The GOD of the Old Testament

(Selected readings from Charles Templeton's book, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith
Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith

In this section, Charles Templeton discusses God as represented in the Old Testament:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." These are perhaps the most familiar words in the history of Western civilization. They form the opening sentence in the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible and are fundamental to both traditional Jewish and Christian beliefs.

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible in a dramatic series of events spanning six days,...........

They are enthralling tales and across the centuries they have made an indelible impression on countless millions of men and women. But are they history? Or are they no more than the traditions of a Middle Eastern Semitic tribe and best categorized as folklore?

An unbiased reading of the biblical account will clearly show that, while some of the events described in the early books of the Old Testament may have been based on historic events, most are simply embellished folk tales.

THE CREATION STORY IS an attempt by its authors to validate Israel's view of itself as unique among humankind - God's Chosen People. The astonishing part of the story is that, millennia later, millions of men and women, Jew and gentile alike, continue to accept the biblical accounts of the Creation as fact even while acknowledging the evidence of science that the universe had its beginnings billions of years ago and that genus Homo has been around for at least 2.6 million years.

My purpose in these pages is not to denigrate Christian or Jewish beliefs - they are part of the bedrock on which our society has been built - but rather to make it clear that it is no longer possible for an informed man or woman to believe that, for all its ancient wisdom, its remarkable insights, and its occasional literary excellence, the Bible is either a reliable account of our origins as human beings or, as the Christian church insists, the infallible Word of God. The ancient lore of the Old Testament and much of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in the New may contribute to the fashioning of a useful philosophy of life, but they are anything but the definitive word on the origin, the meaning, and the purpose of human existence.

LET US BEGIN THEN AT the beginning, with the Creation story in the book of Genesis or, more accurately, with the Creation stories, for there are two, each differing from the other at almost every point. So many and so fundamental are the intrinsic contradictions that it is impossible to reconcile them. Even the deities involved are different. In the first story God is, in the Hebrew, Elobirn, in the second, Yahweh.

The first account is found in Genesis I:I through 2:3. The deity is Elohim. The earth is a void, a dark, fathomless sea. Elohim begins by separating the night from the day.

On Day Two he divides the waters in two with a vault above, calling the vault Heaven.

On Day Three he commands dry land to appear, calling the land Earth and the waters seas. He then creates vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees.

On Day Four he says, "Let there be lights in the vault of Heaven, a great light to govern the day [the sun] and a lesser light [the moon] to govern the night." And about time! There have already been three sunrises.

On Day Five he makes the seas teem with "sea serpents and every kind of fish" and turns the space between the earth and the vault of Heaven into a habitat "for every kind of winged creature."

Day Six - The Big One! Elohim has warmed up by creating the domestic animals, the birds, the wild beasts, and the reptiles. He now, it would seem, enlists some aid. The text reads: "And let us make man in our own image, after our likeness, and let them be dominant over every other living creature. [Italics mine]' And he does this, giving the man mastery over all other creatures and ordering him to mate and multiply.

"And Elohim saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.'

This, according to the scriptures, is how the earth and life on earth began.

BUT HOLD ON A MOMENT! It isn't. Four verses into the second chapter of Genesis we come upon a second Creation story, a completely different story, even a different God! In version one he is Elohim. In version two he is Yahweh. And the second version differs from the first at every point. Rather than "a formless void, a dark fathomless sea," as in version one, the earth is described as a desert, barren of vegetation and without water, "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground .... And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.'' There is no mention of a woman, an animal, a bird, a fish, or "a creeping thing."

Yahweh then plants a garden in Eden and fills it with every kind of tree. Among them - and here's the thorn on the rose! - the Tree of life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The man is placed in the garden, told to cultivate it and given a warning: "Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thou shalt not eat of it: For on the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

At this point, belatedly realizing that "it is not good that the man should be alone,'' Yahweh says, "I will make him an helpmaet for him.'' Whereupon he does a very strange thing. The text says: ``Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them."

It would seem, on the face of it, that Yahweb's intention was that one of the animals be the man's mate, for the story continues: ``But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." So, "the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam. And he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib that the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman and brought her unto the man.''

Whereupon Adam said, ``This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called wo-man because she was taken out of man." The story then concludes: "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed."

NOTE THE FUNDAMENTAL disparities in the two Creation stories:

In the first story the God is Elobim. In the second he is Yahweh.

In the first story the earth is described as covered with water, and it is not until the third day that Yahweh commands dry land to appear. In the second story the earth is a barren desert, without any water "save for a mist that rose from the land."

In the first story, Elohim divides the waters of the earth, sustains the upper waters with a vault and names the space above it, Heaven. In the second there is no such separation and no mention of a Heaven. In the first story, Elohim separates the light from the darkness, thus establishing the first day. Paradoxically, he doesn't create the sun or the moon until Day Four.

In the first story, having created the birds, animals, and sea creatures, Elohim creates a man and a woman. In the second story Yahweh begins by creating a man, forming him from the dust of the ground. He then creates the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It should be noted that although the fruit of the second tree is the cause of Adam's fall from grace it is not so much as mentioned by Elohim.

*In the second story, Yahweh, having decided to provide a helpmate for the man, proceeds to create, not a woman, but the animals. Then, when no helpmate suitable for man was found, Yahweh fashioned, rather than created, a woman, forming her from one of the man's ribs.

*The first story ends happily, with Elohim giving the man and the woman dominance over every living thing, and concludes with the words, "And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good."

