Curious what theologians throughout history made of Genesis 4

Here’s another thing worth noting. I find it interesting the location of Genesis. That whole region is the geological equivalent of a storm drain. The kind of place you may choose to create something as unpredictable as free will.

That’s an interesting claim. So only people in a limited area of Fertile Crescent had free will 5000 years ago? How do humans with free will act differently from humans without it? How is free will transmitted to everyone in the world, starting from three couples 5000 years ago?

1 Like

The humans with free will started building cities and civilizations and economies and governments. Once the sense of “I/Me/Mine” was awakened in the human mind it totally transformed how humans behave.

As for transmission, I used to think it was genetic. But that’s not possible coming from the introduction of just two people into such a large population. But in the story it’s really just the influence of the serpent. Once the idea was introduced that following God’s command wasn’t a determined certainty, but a choice, Eve’s mind fell right into that stream of thought. Began to consider what she (I/Me/Mine) stood to gain. So as for transmission, I have to go with influence.

Or that breathing is the essence of humanity?

Oh, yes, I remember now. That’s not what “free will” means. When you use your personal definitions of terms, especially without saying so, you confuse people.

Why does that influence spread to everyone? Or does it?


I think you should take some time to ponder why your thoughts on Free Will and Genesis do not appear for some 2000 years of Christian history or 3000 years of Jewish history.

Your premises cause more problems than they solve.

I have.

Most of the information that fills in the blanks that makes this apparent is knowledge gained over the past century or so.

Actually I’d argue the traditional interpretations cause way more problems than anything I’ve said.

What do you suggest I call it? It’s an individual will, apart and independent of God’s will. Free. Free to choose our own actions and decisions of our own volition. Agency.

How is free will different than that in your mind?

It certainly appears it does. I think of it kind of like the way we as humans assimilate into society. We have to become a citizen and take on the actions and behaviors. There’s accountability and ownership. Paperwork and IDs and all of that. Free will was the beginning of that. People adapt to it.

What do you suggest I call it? It’s an individual will, apart and independent of God’s will / natural law / determinism. Free. Free to choose our own actions and decisions of our own volition. Agency.

How is free will different than that in your mind?

Actually, this is a gray area currently. What is all but certain is that right where/when the events of Genesis are said to have taken place, from that point forward human culture changed drastically. And it spread from there all throughout the world and basically shaped the world as we know it now.

Initially I thought it must be genetic. The way it spread and propagated made it appear that way. But then someone here explained how a single mating pair’s chromosomes, splitting with each generation, would be all but gone in a dozen or so rounds.

In Sumer, where it all began, according to their documents the first “god” showed up one day, named Enki, and established the first city. Taught them the ways of civilization. According to the Sumerians, they were created by these gods to serve them. The people worked the farm land and provided for the god that lived in the temple at the center of the city.

When Cain was banished God explained that the ground was cursed, and that Cain would become a “restless wanderer”, basically having to resort to migrating the way humans had to do for millennia. Yet then it says Cain “settled” and built a city. I suspect this is what happened.

So, all of that to say this. I suspect it maybe was genetic, it just didn’t transform the entirety of the population. The civilizations born of that time/place were actually created by small groups of leaders.

So, it would appear, that in the same way they devised irrigation methods to alter the natural world and bend it to their will, these first humans with free will basically “domesticated” the indigenous humans of their region to do their bidding. Invented slavery to solve a problem.

That definitely fits the M.O. of free will.

As has probably already been mentioned, the Hebrew word here that is typically translated “mountains” can just as easily be translated “hills”.

The tallest “mountains” on planet earth are totally submerged under ocean waters. That doesn’t prevent many other mountains from existing on dry land.

Also, there are lots of vast bodies of water (with submerged “elevations” within them) which have held flood waters for untold centuries. Among them are the Mediterranean Sea and the Great Lakes. The fact that water “always seeks its own level” does not mean that lakes, seas, and oceans can’t be bounded by land masses. (Otherwise, planet earth would look more like the Mel Gibson film Waterworld.) In the case of the Mediterranean Sea, geologists even have a pretty good idea when those vast plains were flooded with waters cascading through a collapsed wall at Gibraltar.

Yes, most everybody agrees that Noah’s Flood was described in Genesis as world-wide—but world-wide is not necessarily the same thing as global. As Hugh Ross likes to say, “World-wide? Certainly. Global? Not so much.” (Or something like that. That may be closer to a paraphrase.)

If “human” means Imago Dei creatures of the lineage of HAADAM, then yes, I think everyone assumes that the relatively small population of humans which had dispersed to a relatively small geographic area in the relatively few centuries since HAADAM were extinguished. (Of course, I won’t try to rehash here the long threads on this forum discussing exactly what “human” means.)

I can’t speak for such professors of Hebrew or OT “at any world-class university” today because I’ve been generally out of touch with the academic world since my retirement some twenty years ago. But before my retirement I could certainly name some. Of course, defining “world-class university” can be a subjective determination.

