Monday, June 30, 2008

The Mythical Book of Genesis?

There are many Christians who would like to interpret the book of Genesis in light of modern science. Maintaining that the theory of evolution is more reliable than the biblical account, they propose that the author of Genesis (who I believe was Moses) simply used mythical language to explain the creation account, as well as the story of the flood. They would like to take the first 11 chapters of Genesis and totally mythologize these stories.

They essentially want to have their cake and eat it, too.

For some time, though, I have insisted that a person can believe in evolution all they want, but they cannot support it from the Bible, or even attempt to justify their beliefs in light of what was written in Genesis. The average layperson can plainly see that the insistence that somehow Genesis 1-11 is nothing but myth, yet the other 39 chapters are to be taken literally, is very problematic.

Nothing in the text of Genesis 1-11 implies that it should be interpreted differently than the rest of Genesis (or the rest of the Pentateuch). There is nothing that says, "I'm an allegory, don't interpret me literally. But you can interpret the rest of the book literally." So, unless a person wants to start saying that all of Genesis is allegorical (which some may be prepared to do), they are stuck with the reality that Genesis 1-11 is to be taken literally.

Although there are a number of reasons for insisting that Genesis 1-11 is part of a totally unified - and literal - book, one word, in particular, stands out that indicates the book is completely unified in its genre. The word first appears in Genesis 2:4 when Moses writes, "This is the history of the heavens and the earth." The word for "history" is toledoth and it literally means "account" or "generations." This word pops up again and again throughout the entire book, talking about the "generations/account of Noah" (6:9), the "generations/account of Ishmael" (25:12), the "generations/account of Esau" (36:1), the "generations/account of Jacob" (37:2). Exodus even goes on to use the word in reference to the generations of Levi and Merari (6:16, 19). All in all, the word is used 16 times throughout Genesis and Exodus.

Thus, if we are to take seriously the historicity of Ishmael's genealogy, or Esau's genealogy, or Levi's genealogy, then we need to accept Noah's genealogy and creation's genealogy. In other words, Moses wants to clearly show that the explanation of the creation week is every bit as valid - and historical - as his explanation of the subsequent literal and historical figures.

This is not to imply that Moses' explanation of creation is exhaustive, or that it can answer every little question of our 21st century scientific minds. But, at the very least, Moses' explanation is the bare bones of what took place in the beginning and any type of explanation that contradicts (as opposed to complements) Genesis 1-11, cannot be accepted.

28 comments:

Charles said...

A LARGE AND HEARTY AMEN!!!!

Shawn Brace said...

Thanks for the hearty Amen, Charles!

Dingo said...

Another Amen! I didn't know all that about the Hebrew, but had thought that "generations" did link it more to the literal places the English word appeared in my Bible. And I always felt that this "generations" was backed up by "in the day that the Lord God made..." It was "at that literal time". Thanks for the powerful word.

Corey said...

Thanks for writing about this. As you may know, I've always thought to myself how could someone believe in the Bible but not believe in creation. They seem tp go hand and hand to me. I think this write-up nicely backs up what I've thought but haven't been able to explain in so many words.

Vera said...

Shawn, let me ask a couple of questions:

1. At what point during the creation story was man created?

2. There are a number of places in the Bible in which we are told that God sends the rain. If one believes that God sends the rain, how does one reconcile that with what we know about the natural processes that produce rain?

3. Does evolution need to be supported from the Bible?

4. If one has cake, shouldn't one be able to eat it? :)

Vera said...

All right, one more question: Would the author of Genesis have been able to use 21st-century language to describe the creation of this world?

Shawn Brace said...

Hi All!

Thanks for your thoughts and questions. Dingo and Corey, thank you for your words of encouragement. Vera, let me try to answer each of your questions, one-by-one.

1. According to Genesis, man was created on the sixth day of the week. I'm assuming you already know this, so you will now have the opportunity to show me what you're getting at!

2. Which verses, exactly, are you referring to when you say that the Bible claims God sends the rain?

3. Does evolution need to be supported from the Bible? I don't believe in evolution, so I don't think it needs to be supported from the Bible. But there are a lot of people who try to reconcile the creation account with the theory of evolution. On the one hand, I don't understand why they try to do this, but on the other hand I kind of do.

The point of my post is that the theory of evolution and the Biblical creation account contradict one another, and one cannot use Genesis to demonstrate even a hint of support for evolution.

