Thursday, February 4, 2010

Genesis 1-11 Myth or History?

Superman is a myth. He is not an historical being. In the story of Superman he isn’t even a god but rather he’s a person from another planet. Presumably the point of the story is that he is a Hero. He uses his abilities to fight for truth justice and the American way. So he’s a good capitalist!

C.F. Nosgen gives this definition of "myth":

"Any unhistorical tale, however it may have arisen, in which a religious society finds a constituent part of its sacred foundations, because an absolute expression of its institutions, experiences, and ideas, is a myth."

You notice that what stands out in the above definition is that the story is unhistorical. Keep this in mind and see how Engelsma in his article is concerned about the view of so many of his peers.

Here below are the words of Professor David J. Engelsma Protestant Reformed Seminary Grandville, MI U.S.A. June 2001. I quote a fair bit as it sets the approach for how many scholars today are approaching Genesis 1-11.

“To be sure, the term "myth" is seldom used in Reformed and evangelical circles.
Those who are, in fact, teaching that Genesis 1 - 11 is myth will usually disavow "myth" as the proper description of that part of Holy Scripture. There is good reason for this. "Myth" has unsavory connotations. The Bible expressly denounces myths. Only the most radical (and candid!) of liberal theologians--the Rudolph Bultmanns--boldly call the Bible stories in Genesis 1-11 "myths." Hence, the evangelical and the Reformed mythologians are careful to use other terms. However just as a rose by any other name smells sweet, so a myth by any other name still stinks.

We ignore the liberals like Hermann Gunkel, who called Genesis 1-11 "legend," and the neo-orthodox like Karl Barth, who called the passage "saga." Our concern is the extent to which Genesis 1-11 is regarded as myth in reputedly conservative circles. In The Fourth Day, Howard Van Till described the opening chapters of Genesis as "primal, or primeval history." The committee of the Christian Reformed Church that advised synod on the views of Van Till and his colleagues referred to Genesis 1-11 as "stylized, literary, or symbolic stories." 5

The Dutch Reformed scientist and author Jan Lever had earlier written two books that were translated into English in which he attacked the Reformed confession that Genesis 1-11 is historical. In his Where are We Headed? A Christian Perspective on Evolution, he vehemently denied that Genesis 1-11 is "an account of historical events.... Anyone who reads the Bible with common sense can reach the conclusion that a literal reading of the Genesis account is wrong." Rather, the opening chapters of the Bible are a "confession about God." 6

A recent book by notable evangelical theologians and other scholars, The Genesis Debate, has a number of these men insisting that Genesis 1-11 is unhistorical, indeed allegorical. One scholar is bold to state an implication of this view of Genesis 1-11 that fairly bristles with doctrinal implications, namely, that it is absurd to think that the human race descended from two (married) ancestors. Nevertheless, so the editor informs us, this scholar, like all the others, is "committed to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture." 7

Another prominent evangelical, Charles E. Hummel, in an InterVarsity publication, The Galileo Connection, contends that the first eleven chapters of Genesis must be seen as a "literary genre"; they are a "semipoetic narrative cast in a
historico-artistic framework." Genesis 1-11 is not a "cosmogony," but a "confession of faith." 8

The Fuller Seminary theologian Paul K. Jewett prefers the designations "primal history" and "theologized history." Authoritative science has enabled us moderns to recognize the "childlike limitations of the understanding" of those who wrote the first eleven chapters of the Bible. Theirs was a "prescientific simplicity" when they told the story of "God's making the world 'in the space of six days.' "9

Bruce Waltke, who was professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary at the time, wrote in Christianity Today that we must not read Genesis 1:1-2:3 as historical. Rather. we must take "an artistic-literary approach." He quoted Henri Blocher approvingly: the passage is "an artistic arrangement ... not to be taken literally." Waltke concluded that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a "creation story in torah ('instruction'), which is a majestic, artistic achievement, employing anthropomorphic language." 10

To refer to no others, in his book, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame, at the time professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, wrote that he is open to the possibility of interpreting Genesis 1 and 2
"figuratively" because of the findings of geologists that the earth is very old. 11

All of these men studiously avoid the use of the word "myth," although a couple of them give the game away by their description of the kind of stories they think to find in Genesis 1- 11. Having denied that Genesis gives us "a picture of reality," Lever goes on to affirm that Genesis "does provide us with the fundamentals for a life and world view, a religious perspective on the nature of this reality, its finitude and its dependence upon God in becoming and in being." 12 This is the textbook definition of myth.

Similarly, Bruce Waltke explains his own figurative interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 by quoting H. J. Sorenson in the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

The basic purpose is to instruct men on the ultimate realities that have an immediate bearing on daily life and on how to engage vitally in these realities to live successfully. It contains "truths to live by" rather than "theology to speculate on." 13
This is the classic myth.

Avoidance of the term "myth" is of no significance. What is important is that the events recorded in Genesis 1 - 11 never really happened, never really happened as Genesis 1-11 records them as happening. Genesis 1-11 is not history, but myth. This world never did come into existence by the Word of God calling each creature in the space of six days, and then in the order set forth in Genesis 1. The human race never did originate from a man, Adam, who was formed by the hand of God from the dust, and from a woman, Eve, built by the hand of God from a rib of the man as we read in Genesis 2. Sin and death never did enter the world by the man's eating a piece of forbidden fruit at the instigation of his wife and by the temptation of a speaking serpent as Genesis 3 tells us. There never was the development of agriculture, herding, music, and metallurgy as Genesis 4 reveals. There never was a universal flood as taught in Genesis 6-8. There never was a Tower of Babel occasioning the dividing of the nations by confounding of the language as set forth in Genesis 11.

