WHAT WAS THE EARLIEST RELIGION CALLED?
This topic has been mentioned to me more than once in the last couple of weeks. It is an interesting line of questioning, would you not agree?
If we want to obtain reliable information on such a matter, then we need to search the Scriptures. Before the flood of Noah’s day, in what deity did the earth’s earliest inhabitants believe? In what kind of worship did they engage? What message did they follow as a guide for their conduct? What about after the great flood came to an end? Let us turn our attention to the early chapters of the Book of Genesis to learn what the Lord tells us about that period of time. At the same time, we will also find it helpful to look at additional information that is found in other Bible passages.
Would it not be natural to start with the first two human beings, Adam and Eve? The Creator of the universe, identified in Genesis 1-3 as “God” and “the LORD God,” made both of them in His image (Genesis 1:26,27). He communicated with them. He expressed His desire for them to have dominion over the animal kingdom and to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:27,28). He forbid them to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, while He allowed them to eat of every other tree in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16,17). When God gave these instructions about food, the Bible says that He “commanded” such (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Eve were living under the law of the God of heaven. When they disobeyed God’s instructions, they were involved in “transgression” of His will (1 Timothy 2:14; 1 John 3:4). The bottom line: Adam and Eve knew of only one God. He is the One Whom they served, and it was from Him that their guidelines for living came.
What about Adam and Eve’s children? Cain and Abel worshipped “the LORD” by bringing an offering to Him (Genesis 4:3,4). The Bible says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain . . .” (Hebrews 11:4). Note three relevant truths that we learn from this verse. First, Abel (and Cain) worshipped God, the same God that created their father and mother and whom their parents served. Second, Abel’s sacrifice was counted as “more excellent.” That indicates that there was some standard that determined what was acceptable and what was not. God was the standard setter. His will determined what was acceptable, and what was not. Third, since Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith, and since it is the case that faith comes by hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17), then it must be the case that God had revealed to Abel (either directly or indirectly by giving instructions to Adam, Cain, or others, who in turn passed it on to him) how He wanted him to worship Him. Do not miss these points: the first family in mankind’s history believed in, received instructions from, served, and worshipped the one, true God of heaven. No official “religion” tag is placed on their beliefs or actions. It is plain, though, that in the earliest period of man’s history, no man-made religion had yetcome on the scene. Do not miss that point.
In Genesis 5 we are introduced to Enoch, a man that “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22). Like Abel before him, Enoch is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as one that lived “by faith,” the Bible saying that “he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:4). Again, the fact that he pleased God indicates that there was some standard that determined what was right and wrong. In addition, Enoch helped spread God’s message to mankind. We reach that conclusion when we read that “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied . . .” (Jude 14). So, Enoch walked with God, pleased God, and spoke (as a prophet) on behalf of God. Which God would that be? The Creator – the same God that Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and others served. He is the only true God (Isaiah 44:6), and the only acceptable way of serving Him was, and is, made known to humans only through communication from Him.
What about Noah? He, too, walked with God (Genesis 6:9). He “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (6:8). Where did Noah get the idea to build a huge boat-like structure? “. . . God said to Noah . . . Make yourself an ark . . .” (6:13,14). That is just what he did, “according to all that God commanded him, so he did” 6:22). Yes, he built that ark “by faith” (Hebrews 11:7), meaning that he responded with submission to God’s instruction. Then, after the flood concluded, what do we find Noah doing? The first-recorded action that he took after leaving the ark – what was it? “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD . . . and offered burn offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). Let us summarize. Noah received instruction from the God of heaven. He believed in and obeyed the God of heaven. He served the God of heaven, and he served as a preacher of righteousness for Him (2 Peter 2:5). No official religious name was given to what Noah did, but in his life he served, worshipped, and told others about the great Creator of the universe.
To my knowledge, the first time that the Bible mentions humans worshipping “other gods” came in the days of Abraham’s father, Terah. Hear the message of Joshua 24:2: “And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times, and they served other gods.’” How interesting that “the father of all those that believe” (Abraham, Romans 4:11) came from an idolatrous background.
Yes, in the course of time, humans, by their own imagination and foolishness, began to serve other “gods,” making up their own rules about proper living and proper worship. They went from truth to falsehood (Romans 1:22-24). In the beginning, though, it was not so. In the beginning, it was service to the God of heaven, and no other. Do not forget: the God Whom Christians serve is the very God that created the world and Whom the earliest humans served (Hebrews 1:1,2).
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.