- Refuting The Book of Eden: Part 1 – Pain and Pregnancy
- Refuting The Book of Eden: Part 2 – Equality vs Suitability, Desire and Rule
- Refuting The Book of Eden: Part 3 – Manipulation and Prejudice
The preceding assessment of The Book of Eden was concerned with answering the primary arguments about the text that Fleming put forward in the book. However, those main arguments don’t begin to exhaust the many other problems and errors found throughout the book. In this final section, I’m going to go through some of the other arguments and tactics he employs to further demonstrate the dishonesty and lack of scholarship found throughout the book.
I had thought to make some of this material part of the introduction, but decided to leave it until now because I didn’t want to prejudice the reader against the book on grounds separate from the main arguments it presents. That being done, I now turn to those issues, as they are numerous and serious as well.
Frequent sensationalistic and emotional language
Throughout the book, Fleming does not shy away from all manner of accusation against those with whom he disagrees, framing the entire work as a passionate call to action to adopt and promote his ideas.
I would like us to focus on Genesis 3:16, early in the Bible, because it turns out that there’s been a lot of pollution dumped into that verse by translations into the modern languages we use today. They mix new ideas into the verse and cover over the ideas God put there in the original Hebrew words of the verse.Fleming (p. 14) Kindle edition, emphasis mine
Right now, at this point, as we think again about the cosmic battle being waged by the serpent against the woman and against the meaning of God’s words to her in our translations, we need to clear up the pollution covering over Genesis 3:16. We need to restore the pure stream of inspiration from God. We need a true 3:16.Fleming (p. 22) Kindle edition, emphasis in original
This is equivalent to covering over God’s inspired Hebrew with the repugnant word pollution of ideas God’s didn’t put there.Fleming (p. 82) Kindle edition
Joy’s discovery uncovers a major error that modern translations are making in the way they are wording Genesis 3:16 into English. And the more we look at it the more it becomes clear that this is a BIG PROBLEM!Fleming (p. 85) Kindle edition, emphasis in original
Might this powerful adversary be working behind the scenes to twist the translation of God’s actual words to the woman in Genesis 3:16?Fleming (p. 85) Kindle edition
Here is just a sampling of the kind of sensationalistic language we find throughout the book. This is not a work of scholarship intended to convince the biblically literate. It is a pamphlet intended to provide plausible arguments to the convinced, fool those who aren’t going to dig beyond the surface. Indeed, the last quote here, where he accuses the majority of translations that disagree with him as being satanic shows the complete lack of balance in his thinking. It’s one thing to talk about the implications of one’s conclusions. It is another thing entirely to frequently call the reader to become a crusader for one’s own cause.
This emotionally manipulative language is not limited to the main thesis itself, of course. Many anecdotes are included to help the reader come to the right conclusions, apart from the text. One of the most blatantly manipulative is when he describes his wife’s experiences giving birth, with the language always very careful to stay in line with the thesis of the book.
A nurse and I stood on either side of Joy as we timed her breathing. She received no medication of any kind. I admired her great effort, which was followed by exhaustion and exhilaration, as Joy gave birth to our wonderful baby girl, Christy! Was it a cursed experience I asked Joy as we looked back on it the next morning? No. It wasn’t. But it certainly required a lot of effort.Fleming (p. 92) Kindle edition
Fleming carefully avoids any mention of pain. It was only effort involved, I’m sure. This is one of the most troubling paragraphs in the book, not because it has any bearing on the text. It doesn’t. What it does speak about is experience. And the fact is that all over the world, childbirth is universally understood to be a painful experience. For some much worse than for others, and even for different children a single woman may have very different experiences. But Fleming acts as though that pain weren’t so universal as to be a cultural touchpoint, no matter what theology people have.
This brings to light another point that should be understood about the text. Fleming’s descriptions and interpretations throughout the book are written from the perspective of the garden. He talks about what things are said by all the principle players. As such, he presents the statement about “effort” in 3:16 as telling the woman what childbirth would be like, because she didn’t know.