4. Yes, if one has cake, he/she should be able to eat it. In fact, I was going to write this common saying correctly, but somewhere along the line, society has mixed it up. The original saying was, "eat your cake and have it, too." But, as I said, it has been reversed over the years and it doesn't make sense!!

5. Your last question is perhaps the most interesting. You ask if the author of Genesis (who I propose was Moses) would "be able to" write in 21st language to describe creation. This is a tricky question. Would he "be able to"? Humanly speaking: no. Could God inspire him to, as some biblical scholars put it, "write better than he knew"? Yes, God could have.

Did He? No. I don't believe so. Although God did utilize men to write things that they, themselves, did not quite understand (see 1 Peter 1:10, 11), I don't necessarily think this is one of those cases.

The underlying implication that you are trying to get at is that Moses was just a simpleton and he was not smart enough to explain evolution in terms that were readily available in his day. Thus, he had to mythologize evolution and put it in language that made sense to himself and his audience.

But, even assuming that Moses was a simpleton (he was probably smarter than we give him credit for, even judging him against our modern intelligence), was he not capable of explaining it in simple evolution terms? What would his impetus be for couching it in the language that he did? If the evolutionary process were true, and the Bible wanted to support it, instead of talking about the six literal creation days, why couldn't Moses simply have said, "And for the [choose your length of time] thousand years, there was just an empty earth . . . And a thousand years later, animals appeared, which, over time, became human beings. And that's how Adam first arrived on the scene."

Couldn't he have just explained it that way if he had an evolutionary agenda? One doesn't need 21st century language to explain evolution, if it were true. I think Moses could have explained it in very simple terms, rather than "mythologizing" it (which probably takes more brain power, anyway, instead of giving it a simple evolutionary explanation).

Vera said...

1. See Genesis 2:4-7.

2. Genesis 7:4, Leviticus 26:4, Deutoronomy 11:14, I Kings 17:14, Job 5:10, and Psalm 147:8. I could find more, if you like. He sends the lightning, too (as you may remember).

3. I don't think it's possible to use early Genesis to support the theory of evolution, but many have tried.

4. We may have exhausted the humor of this one. But I still like cake, preferably with plenty of frosting. And being a woman, I have a higher likelihood of getting to have my cake for a while longer.

5. I did not intend in any way to cast aspersions on the intelligence of the author of Genesis. And although he had an agenda, it wasn't evolutionary.

What happens if we read early Genesis without a 21st-century mind? What happens if we look at the world through his eyes? What would we know about the land, and the sea, and the sky, and the rain? What would we know about bacteria, and viruses, and cellular organisms? What would we know about kangaroos, and kiwis, and duckbilled platypuses? What would we know about microscopes, and gas chromotography, and mass spectrometers? What would we know about the moon, and the sun, and the stars, and our galaxy?

Dingo said...

Interesting that about God "sending rain" as opposed to crediting the actual physical processes that go into forming precipitation.

I've read a couple of times about cloud seeding technicians "sending" precipitation to certain areas.

If you have the technology (or the spiritual ability) to manipulate the weather into precipitating in a specific place, that would be "sending it".

On the other hand, if you were the one who set the natural processes in motion in order to provide rain in general, for example, "on the just and on the unjust" you could also be said to "send" the rain.

That's part of why I love language - it can be enjoyed on so many levels and simple phrases can mean so many things depending on circumstances.

Anyway,I get the impression that that last is often how the Bible pictures God sending rain. It reconciles pretty well with the natural processes. Thanks for a stimulating read.

Shawn Brace said...

Vera,

Thank you, again, for your thoughtful questions. Sorry it has taken me a while to get back to you. I have been in Maine for a couple of weeks, and then drove to Michigan and back. But here is my response to your response. Thanks, again, for the stimulating conversation.

1. Genesis 1:24-31 clearly indicates that man was created on the sixth day. Nowhere in Genesis 2:4-7 does it even imply that man was created on a different day. So, either 1:24ff and 2:4ff contradict one another (which there is no textual evidence for), or they compliment one another.

Many would like to suppose that they contradict one another, but there is no reason to deduce this, whatsoever. Moses is acting as any good newspaper reporter would. He gives us a summary at the beginning in Genesis 1, with mostly the bare minimum facts, and then, in chapter 2, he goes into a more detailed description regarding the most important element of the creation week, giving an intimate description of God’s crowning achievement of the creation week (man).

It is not uncommon in Hebrew literature to utilize such a technique.

