Friday, June 8, 2007

Genesis 1-3

This will probably not rock anyone's world or seem very scandalous except to those of a very conservative background, but....after careful prayer, research, and consideration...I don't think Genesis 1-3 should be taken literally. Most are looking at the computer screen in shock....that people even considered it to be true in this day and age. But I did. I thought that the text demanded to be read literally and anything else was dishonest. I think it's true, I just don't think it's literal. I think the point of the text is to establish God as Creator and man as sinful. As was brought to my attention by my friend Matt (a Duke Divinity student), the same truths can be gathered from the Exodus story (which I still take to be factual). God has providence and man turns away from Him. Here are a few of the reasons I don't think Gen. 1-3 is literal:

1. The Bible is a theological text, not a scientific text This seems obvious. Again, I doubt this will really scandalize too many people. But, for the last year or so I've become very uncomfortable with theology informing science. It just doesn't seem proper to me. The other side is that I'm not comfortable with science informing theology. To me, it just doesn't matter if yom is a literal, 24 hour day, or gazillions of years (yes, gazillions). The point is still that God is Creator and man is sinful. I get that no matter what kind of science you put into it. If you want to believe in a 6,000 year old earth, so on scientific reasons. If you want to believe in a gazillion year old earth, so on scientific reasons. I don't think God thought to Himself, "Well now, I'm going to teach them a bit about cosmology and origins in this little bit. How convenient."

2. This isn't history like most of the Pentateuch I believe in Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. I do not think the Wellhausen theory accounts for the evidence and there are really compelling arguments against his theory. That said, I'm not an expert on the Old Testament (or anything, for that matter), so I may one day change my mind if I find evidence that is compelling. Okay...on with my reason. When I read in Exodus about the exodus out of Egypt, that's a particular kind of history. That's history that was lived-out by the author (I also believe the exodus occured during the reign of Thutmoses IV, not Rameses....I'm a giant fundamentalist, I know). But, the account of Adam and Eve isn't the same kind of history. Even if God gave the words of Genesis to Moses, it's not the same as when Moses himself lived it out. And that leads me to my next point:

3. It doesn't have to be literal to be true Yet another "duh" for most of my readers, but...remind yourself, I just started this Biblical studies bit about 3 years ago. At any rate, I agree with Aquinas, Calvin, etc when they say that God has to talk down to us. God has to use stories, parables, and all that other jazz to get ideas across that are beyond our capabilities. Was Jesus really a door? A light? A vine? Can you imagine the art that would've come out of Europe if people interpreted those sayings literally? I'll grant you that those are different from Genesis 1-3 in a sense, but my point is: If you believe Jesus is God and has always been God, then who's to say His perpensity to use parables began with His earthly life?

So, here's what I believe: God is Creator, He created the world from nothing, He created the creatures that live on the earth, He created man, man turned away from God. I'm not a scientist, so I don't know if the earth is literally 6,000 years old, created in literal 24 hour days. It doesn't really concern me. In fact, I think if you read Genesis 1-3 and the first thing you do is go out and research origins and cosmology and everything've missed the point.


Patrick George McCullough said...

Shoot. Does this mean I should cancel my donation check to the fancy new Creation Museum? ;)

Seriously, this issue was for me the source of my immediate conversion out of fundamentalism as a first year student Bible major in college. The idea that you don't have to believe evolution is the devil to be a Christian was the open door in heaven, with a voice inviting me into a new revelatory vision (don't mind me, I just finished a paper on Revelation 4 the other day). My hermeneutical outlook was revolutionized almost instantaneously in my Intro to Bible class.

I don't think many bibliobloggers would be surprised that people would question this (perhaps surprised that you were still debating the issue--learned, open-minded aspiring scholar that you are). I certainly think it is an important issue to address. I think the issue for scholars or wannabe scholars like us is the ability to communicate to the average person in the pew.

I still remember my friends in college debating about the different scientific theories: day-age and whatever else. I just couldn't find the words to say: You're missing the point!! Genesis... isn't... science! Leave science to the scientists. Dragging the Bible into science messes with the message of the Bible.

