Saturday, July 17, 2010

Alexander Campbell on Genesis 1-3

In Lectures III and IV of Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch, Alexander Campbell comments on different parts of the first three chapter of Genesis. Lecture IV is, more specifically, about the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Here are some of the highlights:

Study hard to read well

Convinced of the unique quality and character of the Bible, Campbell asserts that it requires more and better learning to read a chapter of Holy Writ, as it should be read, than to read one of Cicero's orations; or that in European colleges honors are awarded to the best readers. We find much in the sacred volume that appears very simple to undeveloped minds, but it grows in value and importance as men become riper in years and understanding. It often requires hours of study to enable us to read a verse or chapter in the Bible as it should be pronounced (p. 75). I'm not convinced that many readers at church put in "hours of study" beforehand. A few minutes of study and practice would have improved some of the readings I've heard.

The serpent showed up as a human

For reasons that I don't completely understand, Campbell seems intent on the interpretation that the serpent of Genesis 3 actually showed up in human form: In the third chapter, the serpent is presented for our consideration. We call him serpent, as Moses did, but we presume that was not his name originally. The word serpent means creeper. He fell into this condition because of the deception he practiced upon the inhabitants of the garden. I presume he was originally very like man. I do not mean man as he is at present, but as he was originally. Men have become greatly humanized, and in this, our day, some are to be found scarcely distinguishable from the lower animals (78-79). . . . I entertain no doubt that the serpent was incarnated in the human form (80).

God's gracious protection of sinners

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve became the first sinners, they were driven from the Garden of Eden and prevented from eating of the tree of life. What Campbell gathers from this is that God expelled Adam from the garden, lest he should eat the fruit of the tree of life, and become immortal in misery, with no hope of changing or dying. Therefore, like all the acts of the All-wise and Beneficent Creator in dealing with man, it was gracious (82-83). That's a common approach to the passage, which makes perfect sense. I quote it here simply because I love Campbell's expression.

"Let us" in Genesis 1:26-27

In this connection, keeping in mind the form "let us," it will be well to observe, the peculiar and characteristic style of the language employed, which clearly indicates plurality; the doctrine and existence of three persons in the Godhead (84-85). Campbell did not accept all aspects of Trinitiarianism; which is not to say that he didn't accept the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He did. But I suspect that he didn't use the term "Trinity" in a positive way, and that he didn't because it is not a biblical word.


Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

I did a series on Campbell's Lectures sometime back and found them most interesting. AC was a great bible student and certainly had a greater appreciation for the Hebrew Scriptures than many of his descendants. Enjoyed the post.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

AC did avoid the term "Trinity" but in most respects he was a dyed in the wool Trinitarian. This comes out in his discussions regarding atonement in particular.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks for your comments, Bobby.

I agree, Campbell was a great Bible student. In these Lectures, I love the way AC will come to a certain phrase and rattle off several other passages that use the same word(s). In the transcript it comes off as effortless, and not showy in the least. And no wonder the students called him "Old Man Eloquent." What must it have been like to hear him?

Carisse said...

Frank, I recently published a chapter in the Mike Casey festschrift on the rhetoric of the Morning Lectures as spiritual formation for young men. You might enjoy reading it alongside your study of the lectures.

Pay close attention to AC's use of the term "type" -- as in typology, and as in printer's fonts. He comments on the common properties of the two. AC's understanding of typology could use more treatment, btw.

Frank Bellizzi said...


Thanks for the "heads up" on the things you've mentioned here. I really appreciate your input.

eirenetheou said...

An ol' brother, now long gone, used to ask me, "Why was the Serpent in the Garden?" It is a good question. Why, indeed?

Similarly, AC's speculation about the Serpent as "incarnated in human form" is getting at the same kind of quandary. What do we know about the Serpent and the Serpent's motives? "The Serpent was more subtle than all the beasts of the field that the Lord God had made."

With all that cleverness, the Serpent seems to come out of nowhere in Genesis 3:1. Whence came the Serpent? Let us think on the text immediately preceding. In Gen 2:18 the Lord God begins a process of creating a helper fit for the man, and out of the ground the Lord God forms "every beast of the field and every bird of the air," bringing them all, one by one, to Adam, who gives them each a name, signifying his power over them, "but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him." So then the Lord God made "the woman" from Adam's flesh and bone, at last finding the fitting partner. Adam, humankind, male and female, is the "image" -- the representation -- of God on earth (Gen 1:27).

Where does that leave the clever Serpent? Here, at the level of the story in Genesis, we may find the Serpent's motivation and plan of attack. The Serpent, rejected by the man as a partner in dominion, engages the woman in a theological conversation for which she is completely unprepared and not nearly "subtle" enough. That conversation continues to this hour with her descendants.

May God have mercy.