Saturday, 20 September 2014

Sermon: Our Understanding of Scripture


Many of us as Latter Day Mormons think we know all there is to know about the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the fruit he offered Eve. But do we really? Let us stop for a minute and let us take a closer look at the detail, because as the famous saying goes, the devil is in the detail. So let us as ourselves what does the Bible really reveal about that creature whose temptation brought our fallen state upon mankind?

We are all familiar with the sorry events of when our first parents rebelled against their Creator or are we really that familiar with the story, wait didn’t it go something like this? One sunny day Eve was walking through the trees admiring the luscious fruit and plants that God had placed throughout the Garden, when suddenly she heard a voice. Turning, she saw that the words came from a snake. No big deal, right. Many animals talked in the garden before the fall. Eve was innocent, so she never suspected a sinister and evil scheme and readily engaged in conversation.

Wait! Stop! Hold on. That’s not what happened, well, not exactly. You see, as Eve was walking through the garden admiring the creation of God a mighty angelic being approached her and struck up a discussion. After all we all know that Eve had regularly seen angels in her untainted home in Eden, so she had no reason to be wary. Whoa! Whoa hang on a moment that’s not in the Bible either is it? Eve was helping Adam tend the garden when she accidentally wandered away from Adam and came too close to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan saw his him moment and seized the opportunity to deceive Eve by possessing a serpent and speak to her, that’s how it happened, Right?

As Latter Day Mormons it is important that we separate God’s Word from our conjectures no matter how wonderful they may sound or how plausible they may seem. We must remember that when we are talking about Biblical events, like David and Goliath, we often assume we know what happened, that is until someone asks, “But where’s that in the Bible?” It is at that moment that we realise that much of what we think we know as fact did in fact come from teachers, books, or movies we’ve encountered over the years, and not from the Scriptures.

In the case of the events in the Garden of Eden where does Genesis actually identify Eve’s deceiver as the devil? What kind of serpent talks? Was the serpent in a tree? And why wasn’t Eve shocked to hear a talking creature? All these questions are relevant but in many cases are not supported by the scriptures and to many of us can seem a bit of a shock when we find that what we thought we knew was in fact fantasy. It is only natural that in our effort to make sense of these scenes from history that have been left with many holes we try based on the limited perspective of our own lives to fill in the details, however we must remember to be very careful. It is so very important for Latter Day Mormons, as we proclaim the privilege of being led by God and revelation that we remember to separate God’s Word from our conjectures.

So let us ask ourselves and cast our minds back to the three examples I gave at the beginning of this sermon and ask ourselves if any of these three examples closely represent what happened? What do we really know about the details and events of that moment? The answers largely depend in many cases on who you ask. So with that in mind let’s us see who promoted each of these three views to see if they had any biblical support to help us identify the creature. Since the answers shed light on the interaction between humans and the evil “powers” that attempt to draw us into sin, our proper understanding is vitally important to our walk with God (see Ephesians 5:15; 2 Corinthians 2:11).

The first question asked is was The Serpent Just an Animal? Well some early Jewish writers did not think Satan was behind the temptation of eve at all, after all, Satan’s name does not appear in the Genesis account of any of the Bibles apart from our own, the JST. They believed because of there inaccurate scriptures that the serpent itself tempted Eve and the craftiness of this particular animal led to Eve’s fall into sin. It is written in the Book of Jubilees, written before the New Testament and of historical interest although not part of the Bible, states that on the day Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden God closed the mouths of all living things “so that they could no longer speak: for they had all spoken . . . with one tongue” (Jubilees 3:28).  Another account written by the Jewish historian Josephus repeated this popular Jewish idea, writing that God “also deprived the serpent of speech, out of indignation at his malicious disposition towards Adam. Besides this, he inserted poison under his tongue, and made him an enemy to men.” 

We need to remember that most of what the world now knows about Satan comes from New Testament writings, as they do not have the inspired version of the Bible given to us by God. The New Testament links “the serpent” to Satan several times (Revelation 12:9 and 20:2; and also 2 Corinthians 11:3–15). The most popular view among Christians today is that Satan possessed the body of a serpent. This position combines the strengths of the other two views while minimising the difficulties it brings up scripturally. As Latter Day Mormons we have been blessed with the JST Bible and we know that Satan was responsible in a very real sense, but we also have the witness of the New Testament which indicates this as well (John 8:44).

In concluding this sermon may I remind each and everyone of us that things are not always as they seem at first glance in the scripture which is why God blesses us with the spirit and also with Prophets to help us and to guide in the right paths? This often becomes apparent when we study the Scriptures in detail. In the case of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, many questions remain unanswered to those without prophets to guide them or fulfilled scripture to aid them, however we should still remain tentative in answering them. Either we lack sufficient understanding, or the Holy Spirit chooses not to divulge enough information for us to be conclusive, that is the state in which we find ourselves. While it is intriguing to think about the serpent’s appearance and it is important to consider the ways in which the devil works (2 Corinthians 2:11), a far more important concern is how he was able to deceive the first woman and how Satan continues even today to tempt people to doubt the Word of God today and the Gospel today Just as in the days of Adam and Eve. Let us not forget that Satan was able to led Eve to question the reliability of God’s statements (“Did God really say . . .”), the enemy of creation and God is currently attacking the reliability of the early chapters of Genesis, with similar deadly results. There are many believers who have fallen for his deception and have opted to reinterpret or ignore the biblical view of the origin of the human family. This continued attack has had devastating results because it undermines our very understanding of biblical authority and the basis of the gospel of Christ and the message of eternal salvation. Let us as Latter Day Mormons learn from the mistake of our mother Eve, and take a firm stand on God’s side and on the revelation of life and the human family contained in Genesis. Let us not forget for one moment that God meant what He said, and we need to believe it today and for ever in our quest to return to be with him again.

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