Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series on articles from answersingenesis.org
This post was prompted by the article from the Answers in Genesis website entitled: Did Bible Authors Believe in a Literal Genesis?
In Did Bible Authors Believe… the author (Terry Mortenson) tries to make the case that since the authors of the various parts of the Bible take the stories found in the first eleven chapters of Genesis as “…straightforward, reliable history…” then this is the only way someone should read it if they want to get the correct message from the Bible as a whole. Mortenson, who has a Ph.D.(?) in the History of Geology which is not about the history of geology from a school that teaches neither history nor geology, takes a rather wandering and illogical route through various ideas and Bible passages to prove his hypothesis, and brings us to his conclusion that: “We should take Genesis 1–11 as straightforward, accurate, literal history because Jesus, the Apostles, and all the other biblical writers did so.”
Taken as a whole, this article could easily supply me with a half-dozen or so posts about circular logic, presumptive analysis, scriptural cherry-picking, and several other topics, but it was the following footnote which really grabbed my attention as something by which Mortenson completely contradicts, and invalidates his own conclusions:
17 Why Christians have trouble believing Genesis 3 when it speaks of a talking serpent is a mystery to me. We have talking parrots today, which involves no miracles. And if the Christian believes in any miracles of the Bible, then he must believe that Balaam’s donkey was used by God to speak to the false prophet (Numbers 22:28). Since Satan is a supernatural being who can do supernatural things (e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:11–13; Matthew 4:1–11; 2 Thessalonians 2:8–9), it is not difficult at all to understand or believe that he could speak through a serpent to deceive Eve (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9).1
I will bypass the comparison of a bird which mimics sounds around it through a process that can be fully explained by scientific means, with a donkey as a vessel of God’s speech, and instead focus on the idea that in this note, the snake referred to was a vessel for Satan’s speech.
On its face, and separate from the article it is attached to, this statement is reasonable enough in a conversation about Bible stories from a literalist stand, but his referenced passages, when taken in the context of his own article, either contradict his statement, and/or the article or have nothing to do with what he’s saying, while at the same time, do a wonderful job of refuting everything he himself is saying not only in the footnote, but in the article as a whole.
In the second paragraph of his article, Mortenson says: “If we interpret something [in the Bible] literally that the author intended to be understood figuratively, then we will misunderstand the text.” It is important to remember this statement, as it continually comes up below. He then goes on to give two examples of differing literary styles in the Bible. In one, he uses an example of an obvious metaphor: “‘I am the door…’ (John 10:9)”, and for the other “‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up’ (Matthew 17:22–23)”, he uses as an example of a passage which he says is to be taken literally. So, let’s look as his cited passages in the footnote above in regards to their being proof of Satan’s supernatural ability to talk through a snake to Eve.
11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! 12 But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.
This passage, in which Paul is talking about how he is careful to continue preaching to keep false prophets from deceiving people, is supposed to be an example of how Satan can do supernatural things, presumably to speak through animals, as God had done in Numbers 22:28. I can only assume that Mortenson meant to include the following verse which says:
“And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.”
With this verse, or without, this is clearly not an example of Satan’s power to do anything supernatural. Mortenson has made the mistake he warned his readers about early in his article: he took words and phrases which are clearly simile as literal statement. In these passages, no one is actually transforming themselves into anything, they are merely deceiving people by appearing to be something that they are not. This is made quite clear in the next passage which compares a false prophet’s deceitful practice of pretending to be a man of God with Satan’s deceitful practice of pretending to be a good guy.
If we are meant to assume that Satan is doing an actual transformation, then, according to these passages, the same must be said for the false prophets. This idea makes no sense, because if Satan, or the false prophet, transformed himself into the good versions of themselves then why would he transform back, when he would now be of God, and therefore be doing the work of God, by telling the truth and doing good, which would negate his desire to transform back into Satan or a false prophet? As many preachers will tell you, and have told me, you must be careful lest you be proven a fool by your own ignorance
Well, that passage fails, so what about Matthew 4:1-11?
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’and,‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
This, of course is the famous temptation scene. And, sure enough, Satan’s transporting Jesus around could easily be said to be supernatural. But remember, Mortenson states that we either read it as literal or not. So, if we are to take this as a literal example of Satan’s literal ability to do such things, then we are led to a rather perplexing issue.
If Satan is literally transporting Jesus around and literally takes him to the top of a mountain to show him “…all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” then the Earth is flat. There is no way that from a point on one side of a sphere, no matter how far above the surface of that sphere that point is, one could see the other side of the sphere, so it would be impossible to see “all the kingdoms”; at best, a person could see half, yet the passage clearly uses the word “all.”
So, by Mortenson’s own words, if we take this passage to be a literal word for word account of Satan’s supernatural abilities being used to try to tempt Christ, then we must also accept that the Earth is a disc and not a sphere. However, another article written by Mortenson’s colleague, Donald B. DeYoung, for Answers in Genesis, says that nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Earth is flat and “when the Bible touches on scientific subjects, it is entirely accurate.” So, is Mortenson interpreting something literally that the author intended to be understood figuratively, and therefore misunderstanding the passages, or is his colleague wrong, and the Earth is flat? Or are they both wrong, and the Bible cannot be read literally and the Bible is often scientifically inaccurate? (My money is on the answer to the last question being “yes.”)
