructs with respect to the Scripture: ‘Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.’. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .”[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9–10  Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis “that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness” (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: “A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25–26). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying “Have you not read . . .” during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in God’s Word!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:11–13

Genesis 3:11–13
11 And the LORD God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”  13 So the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman replied, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
(NET Bible)

Interrogation

We all have played the blame game. It seems so much easier than actually taking responsibility! We may laugh to see children do it, but some people never grow out of it.

How well does the blame game work out when the other party knows the truth? If in the end the blame game does not work in our favor, why do we keep playing? What is the alternative?

The sense of “who told you” is actually “who informed you,” because we are informed of what we previously did not know. Hamilton lists the alternatives: “Was it the serpent who told you? Was it the woman who told you? Was it your own eyes that told you?”[1] The last option can only mean one thing: the man has gained knowledge of good and evil, and there was just one way to do that.

The man is cornered! God then gives him an immediate opportunity to confess. His second question goes straight to the point like an arrow: “The tree that I commanded you not to eat from it—did you eat?” (my rough translation of Genesis 3:11b). This translation preserves the original word order and shows that God places immediate stress on the one forbidden tree. The NET Bible Notes say: “The Hebrew word order . . . is arranged to emphasize that the man’s and the woman’s eating of the fruit was an act of disobedience.”[2]

Genesis 3:12 is amazing for a direct confession, because it blames others including even God! Hamilton says: “Through rationalization the criminal becomes the victim, and it is God and the woman who emerge as the real instigators in this scenario. Adam plays up their contribution in his demise and downplays his own part.”[3] This is the blame game in its full-blown form. No repentance is offered.

What does the blame game accomplish? Wenham says, “Here the divisive effects of sin, setting man against his dearest companion (cf. 2:23) and his all-caring creator, are splendidly portrayed.”[4] The blame game is great for generating alienation in the worst spots—crucial relationships.

The interrogation of the woman is more brief but reaches no happier result (Gen. 3:13). She at least does not blame God or her mate, but she does blame the serpent. Once again, no repentance is offered. The crux of her downfall is described by the word “tricked.” This verb is often associated with excessive self-confidence (sometimes based on seemingly-safe physical security) or wishful thinking. Perhaps the woman thought she could handle the encounter with the wily serpent and she entertained the promised rewards without counting the cost. Her answer is pathetic.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 193.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 3:11.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 194.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 77.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:8–10

Genesis 3:8–10
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the orchard.
9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  10 The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
(NET Bible)

Assessing a Disaster

Barriers to communication present some of the worst problems we experience. When a dangerous storm passes over your loved ones, you want to know what is going on right now! All too often critical questions go unanswered.

What causes problems in our communication with God? How can the causes be overcome? What is God doing to reach out to us?

Although the woman was engaged by the voice of the serpent, a different reaction occurs when the man and his wife hear the “voice” (as translated by the King James Version; the same word given as “sound” in NET) of God calling while customarily walking in the garden during the breezy evening (Gen. 3:8). They must hide!

Gordon Wenham says: “A more complete transformation could not be imagined. The trust and innocence are replaced by fear of guilt. The trees that God created for man to look at (2:9) are now his hiding place to prevent God seeing him.”[1]

A more literal translation of Gen. 3:8b would say, “and so they kept themselves hidden from the face of the Lord God in the midst of the trees of the garden” (my rough translation). Fat chance that will work! Parents among us may think of their small children hiding by placing their little hands over their eyes; the ineffectiveness is uppermost.

The trees hide nothing from God’s eyes (Gen. 3:9). Bruce Waltke rightly says: “God models justice. The just King will not pass sentence without careful investigation (cf. 4:9-10; 18:21). Although omniscient, God questions them, inducing them to confess their guilt.”[2]

The call (“the Lord God called” in 3:9) is to give an accounting (as in 12:18; 20:9; 26:9-10). The question (“Where are you?”) is rhetorical (Gen. 3:9) and is directed to the man. Wenham notes: “The couple emerge shamefaced from the trees. Their reply to God’s inquiry shows that they understood the question as an invitation to come out and explain their behavior.”[3]

However, the barriers to communication are shown in the inverse order of the man’s confession (Gen. 2:10). He says he hid because he was naked and therefore afraid. Notice the careful avoidance of how he got that way! He fails to realize that the word “naked” provides more than an explanation; it gives confirmation of his disobedience. How difficult it is for us to admit to God the true depth of our sinful acts.

