A Biblical Theology of Name (Part 2)

naming-prozessIn a perfect world, whatever God called a thing that is what it became. We do not, however, live in a perfect world. In our world all of creation rebels against the authority of the Creator. Once sin entered the world everything was corrupted and many things were undone. This is true even of the concept of name. The Fall renamed us apart from God.

The story of the Fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden is a familiar one. We know all too well of the sin and rebellion of Adam and Eve, how they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God had forbidden. But at the heart of their fall was an attempt to reject the identity God had given them and carve out one of their own making. This is where all temptation starts, claims Russell Moore. He writes:

When the Bible reveals the ancestral fall of the human race, it opens with a question of identity. The woman in the Genesis narrative was approached by a mysterious serpent, a “beast of the field” that was “more crafty” than any of the others (Gen. 3:1). And that’s just the point. The woman, Eve, and her husband were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were living signs of God’s dominion over everything except god and one another. This dominion was exhaustive, right down to “every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).

But here she was being interrogated by a “beast of the field” that questioned God’s commands and prerogatives. Without even a word, the serpent led the woman to act as though he had dominion over her instead of the other way around. He persuaded her to see herself as an animal instead of as what she had been told she was – the image-bearing queen of the universe, a principality and power over the beasts. (Tempted and Tried, 29)

The initial temptation, the very first one, had to do with identity, with name. Who are you? Satan asks, and he doesn’t just diminish the value of Eve by getting her to submit to an animal. He does even more by tempting her to define herself as goddess. He subtly suggests that God is keeping her from being more than she is, holding her back from attaining a true divinity. Moore continues:

At the same time the serpent was treating his queen as a fellow animal, he also subtly led her to see herself as more than an empress – as a goddess. He auditioned her for her role as deity b leading her to act like a god, distinguishing autonomously between good and evil, deciding when she and her fellow were ready for maturity, evaluating the claims of God himself. The snake prompted her to eat the fruit of the tree God had forbidden to her. the tree somehow carried within it the power to awaken the conscience to “the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). The serpent walked the woman along to where she could see herself as if she were the ultimate cosmic judge, free from the scrutiny of her Creator’s holiness. At the very beginning of the human story was a question: who are you? (29)

Satan was attempting to redefine Adam and Eve, to rename them.

God had already established who they were. He had named them. He had even called them His “image-bearers.” God had established that they would be “like” Him. Satan redefines even what it means to “be like God.” At question in this temptation is the issue of name. Adam and Eve were named by God, defined, ruled, and governed by His good will and His personal relationship. Satan offered them the opportunity to define themselves, to name themselves. He offered them autonomy. But, in the words of Peter Hubbard, “Satan’s promise of a superhuman identity dehumanized mankind” (Love Into Light, 86). Their Fall, and the consequent fall of all mankind, renamed mankind apart from personal relationship with their creator. They were less than God had intended them to be.

At one level this is what sin is always fundamentally about: an attempt to define ourselves apart from God. It is a pursuit of autonomous identity, renaming ourselves as we see fit. All sin is about identity. Temptation is an offers us the hope of an autonomous identity, but it can never deliver. It promises us a new name, but in reality it is not a name we want. The same thing is happening when Satan tempts Jesus. We find our Lord in the wilderness and Satan’s attack begins with these words, “If you are the Son of God” (Matt. 4:3). The question Satan asks is the same: who are you? Knowing our true identity is crucial for fighting sin and temptation. A Biblical theology of name, then, stresses the importance of identity. It asks of us the same question: who are you? The answer is of the utmost importance, friends. The Fall renamed us apart from God, but there is hope in Him that our true identity might be restored. Who are you? To whom do you look for identity? What’s your name?

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