All of that to say: Amen.

Josh McManaway said...

Thanks, Pat! I've been dealing with this for about a year. And you're right, there's something very liberating about disconnecting scientific ideas from hermeneutics.

Alex said...

Hi Josh,

I'm enjoying reading your blog. I do think it is an overgeneralization to say the entirety Gen. 1-3 is either literal or figurative. It's possible that back then, as in today's oral conversations and narratives that language can be used to both literally and figuratively to get across a point. On a verse by verse basis, I think it's easier to say that x is literal and y is figurative. But to say that a whole passage is using one style of rhetoric instead of flavoring its history-telling with figurative devices is to over-simplify the matter.

Also, remember the first question should always be, "How did the Israelites themselves interpret the text?" since they are the best position to understand authorial intent, though the text is so ancient, there is maybe no one that can get much of a grasp on authorial intent. For us, we're particularly interested in how Paul would have done so. Only once we understand how those closest interpret the event can we then make decisions on how we should.

Regarding your first point, I tend to see the Bible as a history text rather than as primarily theological or scientific. To say it's one or the other, while important in some contexts, creates an uneccesary distinction when another genre is available. It is only a theological text in as much as it records the history of a people who felt as though they interacted with the one true God. It is the history of God with man. It is the history of of Emmanuel you might say.

You make a solid point about eyewitness history and Bauckham speaks to this in his new book. See his interview at Christianity today.

Thanks again and check out my blog sometime if you're interested.

Brian Fulthorp said...

I see the Bible as theological history.

One commenter asked "How did the Israelites themselves interpret the text?" I would change it to "How did Moses and the Israelites interpret history and the oral tradition?"

Are you familiar with the term "mytho-poetic" language - that is what I see in Genesis 1-2 and the account of the Red Sea crossing, Jericho, David killing thousands upon ten thousands, etc -the authors of these events use heavily poetic language to convey their interpretation of historical events. The events are certainly historical - though perhaps they may not have occured exactly as is recorded since the event is being interpreted theologically.

Even in the Chronicles various "historical" events are presented in ideal and theological terms - the Chronicler was presenting an idealistic kingship and proper mode of worship (what to do and what not to do) to a post-exilic wondering if God still loved them community - he was encouraging them to follow in the ways of King David and to establish a proper means of worship in order to recapture the blessings of God. (Kings was a critique of a sinful community explaining why they were sent into exile (note in Kings David is presented negatively in terms of his adultry and warfare (which is why he could not build the temple)) whereas in the Chronicles he is presented in a positive light to a broken post-exilic commuinity.

All that to say I see the OT and even much of the NT as more presentation of history interpreted theologically - even in the Gospels, the life of Christ is interpreted through a certain theological hermenutic - it is not necessarily a literal biography of the Life of Christ - for example John wrote so people would believe the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth so he presents Jesus' life accordingly.

What say you?

Josh McManaway said...

Alex- Thanks for stopping by. I disagree with the first question being, "How did the Israelites themselves interpret the text?" I think it's important to see how the church today interprets it within the body. There are things in the Old Testament that we understand by viewing it through the lense of Christ that the Old Testament Jews (rightly)would not have understood.

And I suppose my point is that it's more important what the text teaches us about God than anything else. It may very well be literal through and through, I'm willing to admit that is a possibility...but I'm not a scientist and I don't feel qualified to put my two cents in on the matter. So, I say that from this text I gather that God is creator, etc.

And yeah, some of the Bible is history, but what of Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, etc? They were certainly written in historical contexts, but they aren't historical texts in and of themselves. Also, recording history is partially interpretation on the part of those writing. And I'd say there are definitely theological interpretations at work here (doesn't make them untrue).

I will most definitely check out your blog!


Brian, thanks for stopping by. I definitely agree with you on a lot of things. I think there is theological interpretation going on here. That doesn't make it untrue. It makes the Biblical authors humans who were interpreting events, guided by the Holy Spirit.