The thoughtful reader will realize that God could have walked into this scene and simply announced judgment on the basis of what he already knew. But it is vital, now that the man has entered the realm of death, that the man and woman learn the value of confession and restoration of communication with their creator; he is the only one who can save this disaster.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 76.

[2] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 92.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 77.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:24–25

Genesis 2:24–25
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.  25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.
(NET Bible)

First Family

Any counselor can tell you that the relationship with in-laws is one of the greatest stressors on many marriage relationships. Knowing the relative priorities of these relationships can save you a world of heartache.

But who has the wisdom and authority to set those priorities? What priorities have been set? What is the nature of the husband-wife relationship?

Genesis 2:24 is very familiar to many Christians who have heard some form of it used in wedding ceremonies. However, a Bible student must always be aware that the interpretation of such heavily used verses may have been shifted away from the original meaning toward a contemporary adaptation.

To begin understanding what the verse is saying, consider Gordon Wenham’s historical input:

The traditional translation ‘leaves’ suggests that the man moves from his parents and sets up home elsewhere, whereas in fact Israelite marriage was usually patrilocal, that is, the man continued to live in or near his parents’ home. . . . On marriage a man’s priorities change. Beforehand his first obligations are to his parents: afterwards they are to his wife.[1]

The uniting of the man and woman is a powerful bond. The NET Bible Notes say, “In this passage it describes the inseparable relationship between the man and the woman in marriage as God intended it.”[2]

The NET Bible’s shift from “one flesh” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) to “a new family” seems to replace a powerful metaphor of marital unity with a much weaker abstraction. The semi-poetic nature of Genesis 1–11’s language resists the incursion of such anachronistic language. Further, the Hebrew word for “family” does not occur here. Since the language here is figurative rather than idiomatic, there is not adequate justification for replacing the metaphor (“one flesh”) with the paraphrased abstraction (“a new family”).

Genesis 2:25 gives us a last, idyllic glimpse at the unaffected happiness of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The environment did not require clothing, and there was no other reason to have it; unfortunately, there would be a reason before long. Wenham says, “They were like young children unashamed at their nakedness.”[3] The man and woman are together with nothing to hide from one another; that too would soon change.

Victor Hamilton explains that the significance of nakedness changed over time: “With the exception of this verse, nakedness in the OT is always connected with some form of humiliation.”[4] In Genesis 3 we will find out why.

The verb used for the phrase “they were not ashamed” needs clarification due to cultural differences between us and the ancient Israelites. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, “[The English phrase] ‘to be ashamed’ stresses the inner attitude, the state of mind, while the Hebrew means ‘to come to shame’ and stresses the sense of public disgrace, a physical state.”[5] With our cultural stress on individualism, we find it less natural to think of shame as a public status rather than a private feeling.

With sadness we look back to a lost Eden that we might have inherited. But our sorrow gives way to joy in knowing that we can regain all that was lost and much more through faith in Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 70.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:24.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 71.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 181.

[5] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 1:97, bosh, to be ashamed, q.v.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:21–23

Genesis 2:21–23
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
(NET Bible)

A really big moment!

In 1970 an obscure Australian student said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”[1] Really? If true, that would mean it is good for woman to be alone, even though we already know it is not good for man. That seems an unbiblical conclusion, to say the least!

God was not compelled to create the man and woman for close companionship with each other. Why did he do so? How does God’s creative intention affect us in our attempt to please him?

The “deep sleep” which God brings upon Adam (Gen. 2:21) occurs rarely in the Bible, and it is not well understood. The standard Hebrew lexicon says it “is not only an unusually deep sleep . . . but also a sleep which marks an event as one of the high-points of the actions of Yahweh.”[2] The creation of woman is one such high point; others are the making of a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:12), revelations from God to Daniel through an angel (Dan. 8:18, 10:9), Jonah’s sleep during the great storm (Jon. 1:5), and a famous encounter of David and Saul (1 Sam. 26:12). The mystery remains as deep as the sleep. But in Genesis 2 we can understand why Adam needed deep sleep!

The NET Bible bravely deviates from saying God used one of the “ribs” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NASB, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) from the man to make the woman (Gen. 2:21b). Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton says, “Gen. 2:21 is the only place in the OT where the modern versions render this [Hebrew] word as ‘rib.’”[3] They do so due to the power of the King James Version in setting people’s expectations in familiar passages. NIV 2011 only had the courage to put the correct translation in a footnote.