2. I have no problem with, as Dingo pointed to, God setting the “natural processes in motion” and thus being credited with sending the rain. If such an admission leads you to insinuate that God used the “natural processes” of evolution to bring about this world/universe, I think that is a bit of a leap in logic, however.

Of course, this is kind of moot because, although I believe God has set natural laws in order (ie., rain), and works within the parameters of that natural law, it is His divine prerogative to “interfere” with that natural law. This does not mean that He breaks His own laws, only that He utilizes those laws in a way that we do not fully understand at this time. Thus, although He uses the natural processes of rain most of the time, He can, at times, step in and directly altar the different variables that effect whether it rains or not (and cause a world-wide flood, for example).

Is this a good explanation?

3. Yes, indeed, many have tried to prove evolution via Genesis. I just wish they would stop trying, though.

4. Well, I hope you can enjoy your cake as long as you can!

5. I don’t think anyone is trying to maintain that we can only look to Genesis for our understanding of science. We have gained so much through the study of science, outside of the Bible. We should make every effort to learn more and more about platypuses, and mass spectrometers, and our galaxy, etc. What I am trying to say is that when we confront those places where science and the Bible apparently contradict one another, we should accept the Bible’s account over and above what science allegedly tells us. If I choose to believe that the Bible is the authoritative word of God (which is based on an intelligible faith, not some blind presupposition), then I will not be threatened by something that supposedly disturbs my faith. I can choose to put that topic on the shelf, believing that God will clarify things in the future.

We all have presuppositions and assumptions, and no matter who we are, when an idea or discovery challenges our presuppositions, we usually shelf the idea in favor of our presuppositions until we can further make sense of it. We all fall back to a default baseline of understanding, and that’s what I choose to do with science (just as a scientist would, no doubt, do as it relates to the Bible). This is not to say that I never question my presuppositions, but I work with the assumption that, no matter what, truth will win out, one way or the other.

If I shelf a scientific idea that seemingly contradicts my faith in the Bible, I don’t eliminate the scientific idea altogether. I revisit it later when I have more information, and try to make sense of it. Far too often, what appears to at first contradict the Bible, actually compliments it or proves to be untrue to begin with. And, so far, nothing has come across my radar screen that has proven the Bible to be an unreliable source of information, inspiration, and edification.

Vera said...

The story in Genesis 2 says that man was created before vegetation, which is not what chapter 1 tells us.

I didn't intend to insinuate that God used evolution to create life (although I would not correct anyone making such a claim).

Let me be clear. While the Bible says in a number of places that God sends the rain, we don't have any problem subscribing to what the science of meteorology tells us about the formation of rain and how it ends up back on the ground. We don't see any conflict between what the Bible says about the source of rain and what we know about the natural processes of weather. We don't reject meteorology because God is absent from the science.

But when the Bible says that God created the earth and the life on it in certain ways and we count up Biblical genealogies in order to arrive at a certain time, we have an entirely different reaction. Humans have accumulated scientific knowledge over the centuries that have led us to the theory of evolution (and its refinements over the last 150 years) as the best explanation for the development and diversity of life on this planet. It didn't have to be Darwin; it was very nearly Wallace, and if it hadn't been either, it would have been someone else.

Further, I asked that series of questions for a specific reason: the author of Genesis wrote what he did because it was based on what he observed (as well as what he thought about God). What he wrote about the land, and the sea, and the sky, and the rain, and the moon, and the sun, and the stars was based on not only what he could see, but on his idea that God was the creator of all things. Bacteria, viruses, cellular organisms, kangaroos, kiwis, and duck-billed platypuses aren't mentioned in the Bible because no Bible writer ever saw one.

I was serious when I asked what happens if we read early Genesis without a 21st-century mind. Read it through the eyes of the author of Genesis. Imagine what he saw and what he knew. Forget everything you know about the world through science. Be Moses for a month. Then tell me what you see.

Shawn Brace said...

Vera,

Just a quick response to one thing that you have written, and then I will (hopefully) return to address the rest of your points later.

You wrote: "While the Bible says in a number of places that God sends the rain, we don't have any problem subscribing to what the science of meteorology tells us about the formation of rain and how it ends up back on the ground. We don't see any conflict between what the Bible says about the source of rain and what we know about the natural processes of weather. We don't reject meteorology because God is absent from the science."

Because of the validity of meteorology, are you then implying that we should give science a carte blanche acceptance? Simply because meteorology seems to be legitimate, does this necessarily mean the theory of evolution is as well?

