At a writer’s conference recently, I spoke to a woman whose college-age son has left the church. The woman told me that her son “feels there’s too much violence, bigotry, and superstition in the Old Testament.” I suspect this woman isn’t alone, and that many people are driven away from Christianity because of the OT. As a result, Christians need to be able to defend the OT against the most common objections.
The first step in defending the OT is to understand what the objections are, and that is what we’ll be doing in this OT commentary.
For our first lesson, we’ll be looking at the story of the Fall of Man, as described in Genesis, chapter three.
Naturally, some critics classify the entire story of the Fall of Man as a fairytale, pointing out that it features a talking snake and a God who walks around in human form. To make itself more believable, the story also “explains” why snakes don’t have legs, why childbirth is so painful, and why life is so brutish (which it certainly would have been during the bronze age).
Ignoring such complaints, today we’ll focus instead on criticisms that are more difficult to answer.
If we remember the story, God tells Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saying that “on the day that you eat from it, you will die.”
God’s commandment to Adam and Eve is where the trouble starts. For one thing, the critic wonders why God would want humans to be ignorant of the difference between good and evil. In addition, God doesn’t explain the reason for his demand. Instead, he tells Adam and Eve that eating fruit from the tree will kill them. Thus, right from the beginning of the OT, humanity’s relationship with God is based on irrational demands that are backed up with the threat of punishment.
As we move further into the story, the situation only becomes worse, because the serpent points out God’s apparent lie. When the serpent asks Eve if she can eat anything in the garden, she says that only the one tree is forbidden, because eating it is deadly. Once the serpent shows her that the tree isn’t poisonous, Eve understandably eats the fruit. After all, knowing the difference between good and evil seems like a pretty important skill to have, especially when you live in a world where God lies to you.
God’s behavior again becomes problematic when he wanders into the garden “searching” for Adam and Eve. God’s apparent surprise to find them dressed makes him appear less than omniscient. And once God discovers Adam and Eve’s enlightened state, the OT makes matters worse by having God say, “If they eat of the tree of immortality, they will become like us.” Thus, the OT seems to be promoting not only a very limited and weak God, but also polytheism.
Finally, in placing a curse on the entire human race for Adam and Eve’s disobedience, the OT makes God seem unjust and tyrannical.
Keep in mind that these complaints about the story of the Fall of Man remain valid, whether we read this passage literally or metaphorically, which is why they are more difficult to defend against than criticisms that focus on the fairytale qualities of the story itself.
The outside world reads the OT differently than Christians do. Once Christians understand this, they can better prepare themselves to communicate with people who aren’t part of the church.