Tom Roberts


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Associate Editorial

Response From Marty Pickup


Editor's Note:  Marty Pickup responded to brother Robert's article, which appeared in the May issue of brother Robert's mail out bulletin, The Communicator, and was reprinted in the June 2004 Issue of Watchman.  (To read that article, click here).  Brother Pickup's response, and brother Robert's rejoinder were printed in the July 2004 issue of The Communicator.  Since the initial article was published in Watchman, we thought best to publish this exchange as well.


Response From Marty Pickup

June 9, 2004

Dear brother Roberts:

Yes, you continue to grossly misrepresent me. I did not say, nor do I believe the false idea you attribute to me: "We should consider the account of the serpent was a pagan myth." I never said in my FC lecture, nor do I believe, that the serpent of Genesis 3 might be a pagan myth. I never said, nor do I believe, that the serpent of Genesis 3 might be mythological. Such views are just as repugnant to me as they are to you.

I asked you to read the clarification statement I posted on the Watchman website and published in Truth magazine, yet you never referred to it in your letter. If you have read this clarification statement, I fail to see why you still do not understand what I meant in my lecture. I have enclosed a copy of this statement for you to read again. I don't see how I can make it any clearer, but let me try once more: I meant that the language Moses used to designate the one who tempted Eve - the name "the serpent," a "beast of the field" - may have been the name that the people of Moses' day used for Satan. Ancient literature suggests that people of that time used such terminology as a name for a wicked spiritual being. I was never suggesting that the serpent of Genesis 3 or anything else in Genesis was mythological.

Your letter sounds to me like you are unwilling to accept my word about what I meant in my lecture. I would hope that my repeated clarifications would enable you to understand what I meant, but in the final analysis, brother Roberts, whether or not you understand what I was saying shouldn't matter. What matters is the fact that I, your brother in Christ, am affirming to you before God that I do not believe what you have charged me with. I do not believe the serpent of Genesis 3 was a pagan myth and I was never suggesting that it was! That should settle the matter. Please be good enough to accept me at my word.

The same thing is true about your attempt to defend your statement that "[Marty Pickup] raised the question of the canonicity of 2 Peter and Jude in another lecture." My entire lecture was a refutation of those who question the canonicity of 2 Peter and Jude. I discussed how post-apostolic Christians had concerns about whether Peter and Jude were the actual authors of these documents because forgeries in the name of Peter and other apostles and prophets of Jesus were circulating in the 2nd century (e.g., the so-called Apocalypse of Peter, the Gospel of Peter, etc.). My entire lecture was a response to this issue and a refutation of the view that 2 Peter and Jude were also forgeries. (If you listen to a tape of my lecture you will see all of this.) It is therefore unfair and dishonorable for you to pluck out a paragraph from that lecture and make it appear to your readers that I espoused the other view. Again, please be good enough to accept me at my word. Brother Roberts, a fellow child of God deserves better treatment than this.

In Him

(Signed) Marty Pickup

 

Response from Tom Roberts

June 30, 2004

Address omitted

Dear brother Pickup:

I am at a loss to understand your inability to reconcile what you have written with our quotations of your writings. Words are vehicles of meaning and your words convict you.  All the protestations of misrepresentation are ineffective against the cold, hard evidence of what you have taught. Though there may be those who will accept your word without investigation, I cannot ignore what you have written. You simply cannot have it both ways: saying in one sentence that you have been misrepresented and in the next sentence repeating what you previously affirmed. If you wish to repudiate what you have written, we would be happy to start all over in our discussion, but you simply cannot have it both ways.

In your previous letter, before you asked me to read your clarification statement on the Watchman website, I had already done so. What I had already become aware of was that you clearly refused to state to brethren Gibson or Osborne that there was a "serpent," a beast of the field snake, in the garden. I understand the gyrations you made concerning the "name" as it applied to "Satan." But you evaded the main issue. Let me put it clearly, so there can be no misunderstanding.

In Genesis 3:1, the serpent is an actual, physical beast of the field.

