I have been slowly making my way through Dr. Robert Gonzales’ excellent book Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives. So far I have really been enjoying it. In fact, I’ve had a hard time putting it down. It is well written and insightful, and it interacts with a broad spectrum of other scholarly works. It is also filled with rich footnotes, which are informative and helpful in further study. (You do know that you haven’t read a book without reading all the footnotes, don’t you? OK, so I am obsessive-compulsive about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true!)
I am already certain that this book will become a standard reference for me when studying Genesis. But it isn’t just another work on Genesis. And what makes it unique isn’t just that it is written from a solidly Reformed Baptist perspective. Rather it is Gonzales’ treatment of the book of Genesis from a standpoint often overlooked. He laments the way in which the patriarchs are often viewed through rose colored glasses to the point where the important themes of the spread of sin and the curse are missed in much of the Genesis account. He sees this as being due in part to the way scholars often wrongly divide the primeval and patriarchal histories along the lines of a “sin versus grace dichotomy” (p. 3ff). He observes concerning this false dichotomy:
In primeval history, the narrator focuses upon the origin and spread of sin, as well as God’s consequent curse and judgment on humanity. Although God’s blessing begins the narrative (1-2) and his grace surfaces from time to time after the fall, the main emphasis of primeval history is on sin and the curse. In patriarchal history, however, the spread of sin theme falls off the radar of most scholars. Here, it is generally argued, the narrator shifts the emphasis to God’s promise of blessing in the lives of his chosen people, the family of Abraham. (p.3)
Gonzales goes on to assert that, “As a result of this tendency to contrast the primary theme(s) of primeval narrative with patriarchal narrative, the spread of sin motif fails to receive adequate treatment in Genesis 12-50” (p.4). He also gives a description of what he terms “the Plaster-Saint Syndrome”:
Another factor that sometimes blinds scholars to the spread of sin theme in the patriarchal narrative is an inordinate emphasis on or exaggeration of the piety of the patriarchs. Of course, the patriarchal narratives as well as the rest of Scripture bear witness to the exemplary faith and obedience of these saints. Yet Jewish and Christian exegetes have sometimes stressed patriarchal piety to the point of minimizing or excusing the patriarch’s faults.
I must admit that this has been a tendency that I have seen as well, not only in Bible scholars and commentators, but also on a popular level. In fact, I have found myself repeatedly reminding my own congregation that, as we read these narratives, we must never forget who the real hero of the story is. It is not Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Joseph. It is God! And we will not see this as clearly as we ought unless we are willing to see these men as clearly as we ought. And none of these men, by the way, would ever have wanted us to come away thinking he was the hero of the story anyway.
I am thankful for Gonzales’ reminder of this important fact, and, as I have already noted, I am certain that his book will be on my short list of volumes for the study of Genesis. I have scanned through much of the book already, and now I am thoroughly reading through it very slowly, taking the time to soak in as much as I can (still only in part two!), but I have been very impressed. I recommend the book to all, even if it is just to balance out the rest of the works on your shelves, which is important in and of itself.
You may also want to check out these positive reviews.