I come from a very “traditional” Young Earth Creationist background where I assumed that the Noahic Flood was global. However, my own Hebrew studies long ago—and my OT colleagues at various evangelical institutions and my rabbinical literature professor at a major state university [who was also a senior editor of The Journal of Biblical Literature for many years]—helped eventually to solidify my own exegetical conclusion that Genesis 1-11 does not describe the destruction of all NEPHESH animals on planet earth. Indeed, once one recognizes that ERETZ is best translated “land” and not “planet earth”, and that “everything under heaven” basically refers to what one sees up to the horizon in all directions (a circle of only about six miles), a global flood becomes far more difficult to demand of the text. I do think the author/compiler of Genesis was thinking in ERETZ “world-wide” terms and not necessarily “global” terms. (Of course, the author wasn’t thinking in literally global terms, as in sphere-like, at all. How many lands did he know about? I don’t know. That is probably irrelevant in that the author/compiler was probably writing down an oral tradition which had existed from even what he considered to be ancient times.)

As to the CreationWise cartoon, it seems to overlook the obvious: that the flood descriptions of Genesis 1-11 were not simply about “just a localized flood”. The text describes a hyperbolic flood where it rained for 40 days and 40 nights and one in which the land saw flood waters emerge “from the deep”. Even traditional Young Earth Creationist proponents of a global flood describe this as enormous subterranean waters welling up from the ground. None of that sounds like a typical “localized flood” to me. If one believes the descriptions recorded in Genesis 1-11, this sounds like a torrential flood like no other, no matter what the exact geographical extent of that flood. So I have always considered the CreationWise cartoon (and others much like it, whether promoted by Ken Ham, Henry Morris, or whoever) a bit of a face-palm.

Countless commentaries and books by a great many Hebrew scholars have worked sentence by sentence through the text of Genesis in order to demonstrate that a regional flood reasonably fits the description found in those chapters. Moreover, years later I discovered that the geological evidence permits a regional flood, though not at all a global flood. (Indeed, the modern science of geology was largely developed by Bible-affirming scientists who started out looking for evidence of a global Noahic flood but who soon realized that there was a startling absence of evidence for a global flood.)


There are no doubt a number of reasons, but it seems that one of them is to invite the reader to consciously compare and contrast the genealogy connected with Cain with the genealogy connected with Seth (the stand-in for the murdered Abel), given in chapter 5.

If you draw up the list of names in two columns, you see a number of close parallels, and two names that can be made parallel by “crossing” the lists with straight lines at an angle, producing an “x”. This “chiastic” literary structure can be found elsewhere in Genesis (as D. Lamoureux has pointed out, and as Biblical scholars knew well before Lamoureux). The author would seem to be inviting us to contemplate the similarities and differences between the Cain and the Seth line. For more discussion of this, see Robert Sacks, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Mellen, 1990), pp. 37-50, esp. pp. 48-49.

Something other than a term that already has a meaning.

Yes, that’s what free will usually means. But it isn’t what you mean. You don’t have to be tempted by a serpent into making your own choices. I theorize that you don’t realize you’re switching definitions.

But Inuit didn’t assimilate into any society other than Inuit society. How did they become contaminated with “free will”? (As distinct from free will, which, if it exists, is just a consequence of human-ness, and doesn’t need to be learned.)


Lets clear the air:

  1. I am a Unitarian. I do not affirm a literal global flood.

  2. But this is not the same as agreeing the Biblical Flood story was ORIGINALLY a regional flood.

  3. My position is that the story was a recent co-opting of a popular, but FICTIONAL, ANE story, done with more than the average clumsiness.

If you and others insist that it was originally or always Regional, i think that is 95% of my point.

It’s the same meaning. Free will is a central theme in the biblical stories. It would be more confusing to call it by some other name.

It’s the same thing. The only difference in how I use it is I define what it’s free from. Determinism is natural law. This is one and the same as God’s will.

Yes, you’re right, which is why I backed off of my influence explanation.

I would like to check out Sacks’ book, but not sure how soon that will be.

My reservation about this is that the genealogy in Genesis 5 was edited in later. It’s not part of the original text. So I can’t see this being the intention of the author.

You’re following the old JEDP hypothesis. I wouldn’t accept it uncritically, if I were you. But even if we accept it, it doesn’t follow that the two accounts, originally coming from different documents, haven’t been intelligently adjusted to shed light on each other by the Israelite scribes who put them together. The fact (if it be a fact) that Genesis makes use of different sources doesn’t prove that the different sources were slapped together without a guiding theological intention.

In order to facilitate further discussion: How would you describe your religious/theological position? Do you call yourself a Christian? Do you regard the Bible as in any sense inspired or reliable?

The old JEDP hypothesis! You really aren’t up to date with modern Bible scholarship.

1 Like

You are very confused. Free will is the ability to make choices, and not just evil choices. It includes the ability to decide to obey God as well as to decide to defy him. And it doesn’t mean the desire to dominate other people, create cities, start up agriculture, and all the other things you attribute to it.

That’s a big difference.

When did you do that, and what is your new explanation?

1 Like

My calendar says the year is 2019. Generally speaking, a hypothesis formulated in the 19th century would be considered “old” in relation to the 21st century.

1 Like

No, not confused. I didn’t say anything about it being specifically evil choices. Any choice at all is free will. All the natural world is determined by natural law, with the exception of human volition. That’s what free will is. And that’s why it’s such a big deal.

During the course of this very discussion. It’s in my reply to John_Harshman above.