Instead of following the pack, NET offers “he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.” In support of this choice the NET translators say: “Traditionally translated ‘rib,’ the Hebrew word actually means ‘side.’ The Hebrew text reads, ‘and he took one from his sides,’ which could be rendered ‘part of his sides.’ That idea may fit better the explanation by the man that the woman is his flesh and bone.” The argument is convincing.

Using a verb suitable for a potter, God fashioned Adam from the earth (Gen. 2:7). In Genesis 2:22 the language figuratively shifts to that for a builder when God literally “builds” Eve from the tissue taken from Adam. Then, in what must have been an unforgettable scene, God presents the woman to Adam.

In Genesis 2:23 — Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” — Adam sounds awestruck, does he not? By expressing his words in poetry, the author captures the emotion of the moment. The phrase “at last” conveys Adam’s relief in finding his companion from the vast array of life he has examined.

Concerning the phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” Hamilton says:

[The phrase] speaks not of a common birth but of a common, reciprocal loyalty. Thus when representatives of the northern tribes visit David at Hebron and say to him, ‘we are your bone and flesh’ (2 Sam. 5:1), this is not a statement of relationship (‘we have the same roots’) but a pledge of loyalty (‘we will support you in all kinds of circumstances’).[4]

The next important issue is whether the fact that the man names the woman means he has authority over her. We agree with the NET Bible Notes, which answer no:

Some argue that naming implies the man’s authority or ownership over the woman here. Naming can indicate ownership or authority if one is calling someone or something by one’s name and/or calling a name over someone or something (see 2 Sam. 12:28; 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 4:1; Jer. 7:14; 15:16), especially if one is conquering and renaming a site. But the idiomatic construction used here . . . does not suggest such an idea.[5]

The reader is already aware that almost every verse in the early chapters of Genesis is awash with thorny issues of interpretation and theology. We have only begun to face the challenges of this amazing book!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Irina Dunn, a student at the University of Sydney (Australia) in 1970.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) tardemah, deep sleep, q.v.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 178.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 180.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:23.


Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:18–20

Genesis 2:18–20
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
19 The LORD God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.
(NET Bible)

What the man can’t do without

Throughout human history the relationship between man and woman has been discussed through the perceptual grid of power. The relationship has been called “the war of the sexes.”

Why was woman created? Was competition between sexes part of God’s design? What kind of relationship did God intend between the first man and woman?

“Against the sevenfold refrain of ‘and God saw that it was (very) good’ in chapter 1, the divine observation that something was not right with man’s situation is startling,”[1] says Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham about Genesis 2:18. Consider that this is God’s evaluation, not Adam’s; Adam has not figured it out yet.

The word “alone,” an adjective in English, translates a Hebrew noun which means “solitude.”[2] A more literal rendering could be “The-man-in-his-solitude is not good” (a rough translation). Why is this situation negative? First, there is no way for the man to be fruitful and multiply as God intends (Gen. 1:28). Second, the need for companionship is more fundamental than many recognize. For example, solitary confinement is widely regarded as extremely stressful and can even produce mental disorders.

The contemporary social history of the United States makes it difficult to translate the word offered as “companion” at the end of Genesis 2:18. The King James Version of the Bible (1611) gives the last phrase as “an help meet for him.” This phrase led to the development of “helpmeet” and then “helpmate.” These derived words are based on a misunderstanding and obscure the actual meaning of the author.

The words of the Bible may be used in many ways; not all such ways are fitting. Some, not guided by the love of Christ, have used the word “helper” (NIV, NASB, ESV) or the phrase “help meet” (KJV) in a way that demeans wives and women in general. Primarily to avoid such distortion, the NET Bible uses the translation “a companion for him who corresponds to him.” Similarly, the New International Version (2011) offers “a helper suitable for him.” A word study will further clarify the crucial word.

Word Study (“companion” or “helper”)

The Hebrew word ‘ezer, translated by NET as “a companion for him” in Gen. 2:18 means: “help, assistance.”[3] The NET Bible Notes say: “Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English ‘helper’ can have. In the Bible, God is frequently described as the ‘helper,’ the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs.”[4] Exodus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 33:7 provide examples.

Hamilton adds: “The verb behind ‘ezer is ‘azar which means . . . ‘save from danger,’ ‘deliver from death.’ The woman in Gen. 2 delivers the man from his solitude.”[5]

The Missing Person

In light of the above analysis, the NET Bible made a wise choice with “a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

One by one God creates “every living animal” (Gen. 2:19) and brings them before Adam. Wenham says: “This hold-up creates suspense. It allows us to feel the man’s loneliness.”[6] Adam examines each living animal and names it. But while the animals exist as male and female, nowhere is there found a fitting companion for the man (Gen. 2:20). Presumably Adam has learned what God said at the start: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 68.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000)  bad, solitude, q.v.