    Yes ____________    

    No ____________

(Sign your name to the statement you accept)

What you said, in contrast:

 "It is also worth considering that the account of these events may be, to some degree, accommodative and symbolic. Genesis may use the serpent motif because it is borrowing the imagery from the mythological culture of that day regarding a cosmological foe of deity. Old Testament writers commonly take features of well-known pagan myths and rework them in order to present the truth of Israelite monotheism&ldots;It is possible, therefore, that Genesis recounted man's primeval fall using the language and symbology that was best suited for its original audience. Since ancient creation myths gave a serpentine form to the being who opposed the order of creation, it was fitting that the tempter in the garden be depicted in this way (Boyd 156). Such a literary device may have been quite obvious to the original audience of Genesis" (Marty Pickup, "The Seed of Woman" 2003 Florida College lecture book, pp. 49-78; "Identifying the Serpent" pp. 55-62).

 

We have no trouble understanding what you teach. You teach that we should "consider" that the account of the serpent is "accommodative and symbolic," a "motif," rather than an actual, real, beast of the field. You teach "the possibility" that the "symbol" of the serpent is "borrowing imagery from the mythological culture of that day," that the account of the serpent is "symbology,"  "a literary device." You state in your letter of June 9 that "the language Moses used to designate the one who tempted Eve - the name 'the serpent,' a 'beast of the field' - may have been the name that the people of Moses' day used for Satan." It is clear that you use "such terminology" about Satan, but it is equally clear that you dodge around the issue. You refuse to state that "serpent" is more than a name for Satan! You refuse to say that it was a literal, actual snake! That is the issue brother Pickup.

You ask me to accept your word as a fellow Christian about what you meant in your lecture. You say, "whether or not you understand what I was saying shouldn't matter." I could just as well ask you to accept me at my word, as a fellow Christian, that I have not misunderstood you. But you, as a teacher (especially of young college students), should recognize the importance of speaking so as to be understood. If many other brethren have read your material and have come to the same conclusion as I, you should recognize that the lack of clarity lies with the writer rather than the reader.

The fact of the matter is that others have understood you to say exactly what you said and have written you about it. Your patent answer is "I am misrepresented" or "misunderstood." However, great care has been taken by your brethren to accurately represent and understand what you have said. 

In the following correspondence with another brother, you make even clearer what you have previously written to me. You say,

The serpent of Genesis 3 is to be identified as Satan... There is a legitimate question, however, about Moses' use of the term "serpent" (Heb. nahash) to describe the one who tempted Eve in the garden. Did Moses mean by this terminology that an actual snake talked to Eve? Perhaps.  Since the NT writers identify the serpent with Satan, the usual explanation most people give along this line is that Satan came to Eve with the body or with the appearance of a snake. But another possibility is this: evidence from ancient Near Eastern literature suggests that in Moses' time, the word "serpent" (nahash) may have also been used as a symbolic term for an evil spiritual being. If so, then Moses may not be using nahash in Genesis 3 to mean that a snake talked to Eve, but that an evil spiritual being talked to Eve.

So, the serpent is "terminology;" it is a "term;" it describes the one who tempted Eve. But is it an actual snake? "Perhaps," you say, and then add another possibility that "serpent" is a symbolic term and that Moses may not mean that a snake talked to Eve, but that an evil spiritual being talked to Eve. Was it a real snake or not? But to be sure the entire context is available, the letter is reproduced below.

On May 13, 2003, you responded to inquiries by Aaron Erhardt of Louisville, KY, about your material:

[Personal comments opened the letter, tr]

I appreciate your contacting me. I don't understand why you would have had "obvious concerns" with what I wrote in my FC lecture, but you certainly have misunderstood me if you think that I was suggesting that Genesis 3 is an unhistorical, figurative story. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, that's the very liberal view that I refute throughout the section of  the lecture entitled "Identifying the Serpent" (pp. 55-62). I suggest that you reread this entire section; see particularly p. 56.

But let me explain here, perhaps using clearer language, what I was getting at in my lecture. As I showed there, there is no doubt that the serpent of Genesis 3 is to be identified as Satan; the NT writers make this quite clear. There is a legitimate question, however, about Moses' use of the term "serpent" (Heb. nahash) to describe the one who tempted Eve in the garden. Did Moses mean by this terminology that an actual snake talked to Eve? Perhaps.  Since the NT writers identify the serpent with Satan, the usual explanation most people give along this line is that Satan came to Eve with the body or with the appearance of a snake. But another possibility is this: evidence from ancient Near Eastern literature suggests that in Moses' time, the word "serpent" (nahash) may have also been used as a symbolic term for an evil spiritual being. If so, then Moses may not be using nahash in Genesis 3 to mean that a snake talked to Eve, but that an evil spiritual being talked to Eve. If so, then the NT writers may simply be acknowledging this sense of  the term when they explain that the serpent who beguiled Eve was Satan (see Rev. 12:7-9; Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 11:3-15; John 8:44, et al.) Now I personally am not sure which of the above interpretations is correct. For most of my life I have only thought in terms of the first view, but I can see nothing in what the biblical writers say that would negate the second view as a possibility. That's why I mentioned the second view in my FC lecture.