I am, however, cautious to say that there is a great deal of theological dressing up in the stories. I believe, for example, in the Exodus that God really did do all those things. I don't think that natural things occured and the Isralites then ascribed those events to God. I believe it's probably very accurate concerning what happened there.

I think the Genesis account is really unique in that it wasn't viewed by anyone except God (up until the creation of Adam), and the point of the story isn't to inform your beliefs on origins and such, it's to show God in a specific way. The Exodus, on the other hand, is lived-out history, written down by people who went through the event. There are theological implications to the story, but I think it's factual.

Alex said...

Hey Josh,

I see where you are coming from. I even agree with you that a lot of the Old Testament is figurative. Not think this way is to miss out on the character of what the Bible really is.

I agree with that at this point, our interpretation is most important for us as a church. But our interpretation shouldn't be made until we have wrestled with the closest interpreters, i.e. the gospels in the case of interpreting Jesus for example. We've got to understand how they understood Jesus before we can understand Jesus since that is where we get our information about him from.

I definitely want to recommend N.T. Wright's Christian Origins series to you at this point because for him, the only way to understand Jesus is to understand how 1st century Jews would've interpreted the Old Testament. For E.P. Sanders, the only way to get at what Paul was up to was to determine how 1st century Jews really interpreted the law of Moses.

You bring up an interesting point about Psalms, Proverbs, etc. Let me give you an example from American history. I didn't read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in an English class, I learned about it in a history class. Why? Because the spirit of the times is in the literature of a people. There is no better way to understand the mindset of 2nd temple Judaism than to read Maccabees for example. The same can be said of the Psalms which, at face value, seem to be non-historical literature. Literature is never disconnected from history. It is history without even realizing it is history. In some cases that's the best kind of history.

And I agree with you that the history of the Jewish people is saturated with theological interpretations. As Bauckham points out, that in some cases at least, makes it better. He wonders in the interview with CT how good our history of the holocaust would be if all we had were objective accounts of it, without the stories of those who actually went through it and suffered.

By the way, you are living out my dream. I am an accountant who got fascinated with Biblical studies to late. :)

Jeff said...

I think if you read Genesis 1-3 and the first thing you do is go out and research origins and cosmology and everything've missed the point.

I am glad you qualified the above with "the first thing."

All of the text is important, therefore there is a reason we have "evening and morning, day 1", etc. So, when doing biblical studies, it is certainly appropriate to find out what day means. What evening and morning mean...should we take them as we read them, or should be combine the sciences with the text, or should the text be discounted in light of science.

You stated "I've become very uncomfortable with theology informing science."

From my perspective, when one get to this point, I (and in my opinion) would say that person is headed down the wrong path.

The statement above has to do with epistemological issues and is my epistemology going to be drivin by the all knower (I'm I going to think God's thoughts after him on these matters) or am I going to let the science of the day dictate to me what my understand is of God and his work.

Once one starts down that road, it can only lead to trouble.

If the sciences become the way that I understand certain texts, why should we stop at Gen. 1-3?

Josh McManaway said...

Hi Jeff!

A bit about your comment:should we take them as we read them, or should be combine the sciences with the text, or should the text be discounted in light of science.

Yes, no, no. We should take the text as the text. Should science inform theology? No. The whole point, I suppose, of my little post is that the two are separate. Genesis 1-3 isn't a science text, it's not meant to inform our scientific beliefs. I don't know one way or the other if the earth is 6,000 years old or a gazillion years old. It doesn't really matter, to be honest. God is still creator, man is still sinful. I'm not using science at all for that one.

As far as the text itself: yom is used in Genesis 2:4 to talk about the "day" that God created the Heavens and the Earth. Well, that was just a week's process one chapter earlier. Perhaps the yom of the Lord isn't a literal 24 hour day and the "evening and morning" just serve as a great way to convey a period of creative time.

I also agree that your epistemology should be driven by God. However, I'm arguing that the text may or may not say that it's a literal 6 day creation. I'm focusing on the metaphysical issues (granted, they do have physical implications).