Whereupon, he rested from his labours on the seventh day.

THEN, SUDDENLY, A monumental disaster! A talking snake, described as "more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made," comes to the woman and says, "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"

And the woman said unto the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it lest ye die." And the serpent said unto the woman, "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

And now the denouement. Later, they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day:

and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, "Where art thou?" And he said, "I heard thy voice in the Garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself."

And he said, "Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?"

And the man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat."

And the Lord God said unto the woman, "What is this that thou hast done?" And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat."

Whereupon Yahweh lays a curse on the serpent, the man, and the woman, fashions clothing for the man and woman from the skins of animals, and, lest they eat of the Tree of Life and live forever, banishes them from the garden, cursing the soil of all the earth and informing the man that he will subsist by the sweat of his brow until he returns to the dust from which he was formed.

He then posts cherubims at the east of the Garden of Eden and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the Tree of Life.

AS IS OBVIOUS, THE stories are fables, attempts to explain how the world and its various life forms came into being and why life is imperfect. But, juvenile and contradictory as these folk tales are, they have remained the grounds of Christian theology across the centuries. They purport to explain man's existence and his sinfulness, nature's variety and its jeopardies, and all suffering and death.

But surely no contemporary man or woman can continue to hold to a world view based on these ancient and primitive folk tales. They may have sufficed for a people living in a time when men and women knew nothing of the cosmos and little about the laws that govern it and needed for their peace of mind plausible explanations for the mysteries of life and death, nature's bounty and its frequent jeopardy, and the ten thousand imponderables that are a part of life.


Surely it is a negation of human experience and intellectual and scientific progress to cling to the archaic and untenable notion that the universe and our lives are the creation of and in the control of a primitive tribal deity, a male chauvinist much given to anger, intolerance, and fits of pique when crossed.

Moreover, if God is, as the Christian church teaches, omniscient, if he exists apart from time and knows the future, would he not know before he created the world that the experiment would end in disaster?

The question then becomes: if he knows the end from the beginning, why go through the exercise? If his goal was to create an intelligent species and set it down in a paradise, why would he load the dice against his new creatures by creating a wily talking snake, which was, the Genesis story says, "more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made"?

Unless the deity is Machiavellian or obtuse, none of this makes sense.

Equally incredible is the fact that, having created the man and the woman, God forbids them to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, being fully aware, as he presumably would be, that should they do so they would acquire the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and, in this respect, "be as the gods." How naive of the omniscient deity not to know that, given the opportunity, they would seize it. Surely the ability to discriminate between options is a desirable trait and one to be coveted?

If God is omniscient, would he not know that giving the man and the woman the ability to think but not to reason made them little different from the animals? So why trouble to create them? The assertion by the serpent that God wanted to withhold from Adam and Eve the power to reason because he knew that with it they would be like the gods suggests that the serpent already had the ability to reason. Quite clearly he knew the difference between right and wrong and was out to frustrate God's purposes.

Furthermore, if God has a need to be worshipped, and across the centuries he has insisted on it - on pain of eternal death! - he is not going to satisfy the need by creating a man and a woman incapable of choice. If they have no choice but to worship the Creator, what satisfaction could there be for God in that? Worship from a fawning automaton would not be worth having. For worship to have value it must proceed from a creature who has the ability to withhold it and then chooses to offer it. Without the ability to make rational choices a man is not a man, he is one of the lesser creatures - and God had already created enough of them.

And what is this consuming need the God of the Bible has to be worshipped, to be everlastingly praised and assured that he is the Great One, the most deserving of adoration and praise? Today such a condition would be diagnosed as pathological.


NOTE THAT, IN THE Genesis account, the Creator is utterly unlike the omniscient and loving God of Christian theology:

He is inept: His master plan for an Edenic paradise goes awry from the beginning.

He lacks foresight: His original intention was that Adam mate with one of the animals; the woman was an afterthought.

He is unjust: He curses not only the man and woman but all their unborn descendants for what was inevitable given the nature he himself had created in them.

He is vindictive: He tells the woman, "Because of what you have done, I will make child-bearing painful for you. And, to ensure your punishment, I will cause you to lust for your husband."

He is gender-biased: He tells the woman that her role will be one of subservience to her husband. "He will lord it over you."

He is not omniscient: Out for an evening stroll in the garden, he seems to have no idea where the first man and woman are hiding and has to ask where they are and what they have been up to.

He is subject to fatigue: The Sabbath was instituted because, as the Genesis record specifies: "God rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing."

BEFORE CONCLUDING THIS segment, let us look again at the nature of what the Christian church calls "original sin" - Adam's sin.

God creates Eden and in this paradise he places various creatures, among them a man and a woman. The humans differ from the animals in that they have been invested with the ability to reason - to deliberate and to make choices. Despite this, however, the man is forbidden on pain of eternal death to eat from a tree in the Garden of Eden because it bears "the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil."

But what could possibly be wrong in wanting to know the difference between good and evil? And why, if God didn't want Adam to know the difference between good and evil, did he give him the ability to reason? The distinguishing difference between men and animals is man's ability to weigh the various options in a given set of circumstances and make a rational decision. Moreover, if one doesn't know the difference between good and evil, how does one distinguish between what is good and what is evil? And beyond all this, why would God give Adam the power to choose when, being omniscient, he would know before doing so how Adam would react when tempted?

None of it makes sense.

Pageviews this week: