Curious what theologians throughout history made of Genesis 4

I’ll answer this question separately, and the other questions in a different post.

Is Paul’s jailer an atheist, i.e., one who believes in no gods at all? Or is he a pagan, i.e., one who believes in the gods of a pagan pantheon? This makes a difference, since we were talking about atheism, not paganism. A pagan and a Christian might well share a number of beliefs in common that an atheist does not have. We can’t assess what “choice” the jailer thought he had without knowing what religious beliefs he already held, before meeting Paul. Are you imagining that the jailer held the beliefs of Richard Dawkins, or those of a typical pagan of the time? If the latter, then the question for the jailer would have been not “Does any God exist?” but “Which God is the true one?”

George, you’re starting to hurt my feelings with words like “invent” and “imagine”. I put a lot of effort into showing exactly where I get what I’m saying. It’s all based on either the biblical text or history or the marrying up of them both.

You don’t have to agree with me, but at least acknowledge that this isn’t just randomly pulled out of my rear end.

There’s that word again. The cities and the region I’m siting are directly mentioned by name in a lot of cases. How is that an “invented connection”?

Let me ask you this. Gen10:10, the verse we discussed. It lists a group of cities by name that it says were the “first centers” of Nimrod’s kingdom. Nimrod was the grandson of Ham, so this is literally two generations after the flood. So how many people were on the Earth by this point according to the traditional interpretation? 30? Yet there’s three cities?

Just curious your thoughts on that.

I agree this needs clarification. I’m not saying “significant parts” of the Bible are wrong. I’m just pointing out the reasons why I think it’s not accurate to treat it as infallible. I think it’s important to recognize it has its flaws if we’re going to analyze it as we do here.

As you said, I base my analysis on it. I hold it in high regard. Entire civilizations have risen and fallen in the time the bible has existed. Our history shows us over and over again humanity’s incapability to make anything lasting and sustainable. Yet these writings have managed to remain relevant to a very large bit of humanity for a very long time.

This is no accident and this is not something humanity accomplished on its own, in my opinion. While I may point out details that I see as flaws, I certainly do not dismiss it.

I don’t think this really changes anything. Belief in Jesus is specifically stated. Whether or not you’re coming from a place of belief in something greater than ourselves is concerned, this is still a specific belief that is chosen.

Paul doesn’t say it’s not possible. He tells him what he will have to do to do it. It’s something wholly within that jailer’s control. A choice.


Look… all you have to do to convince me that you have a case is find me 12 of your followers…

Now, mind you, I didn’t say you would thereby convince me of your case… but right now, I don’t even see enough credibility to finish discussing this … because you are never going to finish discussing it.

But if you can find 12 followers who think you have some good ideas… I’ll discuss it with you further.

How so? What if the jailer doesn’t believe that a Galilean died for his sins? What if he thinks that, metaphysically and morally, such a claim is unacceptable? What if he thinks the story is historically a lie or an error? If he thinks any of those things, it’s not within his power to accept Paul’s teachingno matter how badly he wants to be “saved”. He can’t will himself to believe something that his judgment tells him is false. In such a case, he would not have the “choice” you impute to him.

You act as if it’s a matter of preference, like choosing to buy one car over another. But matters of truth aren’t matters of preference. What we wish to be true has no bearing on what is in fact true.

Genesis 10:6 - The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

Genesis 10:10 - Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar.

Another example that I’m looking for the theological explanation for. Genesis 10.

Nimrod is Ham’s grandson. So Nimrod was the second generation after the flood, third generation from Noah himself. Yet right here it says these cities were the center of his kingdom. Depending on how you translate that, there’s either three or four cities listed here. The three recognizable ones are known to have been real cities that were all very large and highly populated.

I’m not looking to criticize theologians. I just want to understand. For centuries, all the great minds who have studied these texts, how did they reconcile this? Two generations after the human population on the entire planet was reduced to eight people. Four mating pairs. Yet two generations later there are, not just one, but three or four cities?

This simply does not work in a global flood interpretation. Help me understand how the idea of a global flood remained for so long?

Does this count?

Here’s a link to my articles on that site…

A quick perusal of the comment sections, particularly on that first article there, and you’ll find way more than the quota you’ve set who seem to think I have some good ideas. They’re sprinkled in there amongst some who vehemently disagree with me.

Why wouldn’t he have any control over what he thinks? Don’t you?

If I decided tomorrow that I’m no longer going to believe in God, I could do that. Anytime my usual thoughts go to thinking of this universe as being managed by a greater being, I would just stop that thought and adjust accordingly, because I have decided I no longer believe that.

It’s that simple.

Faith is what it is because it can be lost. It’s not just a given.

Proverbs 3:5 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.

You can choose to trust your own understanding, or you can choose to trust God. It’s a choice.

No, I don’t. When I read a proof in Euclidean geometry, I have no “choice” whether or not to accept it. If the proof is sound, I must accept it; if the proof is flawed, I must reject it. There is no choice involved. It doesn’t depend on my will, taste, whim, desire, mood, etc.

If the jailer hears that he can be saved if he believes a man rose from the dead, he may well wish that such a thing were true, but he can’t make himself believe it merely on a wish. Not if he is a rational human being. He has to reason out whether or not a man could rise from the dead, and whether or not, even if such a thing were possible, that would provide a mechanism to erase his sins. And if he decides either of those questions in the negative, then he has no “choice” to believe he can saved in that way; reason would force him to reject that possibility, no matter how badly he wanted it to be true.

Yes, faith can be lost, but not by an arbitrary act of choice, as if someone can will to have faith on Monday, then will again to lose faith on Tuesday, then will again to have faith back on Wednesday. Faith is lost when people’s view of the world, God, the soul, sin, etc. change as they come to think differently about the world. Many fundamentalists have lost their faith in the Bible because years of study of evolution have altered the way they look at the age of the earth, the origin of man, etc. They didn’t just decide: “I was a fundamentalist yesterday, but I think I’ll be an atheist Darwinian today.” The change wasn’t from an act of will, but from a process which transformed their understanding of what was real and true. They now no longer thought about the world they way they did before, and it was the change in thought that caused them to lose faith.

You apparently have a picture of faith as “choosing to believe something, even it seems to go against reason and evidence, because one really wants it to be true.” But I would deny that this is what “faith”, properly understood, means.

That’s different. That’s empirical confirmation. Matters of faith are the truths you choose. It cannot be known because it cannot be demonstrated. By design. If God were to show himself, were to loom large on the horizon casting his shadow over us all, we would not be choosing him. He would be a certainty in the same way that proof in Geometry is a certainty. To believe is to choose what truths you cannot know empirically.

Circular reasoning. The sort of uncommitted person we are discussing here doesn’t acknowledge that Psalm 3.5 was written by God, or by a divinely inspired man. He’s not even sure that any God exists. So your advice to him to trust God rather than man depends for its force on the very thing you have yet to prove to him!

If you could prove to him beyond a doubt (a) that God exists and (b) that God has told him to believe something, then it would be a “choice” (based on whatever knowledge he had of God’s character due to previous familiarity with God’s actions) whether or not to trust God. He would then be in the situation of the Israelites after the Red Sea. But when we are dealing with atheists, that situation does not apply. They have not seen any Red Sea miracle; they have no acquaintance with God; they have no hand-inscribed Bible that says, “I, God, wrote this.” So your urging them to “trust God rather than man” is useless, and has no rational force.

Not empirical at all. It’s purely rational confirmation.

I disagree. That’s exactly the point on which we differ. We have different conceptions of what faith is. Or rather, the truths one chooses to believe must have a basis beyond the mere fact of our choosing them. And if they do have such a basis, then our “choice” is much more limited than what you are suggesting.

It’s never proven. It can’t be proven. Paul tells the jailer to believe. To be saved, believe this.

No. If you can prove it then it is not a choice to believe. It is only a choice, it is only maintained through faith, if you believe what cannot be proven. To be proven without a doubt requires no belief or faith.

We could choose to obey or disobey him. He might rescue us from falling debris in an earthquake, and then tell us, “Do not eat pork.” We could choose to disobey him if we like pork enough, and if we forget our gratitude soon enough. That would be an act of free will on our parts. But our belief that he exists would not be based on free choice but on evidence. “I choose to believe that God exists” would make no sense if God had personally rescued us from death. We wouldn’t need to make any “choice” to believe in that case. We would simply believe, full stop. But we would need to make a “choice” to obey the God who saved us. That’s where choice and free will come in.

I don’t think we can get any further on this. You refuse to make a distinction between the reason and the will, between the cognitive and the volitional. For me “belief” relates to things we hold due to reason, experience, evidence, etc. whereas “faith” (or better, “faithfulness”) relates to the will. (Of course, the distinction between the two words is not historically tidy; I’m aware of that; but I’m schematizing the distinction, in terms of typical modern English usage in order make a point about “choice.”) When one is talking about what objectively IS, “choice” is irrelevant. One either recognizes the truth, or one is deluded by error. But when one is talking about action, then “choice” is everything – and that’s the realm of “free will.”

And if the jailer replies, “It’s a wonderful hope, but I can’t bring myself to believe it, because I don’t think it’s true,” what will Paul say then?

“Well, that’s your choice.”

Of course it can. Paul claims to have heard the voice of Christ himself, after his death. That’s what “proved it” for Paul. In principle, God could vouchsafe knowledge of himself to any number of people. Why stop at Paul?

I know of all kinds of Christians who have believed because of very empirical reasons: coincidences that it is just too hard to chalk up to chance, etc. Evidence is always possible. One doesn’t “choose” in a vacuum. Nor is there any evidence that God prefers those who make a blind choice in a vacuum. The Bible shows God, in both Testaments, providing plenty of empirical evidence of his activity. Nobody was asked to “choose” on “faith alone.”

If something is empirically confirmed, it no longer requires belief.