On the contrary, there are enough scientists out there who unabashedly say that the theory of evolution is bad science - and that it starts with many theological presuppositions (and falls back on those theological presuppositions). If you haven't yet read it, please go back to my post (and the following comments in response) on the book, Darwin's God. You can read that here.

Brigno said...

>>"On the contrary, there are enough scientists out there who unabashedly say that the theory of evolution is bad science"

This reminds me of a list the quacks at "Answers in Genesis" did of scientist who repudiate evolution. To make fun at such a ridiculous approach that means nothing, the National Center for Science Education made a list of scientists named Steve (in honor of Steven J Gould) that do accept the fact of evolution.

Wikipedia (under the "Project Steve" heading) summarizes:

"Despite the list's restriction to only scientists with names like "Steve", which limits the list to roughly 1 percent of the total population, Project Steve is longer and contains many more eminent scientists than any creationist list. In particular, Project Steve contains many more biologists than the creationist lists, since about 2/3 of the Steves are biologists."

Not only that but:

"Inspired by Project Steve, and motivated by media coverage of the Discovery Institute's "Dissent From Darwinism" list, during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, R. Joe Brandon initiated a four-day, word-of-mouth petition of scientists in support of evolution in October 2005. During the four-day drive A Scientific Support For Darwinism And For Public Schools Not To Teach Intelligent Design As Science gathered 7733 signatures of verifiable scientists. During the four days of the petition, A Scientific Support for Darwinism received signatures at a rate 697,000 percent higher than the Discovery Institute's petition, A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism."

The fact is that the "scientists" that doubt evolution are the moon hoaxers or flat earthers of the biological sciences. In reality there is no good argument on which to dismiss evolution as the science it is.

James F. McGrath said...

I have to disagree with your statement "Nothing in the text of Genesis 1-11 implies that it should be interpreted differently than the rest of Genesis". The presence of a talking snake is a very clear signal that one is dealing with a non-historical narrative (assuming one uses the same common sense when reading the Bible that one uses when reading all other literature). The fact that the main character is called "Human" rather than having a proper name is probably also a hint.

Although the author wouldn't have known it at the time, the reference to the dome ("firmament" in older translations) also places the author's work firmly in the context of ancient near eastern "mythological" worldviews. In its theology, the author's point of view is radically different than that of the Enuma Elish. But in terms of its "science", it is the same - waters divided to make the sky and sea, a dome or 'arch' set in place to hold up the 'waters above'.

What the "average layperson" perceives is irrelevant, I might add. The average layperson is reading a translation that came about through Biblical scholarship, and dependent on scholars for being able to read the Bible at all. The average layperson doesn't consult the scholarly resources one has to in order to understand the issues of translation, interpretation, cultural background, and so on.

Vera said...

No, not implying that at all. I'm saying that even though the Bible says that God sends the rain, we readily accept the science of meteorology, even though meteorological science doesn't appeal to God as the source of its authority. Whereas we say that because Genesis 1-2 says one thing, biology and paleontology and geology et al can't say another.

Evolution isn't some grand conspiracy perpetrated on the global population; it's an explanatory framework within which biologists and other scientists work. They're not trying to put one over on us.

You've reminded me that I know nothing about Wallace's theology; must find out more.

I still find myself a bit squeamish abouth Dawkins, although I know I'll eventually get around to reading him. Congratulations on making the effort.

Shawn Brace said...

Vera,

I will get back to you when I get a chance, though it may be a while. I am taking off for the woods of Maine on Saturday night, and will be without Internet access for a week. Between now and then, I need to get other stuff done, but hopefully I will get a chance to respond.

James, I appreciate your thoughts. They are very stimulating. I think, though, that one would have an easier time of questioning the historicity of Genesis 1-11 altogether (and the whole of Genesis, really), than trying to propose that the author mythologized the account.

Because there is a talking serpent, it must mean that the author mythologized it? Again, although I take the account at face value, if I was coming from a historical-critical perspective, I would think it was more likely that the account was not historical, rather than a myth.

If someone were to tell me, today, about an experience where their dog talked to them, I would question their sanity, rather than assume they are trying to share a parable with me (especially if all the other information in the story, much like Genesis 1-11, seemed to be fairly historically accurate and legitimate).

Of course, I have no problem with the idea of a talking serpent, nor do I have a problem with a talking donkey, or a resurrected Lazarus, or a resurrected Christ. Simply because I have never witnessed such a thing before with my own eyes, and would be skeptical about someone who reported such a thing happening today, this does not mean that it was out of the realm of possibility long ago. Thus, when I encounter such a thing in scripture, it does not go against the "common sense" that I subscribe to.