What he misses, though, is another context: the context of the original reader. This text wasn’t originally read in the garden. It was read by the Exodus generation, penned by Moses. Now, were those women unfamiliar with the pain of childbirth? Would they have understood this text to be only about the “effort” of childbirth, or would they naturally include the universally painful experience with how they read it? Trying to make the story about something other than pain in childbirth makes it a fairy tale about another world, completely unlike our own. While all the other elements of the story have touchpoint in our own experience (we see snakes on their bellies, and it is hard to work and make a living), if Fleming is right, the woman in the garden had some kind of miraculous protection from the pain every other mother is very familiar with.
The anecdote about his wife is clearly meant to provide some kind of support for his ideas about the effects of the fall, but what it actually accomplishes is different. Far from lending credibility, it discredits the book by pretending the universal experience of mothers is somehow not real. Maybe he thinks that their beliefs protected her from the pain other women experience. Maybe she really did have a lot of pain, but he is just omitting it, like he has omitted so much of the Bible to reach his conclusions. Notice he asks her whether the experience was “cursed”, not whether it hurt. Another almost universal part of birth stories is how all the pain is forgotten when the baby has arrived. It doesn’t feel “cursed” at that moment.
Fleming is free to put what he wants in his book, but this pretense that his conclusions somehow describe the real world is contradicted by every culture in the real world. A truly sad manipulation.
As we have seen, a lack of care with the biblical text is commonplace throughout this book. But that is not all the author is careless with. Theological truths outside of the areas of women and men likewise get the same poor treatment. Consider what he has to say about the Trinity here.
“In the beginning, God.” In Genesis 1:1, on Day One of Creation, the name used for God in Hebrew (Elohim) ends with “-im.” That was like ending an English name with the letter “-s.” The “-im” ending usually meant “more than one.” But there was only one God “in the beginning.”
A careful look at the first chapter of Genesis shows that God Three-in-One was at work “in the beginning.” Verses 1-3 could be worded this way:
Verse 1: … the Father Three-in-One created the heavens and the earth.
Verse 2: … the Spirit Three-in-One hovered over the waters.
Verse 3: … the Word Three-in-One said, “Let there be light….”
This fits the description of what happened on Day Six of Creation:
Verse 26: … God Three-in-One said, Let us make humans, male and female, in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule …Fleming (p. 33) Kindle edition, emphasis in original
It is difficult to say just how confused this is. Trinitarian theologians for the entire history of the church have indeed pointed out that elohim, because it has a plural ending, may, by its frequent use in reference to God, be a reference to the Trinity. Often, though not always, it is used with singular forms of verbs. In English, we also sometimes change verb forms based on singular or plural nouns. “Mary runs”, “Mary and Martha run”. The structure in Hebrew when elohim is the subject often takes the form of “The women runs”. This, along with many clear statements of the unique nature of God and the denials of other gods, helps us to see that this isn’t just a simple plural, but a plural form of the word for the singular God. What it does not do at all is grant us the warrant to throw “three-in-one” wherever we want.
Fleming’s “renderings” of Genesis 1:1-3 show an immense ignorance of the biblical witness to the Trinity. The Bible is clear that there is only one God (Isa. 43:11), that the Father (Eph. 1:2), Son (John 1:1), and Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4) are each identified as God, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons, not the same person (John 17). It is the distinctions of the Persons that brings about any plurality we find in the text. So God is three-in-one, meaning God is three persons in one God. There is no text of Scripture that identifies the persons as each being three-in-one, nor does any Trinitarian theologian say this. We know in what sense God is three-in-one: three persons in one God. Since the Father is one of the persons, how can He be three persons in one God? It’s nonsense.
Now, if we were talking it through, perhaps Fleming’s confusion would be resolved. The problem is, he was both willing and able to put this confusion in print, and no one he knew corrected him before that happened. That speaks ill of his stability in the faith. Either his church and its leaders are out to lunch themselves, or he has no meaningful contact with them. Either way, this is a major red flag for the trustworthiness of the book as a whole. The arguments can be dealt with on their own terms, This error speaks to the man himself and whether he is fit to be writing on biblical interpretation.
As I mentioned before, one reason I put these general concerns about the book to the end of this response is in order to attempt to avoid framing its problems in order to prejudice the reader against it. Now, I don’t have a problem with a writer revealing the conclusion before the evidence is presented. It’s another thing when unrelated language that does not have any bearing on the actual biblical issues is used to attempt to soften the reader’s natural skepticism to a new idea.
