BIBLICAL HISTORY OF RELIGION
THE MEANING OF RELIGION
AND WHEN IT BEGAN
BY CIPRIANO P. SANDOVAL
THE meaning of religion and its beginning must interest every person. We are aware of the centuries old conflict and wars waged in the name of religion. In fact the smoke of hostility pervades the atmosphere up to the present age.
Then we can mention the existence of so many religions in the world—all adverting to God but with irreconcilable precepts. The irony of it is that the proliferation of such religions has not enhanced the peace and security of life sought of many well-intentioned people. We therefore would want to find out what the meaning of religion is.
WHAT THE WORD "RELIGION" MEANS
According to the Dictionary, what does religion mean? Webster’s Third International Dictionary gives this information, on page 1918:
“Religion — prob. Fr. religare, to tie back, the personal commitment to and serving of God or a god with worshipful devotion, conduct in accord with divine commands especially as found in accepted sacred writings or declared by authoritative teachers, a way of life recognized as incumbent on true believers, and typically the relating of oneself to an organized body of believers.”
That is the meaning of religion given by man: serving of God, conduct in accord with divine commands especially as found in accepted sacred writings. Is this definition in conformity with the presentation of the Bible? Deuteronomy 10:12 says:
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord Your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (RSV)
That is how the Bible presents the meaning of religion: “To serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” How should we properly serve God with all our heart and with our soul? Verse 13 gives this specific instruction:
“And to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good?” (RSV)
God is properly served if His commandments and statutes are kept and observed. That is the true religion as defined and presented by the Bible. Such kind of religion is for our good, says God decidedly.
NOT ENOUGH TO KNOW GOD
Does a man possess true religion if he remains content with simply knowing God? Does not the Bible distinguish the true and false religion? This is answered in I John 2:3, 4:
“And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says ‘ I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (RSV)
That is how the Bible distinguishes the true and false religion. It is not enough to know God only so as to be in the true religion. He who claims to know God must obey His commandments. He who says he knows God but disobeys His commandments is a liar; he is not in the true religion. It is incumbent on us all to obey the commandments of God.
RULE FOR OBSERVANCE
Is there a rule laid down by God for the observance of His commandments? God says in Deuteronomy 12:32:
“Everything that I command you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it.” (RSV)
That is the rule prescribed by God for the observance of His commands. No one is allowed to obey God’s command in his own way. God’s way is that we should do what God commanded, and He prohibits us from adding to His commands nor taking away from them. That is why god instructs us to be careful in observing His commandments.
Is there danger in tampering with the commandments of God? Would it be for our good of we add to or take away from God’s commandments? Will it not endanger our hope of salvation? Revelation 22:18-19 reveals this truth:
“I warn everybody who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (RSV, emphasis mine)
That is the grim warning of God. He wants to make us all know that we should have strict compliance with His commandments. Any one who dares add to or take away from God’s commands or statutes will not be save; he has no share in the tree of life and in the holy city, not saved so to speak. Religion of such category is useless.
If God is worshipped on the basis of precepts or doctrines that are man—made, would such worship be accepted by God? In Matthew 15:9, our Lord Jesus invoked an old ruling of God:
“IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, teaching as doctrines the precepts of man.” The religion becomes much worse that is founded on precepts of man.” (RSV, emphasis mine)
This gives us a clear view of the many religions on earth. It is know wonder if religions proliferate because man conceive of so many precept. God makes vain such kind of worship because pure religion is to serve God on the basis of His commandments.
BEGINNING OF PURE RELIGION
Since when has religion begun and the giving of statutes for one who should serve? God’s religion so to speak? In Genesis 2:16-17, it is stated:
“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (RSV)
Whose mandate is this? It is God’s command to the first man, Adam, whom God placed in the garden of Eden. God’s religion began with the first man. The statute was very simple, and it serves as a guide for the conduct of his peaceful life and his proper relationship with God. His obedience and loyalty meant the preservation of his life, but violation of prohibition from God would spell his doom. Adam then and his wife were awakened to a pure religion.
