An Atheist Bible Study: Genesis 1-4

When I was a Christian I set out to read the whole Bible. I have never actually done it. Now that I’m an atheist, I want to know what the Bible says. Not what people claim it says, but what it really, truly says.

I want to first make a disclaimer. I am not a theologian. I am a layperson. I went to church for 16 1/2 of my 18 years. I went to a Christian school for all but two years of my schooling. That included daily Bible study classes, and my two years of dual-enrollment included theology and evangelism classes. I was surrounded by the Bible, a biblical perspective, and Christian teachings my whole life. So I am approaching the text not so much as a scholar but as a normal, everyday sort of person. Please comment if my post contains any misinformation, with sources supporting your claim.
This post is based on my personal reading and informed by my experience in Christian circles as described above.

Chapter 1-2: The Creation Story

Genesis 1 describes how God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. This is familiar.
But the order is a bit odd.
Light, sky, land and seas and plants, sun and moon, fish and birds, and finally all land animals and two humans.
God made the light before the light sources. The moon is treated as its own light source, though it reflects the sun. God also created plants before the sun. How did they not die without the heat it provides?
Genesis 2:5a & 7 (NIV) says, “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up… Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” That appears somewhat contradictory to the story that God created plants days before humans.

Chapter 3: The Fall/Introduction of Sin

Genesis 3 describes how sin entered God’s perfect creation and has subsequently been passed from generation to generation. Sin is frequently defined as anything someone thinks, says, or does that God disapproves of.
God tells Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from a certain tree in the Garden of Eden or they will die.
A serpent, said to be Satan, tells Eve about the benefits of eating the fruit in Genesis 3:4-5, “‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'”
After they eat it, they realize they are naked, sew clothes from leaves, and then hide from God. Once they come out, God asked what they did. Adam pointed to Eve who pointed to the serpent. Christians point out that they shouldn’t have blamed others for their actions. God not only punishes Adam and Eve for eating the fruit but also the serpent for convincing them to eat it.
Instead of Adam and Eve being killed by God, they are kicked out of the garden. Christians often say that they died a spiritual death and after eating the fruit they were separated from God until their eventual physical death. I don’t know if that is the case or added later to explain the (seeming?) inconsistency. In Genesis 3:22 (NIV), “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'” This could be how their physical death would come to pass. It reads more as though they were not immortal at all, except by eating fruit from that tree.

Chapter 4: Cain and Abel

Some time passes and Adam and Eve have two sons (and presumably some other unnamed children), Cain and Abel. Cain is a gardener and Abel is a shepherd.
They both make sacrifices to God, giving what they have. Abel offers a lamb, and God accepts the sacrifice by burning it. Cain offers some of the harvest from his garden, and God gets mad at Cain. Cain then kills Abel out of jealousy, and God rebukes him. Cain is cast out, marries his sister, and gets some kind of mark so no one will kill him.
God has not given instructions for proper offerings, and it’s unclear why he rejected Cain’s offering. Cain offered what he worked hard to earn/produce, and God rejected it.
She has no name, but Cain had to have married his sister. A lot of people in Genesis marry their siblings, cousins, or other close relatives. Yet no problems from inbreeding are ever mentioned, and they continue to do it. Later on, the Israelites are told not to marry non-Israelites. They all basically descend from 12 brothers, with some unrelated wives at some points in the genealogy, but still no issues? Also, if God is all-knowing (omniscient) as a lot of Christian teaching claims, couldn’t he have thought to make more humans to increase the diversity of the gene pool? Two humans for all people ever to descend from is tiny!


I grouped Genesis 1-4 because they are all closely tied together. Next time I’ll work through Genesis 5-10, the story of Noah.

Recap: Is Same-Sex Attraction Sinful?

When I posted Why I’m Not a Christian, it sparked a discussion between Courtney Whitaker and I about homosexuality. She sent me an article by Preston Sprinkle, a Christian theologian, called Is Same-Sex Attraction Sinful?


“[Some argue that] if Paul did not know of any gay people acting out their fixed sexual orientation within a consensual marriage, then Romans 1 cannot not apply to same-sex marriages today. In short, Paul didn’t know about SSO; therefore, his words can’t apply to people with a fixed SSO.”

