Biblical Interpretation and the “Holy Spirit Trump Card” Fallacy

TrumpCard1This post has been boiling inside me for a while now. Invariably, when debating controversial issues like eschatology or the doctrine of creation, someone will pull the out the Holy Spirit trump card and act as if it has settled the matter.  For instance, someone might argue, “I know the rapture is pretrib because the Holy Spirit led me to this truth.” Of course, to question them further amounts to some sort of blasphemy…  But it is an abuse of the Holy Spirit’s role because it amounts to nothing more than an excuse for not offering evidence and arguments for one’s position.  Would the hypothetical pretribber have us believe she has more guidance from the Holy Spirit than Charles Spurgeon or John Wesley? It’s just not a good track to take.

When Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”(Jn 16:13) It was a promise directed toward the eleven disciples and their role writing the Gospels and the books of the New Testament. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit leads us to all mathematical truth, we still have to work lots of problems and gain skill. It also does not apply to interpreting scripture. We still have to struggle to learn biblical languages and history in order to do proper exegesis.

In that regard, I have been debating young earth creationists concerning the traditional misapplication of Genesis one.  My main point of contention is that Moses did not write the text with science in mind. Our western scientific worldview was utterly alien to his context. There is a massive socio-historical dvide that needs to be accounted for but is seldom discussed. Fee and Stuart explain, “As people far removed from the religious, historical, and cultural life of ancient Israel, we simply have great trouble putting the words spoken by the prophets in their proper context. It is often hard for us to see what they are referring to and why.” [1]  I have been reading In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context which is an excellent introduction to Moses’ context. The book shows that Moses was addressing Egyptian cosmogony and offering a theological corrective. In fact, the creation sequence in Genesis one corresponds almost directly to the older Egyptian account.  It’s too close to be a coincidence.  Miller and Soden write, “We are suggesting that Moses is starting with the Egyptian assumptions about creation to correct Israel’s theology of creation and not their way of talking about creation. Moses seems to begin with a starting point that Israel would have already accepted.”[2]  In other words, God is using the existing nonscientific beliefs of the ancient Israelites escaping Egyptian bondage to correct their Egyptian  indoctrination.  It’s not about science.

When I point out that it is superficial exegesis to impose a modern scientific worldview on to Genesis 1…  here it comes, the Holy Spirit trump card: “The Holy Spirit told me the earth  is young” which fails for the reasons in the first paragraph. But typically it is something more like “He was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…therefore the text is written for all time.” While it is for all time, it does not mean it is written to a scientific context. The number one rule of hermeneutics is that the original author’s intent for his original readers determines the meaning. Anything else results in relativistic chaos. A responsible Bible interpreter will seek to discover that original intended meaning. This requires some effort like reading scholarly books and employing resources like the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set.  Invoking the Holy Spirit is not an excuse to ignore that responsibility and it is an abuse of the Holy Spirit’s role. Genesis is “for” all time, but it still was not written “to” you and your modern Western worldview. The meaning of the text is determined by the author’s context and intent not the worldview of readers 3000 years removed.


[1] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 184.

[2] Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden. In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context. (Kregel Publications 2012). Kindle Locations 1209-1210.

The Cosmic Conflict and the Age of the Universe

It seems to me that Bible supports the notion that there was age long before God created man in which the Angelic realm interacted with the triune God for a vast period of time culminating when 1/3 fell into a rebellious state. This idea coheres nicely with many verses that imply an Angelic fascination with man and a literal reading of Genesis in which the entire universe is created in verse one: “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.” This opening declaration in verse 1 stands alone; Seven Hebrew words say it all. If you understand this verse you will have no trouble with any other verse in the Bible.

רֵאשִׁית reshit “the beginning”

The first word is Beresheeth, “In Beginning,” which yields the name of the book of Genesis in Hebrew. Hebrew scholar John Sailhamer contends in his book Genesis Unbound that:

The Hebrew word reshit which Moses used has a very specific sense in scripture. In the Bible the term always refers to an extended yet indeterminate duration of time – never a specific moment. It is a block of time which precedes an extended series of time periods. It is a time before time. The term does not refer to a point in time but to a period or duration of time which falls before a series of events. (Sailhamer, 38)

The Bible simply does not address the amount of time “in the beginning” in which the universe was created.  While we find some Answers in Genesis, we do not find them all, we need to consult the whole counsel of God. The multitude of events that necessarily lie somewhere “in the beginning” is a hermeneutically sound basis for adopting an Old Earth position. This video argues from the text of Genesis as well as appealing to the Angelic conflict which strongly suggests the preexistence of the universe to the “week” of Genesis 1.