One thing this book is constantly trying to do is to present the woman in as positive a light as possible, never going so far as to claim she did not sin, but always seeking to speak higher of the woman than the man.
God was a wonderful Creator. God created the man from dust and then the woman.Fleming (p. 18) Kindle edition
The Lord God forms the man from the dust of the ground. After God breathes into him the breath of life, the man meets God (2:7). Then the Lord God plants a Garden in Eden and places the man in it (2:8-15). The fruit from all the trees can be enjoyed, but the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is not to be eaten. The penalty for eating from the forbidden Tree is death (16-17). Then, Genesis 2 tells of the creation of the woman.Fleming (p. 33-34) Kindle edition
In two instances that I noticed, Fleming discusses the creation of the man and the woman together. Do you notice something missing in both of these descriptions? Both mention that man was made “from the dust”. The natural way to follow that up is to say the woman was made “from the man”, but Fleming leaves this off. Now, why would he do that?
I can think of perhaps one reason someone might leave that little bit off.
1 Corinthians 11:3-10 (NASB 1995)
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
It would be counter-productive to refer to the woman as coming from the man any more than necessary if the goal is to present the woman as equal in every way.
Fleming appeals to peoples’ rejection of God as if it were evidence for his own conclusions about the text.
Many people think God cursed the woman in some way and even perversely reordered relations between men and women in Genesis 3:16. Some people reject a God who would say things like they think was said in this verse.Fleming (p. 78) Kindle edition
If we rejected the translation of a verse because people reject it, we would have to re-translate just about the whole Bible. The fact is, the Bible is full of things that people don’t want to hear. And there are many passages that explain this to us. This cannot count as any kind of evidence for Fleming’s conclusions, but it can certainly be presented to people he sees as weak-minded enough to accept them on emotional grounds.
One of the greater examples of this prejudice is found in Fleming’s many colorful descriptions of the scene in which his key verse appears. As you read, consider the ways he describes the actions and words of the man versus the woman.
Think about it. God asked, Who told you that you were naked? The answer should have been, Well, actually nobody told me about that. But there was a strange voice at the Tree that told me something. It said you were not good and we could get further than you had brought us. But the man didn’t refer to that voice – at all. Instead, the man disobediently did a new evil deed. He blamed both God and the woman as being responsible for the evil he himself had done! He said, “The woman you put here to be with me, she gave me some fruit from the Tree, and I ate it.”Fleming (p. 58-59) Kindle edition
So, by Fleming’s assessment, the man’s response was sinful. How does he see the woman’s response?
God asked the woman, as recorded in Genesis 3:13, “What have you done?” She answered God with no deflection. She answered God with no accusation. She spoke in a very different way from the man. She was deceived no longer. Perhaps as she heard God question the man it all became clear to her. At any rate, now she saw what had happened. In her new wisdom, she recognized evil and said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”Fleming (p. 59) Kindle edition
So, the man is deflecting, but the woman is presenting “her new wisdom”. Is that really the case? Are the woman’s words just the simple truth and the man’s deflecting blame? Let’s just look at the passage, which, like many others, doesn’t get a full quotation all at once.
Genesis 3:9-13 (NASB 1995)
Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
So, when you look at the text itself, what connections do you see? Does the man deflect blame? Yes, he certainly does. Are the woman’s words true? Yes, they are. Does this establish Fleming’s case? Not in the least. Ask those questions again, but of the other person. Does the woman deflect blame? Yes, she does, blaming the serpent for what she did in exactly the same language as the man. Are the man’s words true? Yes, they are. God did give him the woman, and she did give the man the fruit, and he ate.
This is exactly what I mean by prejudicial framing. What he says about the man or woman is literally also true of the other, but it is framed so you will think the man is worse than the woman. Indeed, this is the exact thing he criticizes mainstream theology and scholarship for in thinking the woman was somehow worse.
There are a couple other ways Fleming does this that I want to point out before moving on. He says more than once that the serpent was speaking to both the man and woman in his temptation.
Satan in the serpent addresses both the woman and the man at the Tree. We know that because the Hebrew text uses plural pronouns every time Satan says “you.” His words are aimed at the man too as recorded in Genesis 3:1-5.Fleming (p. 66) Kindle edition
First, do plural pronouns prove who is being addressed? They do not, one person can address one person, but use plural pronouns to speak about more than one person. Consider if a captain of a basketball team is in the office of the coach, and the coach says, “You all were on top of your game tonight”. The coach isn’t speaking to the whole team, but is speaking about the whole team.