At the same time, it is a fairly weak argument to also insist that simply because Adam had a generic name (meaning "human" or "man"), it must mean that the story was mythologized. Is out of the realm of possibility that this was the first human being's real name, and only after he procreated did he have to start giving different names to different people, to distinguish them? And is it not possible that Hebrew writers came along at a later time, took Adam's name and applied it generically to human beings, since we all descended from the first "human"? I'm not sure I see what the problem is with such a concept, and your interpretation of Adam's name seems to be anachronistic (taking a later meaning of the word, and assuming that it could not have been a legitimate title for the first human being).

And, quite honestly, I am extremely perplexed by something relating to a mythological interpretation of Genesis 1-11: what, exactly, was the writer's agenda in mythologizing it? If God used evolution to bring about this planet, what would the writer's motivation be in trying to cover that up and concoct an ambiguous description of what took place?

Ultimately, of course, I have to go back to the fact that there is nothing between chapter 11 of Genesis, and chapter 12, that says, "Okay, you can now start interpreting this literally." Of course, as I said before, there are plenty of scholars out there who would prefer to throw out the whole historicity of the Pentateuch, the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole, so it is kind of a moot point for them.

Regarding the Enuma Elish: if you concede the idea that the author of Genesis wouldn't have been aware that his narrative was within the context of ancient near eastern "worldviews," what's the point of even trying to link the two? If the author knew nothing about these other worldviews, as you allude to, how can they even be linked at all? And why is it always assumed that when there is commonality between the biblical account and other ancient near eastern literature, that it must have been the Bible that borrowed from the other, or that they all had some common source? Is it outside the realm of possibility that the others relied upon the biblical account?

After all, if one is comfortable enough with the traditional dating of Genesis (and that Moses wrote it), then Genesis was written long before the Enuma Elish. And even if Moses didn't write it, I think there is enough textual evidence to give Genesis a much earlier date than the Enuma Elish, etc.

Finally, I am not quite sure what you were trying to insinuate about the "average layperson." Are you implying that there is no value in having an "untrained" layperson read from an English translation? Is it fruitless to pick up a Bible and read from it? Is the Bible not capable of edifying a person, unto salvation, with what that layperson has access to?

I'm sorry, but I do have a high view of scripture, and I do believe that there is a Holy Spirit who is capable of enlightening a person according to the resources they have. This shouldn't prevent him or her from seeking to go deeper in his or her understanding of the issues of translation, interpretation, etc., but if I believe in a God who rules the universe, and I believe that that God desperately wants to reveal Himself to everyone, I think He can do it in a way that every person - no matter their education, IQ, or background - can understand Him, insofar as they are willing and capable.

James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for the detailed reply! I think that the modern situation is a rather new and usual one, historically speaking. Today people with no other education about the Bible, what is involved in translating it, issues of interpretation, history of interpretation or cultural and historical background nonetheless can easily read it in their own language and are at times even encouraged to ignore all these other things that are relevant to understanding it. During most of history, most Christians heard the stories, and thus there was always the possibility of the story being explained, clarified, and just more generally discussed. Today, we have an individualistic approach that is problematic from a Christian perspective. But at any rate, my objection is not to people reading the Bible, but to people reading these texts from a different time, place, culture and language, and refusing to avail themselves of the many scholarly but nonetheless accessible resources that might lead to a genuine detailed understanding of the text.

To clarify my position, I don't think the author was "covering up" evolution. I don't think any of the ancient authors of the Bible knew about DNA, modern astronomy, modern chemistry, or biology. We're so used to using the "heart" as a metaphor we forget that people in Paul's time literally understood the heart to be the seat of reason and emotion. The options are to say that Paul used language metaphorically that would mislead some of his contemporaries into error (since he never specifies he is using metaphor), or to acknowledge that Paul was speaking in terms of an ancient understanding, and that while we do not share his views of human anatomy, that need not mean that we must find everything else he wrote worthless.

It is much easier, of course, to be able to say that the Bible is right about everything - science, theology, botany, history, whatever. But in the end I think it is possible to believe that God gave us precisely the sort of Bible we have for a good reason.

I look forward to continuing the conversation!

Mike Beidler said...

Shawn,

Have you familiarized yourself with the works of Wheaton College's Dr. John H. Walton? If not, I highly recommend his commentary on Genesis (Zondervan's NIV Application Commentary series) and his Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.