A friend of mine held a position similar to this. I disagreed based on my understanding of theology and Christian teaching and the traditional interpretation of the text.

 

The article contains some examples explaining how the concept of inherent, ingrained, or unchanging sexual preference was not unfamiliar to Romans in the first century AD which are really interesting.

 

“We can’t use these texts to show that homosexuality as a sexual identity existed as such back then. It didn’t. As is widely acknowledged and almost universally agreed upon by scholars of all persuasions, the Greco-Roman world did not have the same category of what we call homosexuality or gay/lesbian as a sexual identity.”

It may not have been the same, but it seems that they certainly conceptualized it similarly to today, even if they didn’t frame it exactly the same. There’s some following clarification about this that explains the Greeks and Romans thought in terms of “manliness” and “womanliness.”

 

“Whether such sex is pederastic (man on boy), exploitative, consensual, forced, extra marital, marital, or the byproduct of a fixed sexual orientation established at birth—it goes against the Creator’s intention; it’s ‘not the way it’s supposed to be.’”

My main problem with this is that someone can have a fixed sexual orientation established at birth and it would still be considered sinful for the person to have gay sex. Once I reached the conclusion that my attraction to women was out of my control, it didn’t make sense to me why it would still be sinful. If I were only ever attracted to women, I would not have any desire to marry a man; if I followed the biblical teaching on this, I would still refrain from any homosexual relationships, but I could very likely find myself unfulfilled in the romantic/sexual area of life. That’s not to say that freely choosing abstinence is a bad thing, but freely choosing it is what matters.

 

“I don’t think it’s accurate to equate what people mean by same-sex attraction to what the Bible says about sexual desire. SSA is a general disposition, regardless of whether someone is acting on, or even thinking about, it.”

This is actually different than what most Christians I’ve been close to have believed. Based on conversations in small groups and teaching from youth group leaders and even some slightly veiled mentions from the senior pastor, the majority position at the Baptist church I attended was that being gay was wrong.

 

“[L]iving in the constant state of opposite sex attraction isn’t sinful, even though it’s only okay for me to act on that attraction with one member of the female species. Likewise, living in the constant state of same-sex attraction doesn’t mean that someone is living in a 24/7 state of morally culpable sin.”

The difference is that you are “allowed” to act on your sexual desires, with your wife. Homosexuals, based on what I know and what you’ve included in your piece, are not “allowed” to act on their sexual desires with anyone ever.

 

“SSA is not just about actively wanting to have sex.”

So what? This is relevant to your argument, but I think this whole thing is you trying to justify having a dissonant position. It doesn’t mesh to say that it’s perfectly fine to be gay but it’s very much not okay to have gay sex, especially if you agree that at least some people were or may as well have been born gay. That would mean God created them gay and forbid them from ever having sex.

He then continues to talk about how SSA is more than just a desire for sex. It’s a bit excessive in my opinion.

 

“Romans 1 appears to conflate desire and action. That is, Paul doesn’t seem to view a naked desire apart from a sinful action.”

And you follow that with this, a couple paragraphs down.

(James 1:13-14) “James distinguishes between a desire, and desire that “gives birth to sin.” A woman may give birth to a child, but the woman herself is not the child. Likewise, in James’ own words, desire may give birth to sin, but this means that desire itself is not sin.”

So which is it? Paul doesn’t distinguish between the two, but then you pull out a different, unrelated passage that you explain as contradicting that.

 

The article contains some interesting historical information about the time period in which Romans was written. That part is fantastic, I really enjoyed it. Throughout the article, there is a strong emphasis on same-sex attraction being separate from a sexual desire for someone of the same sex. Followed by an ambiguous conclusion about whether such a desire is sinful. Romans 1, the passage the article primarily deals with, deals with them as though they are one and the same, but James 1:13-14 has a different perspective. It is unclear which is the correct perspective on homosexuality.

I would like to point out that Preston Sprinkle’s interpretation of the passages encourages my opinion that Paul and James presented divergent and contradictory perspectives. Take that to mean what you will.