Now, there is another way to determine who is being addressed. Check to see if the passage just tells you. Once again, in this case, Fleming doesn’t cite the actual verse. So let’s help him out.
Genesis 3:1-5 (NASB 1995)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Where did those terrible theologians Fleming is always condemning for their lack of understanding get the crazy idea that the serpent is talking to the woman? Maybe from the fact that the text tells us twice. Like before, you will not see this text quoted within the text of Fleming’s book. It doesn’t help him to elevate the woman and denigrate the man, so it is left out. He only talks about the plural pronouns, as if it proves who the serpent was addressing, in simple contradiction to what the text actually says. We’ve seen this kind of omission many times, now, and we are not done seeing it.
We’e talked about how Fleming omits part of 3:16 to try to make his “linchpin” construction work. But actually, we didn’t address the whole omission. He also omits part of verse 17, where God is speaking to the man. In fact, you can read the whole book and never hear one quotation of the whole of verse 17. Here’s a particularly egregious example.
Based on this, God imposes judgement in verses 17-19, starting with a curse because of the man’s willful sin.
Verse 17: Cursed is the ground because of you. In sorrowful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Verse 18: thorns and thistles it will sprout for you and you will eat the herbs of the field. Verse 19: By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.Fleming (p. 113) Kindle edition
Is that really what verse 17 says?
Genesis 3:17 (NASB 1995)
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of itAll the days of your life.
So, when Adam mentioned his wife, this was supposedly a terrible, sinful deflection that had nothing whatsoever to do with his sin. So what does Fleming make of God referring to listing to the woman as part of Adam’s sin? Well of course, Fleming doesn’t make anything of this. In a book with multiple chapters attempting to present multiple arguments about the intricacies of just one part of one verse before this, somehow, God’s very words pointing out that Adam listened to his wife, not the serpent, are completely ignored. As we saw, this completely refutes what Fleming is trying to say about the serpent talking to both of them and Adam being wrong for not mentioning the serpent. Contrary to Fleming’s claims, the text says the serpent was speaking “to the woman”, and God said Adam listened to his wife.
And of course, Fleming isn’t just making errors. He knows perfectly well how verse 17 starts, and even cites it, cut short to avoid the embarrassing truth, when drawing a parallel between what God says to the serpent and what God says to Adam.
The serpent and the man share many things in common in their rebellion at the Tree. God has noticed. Here are the six points in God’s words that are common to both the serpent and the man: God uses the Hebrew word “curse” in speaking with each one. The word “because” opens each speech as God explains why he is imposing a curse.Fleming (p. 67-68) Kindle edition
Because what, Bruce? He never lets that part see light in the book. Once again, he hides the text from the reader when it can’t be twisted to his own conclusions.
Would not recommend
There are biblical scholars who believe the text comes from God, and there are those who don’t. When reading scholarly work, it is important to keep the biases of the writer in mind. And we can certainly learn from believing scholars as well as unbelieving scholars. Indeed, it has been said that sometimes an unbelieving scholar will shoot more straight with the text, because he doesn’t have any stake in the outcome and can just let the text say what it says. What does he care? He doesn’t think it matters either way.
What Bruce Fleming has produced in The Book of Eden is a long religious tract, from an unbelieving perspective, disguising itself as believing scholarship. The author seeks to conform modern conservative Christian thinking to the pattern of current unbelieving western culture on the nature and roles of men and women. He seeks to get them there by tricking them into thinking that the Bible just happens to match up perfectly with his own ideas about men and women. And I’m sure he thinks his falsehoods and omissions will be enough to convince some.
Thankfully, from what digging I could do regarding this book and related content, it does not appear to have found much of an audience among believers. And in the future, as he continues to advance his ideas, it is my hope that this simple, straightforward critique will be right there for anyone engaged with the ideas in the book.
I do not expect Fleming to publicly acknowledge that this critique exists, but if he does, I pray it would be to repent of the dishonesty he has engaged in with the Word of God, and stop trying to make the Bible into a pamphlet made in modern man’s image.