Read those two books and you might just want to reassess this particular post. =)

nelson moore said...

One of the difficult facets of dealing with this type of question is how intertwined various beliefs and attitudes (inclinations) are. For example, the following positions are often closely connected: 1) a belief that the Bible inerrant in all that it teaches, whether the content be theology, science, history, or any other matter, 2) the logically following belief that the Bible cannot contradict itself on a matter of history or theology, 3), a belief that Moses wrote the Torah, 4) a concern that the whole religion will fall apart if we do not maintain the first three positions. I don’t really know if you ascribe to all of the above, Shawn, but I have come to a place in my Christian life where I have rejected them.

As a result of that, when I read the Gen 1-11 accounts, several things appear quite evident. First of all, the creation order in Gen 1 and 2 is totally contradictory. I won’t get in to specifics because you already know what I’m going to say. Secondly the notion that there were mornings and days and light and dark all on days 1-3 while the sun doesn’t get created until day 4 strikes me as, well, unbelievable. Thirdly, the Noah narrative looks exceedingly strange in its current state and upon even cursory examination appears to be a merging of two separate narratives. (Again, no time to get into specifics but you know the argument anyway.) So when you add that material to the story of the rib-woman in ch. 2, the talking serpent in ch. 3, the peculiar phenomenon of people living to be 800 or 900 years old, the remarkable story of how human beings came to speak various langauges – well, it all just kind of adds up.

Then when you take those observations and consider them alongside the consensus opinions of modern science (age of the earth, age of the species, etc.) and the archaological study of ancient Near Eastern history, the case becomes even more compelling that we just cannot be dealing with a literal history.

Upon drawing that conclusion, we are left with a variety of options. One is to reject the religion as false. But for those who have answered the call of God in Christ, the call to walk with him, that is not an acceptable solution. So we revisit the biblical material to investigate further how the Bible functions in the life of a faith community what kind of literature it is in the first place. That leads us to conclude that, just as Jesus can speak in parables with authority, so also can the faith community that birthed the book of Genesis. And God is quite capable of inspiring it.

So now back around to one of your questions. Is is hypothetically possible for God to do a miracle and create a talking snake? Yes. Do I believe that’s what happened? No.

I have a lot more to say, toledoth passages, how science can and should inform theology, etc. But mega-long posts get annoying.

Thanks for your post and for allowing me to contribute.

Nelson Moore

Shawn Brace said...

Folks,

I'd like to respond to each one of you with an in-depth response, but I'm not sure that time would allow me to. But I really enjoy all of the dialogue. Based on the fact that this is, by far, the most comments I've gotten on one topic, it is apparent that this topic is very relevant to many people.

So, here goes my best attempts at answering the unanswered questions, thus far.

Vera, regarding the vegetation in chapters 1 and 2: there is a nuance in the text that must be understood as it relates to the "plant of the field" and the "herb of the field" in 2:5. First of all, the "plant" spoken of in is not the same Hebrew word as is utilized in chapter 1.

Secondly, although the word "herb" is the same Hebrew word as in chapter 1, the author is not speaking of just any old herb, but cultivated vegetation that is utilized for food. This is why in chapter 1 it is simply "herb," but in chapter 2 the Hebrew adds the word sadeh, which means "field," thus pointing out that these were "herbs of the field."

If you look at the Hebrew term "herb of the field," you would notice that every other time it is used in the Old Testament, it is used within the context of that which is cultivated and eaten (cf. Gen 3:18; Exo 9:22, 25; 10:15; Deut 11:15; Zech 10:1). So the author is not merely speaking of the grass, the trees, etc. that he spoke of in chapter 1, but of cultivated herbs.

Now before I move onto the next topic, I want to ask you a question: are you only reading evolutionary scientists, or are you giving ID/Creationists a chance as well? From what I recall, the whole intent of your blog/journey was to have an open mind and discover the truth about creation/evolution. However, from what I've observed, it seems that you are only reading/listening to evolutionary biologists, thus stacking the deck in their favor.

Please give the other side a chance, too (especially if you want to be able to claim that you are being open-minded).

James, thanks again for your response as well. Before I can respond to you, I have to give your ideas a little more thought.

Mike, thank you for joining the discussion as well. As a matter of fact, I have Walton's NIV Commentary and I read his thoughts on the subject a few years ago. I just re-read again most of what he said.