2 Thessalonians 2:8–9 is just as poor an example of Mortenson’s assertion as the other two:
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
This passage is clearly referring to another false prophet and his teachings, and when read with the rest of the chapter is meant to reassure the reader that this false prophet is a sign that Christ is on his way. It refers to the prophet’s being like Satan, but also refers to his being destroyed by God’s breath. This is clearly a form of parable wherein the false prophet’s teaching will be refuted by the true teachings from God that Paul claims in this letter to be spreading, similar to what I am doing to Mortenson’s teachings here.
All of these references show that Mortenson clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and could also be used to label him as one of his feared ‘false prophets.’ a conclusion which is easily proven by his own treasured source of proof: the Bible.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
This is, of course, the famous ‘know them by their fruits’ lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, Jesus is not saying that false prophets are trees. He is comparing them to trees and saying that they will be easy to recognize by what they teach i.e. if they teach something which is incorrect, then you can be assured that they are not to be believed because “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” In other words, if someone tells you that the Earth is flat: don’t believe anything else they are saying. If someone tries to tell you the correct way to interpret the Bible, but then contradicts himself, by interpreting things the wrong way: they are not to be believed in anything that they say.
And finally, let’s get back to the article and what this footnote is saying. The article defends, and even demands a literal reading of Genesis 1-11 as required for any validated belief in Jesus. In this footnote, Mortenson is clearly defending the belief that Satan spoke through, or even was, the serpent in the Garden of Eden. I won’t go into the un-validated belief that this serpent lied to Eve, or somehow deceived her into believing something that wasn’t true, and I won’t go into the un-validated belief that Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden for eating a piece of fruit; what I will focus on is what/or who a literal reading of the story from Genesis 3 tells us the serpent was.
So here are the parts of the story which concerns us here:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The serpent has no more speaking parts, and later when God is handing out punishments for the whole mess Genesis says:
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:“Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen 3:14-15)
According to Mortenson, these parts of chapter 3, along with everything else from the first word of chapter 1 through chapter 11 are to be taken as “as straightforward, accurate, literal history.” So, let’s do so.
The first sentence of chapter three, clearly identifies the antagonist as a cunning “beast”, who talks to Eve. Absolutely nowhere does it say that another being is talking through it, or that it is anything other than a serpent. Now, some might say that it is implied, but I would counter with Numbers 22:28 which is used by Mortenson in which the verse’s author clearly states that that God uses a donkey to speak to someone, combined with the story of Job wherein we see that Satan has no power to turn people away from God without God’s permission (Job 1:11-12). (Before someone says that this passage shows that God gave this power to Satan, and that it proves that Satan has the power to corrupt people; I would point out that a literal reading would show that Satan is only given the power to corrupt Job and that this episode happens well after the story of the serpent and Eve, which would show that Satan had no such power prior to this point.)
The implication of this, as viewed through Mortenson’s hypothesis is that a) if it were Satan talking through the snake it would have been clearly stated as such, and b) if it were Satan, he couldn’t have done such a thing without permission which would imply that God caused the fall of man.
But, OK, there might be a way to weasel and wriggle through that. Which is where verses 14-15 come in. In these verses, God is clearly talking to a serpent, and that serpent is being punished by God with the loss of his legs, and enmity between it and humans who will constantly be stomping on its head. A truly literal reading of this shows the creation of the snakes we know today that crawl around on their belly and are disliked by most people.
But, it could be said that God was punishing, not a snake, but the Satan who was talking through him. Again, as I showed above, that doesn’t swing with a literal reading of what is supposed to be straightforward, accurate, literal history. In fact, implying that God was talking to or about something different than what is written is the exact opposite of a literal reading. Even if it were the case that it was Satan being punished, then by a literal reading, Satan would no longer have legs, and would have to crawl around on his belly. This is clearly not the case, because we see in Job 1:6 that Satan has the capacity to be “going to and fro on the earth, and…walking back and forth on it.” This clearly states that Satan was literally walking, so could not have been the entity who was talking in the Garden of Eden, and therefore not the entity who helped bring about the fall of man.
A literal reading of Genesis chapter 3, by Mortenson’s criteria would show that a, now extinct, species of once-legged, talking snakes is responsible for the fall of man, and that Satan has been unfairly accused of this crime for several millennia, something which is refuted by some of the same passages that Mortenson tries to use to back up his statements.
I would love to see Answers in Genesis’ answer to why that happened.
1. In contrast to most of my other posts, I am using the New King James version (NKJV) of the Bible instead of the King James (KJV). I do this because the author of the article in question used this version, and I felt that it was only fair that I use his own preferred version for any passages that I use to refute him.
- Satan’s Sinfully Seductive Nature (spiritualjava.org)
- What is liberal Christian theology? (altruistico.wordpress.com)
- The Inerrancy of the Bible (924jeremiah.wordpress.com)
- Ronni Thomas: What Is The History Of The Devil? (huffingtonpost.com)
- We found Noah’s… no, listen! Wait! Where’s everybody going? (skeptophilia.blogspot.com)