What form of religion was known to ancient cave dwellers?

The Judeo-Christian story of Genesis states that human beings were specifically created by God for a purpose. Modern Christians interpret this story in different ways. Does Genesis mean literal creation at a moment in (recent) time rather than a gradual process of evolution?  Does the divine plan of redemption and salvation include all humans, in all regions of the world, at all periods of history? What did primitive religion look like, and how would it have been revealed?


The Believer’s Dilemma interviewed theologians, priests, ministers and pastors from six major Christian denominations who offered the following views on ancient peoples and their religions.


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Paul Allen - Catholic

The Christian belief in the communion of saints is not entirely divorced from ancestor worship, in a very nuanced sense.  Heaven is a place where everyone is in communion. Human spirituality from its very earliest form grasped onto the insight that after death one does not cease to exist.  It is not my specialty, but the cave paintings of Lascaux also elevate the lives of animals as well. The paintings of the deer and stags on caves walls suggest animism and ancestor worship. The catechism says ‘Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him.’ Some people have even gone so far as to say that people who respond to God’s grace who are outside the Christian tradition can be called ‘anonymous Christians.’    


John Simons - Anglican

The Bible only takes us back to the dawn of written history. If you look at texts available to us from the past, I think they shed light on what ancient human beings were thinking. They were conscious of deity or deities. The Book of Genesis describes a direct relationship between humans and God. Those early stories in Genesis are not historical records. I don’t think anybody intended them to be read as mere ‘history’.  But they are stories that say something true about our human quest to understand God and our rebellion against God. I couldn’t speculate what ancient peoples believed before they recorded their thoughts in writing. 


Dale Woods - Presbyterian

Frankly, I have no idea!  I don’t think it is anti-Christian to think of evolution and creation at the same time. Those are not polar opposites.  Anyone who takes Genesis as a scientific history book is going to have a lot of difficulties. It is a story that describes a man and a woman in a way meant to inform our way of seeing the world.  There is a lot of good in life.  Where does it come from?  It is a gift from God the creator.  There are also many problems in life.  How did that happen? We make some bad choices that got us into trouble then and still get us into trouble now.    


Brian Talbot - Baptist

First of all, cavemen did not evolve over millions of years from apes. There were no cavemen before the creation of Adam and Eve. The Fall caused regression in the human race. Some tribes became quite primitive and lived in caves. The Fall of mankind corrupted our nature but did not erase our memory of the true God. The entire Pagan world was polytheistic. It reduced God to little idols of wood, stone and metal. That false representation of God is what the Jewish prophets and Christians Apostles condemned. Adam and Eve knew God intimately, but turned away and they were driven out of the garden and certainly lost that intimate relationship with God. The generations after Adam and Eve lost what it means to have an intimate relationship with God and to know who God is. There were some bright spots like Enoch, who walked with god, and Noah, who was righteous and obedient, but it appears that the rest of the world knew nothing about the one true God.  Through Abraham, Moses, and the Old Testament prophets, God slowly, progressively revealed himself to a lost world.


Jordan Wood - Pentecostal

The Bible states in the book of Romans that man has been given the knowledge of God through general revelation and as a result of the sinful nature, chosen to worship creation rather than the creator. I believe this lead to the worship of the sun, moon and other astronomical bodies, as well as the worship of animals as deity etc. The human kind is inherently a religious being. We are worshippers.  The question is, do we worship creation or do we worship the Creator?

Some claim that ancient civilizations developed before 10,000 BC but historically, we see them emerging closer to 4,000 BC. This is in line with what the Bible reveals for that period. I do not believe any human kind existed before Adam and Eve. Adam may have passed his knowledge down to people like Noah, whose father was Lamech because Adam was still alive for the first years of Lamech’s life.  It was indeed possible for all of mankind to hear of Adam’s experiences as well as hear about the promise of a Saviour who would arise through the seed of the woman.  


Wendy MacLean – United Church of Canada

Ancient societies often believed in an Earth Mother and a Sky God.  The Church hated the idea of a living relationship between heaven and earth.  The Canaanites and other ancient peoples worshipped their gods in the High Places. They had female deities. The mother Goddess embodied fertility and birth.  Those ancient people had a strong relationship with the divine. They recognized “mana” or a transcendent power, which they imagined in many ways. God’s spirit permeates all of creation.  There are many ways of accessing holiness. Does that sound terribly Pagan? It is earthy. It is more like reverence. It is prayer. Any woman going to fetch water early in the morning when it was dark would have said some kind of prayer or incantation to keep her safe. When she had a sick child, she would call out for help and healing. Is that anti-Christian?  Of course not. It is a human desire to have a relationship with a power beyond yourself.   When we honour our relationship with creation, we are acting more like the way God created us, not less.



These six answers represent the complete range of Christian beliefs concerning creation and divine revelation. Brian Talbot (Baptist) and Jordan Wood (Pentecostal) believe ‘there were no cavemen before the creation of Adam and Eve’ and that the Biblical date of creation is close to 4,000 BC.  Jordan Wood (Pentecostal) believes that historical Adam could have ‘passed his knowledge down to people like Noah, whose father was Lamech because Adam was still alive for the first years of Lamech’s life.’  The connection between the creation of human kind and divine revelations concerning sin and salvation is so direct that ‘it was indeed possible for all of mankind to hear of Adam’s experiences as well as hear about the promise of a Saviour who would arise through the seed of the woman’.  