I don't know that what he is saying contradicts anything I am maintaining. While I agree that we should not read Genesis with 21st century scientific eyes, I still believe that there is enough there to understand that the evolutionary theory does not jive with the Genesis account. I would highly suggest you read Richard M. Davidson's articles on this subject. One is called "In the Beginning: How to Interpret Genesis 1," (pdf available here), and the other is called, "The Biblical Account of Origins," (pdf available here). The first one is an easier read, while the second is a little more technical (and requires some knowledge of Hebrew).

Please check those two articles out.

Finally, Nelson! Thank you so much for joining the conversation. I am very honored that you stopped by. Judging by your credentials, you are a lot more qualified to speak on this subject than I am. But thanks for sharing your observations.

Just to clarify where I’m coming from (and hopefully it will answer your questions): I choose to take the Genesis account at face value, understanding that it is not an exhaustive explanation of what happened, by any means (that should be fairly obvious). I believe, textually, there is no justification for interpreting the passage any differently than we would the rest of Genesis. Thus, when it talks about the first day, the second day, the third day, etc., it is speaking of literal days (just as the rest of the OT uses the word yom).

Just quickly touching on two other points you make: the apparent challenge of the sun not being created until the fourth day, yet there was light previous to this, need not be all that mysterious. Could it be that God, Himself, was the light (Psalm 104:2 – a chapter that is a poetic commentary on the creation account – says that God covers Himself with “light as with a garment”). Of course, though we are going to the NT, the book of Revelation certainly proposes that there will not be any need for the sun or moon in the New Jerusalem, because the “glory of God illuminate(s) it.”

Secondly, I am not sure why it is so troubling to think that human beings could have lived for a lot longer a few thousand years ago. Assuming that Methusaleh, Noah, etc., lived just a few hundred years after Adam, couldn’t the overall health of humanity been better, and then it deteriorated over time?

Anyway, that’s all for now. I would love to hear your other thoughts on toledoth, science/theology, etc. I don’t mind long posts – although I must tell you that I am leaving tomorrow for the woods of Maine and will be without internet access for a week.

Just something to keep in mind!

Vera said...

Enjoy your time off--I'll reserve the rest until later next week.

Cameron Horsburgh said...

I'm well aware that everybody else weighing in so far is far more qualified to speak than I, but I do want to point to one thing in the Genesis text that I have never been able to understand as anything other than myth.

In Genesis 9:8-17 we see one of the covenants God makes with Noah and his family. God seals the covenant with a sign:

God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."

To me, it seemed that God was being anthropomorphised. This isn't a passage of poetry. If I read the passage the same way I read the rest of Genesis 1-11 I've can only conclude that God carried a weapon. Moreover, that bow is what we would now call 'refracted white light.' Swords made of light might work in Star Wars, but bows made of light are a rare commodity in our universe.

That type of anthropomorphism is very common in the various mythologies of the world. It's not so common in the Bible, especially bits that are historical in tone.

As a young creationist I could explain all of the mythological features of Genesis 1-11. But that one stumped me. Why did God need a weapon? Was he worried about stray snakes on his walks through the garden? Or did he like to go hunting? Is that what happened to the unicorn? ;-)

Eventually I had to accept that other interpretations might be possible. I did, and curiously enough my faith has become all the more robust for it.

RJWalker said...

Jumping in, if I may.

Gen 1 tells us God created the animals, and then Adam.

Gen 2 (in every English language translation save 1 on BibleGateway) tells us the Lord God created Adam and then the animals.

Gen 1 is into order, numbers, precision - it's from a priestly source: Gen 2 is expressive, literary, flowingly descriptive - it's from a Deuteronomic (sp?) source

God gave us 2 great publications - 2 books, if you will: the Bible, and the universe -- the Word and the World.

I believe you have to read them together - if you read one and try to impose what you learn from just the one without reading the other, you're short changing the meanings God opens to us.

Try to read the Word and say it proves evolution didn't/doesn't take place is like reading the World and saying it proves God isn't the creator.

RJWalker

Zebo said...

Excuse me for my bad English.

I really can't realise why so many smart people I agree with (RJWalker, Vera, James, nelson, etc.) swarm around this kind of blog. There are plenty of arguments for a reasonable and new view on the Bible and the World at the beginning of 21st century, as you already put here, but I think you are in the wrong place, because some others don't want to use their reasoning and see those things.

