Let's look at the repeated story lines in which God makes an everlasting covenant with his people. There's a The End, and then the story lurches forward with another reboot.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Bible is a book whose storyline spans over a thousand years, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it also has reboots.

(A reboot is a new release of a story in comic, film, television series, or other form that discards continuity with previous versions to start afresh, unburdened by plot decisions in any previous release.)

The Bible, take one (the Adam story)

In the six-days-of-creation story in Genesis 1, God created mankind in his own image. 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

He then promises them all the fruit and vegetables from the earth.

(This one is debatable since it doesn’t mention an “everlasting covenant,” but I include it because some Christian sources do.)

The Bible, take two (Noah)

Adam and Eve leave the Garden, their son Cain kills his brother Abel, and then there’s a long genealogy ending in Noah. God is annoyed with how humanity turned out, so he hits the Reset button, and everyone drowns. But there’s a happy conclusion—Noah, his family, and his ark full of animals survive the storm.

Everyone in the world (by now, just eight people) is once again safe on land. God as Elohim blesses Noah’s family with authority over all living things. He lays down a few rules, and in return he promises, “I establish my covenant with you: never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood” (Genesis 9:11). The rain-bow (think: the kind of bow that shoots arrows) will appear in the clouds and remind everyone (God included) of this “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:16).

So there you have it, God’s covenant with humanity.

See also: Simplicity: the Trait Missing from Christianity

The Bible, take three (Abraham)

But there’s more, as the story trundles along. Noah’s descendants populate the earth, there’s that whole Tower of Babel thing, and then we’re introduced to Abraham. For some reason, Abraham (né Abram) isn’t already in Israel but lives in Ur, an ancient city on the coast of the Persian Gulf, now in southern Iraq. God (now Yahweh) guides him to Canaan.

God must be forgetful because he keeps making the same promise to Abraham. The promise is you will have many descendants (D), you get land (L), and this covenant is perpetual (P).

  • In Genesis 12, Yahweh says, “I will make you into a great nation (D)… To your offspring (P) I will give this land (L)” (that is, Canaan).
  • Other stories intervene, and then in Genesis 13, God does it again: “All the land (L) that you see [Canaan] I will give to you and your offspring forever (P). I will make your offspring (D) like the dust of the earth.”
  • In Genesis 15, guess what God does. He gives Canaan to Abraham. Actually, he gives a lot more than that, listing ten tribes (L) whose land will be the property of Abraham’s descendants. He gives as boundaries the Euphrates River to the east and Egypt to the west.
  • In Genesis 17, God was feeling generous, so he gave Canaan to Abraham. “I will make you very fruitful (D)…. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant (P) between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan (L), where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.” This is the first time we see Abraham’s contribution to the covenant: he and his male descendants must now be circumcised. (If you’re familiar with the documentary hypothesis, this came from the P source. The previous three were from the J source.)
  • Elohim from the E source is feeling generous, too, so in Genesis 22, he rewards Abraham for (almost) sacrificing Isaac with another gift of Canaan. “I will surely bless you and make your descendants (P) as numerous (D) as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies (L).”

God (in his several forms) has stuttered out many bequests of Canaan and promises of many descendants. It was a bit clumsy and contradictory, but we kind of get the message.

The End.

Just kidding—there’s more. This is concluded in part 2.

Science has never killed or persecuted a single person
for doubting or denying its teachings,
and most of these teachings have been true;
but religion has murdered millions
for doubting or denying her dogmas,
and most of these dogmas have been false.
— epitaph of George P. Spencer

CROSS EXAMINED In his first career, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware and was a contributor to 14 software patents. Since then, he has explored the debate between Christianity and atheism for...

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