Before you respond with a letter of loving reprimand, permit me to substantiate my claim. No, this is not an attack on the inerrancy of Scripture, nor is it yet another feeble attempt at recasting the literal language of Genesis into figurative. But there is a sense in which the first book of the Bible is full of lies.
The Old Testament records a significant incident in Eden’s garden. The devil, in the form of a serpent, approached mother Eve and inquired, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'” His goal was not to learn what the Almighty had actually said, but to prepare the woman’s heart for deception.
Eve replied that both she and her husband enjoyed the God-given liberty to eat from any tree within the garden (Genesis 2:16; Genesis 3:1-3), save one–the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She noted that eating and touching fruit from this particular tree would incur the judgment of God and result in the couple’s death.
“Not so!” said the devil. “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4).
In essence, the specter of death was simply an intimidation tactic employed by God to dissuade Adam and Eve from becoming like deity themselves. According to the “old serpent” (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2), Jehovah dangled punishment over the first couple to keep their ambition in check. Death was God’s lie; it was an empty threat fostered upon man and woman in order to rob them of divinity and omniscience.
One commentator observes:
“Having led Eve first to question God’s authority and goodness and then both to augment and dilute His Word, Satan now as ready for the ‘kill.’ ‘Ye shall not surely die.’ The fact that God had warned Adam, and Adam had told Even, that eating the fruit of the tree would result in death, was beside the point. That warning, Satan suggested, was merely because of God’s fear that they would learn too much. Not content merely with altering God’s Word, Satan now blatantly denied it, calling God a liar.”/1
I find it striking that Genesis opens with the devil’s deception. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). He accused God of the very thing he was guilty of himself (2 Corinthians 11:3)!
But I find it equally striking how that the “book of beginnings” records how humanity often emulated the devil in dishonesty. Cain lied about knowing what had happened to Abel. Abraham lied about the identity of Sarah–twice!
Sarah lied about laughing at the promise of God. Isaac lied about the identity of Rebekah. Jacob and Rebekah lied to Isaac about a son’s true identity. Simeon and Levi lied to Shechem and his father, about the alleged demise of their brother, Joseph (Have you noticed a sort of family history–grandfather, father, son, etc., of dysfunction and deceit?).
Potiphar’s wife lied about an incident with a slave in her home. Joseph lied when he accused his family of spying out the land of Egypt. Yes, Genesis, in a sense, is full of lies and serves to remind us that man is perhaps most like the devil when he says that which does not correspond to truth (2 Peter 2:1; Revelation 2:2).
According to James Patterson and Peter Kim in their landmark work, The Day America Told The Truth, ninety-one percent of us lie regularly. The majority find it hard to get through a week without lying. In fact, one in five can’t make it through a single day without telling a conscious, premeditated lie. People continue to pattern themselves after the devil’s example, don’t they?
Jesus hates lies. “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:15; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
May I suggest that we ought to be more like Jesus (John 14:6)?
1/ Henry Morris, “The Fall of Man,” The Genesis Record, 111.