In Genesis 3, the crafty serpent famously asks Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” (Genesis 3:1 ESV) Eve responded that God had told them they could eat of any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After this response, the serpent convinced Eve (and Adam) to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil anyway.
Now, there are volumes and volumes written about this chapter at the beginning of the book of Genesis, the beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), the beginning of the Old Testament, and in fact the beginning of the Christian Bible. There are many questions raised by this passage – and, apparently, more answers than there are questions.
But, for this post, I’d like for us to consider only one thing: the serpent’s question, “Did God really say…?”
It’s clear from the dialog that follows this question that the serpent was not interesting in clarifying what God had told Adam and Eve. He was not actually interested in what God really said. Instead, he was interested in tempting the woman and man to disobey God.
The serpent isn’t the last creature to ask the question, “Did God really say…” with the purpose of convincing someone to disobey God. Obviously, this line of questioning is used often by those who wish to twist what God did say.
Peter may have been referring to something like this when he wrote:
There are some things in them [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. (2 Peter 3:16b-17)
In this passage, Peter warns against those who would twist the meaning of Scripture, which he says leads to “their own destruction.” Thus, there is certainly a danger of phrases such as “Did God really say…” being used for evil, to tempt or convince someone to think or act in a way contrary to God’s desire.
However, there may be times when it is not only valid but good to ask, “Did God really say that?”
There are times when someone claims to speak on behalf of God or to interpret something that is (supposedly) in Scripture, but in fact, whether the person intends to do so or not, the person is not actually stating something that is from God. In these cases, it is good to ask, “Did God really says that?”
What’s the difference? In the first case, the person asking the question wants people to live in a manner contrary to God’s desire. In the second case, the person asking the question wants the exact opposite – the person wants to help people living according to God’s desire, not contrary to God’s desire.
While Jesus doesn’t use that exact question (as in the case of Peter’s letter above), the same idea is expressed in Mark 7:
And he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother'; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God) — then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13 ESV)
In other words, Jesus is asking the question, “Did God actually say that you could set aside something as ‘Corban’ and thereby not have to care for your father or mother?” Of course, God never said anything like that.
So, when we hear someone ask, “Did God really say that?” we need to stop and consider why that person is asking that question. Is the person attempting to convince us to do something that is contrary to God’s desire, or is the person attempting to convince us to live according to God’s desire?
Of course, determining that motivation is not always easy.
What are some ways to help us determine why someone is asking the question, “Did God really say that?”