The Poison Fruit of the Serpent Seed

Often times we gaze upon a seed and have no idea what sort of plant it might become. A children’s poem expresses this idea: “Plant a seed and watch it grow. What it shall one day be, we do not know.” Ideas are like seeds as well. Often we do not see where they might lead. Like the seeds in the poem, sometimes the only way to judge an idea is to see what it grows into. A very small notion can grow into an ideology very quickly. Hitler’s idea of racial supremacy was a small seed that grew into a world war and well over 6 million dead bodies. Marx and Lenin’s atheistic ideas have led to over ten times that. Clearly, ideas are potent. In theology, a very small error can have a collateral effect on nearly every other doctrine. Huge heresies nearly always grow from very small seeds.

One such idea is the Serpent Seed doctrine. This is the teaching that in the Garden of Eden, the serpent had sexual relations with Eve. The result was that she bore Cain. The primary notion is that the original sin was sexual. This has some visceral appeal because the doctrine that fall of man resulted from a poor produce selection seems fanciful. Sexual temptation is something we all can relate to and agree is powerful. The problem is that it is directly opposed to the clear and explicit word of God. It is easily refuted by Genesis 4:1.

Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:1, NAS)

Of course the old King James translation uses the euphemism based on the Hebrew that “Adam knew his wife…” which some disingenuous serpent seed devotees have attempted to obfuscate. These arguments are completely without merit as the Hebrew יָדַע rendered “to know” is obviously properly understood by its context to mean “had sexual relations” because the result is that “she conceived.” The context and grammar make this absolutely clear. In fact it is used in the same way two more times in the same chapter.

Cain had relations with (knew) his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son. (Genesis 4:17, NAS)

Adam had relations with (knew) his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (Genesis 4:25, NAS)

Attempts to argue that this use of “knew” only implies knowledge are blatant special pleading. The context rules out any other meaning for the term. So how can anyone possibly pass this absurd idea off as biblical?

For scriptural justification, advocates of the view point to the curse God gave to the Serpent:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NAS)

This verse contains a puzzling yet important ambiguity: Who is the “seed” of the woman and the “seed” of the serpent? It seems obvious that the purpose of this verse was not to answer that question but rather to raise it. What we see are the battle lines of a cosmic struggle being laid down. The epic of salvation history, the drama that later biblical writers saw behind the deed of, “That ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev 12:9:) to “dust will be the serpent’s food” (Isa 65:25) culminating with Christ’s ultimate triumph with “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”(Rom. 16:20a)

Of course one could raise a valid complaint that snakes and humans cannot procreate. While I am of the opinion that the Hebrew term nacash is referring to something much more than a snake, there are debates on just what the seed of the serpent actually is. That aside, the biblical text does not allow it to be the line of Cain. Still yet, the idea has appeal for cult leaders and racists because they have justified an “us versus them” paradigm. The ‘us’ is inevitably the heretical cult that teaches the doctrine and the ‘them’ is virtually anyone they disagree with.

And that brings us full circle to ask, “What is the fruit of the Serpent Seed doctrine?” It is demonstrably demonic, the fruit of occultism and bigotry. After the Babylonian captivity, some Pharisaic Jews began viewing the account of Eve and the Serpent allegorically. They taught that Cain was actually Satan’s offspring. They also that taught Cain and his descendants had no opportunity to be restored to God. It also reared its ugly head in the ninth century Jewish Midrash called Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer and various Targums (Jewish commentaries) which altered Genesis 4:1. These Targums have been appropriated to support the sensationalist claims by those who defend the Serpent Seed heresy. Of course these Targums are dated in the middle ages 1500-2000 years after Genesis was written and are easily discredited by the Dead Sea Scrolls texts  and the LXX which contains the traditional rendering of Genesis 4:1 and is dated centuries earlier (~200 BC). [1]

It is in this connection that we are to understand the use of ידע for sexual intercourse (Gn. 4:1, 17, 25 etc.), not only of the man but also of the woman (Nu. 31:18, 35; Ju. 21:12).[2]

Notwithstanding, the Serpent Seed is a staple of the Kabbalists who teach that God created two “Adams” one with a soul and the other, the Nacash, without one. This is recorded in the Zohar:

Two beings [Adam and Nachash] had intercourse with Eve, and she conceived from both and bore two children. Each followed one of the male parents, and their spirits parted, one to this side and one to the other, and similarly their characters. On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial — good wine mixed with bad. (Zohar Bereshith, 36b)[3]

It also appeared in early Gnostic writings and was explicitly rejected by Irenaeus (c. 180) in Against Heresies “Others, again, portentously declare… this one (Eve) sinned by committing adultery.”[4] It persisted in Gnosticism in works such as the Gospel of Philip (c. 350). It was also foundational to the Manichaeans, one of the major Iranian Gnostic religions, and was again deemed heretical by St. Augustine in the 4th century.[5] The occult gnostic roots sprouted from this seed were resoundingly deemed heretical by the Fathers. What have these roots grown into? Racism.

Modern adherents to the Serpent Seed doctrine are largely occultists and white supremacists. Hitler was fascinated with the occult and embraced the racist teaching. The Christian Identity Movement teaches that white people are the descendants of Adam and are hence the only chosen people of God.[6] The Klu Klux Klan also believes the Serpent Seed doctrine. They and other hate groups believe it to be their duty to exterminate the lineage of Cain and Ham. Rotten fruit indeed.

Pentecostal Pastor William Branham also taught that the fall of mankind resulted from Eve having sexual intercourse with an upright Beast whom Adam had named ‘Serpent’.[7] In addition, Arnold Murray, the pastor of the Shepherd’s Chapel, is a current promoter of this unbiblical heresy.[8] While attempting to mitigate his stance with disclaimers, Jim Wilhelmsen teaches it explicitly as a racial theory stating,

That both Cain (White) and Abel (black) could represent races that were never in the intention of God’s structure, one being a direct seed of the serpent, and the other an “out of time seed of the woman.”[9]

He also advocates it in his statement of faith stating, “We believe in two literal seeds mentioned in Genesis 3”[10] Unfortunately, that seems to rule out the traditional spiritual interpretation.

Another recent popularizer is Joye Jeffries Pugh in her book Eden – The Knowledge of Good and Evil 666 which argues,

Through Cain, Satan had created a human from his own seed. Cain was the first offspring produced as a result of the Sons of God mating with a woman.[11]

She then proceeds to spin and elaborate yarn about Egyptian secret societies and fallen angels while providing scant documentation. Much like The DaVinci Code, it makes for entertaining mythology but offers little in the way of substance. Other modern day adherents include Sun Myung Moon, Way International, some Islamic sects, some Oneness Pentecostals, some Satanists and British Israelism. With strange fruit like this – it’s better to smash the seed before it grows.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NAS)

Persecution and false ideas are the devil’s primary devices. In Ephesians 6, arguably the definitive text on spiritual warfare, you don’t find special rituals or prayers to recite for casting out demons. The tools of spiritual warfare are the helmet of salvation that you always have on, the sword of the spirit is the word of God which you can read, and the belt of truth which should always be around your waist. In other words, the more you are familiar with the truth the more impenetrable your spiritual armor. Praying at all times in the spirit, spiritual warfare is primarily on two fronts:

  • Challenge of persecution that we are to persevere in
  • Challenge of error, false doctrines, and false ideas

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5, NAS)

The Serpent Seed doctrine is the seed of error.


[1] Michael S. Heiser.“Was Cain Fathered by the Devil? No, Wait — Extraterrestrials” (accessed 2/12/2011).

[2]Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 1:697.

[3] Zohar Bereshith 36b (accessed 2/12/2011).

[4] Irenaeus. Against Heresies (1.30). (accessed 2/12/2011).

[5] Augustine. Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus. (accessed 2/12/2011).

[6] Chester L. Quarles. Christian Identity: The Aryan American Bloodline Religion.(McFarland & Company. 2004) 68.

[7] William Branham “The Serpent’s Seed” (accessed 2/12/2011).

[8] Matt Slick. “The Serpent Seed and the Kenites” (accessed 2/12/2011).

[9] Jim Wilhelmsen “Lemonade Out of Lemons: God’s Plan for Racial Harmony” (accessed 2/12/2011).

[10] Jim Wilhelmsen.“Statement of Faith” (accessed 2/12/2011).

[11] Joye Jeffries Pugh. Eden: The Knowledge of Good and Evil 666. (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing..2006) 31.