Don't read into my lecture anything beyond what I've just said. This is all I meant. Any idea that I was suggesting that Genesis 3 might be a figurative, unhistorical myth is a gross misunderstanding of my meaning. As I tried to explain in the lecture, some of the literary evidence for the second view of  the term "serpent" comes from ancient mythological literature, but that in no way suggests that the Genesis 3 narrative is unhistorical myth. Again, that false idea is the very thing that I refute throughout the lecture.

I hope this clears up matters for you.

[Personal comments closed the letter, tr] 

All the best,                                M. Pickup

Brother Pickup, nothing is more clear than your statement that "most of my life I have only thought in terms of the first view, but I can see nothing in what the biblical writers say that would negate the second view as a possibility." The "first view" that you held "most of [your] life" is the view that I now hold and defend. You have accepted a "second view" in this part of your life and will not forthrightly admit it. You teach it and when we understand what you teach, you retreat and cry "misrepresentation."

Will you at least consider the possibility that you have been giving too much credence to "ancient mythological literature," or "Near Eastern literature" and not enough to the word of God? Nothing in Genesis 3 hints at symbology or literary devices or a motif. It plainly says, "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made" (Gen. 3:1). "And the serpent said to the woman..." (v. 4). "...And the woman said, 'The serpent deceived me'..." (v. 13).  Paul added, "As the serpent beguiled Eve..." (2 Cor. 11:3). Why is it incredulous to accept the fact that Satan used the actual body of a serpent to tempt Eve?

Brother Pickup, do you believe that an actual serpent, a beast of the field, of the same nature as that "which the Lord God had made" during the seven days of Genesis one, was in the Garden of Eden, and that he tempted Adam and Eve? Yes or no?

Once again, you ask me to accept at face value your word that you defended the canonicity of 2 Peter and Jude. But which word shall we accept? The one in which you state that your discussion was a "refutation" of the view they were forged documents or the one in which you were asked: "Now Marty, are you just totally certain about that?" Your response in this instance is to say, "No. Have to be honest. In fact my Lord Jesus demands that I be intellectually honest. I can't be a follower of Jesus and not be. And I think the evidence tips the scales in favor of their authenticity. And that's what I would argue, that's what I've tried to argue here. But I would have to say, I can't just be dogmatic about that, I'm not a hundred percent certain about that" (The Canonicity of the General Epistles, Florida College Annual Lectures, [8 Feb. 2000]. When one invokes the name of Jesus to testify of his honesty and claims, in that honesty, to deny that you are "totally certain," or less than "dogmatic" and "not a hundred percent certain," about their authenticity, shouldn't we take that word as well? Why is it a misrepresentation of your position to note that your defense of 2 Peter and Jude carries the caveat that you are not "totally certain" or "not a hundred percent certain?" I note that you did not address my analogy using Acts 2:38. If you taught that you "could not be dogmatic," "not a hundred percent certain," and not "totally certain" about Acts 2:38, would this equate to raising questions about Acts 2:38?

May I suggest that there are enough critics of the Bible in the world who cast doubts on the integrity of God's word without brethren raising questions about the text? Preachers of the gospel are to make a "certain sound" (1 Cor. 14:7-8), not an "uncertain" one. If you employ a hermeneutical principle by which you reject a literal serpent in Genesis 3, how do you limit the use of that principle to the serpent alone and not to other persons in that chapter? How can one fail to be totally certain or dogmatic about the inspiration of 2 Peter and Jude without raising questions about their use by brethren? Proper use of the field of evidence does not demand that we abandon faith in the literal text of the Bible or that we acquiesce to every quibble of the revisionists. "Heaven and earth will pass, but My words will by no means pass away" (Matt. 24:35).

Our proposals for open discussion of these issues remain for you to consider.

Yours for truth, Tom Roberts

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