There is a tough paradigm behind this blog and that is... tipical one. As RJWalker simple put it about Word and World, our churches taught us from our very first days of preparation for baptism that we should read the Bible (and so about the life of Jesus) and also to look into tho book of the Nature in order to read God's thoughts revealed. Every single church-goer knows the phrase about "God's revelation through the Bible, Christ and the Nature".

We all know the Bible, and fortunately we live in such a times when we can know the Nature much better than ones prior to us. And the Nature speaks to us clearly about magnificent God's deeds all along from a quantum setting and genetic code, mutations, weather, eco-system, planets, to a mechanisms of galaxies. And we see much different things from that book than church elders taught us about the Nature. Are Nature and Biblical God controversial? God forbid, NO!

It is time to reinterpret the Bible if we want to stay tuned to fine voice of Holy Spirit, because we are a slightly mature now when we can read the Nature more thoroughly and He has a lot of things to teach us from now on.

We reinterpret the Nature already. As I said, it is now time to reinterpret the Bible and keep our faith alive. No place and no time and no excuses for tough-minded medieval flat-earthers before God's sight.

Stephen said...

I am pleased to see this topic discussed. I am a late arrival to this blog, but I also have some questions and comments that partly overlap with what others have mentioned already, so please bear with me!

SB responds to Vera: "But there are a lot of people who try to reconcile the creation account with the theory of evolution. On the one hand, I don't understand why they try to do this, but on the other hand I kind of do."

Shawn, your response here suggests to me that you may have underestimated the importance of this issue. Many Christians (like myself) are taught to believe that the the Bible (including the first 11 chapters of Genesis) is the inspired (and for some, inerrant) Word of God. Our belief system is founded on the Bible. We are taught that Jesus is the 1) Son of God (John 3), 2) the Word (John 1), 3) the Way, Truth and the Life (John 14), yet Jesus endorsed Genesis 1 and 2 (Matt. 19). Unfortunately for us "Modern Day 21st Century Christians", the Genesis 1 account is very problematic (as others have pointed out). We are presented with evidence from modern science that flies into the face of everything we have been taught about the "traditionally-taught" Genesis account, and casts doubt on the integrity of the rest of scripture and potentially calls our entire belief system into question.

When faced with this dilemma there are three things we can do here: 1) reject the science, 2) reject the ancient text and belief system, 3) reconcile the science with the ancient text/belief system. Nelson showed one method for reconciliation, allowing for a non-literal interpretation of this section of Genesis. I agree with many of your points, i.e. that there is no mythical-to-historical transition in Genesis, so I'm open to a more literal interpretation. However, I don't believe that the "traditional" interpretation is correct. To expand on Vera's point, we are reading a modern English translation of an ancient Hebrew text about something that nobody has ever witnessed before. I'm given to understand that ancient Hebrew consists of less than ten thousand words, compared to about 400 thousand for modern English, therefore it is less descriptive and less precise. Even with the flexibility and robustness of the English language it can be challenging for one person to understand exactly what another is trying to say. How much more should this be the case between two people speaking in ancient hebrew, let alone a modern english speaker trying to understand what an ancient hebrew from 3000 years ago is trying to say? My point is, there are many places in Genesis 1 that are subject to interpretion, even if one takes it literally (from the Hebrew source, not necessarily the translated and possibly impure English translation). So, when you say that you "choose to take the Genesis account at face value", what exactly do you think that means? Young universe or old? Young earth or old? Stars (and sun and moon) created in the beginning, or on the 4th day? etc. I think there is a lot of room for alternative "literal" interpretations...unless you have good reasons to narrow them down. What do you think?

Shawn Brace said...

Vera,

Feel free to fire away!

Vera said...

I'm not exactly in the wilds of Maine, but it will be a few days before I'll be posting my comment.

Vera said...

I've struggled with how to answer the first part of your previous response and then, conveniently, I went away and have had limited access to the internet (which state still exists). But here goes.

I don't have a background in Hebrew, and while I don't suppose there's any reason why I shouldn't get one, at this point it remains difficult for me to respond to your response except to accept that you're right. I don't in fact know that you're right, but I don't have any reason to suspect that you're wrong.

You'll also be able to explain how the animals were created after Adam in chapter 2?

To your second point I say: I've given decades of my life to the creationist viewpoint. Not even three years ago I might have agreed with anyone saying that evolution is "just a theory." So if it's equal time you're looking for, you won't find it here.

However, in the last months I've read Creation Reconsidered: Scientific, Biblical, and Theological Perspectives and right now I'm in the middle of Understanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives. But my reading is largely elsewhere.