Historical evidence of cave dwellers is attributed to ‘the Fall’ in Eden and regression of the human race.   As we saw earlier in the questions concerning evil, and as we will see later in the questions concerning salvation, the Augustinian Gospel of Wrath is constructed on the cornerstone of Original Sin.  Prior to the rebellion of Adam and Eve, humans were perfect, sinless creatures who enjoyed a clearly revealed, direct relationship with their Creator.  The condemnation of the entire fallen race was both necessary and just.  Augustine taught that ‘Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life’. The happy corollary, at least for Christians, was that children could be baptized into the kingdom of heaven and receive the blessings of eternal life. Augustine’s Gospel of Wrath was not so happy for unbaptized pagans.  However the divine justice of condemning sin could not be disputed, nor could the sinfulness of unregenerate human nature, therefore it was quite possible that the absence of all hope of salvation for pagans was not a failure of grace, but part of the predestined divine plan of salvation for the elect, and judgement for the depraved.


Paul Allen (Catholic), Dale Woods (Presbyterian), John Simons (Anglican), and Wendy McLean (United Church) disagree with Augustine, Luther and Calvin that all sin and condemnation can be traced back to the literal, historical Original Sin in Eden.  The modern Gospel of Anti-Wrath introduces a number of complexities to Christian theology.


1) Creation and revelation are decoupled. 

Dale Woods (Presbyterian) does not regard it as ‘anti-Christian to think of evolution and creation at the same time.’  Allen, Woods, Simons and McLean all agree that revealed religion (i.e. Judeo-Christian scripture) is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Old Testament was complete with the prophet Malachi around 400 BC. The New Testament was written between approximately 40 AD and 100 AD.  Allen, Woods, Simons and McLean also agree that creation of the human species preceded revealed religion by tens of thousands if not millions of years.  How did God reveal to ancient people the nature of sin and the divine plan of salvation?  How would all humans, in all regions of the world, at all periods of history have received the same revelation and the same opportunity for salvation?



2)  Sin is not the universal cause of divine wrath

The Gospel of Anti-Wrath rejects the Augustinian belief that all humans are sinners who will suffer eternal condemnation unless they are saved by divine grace. Paul Allen (Catholic) notes that ‘some people have even gone so far as to say that people who respond to God’s grace ... outside the Christian tradition can be called ‘anonymous Christians’.’   Paul Allen also noted that this passive, indirect form of Christianity would be problematic for Christians and non-Christians alike by producing an uneven playing field (for salvation) and by ‘drafting’ players who had no interest in the Christian ‘game’.


Wendy McLean (United Church) believes ‘there are many ways of accessing holiness’ although she recognizes that this undefined broadness sounds Pagan, or at least refuses to excluded Pagans and non-Christians from a relationship with God. John Simons (Anglican) admits that he ‘couldn’t speculate what ancient peoples believed before they recorded their thoughts in writing’. No formal religion necessarily existed in pre-historic societies.   


3)  Salvation not dependant on a Saviour

The Gospel of Wrath establishes a direct correlation between sin, which is universal and has damaged the collective human will, and salvation, which requires a Saviour to suffer infinite punishment in the place of depraved humans, and then extend unmerited grace to the elect.  The contemporary Gospel of Anti-Wrath rejects the doctrine of Original Sin in its Augustinian form: literal, historical and inherited. However, the problem of sin remains central to Judeo-Christian theology. How can non-Christians be saved if they have no knowledge of Jesus the Saviour?   How can sin be conquered without the supernatural intervention of a Saviour?   


The enduring power of the Gospel of Wrath is its simplicity.  Creation and revelation were both complete in the Garden of Eden. The rest of history is about degeneration for the lost and redemption for the elect.     


The Gospel of Anti-Wrath is far more complex in time, space and theology. Different people in different times and places had different relationships to God. The Gospel of Anti-Wrath has no theological glue to connect its ideas: it provides no consistent, coherent relationship between Creator and creatures.  The Gospel of Anti-Wrath encourages people to obey the Golden Rule in the here and now, but there is nothing in this belief system that is specifically Christian or even inherently religious.  Agnostics and atheists can live moral, ethical lives.  As we will see in the questions concerning salvation and the eternal state, many mainline Christians hold beliefs so abstract and vague that they are indistinguishable from non-belief.


The Gospel of Love offers a different perspective. Creation and revelation do not have to be simultaneous.  There is no theological problem with evolution occurring over thousands or millions of years because the problem that faces human kind is not Original Sin, inherited from Eden, but personal sin which continues to cause pain and suffering.  The only necessary revelation is that there is a difference between good and evil and that we are endowed with the freedom of will to choose between the two. Even the most ancient tribes could have had this much religion.


The Gospel of Wrath anchors its theology in the past at the ‘Fall’ of Adam and Eve. The rest of its theology is built on this foundation of Original Sin.


The Gospel of Love anchors its theology future at the 1,000 year resurrection of the human race. This will be the time and place at which complete divine revelation will be available to all, and damage will healed.  All people who ever lived will fully understand the difference between good and evil, and will be free to choose between the two. Only after the resurrection will eternal separation of righteous and unrighteous take place.   This fulfillment of the divine plan will become clearer as we work through the 15 questions.


Question seven examines whether laws and religion alone are sufficient for salvation. 


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