stumbling blocks for the people! As far as portraying God by a manmade image, this wasn’t even an option!
Ironically, the well intended attempt of the Hebrews to escape idolatry in the development of their Alphabet lead to the complete opposite. The letter became spiritless and void of life. The Old Testament word became an end in itself and a rigid legalism prevailed. The dynamic of relationship was replaced by ritual compliance and man became distant from God. By the time Saint Paul began writing, one of his major polemics was with the written word or law, which he saw as leading only to death. With Jesus, the spirit is rejoined to the word and it becomes a vehicle of life once again! God “has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” 2 Cor. 3:6. To fulfill this task, the disciples of Jesus were sent not to publish books but to preach the gospel story, which was not a new law but a communication of the Spirit! “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power,” 1 cor. 2:4-5. Just like Judaism before it the Church has gone down the same road of divorcing the spirit from the word and so today we have doctrine and theology whereby we argue over abstract concepts and separate ourselves from one another but we do not have spirit or Life, to unite us.
Closely related to the fact that words and language are dynamic and alive is the act of naming. Holman’s Bible Dictionary page 1007 says, “The biblical concept of naming was rooted in the ancient world’s understanding that a name expressed essence. To know the name of a person was to know that person’s total character and nature. Revealing character and destiny, personal names might express hopes for the child’s future.” Essence refers to the inward nature of a thing that lies beneath its outward form. Therefore, when Adam names animals, he is expressing his insight into their essence, or life force. Adam named each animal only after careful observation, by which he became familiar with the character of each creature. After such observation, he identified its essence by the name he gave it. In naming them, he is blessing them with a unique purpose based upon the character that he perceives in them! In naming the animals, he in essence is calling them to become what their name implies.
This has been carried over to naming humans, for example during the Eskimo naming ritual that occurs during the birthing process: An elderly woman will call out name after name until the child hears its name and then it will come out, “Native American Traditions”, Sam Gill. Pg 62. Indigenous peoples have carried on the act of naming for thousands of years because a name is not a mere label but the spirit or life force of the animal or human in question.
Biblical Name changing: The act of “Changing of name could occur at divine or human initiative, revealing a transformation in character or destiny,” Holman’s Bible Dictionary, pg. 1007.
1) In the bible whenever God renames a person he is redefining or changing that person’s destiny. For example God changes Abram to Abraham: Abram means exalted father whereas Abraham means father of many, Genesis 17:5.
2) After Jacob wrestles with God all night long, God said to him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome,” Genesis 32:28. Israel means, “he struggles with God.” Jacob said to God, “Please tell me your name,” then God blessed him, v. 28. Jacob experienced some aspect of God there so he named the place, Peniel, which means ”face of God.” Jacob said, “It is because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared,” v. 31.
3) In Matthew 16:17-18 Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter which means “rock,” because he confessed Jesus as the Son of God! His confession became the foundation upon which the Church is built!
4) In Revelation 2:17 is mentioned white stones, which have the names of God’s children written on them which are known only by God and the individual. ”He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” In many indigenous cultures people are named after animals, nature or parts of the landscape. Naming in the Bible was powerful. To know someone’s name was to know the person intimately and to share in the power or spirit of that person. This is why only God knows the name on the white stone! In indigenous cultures, people named after certain animals or parts of the landscape share in the power or spirit of that which they are named after.
Name of Jesus
In John 14:13-14 Jesus says; “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” With the coming of the Messiah, the name and character of God is made known to us: It is Jesus; the Lord saves, God with us from beginning to end, it is love, obedience, compassion and self-sacrifice! To know Jesus and use his name is to exercise the power of Jesus. The reason why “Some Jews [in Acts 19] who went around driving out evil spirits” failed when they “tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed” is that they did not know Jesus and therefore they used his name in vain. They used Jesus’ name like a label or mantra to perform magic. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." Acts 19:13-14. The problem was they didn’t know Jesus personally and therefore did not know his true name or essence! Most of us today have forgotten the names of one another, the animals, the rocks and trees and the landscape that surrounds us!
In addition to Adam naming the essence or soul of each animal we find a fascinating story in Genesis 3: Here we encounter a talking animal, a serpent speaking to the woman. What is significant is, the story has a matter of fact ring to it as if speaking animals was the norm and that the serpent was just craftier than any of the other wild beasts, v. 1. In other words what distinguished the serpent from the other “wild animals” was not that he spoke, but that he was “more crafty,” Genesis 3:1. This is the natural feeling one gets from reading the text. His craftiness consists of the fact that he contradicts what God has said and talks Eve into eating the forbidden fruit! He was kind a like a high-pressure salesman or telemarketer who skillfully works his way into Eve’s life taking God’s place by trickery and manipulation. What are the possible explanations for a talking serpent? Probably the most common are: 1) It was a literal snake that spoke after being possessed by Satan; 2) It is just an allegory, meaning Satan, a spiritual being who seduces Eve is being described as a serpent. 3) The snake was a literal talking animal (the animistic perspective). The context makes it sound like a literal talking serpent because after the temptation and fall God says to the serpent “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!” Genesis 3:14. In other words, God places him among the animal world! Also God, like Eve, talks to the serpent as a serpent not as Satan. If it had been a serpent through which Satan spoke, the curse may have been similar to the time when Jesus rebuked Satan who spoke through St. Peter. When Peter told Jesus he wouldn’t die and raise again, Jesus turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” Matthew 16:21-23.
For obvious reasons, the serpent became a symbol of evil and Satan. Both John the Baptist and Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers (Matt 3:7, 23:33), and Satan is referred to as a Serpent in Revelation 12:9 and 29:7.
One final word on animals speaking is from “The One Volume Bible Commentary” pg. 9, Editor J. R. Dummelow. This is what it says: “There can be no doubt that our author [of Genesis] intended to teach that an actual serpent was the tempter. … There was an animal nature in Eve to which the animal nature in an inferior animal could speak. We have been … led to think of the serpent as a mere agent of him that is called the Devil and Satan (Rev.12:9) but we shall miss something of the instructiveness of the narrative if we do not, in the first instance, take the simple view originally intended. St Paul … adhered to this view when he said, “The serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness,” 2 Cor. 11:3). The commentary then goes on to say, “An ancient Jewish legend represents all the animals as having had the gift of speech, and using one language, until the day when Adam was expelled from Eden.”
Since we didn’t live before sin and death was introduced into the world. We don’t know what paradise consisted of - but from the little we can learn from Genesis and Revelation we can say that everything is related or interconnected in God and that some form of harmonious communication takes place. Furthermore, the heaven the Bible speaks of will be on a renewed earth where right relationships exist between all creatures and God. The veil of ignorance that exists now will not be a factor in the new heavens and earth, Is. 11:6-9. From an animistic perspective, indigenous peoples since the beginning of time have listened to creation and have learned to live in harmony with it. The veil was not as much a factor with them as it is with us.