Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Genesis 4 - The two first children of woman are Cain and Abel, a tiller of the ground (now cursed) and a tender of sheep (4:2). Their story will introduce a recurring Old Testament pattern or theme – that in a world where the eldest son always was seen as the favored one, it will be the younger, the less “important” child who will always be favored by God.
We see them here offering the work of their hands to the Lord. Cain gives offerings from his labors – fruit of the soil; and Abel from his labors – “one of the best firstlings of his flock” (4:4). We are not told, nor is Cain why his offerings are found less pleasing (4:5). Perhaps God favors offerings that are “live,” over those from the soil and wits of men. Perhaps it is because the soil is weighted down with the curse He placed on it in Gen. 3:17. God will favor shepherds throughout His story and also will He favor the “younger” over the older. But we may also perhaps assume that there is something awry in the heart of Cain, something only God can discern but which makes all the difference between them.
God’s displeasure with Cain enrages Cain, and the jealousy he feels leads directly to his act of violence against his brother. The soil—cursed along with Adam—is Cain’s medium. He will further debase it by pouring his brother’s blood out on it. We see in his violence and violation of family love the furthest consequences of the alienation which Adam and Eve initiated.
God’s words to Cain -- “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master” (4:7) -- are, I think, true of all men/women in the fall. God tells Cain he must “master” it, and so must we. We can do this. This warning comes before Cain’s act. There are some fascinating details in this story when God confronts Cain with what he has done: God tells him his brother’s blood calls out to God (4:10).
The story of Cain and Abel reveals to us the broader consequences of man’s fall as they extend beyond the lives of the perpetrators into the lives of their children (i.e. all of us). Cain and Abel represent two ancient modes of life – the shepherd’s and the farmer’s. Both are in the practice already of relating to God through the giving of gifts, offerings or sacrifices. Why this mode of relating to the creator is adopted is not explained. It is simply assumed.
God bans Cain from the soil, which is what he takes his living from, and forces him to be a wanderer, thus deepening the alienation and exile imposed by the first fall. Whereas the soil for Adam was cursed, for Cain it will yield nothing. He is exiled from it completely and must find his way using his wits, his “technologies.”
He will be a fugitive and a wanderer, belonging to no real community, yet alive. This is the completion of that spiritual death begun in his parents lives. These stories are clearly meant to show the evolution of mankind from our beginnings in the creative life of God to the situation the holy writers saw as the reality of their day—how things were technologically, morally and socially, the origins of people and civilizations in a state of debased dignity, excelling in talents but debased in many ways morally and spiritually. By the time of Noah, God wishes he hadn’t created us, and in fact moves to begin the project all over again, from scratch so to speak.
That Cain is responsible for the founding of a city – either the first or one of the first – adds a sociological dimension to the fall. The text traces the descent from Cain and goes on to tell of the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve to take the place of Abel.
Genesis 5 - Records the descendants of our first parents, the descent of “man,” as it implies: Adam is 130 years old when his son Seth is born, “a son who was just like him—in his very image” (5:3). Adam was 930 years old when he died.
When Seth was 105, he became the father of Enosh; Enosh was 90 when he became the father of Kenan (5:9). When Kenan was 70, he became the father of Mahalalel. Mahalalel is 65 when Jared is born, and Jared is 162 years old when his son Enoch is born. All these guys live into their 800s or 900s. Enoch who will become the father of Methuselah when he is 65 will live 365 years, the number of days in the solar year, a kind of perfection that explains why he will be “taken up” to God. Methuselah, who lives the longest - 968 years – will become the father of Lamech and Lamech the father of Noah.
By the time Noah is 500 years old, he has become the father of the three sons: Shem (father of the Semites), Ham (father of the Hamites), and Japheth (father of the Indo-Europeans).
First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
Section 31 – “Let us be intent on this blessing [the blessing from God that is the really important thing to achieve], then, and see which roads can lead us to it” (35) And Clement turns to the “pages of history” to learn more. For him “history” was what the Bible taught of the past. He looks at Abraham, Isaac and Jacob first of all. It was their faith that “prompted [them] to acts of righteousness and truth” (35).
Section 32 – The fruits of that “faith” and those “acts” done by the founders of the tradition have brought forth a “magnitude of gifts” (35) from God: the long line of priests and Levites, the kings and princes and rulers that have sprung from them, and even the Lord Jesus who “according to the flesh” (35) have come from them. God promised that their “posterity will be like the stars of heaven” (35). And we too who have been “called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which alone Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time” (36).
Section 33 – But putting such emphasis on faith doesn’t mean we should not continue to DO good. “God forbid that we . . should ever come to such a pass. On the contrary, let us be earnestly, even passionately eager to set about any kind of activity that is good. Even the Architect and Lord of the universe Himself takes a delight in working” (36).
The whole creation is God’s “work”! And man is his masterpiece. “[W]ith His own sacred and immaculate hands he fashioned man, who in virtue of his intelligence is the chiefest and greatest of all His works and the very likeness of His own image; for God said, Let us make man in our image and likeness; and God created man, male and female he created them” (36).
“We see, then, that good works have not only embellished the lives of all just men, but are an adornment with which even the Lord has delighted to deck Himself; and therefore, with such an example before us, let us spare no effort to obey His will, but put all our energies into the work of righteousness” (36).
Section 34 – A good, industrious worker accepts the “reward of his labor with assurance, but one who is idle and shiftless cannot look his employer in the face” (36). So we must work well. We should serve His will like the “vast company of angels” who stand before him. “In the same way ought we ourselves, gathered together in a conscious unity, to cry to Him as it were with a single voice” (36-37).
Section 35 – “How bless, how marvelous are the gifts of God, my friends! Some of them, indeed, already lie without our comprehension – the life that knows no death, the shining splendor of righteousness, the truth that is frank and full, the faith that is perfect assurance, the holiness of chastity – but what of the things prepared for those who wait?” (37) We cannot really know these things.
So we must fix our minds on God and do His will: “Wickedness and wrongdoing of every kind must be utterly renounced; all greed, quarrelling, malice and fraud, scandal-mongering and back-biting, enmity towards God, glorification of self, presumption, conceit, and want of hospitality” (36). These all must be laid aside.