Life is littered with people pushing competing ideas of what is true. It’s impossible to follow all these different teachings put forth and to know who is right and who is wrong. As Plato famously taught, when there are competing ideas of what is true, the main way to discover the truth is to first identify all the false ones. Then, through a process of elimination, you can better discern what is true. In this 3-part series, I will be going through a methodical investigation to identify these prototypical false teachers.
Throughout the Bible, there is a litany of talk to be aware of false teaching and on the lookout for false prophets. Jesus gives us a clue on how to identify these false prophets.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. . . . Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7: 15-17).
Here, Jesus connects the teaching of an idea by the person who promotes it. If we stay away from the false prophets – bingo we can eliminate a lot of noise and better hear what God is telling us. But, the way Jesus tells us to identify the false prophets sounds a bit bizarre, “by their fruits you shall know them.”
What Jesus is getting at is bad fruits are bad instructions and in order to identify these you have to look at the source – look at that person who is articulating that teaching (see also Matthew 12: 33-37). When we know that person’s source of their teaching, then we can know if it is right or wrong – good fruit or bad fruit.
Notice that Jesus equates false prophets with “trees” and “bad fruit.” Well, in the opening scene in Genesis, we also see a lot of talk about “trees” and “bad fruit.” Therefore, Jesus is cluing us to go back to the creation story in Genesis to understand what he is talking about. In the Genesis story, the author is also using the word “tree” and “fruit” as metaphors that represent much more meaning than simply a physical tree with fruit.
The word “fruit” means– to bring forth or the end result. Fruit comes from the tree. So, the tree means the source of where that thing comes from. Therefore, in the context of false prophets, “fruit” denotes a tangible result of a certain teaching, and “tree” indicates where that teaching came from – it’s source. In sum, you can say that the tree represents the cause of that teaching, and that fruit represents the end effect of that teaching. So, if the end result of a teaching (fruit) is good it came from a good source (tree) and vice versa. If the end result of a teaching is bad, it came from a bad source (see Proverbs 12: 12-14). However, we don’t fully know which teachings are good or bad, so we need to look at it’s source – it’s “tree” so we can know its true “fruit.” Thus, to know the source is to identify the good or bad and to comprehend the fruit, or end effect of a teaching, is to know the source.
In Genesis, God said to Adam: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food” (Genesis 1:29). To put this in basic terms, God is saying if you want to listen to a good idea, then listen to me, God – a good source. Then, the author goes on to describe certain trees (source) that bore specific fruit (teaching).
There were two trees in particular that the author points out. One was “pleasing to the eye,” and the other was “good for food.” The author identifies these two types of trees by naming them. One was called the tree of life, the other was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 2:8-9). The tree that was pleasing to the eye must have been the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree that was called the tree of life was the type of tree that was “good for food.” We can be sure that God is promoting the tree of life that feeds you nourishing food over and above the tree of knowledge of good and evil that looks pleasing to the eye (see Genesis 1: 29).
Because in original creation, there was a unity of the material and immaterial realm, the physical element revealed the interior reality. In short, the food (i.e., fruit) is associated with a specific teaching. Therefore, to eat the good fruit is to line oneself up to a holy way of thinking while the bad fruit represents a corrupt philosophy or demonic thinking. Just like eating junk food causes a negative affect of the body, consuming wicked ideas results in a slow death of the soul.
God gives Adam the straight up warning of the tree of knowledge when he says, “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). With the metaphors of tree and fruit, we can gather that God is basically telling man: Don’t listen to the instructions (fruit) from that source (tree). It is corrupt. Or, in more basic terms don’t pick your wants (knowledge of good and evil that is pleasing to the eye) over your needs (tree of life that is used for food).
Therefore, this tree of knowledge of good and evil that is pleasing to the eye must have bad fruit – the teaching it produces is destructive. Conversely, this tree of life that is known for the needs or “good food” brings you a helpful, wise philosophy to live by.
The next part of the story opens with the serpent coming into the scene. The word serpent in Hebrew means nahash – something that is poisonous and deadly. The New Testament identifies this “ancient serpent” with Satan himself (see Revelation 12:9, 20:2). It is significant to point out that the word devil means “to cast apart” or “to pull away.” Also, the author indicates that the serpent was the “most cunning of all the creatures” (Genesis 3:1). The term used here (arum) is often used to describe a wise man who is “shrewd” (see Proverbs 12:16, 13:16) or the “stealth” and “guile” of the wicked (see Job 5:12, 15:5). In other words, the serpent is really crafty at duping people away from God.