[3] HALOT, ‘ezer, help, q.v.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 2:18.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 176.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 68.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:15–17

Genesis 2:15–17
15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it.  16 Then the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard,  17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”
(NET Bible)

Almost All Permitted

In today’s lesson we will see that God did not put us here for our own entertainment. Humanity did not originate as a totally free entity. No, we had responsibilities then, and we still do. What leads us to deny our responsibilities or to resist them? Who has the right to assign responsibilities? Who will enforce those responsibilities?

Can you believe it? The Garden of Eden needed care! When it finally sinks in that even paradise was not designed to be free of responsibility and work, we are beginning to move from fantasy to reality. Is it possible that a life without responsibility is meaningless—even ruinous?

The NET Bible is in good company in saying the man was responsible “to care for it and maintain it.” This translation suggests that “care for” and “maintain” are essentially synonyms; such parallelism often occurs in poetic Hebrew.

Indeed, the verb for “care for” (Hebrew ‘abad) occurs with great regularity in the Old Testament with the meanings “toil . . . work . . . serve.”[1] That is sufficiently general to encompass just about any specific task that one would do in a garden. NET’s “care for” is reasonable. Wenham observes, “It should be noted that even before the fall man was expected to work; paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment.”[2]

The second verb (English “maintain”), however, is another story altogether. Consider the Word Study.

Word Study (“watch over, protect”)

The Hebrew verb shamar, translated by NET as “to maintain it” in Genesis 2:15, means: “keep, watch over . . . take care of, preserve, protect.[3] Derived nouns include “watchman,” “guard,” and even “prison.” In other words, the word has strong security overtones.

Hamilton says: “The same [Hebrew] root is used in the next chapter to describe the cherubs [angels] who are on guard to prevent access to the tree of life in the garden (Gen. 3:24). The garden is something to be protected more than something to be possessed.”[4] He also points out that the poetic synonym of shamar is always natsar, which means “keep watch, watch over.”

It is instructive to note that the first use of shamar at Genesis 2:15 means to protect the garden and the last use at Genesis 41:35 involves Joseph arranging protection for the grain storage the Egyptians will use to survive the great famine. Such literary parallelism is usually intentional. To anyone who wonders why man’s exact responsibilities make so much difference, stay tuned for the answer in Genesis 3.

A general rule followed by an exception!

Genesis 2:16–17 provide both a lesson in biblical interpretation and present God’s standing orders for the first man (who presumably told his wife). First we have the lesson in biblical interpretation.

Note carefully that in Genesis 2:16 the man is allowed “to eat fruit from every tree of the orchard.” That seems comprehensive, does it not? And we have already been told that the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil stand in the midst of the garden (Genesis 2:9). So, we conclude that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is allowed — right? Wrong!

Why is the interpretation wrong? Because we have not read the context. Genesis 2:17 expresses the exception to the general rule: “. . . but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” What we have here is a set literary form: the general rule is given first and the exceptions (if any) are then presented. We would have worded things a bit differently in contemporary English, but we must allow ancient people to have their own ways of saying things!

This very same pattern (General Rule – Exception) will recur in Genesis 6:5–9. First we have the general observation that all of humanity is “only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). As a result God resolves to destroy all humanity (Gen. 6:6–7). We do not find the exception to the rule until we are told of righteous Noah in Genesis 6:8–9. So, always read a verse in its context.

The exception is backed by a somber warning: “for when you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17b). This is the first mention of death in the Bible. Hamilton argues convincingly, that the phrase means “he shall die (at God’s hands).”[5] Though Adam and Eve did not die immediately after breaking the command, perhaps by God’s grace, in time they were separated from the realm of the living. Worse, their children suffered the same consequence. Worst of all, they were separated from the giver of life and could no longer walk with God in the garden.

That is where you and I come in, because death and alienation have penetrated throughout humanity (Romans 5:12). Only through what Jesus did on our behalf at the cross did we gain the opportunity to regain life and peace with God (Romans 5:1, 5:8–21).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), Translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) ‘abad, work, q.v.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 67.

[3] HALOT, shamar, protect, q.v.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 170.

[5] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 173.