Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)

If Adam thought Satan was a good guy, was his transgression justified?

A response to Steve Hays, in which I challenge the assumption to begin with, and then doubt the conclusion for two other reasons anyway.

In response to my thesis that Eden was the meeting place of God’s council, and that the tempting of Adam was a power play to wrest rulership of the earth away from him, Steve Hays voices the following objection:

Assuming that Adam and Eve had contact with the Divine Council, they’d associate angels with good angels. Heavenly angels. That would give them reason not to suspect the Tempter. Rather, the presumption would be that he was one of God’s representatives or emissaries—like other angelic members of the Divine Council.

We perceive that he’s calling God a liar, but from their perspective, maybe they view that as a divine test—like God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which seems to conflict with God’s promise that Isaac will be the progenitor of a vast posterity. If God himself has introduced them to the Divine Council, what reason would they have to be suspicious of the Tempter’s overtures? Just the opposite.

I find this objection uncompelling, and in fact quite implausible, for three reasons:

1. My thesis does not entail this particular viewpoint for Adam

The fact that Adam was created to be a human member of God’s council doesn’t mean that he was immediately inaugurated into its ranks. We don’t even know for sure that the members of God’s family had been formed into a council at this point; Job 15:8 may be an anachronism. I’m agnostic on both the regularity and the kind of contact Adam would have had with the sons of God; Scripture simply doesn’t tell us. Possibly he only knew some of them on an ad hoc basis. Possibly the council existed and he was aware of it, but had not yet been formally introduced to it. Certainly the sons of God are present when Adam is created (Genesis 1:26; Job 38:6-7); but for all we know, his time in the garden was a probationary period before his rulership could be consummated through induction into the council. I really don’t know, and this illustrates the problem with the objection: it relies on too specific a theory of Adam’s relationship with the sons of God. The only thing I am willing to say with confidence is that if Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:38), and if the archangels are sons of God, then it is very awkward to posit that they had nothing to do with each other, because that isn’t how families work.

So aside from my conviction that Eden was created in part to be a council meeting-place, with Adam as its first human member, I have no position on how it all worked because the text doesn’t say. Thus, Steve’s objection, to me, seems rather like pointing out problems with premillennialism in response to my conviction that we will someday rule with Jesus. It presumes to pin me down on a more specific view than I actually hold of what ruling with Jesus will be like. The fact is, I’m just not sure. I am convinced we will because the Bible says so. But is it in a literal millennium? Is there, like, a daily meeting? How do billions of Christians rule together in the first place? How does that work? Well, I dunno—how does it work with the divine council scene in 2 Kings? And would the same thing have been going on in Eden? What would they even have talked about before there were nations and so on? I have no idea. All I’m committed to saying is that the divine council was present there in a way that Adam would be able to interact with.

2. Satan did not present himself as an emissary

Building on this point, there is also the manner in which the serpent presents the temptation. Had he indicated to Adam that he was sent by God to change or rescind the command about the tree, then I would agree that Adam and Eve’s culpability was reduced, at least. But given the way he frames the question—“did God really say…?”—and given what he asserts about the tree, they certainly had reason to at least double-check with God before breaking the one commandment he had expressly given them. I think many Christians tend to imagine Adam as child-like; they conflate his moral innocence with naïveté. But I don’t see that Adam is presented as naïve. If anything, as a man created to rule in God’s stead, we should expect him to have been—as my wife likes to say—somewhat wisdomous.

3. The objection backfires by better explaining Eve’s deception

One of the puzzling things about the temptation is that Eve was actually deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). On the “standard” interpretation of the temptation (animal possession) this is fairly hard to understand, because it makes her look like such a clot. If anything, her Spidey sense should have been tingling in overdrive. Now, Steve does not hold the standard interpretation—in fact, he and I agree that the serpent was a divine being. He just disagrees that the divine council was present in Eden. But even on that view, since Eve had never seen a being like Satan before, his appearance should have been quite alarming. At the very least, she should have had natural misgivings about him.

In other words, it requires an awkward suspension of disbelief to see Eve being legitimately tricked here. However, if she was familiar with divine beings as other members of God’s family—and perhaps his ruling council—then Steve’s objection actually becomes a point in favor of my thesis. It puts a finger exactly on why Eve was deceived: she had prima facie reason to trust the serpent. He was supposed to be one of the good guys. So perhaps she did see his statements as a test, like Steve suggests—though she shouldn’t have.

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