CALAMITOUS END OF DECEPTION
Did the first couple reverent respect to God’s commandment? Genesis 3:1-6 gives this account:
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’? And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die,’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that is was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.’” (RSV)
Adam and Eve violated Gods command; they did not pay reverend respect to God’s statue which was meant to preserve they life and maintain their peaceful relationship with God. Why did they transgress God’s commandments? What caused their fall? Verse 3:13 tells us:
“Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘the serpent beguiled me, and I ate.’” (RSV)
What caused the fall of man from the grace of God? As Eve declared, she was beguiled by the serpent, together with her husband Adam. What moral lesson is projected in this incident? Satan is aware of God’s religion which makes man pattern his life after the statues of God, so Satan also established his religion aimed to dislodge man from his trust in God’s law. We notice then that man was deceived because he turned his ears to a voice foreign to that of his creator.
Was the violation by the first couple for their own good? What have they earned for turning their back against the commandments of God? How was their life affected? In Verse 17 of the same chapter, it is pointed out:
“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” (RSV)
What was pronounced upon the life of man after transgressing God’s command? A curse was pronounced against the ground because of man. He has forfeited that life of ease and comfort, and he has to toil all the days of his life. What do we notice from this account of the Scripture? The curse upon man’s life which adversely affected his livelihood began with transgression.
Was it only the physical suffering that was pronounced upon the life of man after transgression? Verse 19 of the same chapter tells us:
“ In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (RSV)
Man’s transgression has consigned him to the dust, that is, he will cease to live undisturbed; he will go the level and category of a lifeless dust. In order to give reality to all this curse upon the life of man what has gone to the first couple? Did they remain in the garden to Eden under the direct administration of God? In verse 23-24 of the same chapter, this sad account is stated:
“Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (RSV)
That is the tragic end of transgression. The first couple fell from the grace of God; the peaceful relationship between God and man was disrupted, and man has forfeited his right to an unending life. He is stripped of that right to deify God. He turned away from the true religion. He his no longer of God because he rejected the word of God.
Why is man no longer of God if the word of God is rejected? God’s answer is:
“ For rebellion is as the sin of the divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.” (I Sam. 15:23, emphasis mine)
God says if we reject His word we will also be rejected by Him. So in our study of the history of religion instituted by God since the days of Adam, we learn that by his rejection of word or statute of God he was rejected by God, deprived of the right to deify God, abandoned by God in order to suffer the consequences of his rebellion.
WORLD SUFFERING FROM THE EFFECT OF TRANSGRESSION
Why is it that up to the present time the world is suffering from and experiencing the curse upon the sinner? The Bible’s answer is:
“As it is written: “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, none seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12, RSV)
Why is the world, the whole of the human race, suffering from the effect of the curse upon the sinner? So many noble-intentioned people have tried to solve the disturbing situation of mankind, sufferings in various aspects, but the world continues to groan. But the word of God is definitive in its exposition: “All have turned aside, from God. Why? You may ask. Was it not Adam alone who sinned against God? The Bible’s answer is: “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, RSV)
All have sinned against God, according to the testimony of the Bible. Does it mean that all have committed what Adam had done in the garden of Eden? No. All have learned to ignore and defy the will of God. What then does this truth signify? It only means that all, having turned aside from God, are in false religions. Accordingly what has befallen the whole world? In the same chapter, verse 19, the book of God says:
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” (RSV, emphasis mine)
The whole world is held accountable to God. No rationalization can belie this pronouncement of God. The Bible says all have gone wrong in the sight of God. Why does the Bible say the whole world is held accountable to God? What shall be done to the world? As a fitting end for all falsehood and iniquity, the Bible says:
“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.” (II Pet. 3:7 and 10, RSV)
That is God’s pronouncement against the whole world. As programmed by God, it is being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men. That is the word of God. The whole world is adjudged by God: “All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong.”
In such situation will God listen to man? Does He allow men under His curse to deify Him? God says in Proverbs 1:28:
“Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.” (RSV)
God refuses to be deified by those who are under His curse. The stubborn fact is that they have to be made accountable to God because all have gone wrong in His sight, all have sinned.
If the whole world is rejected by God because it has turned away from His commandments and statutes, who, according to the Bible, is blessed? In Psalms 112:1, 6, it is pointed out:
“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever.” (RSV, emphasis mine)
The man who fears the Lord, who delights in His commandments, is blessed. He will be remembered by God for ever, not only in times of distress, but on the day of judgment, for this man is within the true religion.