Then, the devil approaches, and he makes a straight b-line to Eve. From here, there is an exchange in which the serpent tricks Eve. The devil said, “Did God say you shall not eat from any tree?” (Genesis 3:1). However, God did not say don’t eat from any tree. God said to eat from every tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Notice that the serpent changed the wording of the divine command to distort its meaning. Then, the serpent said, “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Gods, who know good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5).
When the serpent told her she would not die, here is where he dropped the false prophet bomb. He told an outright lie that contradicted the very word of God. Notice Satan focused on the negative limits of God’s instructions (“you shall not eat of any tree”) to hide the positive tone of God’s original instructions (“you may freely eat of every tree”). As we look at the brief exchange between Satan and Eve, we can see that Satan is trying to come across as a hero for Eve and make God out to be the restrictive bad guy. After he said these things she wanted to hear, he then made his fruit (or his teaching) excite her internal desires; “it was pleasing to her eye and desirable for gaining wisdom” (verse 6). Then, the woman ate the fruit and gave some to the man.
So, the woman was duped by the serpent because he:
- Twisted the truth by changing the words
- Used emotional words that sounded pleasing to hear
- He tried to comes across as the good guy and make God out to be the bad guy by focusing on the negative of God’s instructions and taking out the positive
- He had her focus on the lie that she would selfishly get something out of it – wisdom to be like God.
Now, recall that God said if you eat the fruit you will “surely die.” The serpent said if you eat the fruit, you won’t die. Well, they ate it, and then why didn’t they die? It’s a bit of a riddle. To understand what happened you have to understand that the two dimensions that make a human person are body and soul union. We have a physical body, but we also have a soul.
The soul consists of our ideas and internal thought process. The body is the physical dimension as it can be seen and observed through a material process. The soul is the non-physical dimension that is beyond a material process – no brain scientists can know what you are thinking. Both body and soul are united in original creation, and both are necessary to have life. In fact, when God made man we see clues of this as Genesis 2:7 states: “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The dust of the ground represents that material (body) dimension, and the breath of life represents the immaterial (soul) dimension. Notice that when God breathed into man, God was putting Himself into man, thus, giving man God’s very soul. Also, notice man did not become “a living being” until he received God’s soul in him. All this shows that the soul is more important than the body. After all, the body lasts about 80 years, while the soul lasts forever. This would also mean that the death of the soul would be far worse than the death of the body. What the author is getting at is that Adam & Eve died the worse death – the death of God’s soul in them. Throughout their time in Eden God’s presence was with them as “God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). So, the death of their God-breathed soul means that now God has to depart from their presence. Indeed, after this episode in the Bible, God now comes hidden to his creation often through other elements (burning bush in Exodus 3, manna/bread in Exodus 16) and through the mouths of certain people (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, David, etc.).
Eden was a sacred place in which the physical creation of the land was holy – or, as Genesis reads, “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1: 25,31). Because the physical creation was holy, that meant that God’s soul could be present there. Also, because the physical world was perfectly united with the spiritual world, this means that in Eden man’s pure body was united with his pure soul. However, this all changed the second man ate the bad fruit and aligned himself with a corrupt teaching.
After they eat from the bad fruit,“their eyes were open and they realized that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). Now, they were naked before this and “not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25) so the main reason they are ashamed now is because they knew that they divorced God, and they destroyed the original harmony of their body and soul that God created. Also, their nakedness is one way we can see that the body and soul unity were compromised. If the soul is your thoughts, what would it feel like if someone can read your thoughts and know your real internal agenda? It would feel like you were “naked.” Now that they became uncomfortable being naked, this shows they went from pure, transparent holy thoughts to now selfish, deceptive thoughts in which they need to hide from.
Theology of the body reveals that the exterior communicates the interior; the material dimension points to the spiritual dimension. Thus, the body conveys the thoughts within the person. In original paradise the thoughts were pure in that they revealed God’s instructions to “use the self to serve the good of the other.” Thus, the body does not need to be covered in original creation because there is no shame in communicating the other this. However, when they ate the fruit, they consumed it’s teaching (and it’s source). Then, their thoughts reverted to “use the other for the good of the self.” Here, there is shame. Therefore, the body, most specifically the reproductive organs, need to be covered as it reveals that the husband and wife want to use each other for themselves. The body inverted sexual imagery from “be fruitful and multiply” to produce life to now “use the other to produce pleasure for the self.”
