My Hermeneutical Pet Peeve

By David Kowalski

hermeneuticsMy pet peeve in others’ misinterpretation of Scripture is one that involves no false doctrine — just a popular misinterpretation of a passage that should not be so difficult to understand. While the improper treatment of the passage involved does not lead to heresy, it does keep us from hearing God’s Word accurately at that point and it reflects a careless treatment of Scripture that often leads to significant heterodoxy through the misinterpretation of other passages.  The passage is Genesis 3:1-6, and the misinterpretation begins with verse one, which reads in the NASB as follows:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’

A popular interpretation of this verse is to say that when the serpent said, “Has God said?” he was tempting Eve to doubt God’s Word. Read the verse above again and then read what God actually said earlier in Genesis 2:16-17 NASB below:

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Had God said Adam and Eve should not eat from any tree of the Garden? The answer is that He had not. God had said they could eat from any tree of the garden with the one exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve answered this question appropriately when she replied to the serpent:

The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.” (Genesis 3:2-3 NASB)

While we should never doubt what God says, the serpent was not tempting Eve at this precise point to doubt God’s exact words because, as Eve recognized, God had never said what the serpent quoted Him as saying. This was much craftier than a simple temptation to doubt (so crafty that many people still miss the point!). The serpent actually distorted God’s Word in a very clever effort to get Eve to rebel against God.

The serpent’s voice can be heard still today with questions like “Has God really said you cannot have fun?” The implication here would be that God is such a stick in the mud that one should not want anything to do with Him. This is not a temptation to doubt God’s Word; it is a clever effort to tempt rebellion through a distortion of God’s Word.

The serpent’s first, clever attempt to provoke rebellion through distortion of God’s Word failed, so he tried again:

The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:4-6 NASB)

At this point many interpreters say, “The serpent is tempting the woman to elevate herself to divine status.” Many people have used this verse in reference to the New Age Movement, saying the movement is echoing the serpent’s lie that “You shall be as God.” The New Age movement is, indeed, guilty of inciting rebellion against God through usurpation of His, unique deity; and though it is certainly wrong for any of us to claim equality with God, seeing a call to such a claim in  this passage is a hasty misread of these particular verses. As with the first verses we looked at, read these verses directly above again and then read God’s response to the rebellion in Genesis 3:22 NASB:

Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’

God said the man and woman had become like Him but not like him in his divinity — they had become like God in the one aspect of knowing good and evil. Whereas the man and woman had previously depended on God’s revelation of what to do and not do, they now became the governing authorities of their own lives. Innocence had been lost in a man-centered assumption of the reigns of life. The man and woman had not claimed divine status — they had declared independence from the divine One.

Apparently the serpent was so clever that many people still do not catch the subtlety of his deception in Genesis 3!

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

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This post was last updated: Oct. 19, 2013