An important clue to note is that they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). They presumably got these fig leaves from that bad tree that the just ate from. It is not that far of a stretch to conclude that the tree that they ate from was a fig tree and the fruit they ate were figs. Interestingly, there is a scene in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus curses a tree and the tree withers and dies. What type of tree did Jesus curse – a fig tree (see Matthew 21:18-19). Jesus also teaches about the coming destruction of Israel, and he uses a a fig tree to demonstrate this destruction (see Matthew 24: 32-35). Hmmm, may this tree they have ate from be a fig tree?
Let’s take a close look at figs and fig trees. Fig wood is weak and decays rapidly. The sap contains copious milky latex that is irritating to human skin. Therefore, Adam and Eve tried to cover up their sin with fig leaves, but these leaves ended up giving them more problems – a bad rash. The conclusion of this is don’t try to cover up your sin from the very thing that gave you that sin.
Now, figs are great fruit, but they come with some strings attached. You don’t eat the stem of the fig, and while the flesh of the fig is edible, it is not recommended to eat the flesh of this fruit because it you do, your mouth will become dry and you’ll have a splinter-like after taste in your mouth. Fig fruit is very fragile, and it does not stay fresh very long. In fact, most people only eat dry figs precisely because the freshness of a fig fades away quickly. Also, the seeds of figs are nothing more than unfertilized eggs that failed to develop. They develop from the stem, but you can’t eat the stem of the fruit. I’m no botanist but what we can conclude about the fig is that their seeds are ineffective, their source (stem) is not edible, the flesh causes a dry mouth in which become thirsty. They also have a splinter-like aftertaste, and they don’t stay fresh very long. We’ll come back to these fig clues at the end of this investigation.
The other clue we can pick up is from God’s instructions to Adam & Eve about what now has to happen since they ate the bad fruit and compromised their soul. God first condemned the serpent, then in Genesis 3:15 God shows how he will take down the serpent. God declares that: [my comments in brackets]
I will put enmity between you [serpent] and the woman [a new Eve to come later], and between your [serpent] seed and hers [the new Eve’s seed]; he [her seed] will crush your [serpent] head. (Genesis 3:15).
So, God will raise up a new woman, and this women’s seed will crush the serpent’s seed. All early Christians knew this new woman as Mary and her seed as Jesus. This verse also reveals that the serpent will lay seeds out there and that his seeds will bring the same old “bad fruit” that God warned us about in Eden. In other words, the serpent will lay out his seeds that operate just like him – false prophets that use cunning tricks that sound attractive, but in fact, their teaching is all geared towards the self and eventually drive people away from God (see Revelation 12).
The devil’s corrupt teaching will be manifested in the world as an idea or a world view to live by. Conversely, God’ teaching will be raised up for the main purpose to crush the devil’s doctrine. This illuminates that when people today talk about the culture war they are really referencing is a clash of ideas. Paul famously described this clash of ideas of the devil’s message versus God’s message as “spiritual warfare” (see Ephesians 6: 10-20). Put simply the good teaching of God says, “How can I use myself to serve the other.” Conversely the corrupt teaching of the Devil says, “How can I use the other to serve me.” The end product or “fruit” of God’s teaching looks like heaven. However, the end product or “fruit” of the Devil’s teaching looks like hell. If someone would ask what does the end product of using someone for your own selfish desires look like? The real answer is it would like like the Nazi concentration camps. This demonic idea to use a person as an object to how you (not God) deem fit, carried out to its natural conclusion would look that bad. The problem is the devil uses deception in emotion and cunning word crafting to make his teaching look good when, in fact, it is horrid and grotesque.
From this story, we can conclude that the devil was a false prophet that used a deceptive strategy to draw mankind away from God by tricking them to go after a bad teaching (represented by fruit) that emphasized using the other over serving the other. However, God has a plan where he will deliver a new seed, to a new tree, and this new tree will bear new fruit to bring all of mankind back to God’s presence just like in Eden.
In the next parts of this article, we will zoom in on what this new fruit is. When we do this, we’ll see why God is warning us about these false prophets that give us this bad fruit that draws us away from him.
To be continued….