Genesis 1-11: Myth!
This is the prevailing opinion in evangelical, Reformed, and Presbyterian seminaries, schools, publishing houses, and churches at the beginning of the 2lst century.”

As we see above, the widespread agnosticism towards Genesis being taken literally is astounding. Sure one might want to argue that this is a result of hermeneutics within the Reformed circles however such an attitude towards Genesis 1-11 is being found more generally amongst those of evangelical persuasion. One could also fruitfully ask how much is this motivated by the academic desire for recognition through gaining PHd’s where a PHd is only given when someone suggests and argues something new? Still motivations are notorious to pin down so instead let’s just consider a couple of the main points above.

Let us just take for a moment the phrase approving of Blocher by Bruce Waltke that “the passage is "an artistic arrangement ... not to be taken literally." And as Waltke says, it’s not literal nor historical! In other words it never truly happened. And if that’s so, from where do we understand what sin is and Why there’s a need for a saviour? Sin was never a rebellion against God as we see from Genesis 3 on their understanding.

He is referring to how one is to read Genesis 1:1-2:3.
He isn’t referring to how one reads 1:2-2:3 but from the very first verse of chapter 1.

What are the implications that Genesis 1:1-2 is not history?

I want us to consider a number of Scriptures in response to this, ones which together I think blow a hole in the notion that Genesis 1-11 isn’t historical.

First, consider John 1:1-14. Where clearly John is putting forward the argument that Jesus is the Word who was with God before the Creation of all, and is God! Not only that but John clearly declares that “all things were made through him”, vs 2. That places John’s comments back at the time of the Creation of all things. It also makes it a related text referring to creation. Now the use of the phrase “In the beginning” is intended by John to draw the reader back to the very first words of Genesis 1 and to have the reader identify what He is saying about the Word, Jesus as having face to face with God before anything at all was created! The argument John uses, relies upon Genesis 1:1 being understood literally and historically. Historical in the sense that at some point God made all things, except the Word! John’s argument falls apart if Genesis 1:1 is not taken at face value, as being literal about what it is saying, that Genesis 1:1 is actually speaking about the Creation by God of all things. If you turn around and declare that all of Genesis is “an artistic arrangement .. not to be taken literally”, that it is not an event you are being told actually happened, then Gen 1:1 about God being before anything was Created and the one who created the Universe and everything else is not a truth you get from Genesis 1:1. You must instead dream up something else as the meaning for that verse, and it could be whatever, if you take Genesis 1 as non literal. Whatever it symbolically represents, you are not clear nor sure that it is that God before all else created the Universe and all that is in it.

Perhaps you chide me for attributing this interpretation to framework views and non literal interpretations etc but carefully consider what these writers are so quick to proclaim about Genesis 1 & 2. They say for example that Adam and Eve were not literal historical figures, that Adam wasn’t created from the dust but suggest instead that some ape had the breath of God breathed into it and became at that point “Adam in the image and likeness of God”. But what hermeneutical arbitrariness is this? In one breath to deny any actual chronology in the Genesis text and that days mean 24 hour periods because of the phrase “evening and morning”, and yet insist that “man” or Adam is made in the image and likeness of God is to read the text arbitrarily. Why take only those words literally? Then there’s Eve who the text tells us plainly is made from a rib of Adam and God goes into great detail to say Adam was caused to sleep etc, but they insist that all that detail is irrelevant because only the symbolic or figurative idea which they want to place on this “non-event” is that what matters, and it could be as simple as one person said to be that of the closeness of man and woman!

But let us also consider another Scripture passage which directs us how to interpret Genesis 1. Which actually tells us that the days of Genesis 1 are literal 24 hour periods. That Scripture is Exodus 20:11 and 31:12f. I am amazed how people so quickly dismiss the Sabbath commandment and proceed not to argue against it’s relationship to Genesis 1 but to ignore it. The Sabbath argument in Exodus 20:11 clearly and logically demands that the days of Genesis 1 are 24 hour periods. Israel’s Sabbath as commanded by God in Exodus 20 is patterned after God’s seventh day rest in Genesis 1. The point about the pattern is that it matches identically the original. If you are a manufacturer of anything in bulk you normally use a die that is the pattern of your design. If you don’t have a pattern that is an exact match then you don’t replicate the original. Further, when we look at Exodus there is no terminology that says that “the Sabbath is like a day”, there are no grammatical indicators to show us that what is being stated is figurative or a metaphor. Instead it straightforwardly says that “in six days God created everything and on the seventh rested.”

The Sabbath argument clearly rules out the day age theory of Genesis 1. I readily admit it doesn’t necessarily disqualify the Framework hypothesis, as advocates of that position would say it doesn’t matter for their argument if the days of Genesis 1 are 24 hour periods or not, since their argument is in the end that Genesis 1 days are a literary device not concerned with history or the chronology of events but that God created and filled and the work of God culminates in the rest of God. As some advocates of the framework position say “Day isn’t a time period but a literary device a figure of speech used by Moses to simply portray God as creator and creation as an ordered process. Morning and evening etc are a poetic literary device. Genesis 1 therefore presents creation topically, not chronologically.

Notice here also that the Sabbath argument of Exodus 20 also nullifies the objection you sometimes hear about the Sabbath being opened ended and therefore not a “24 hour period.” The Sabbath passage of Exod 20 shows us that it is speaking of 24 hour periods and that it is based upon God’s creation week, in which case the seventh day itself is not open ended.

BTW, this point also helps us rule out that Genesis 1:1-2 should read along the lines of a gap between verses 1 & 2. When God set about creating some things? Because then we are not certain of the deity of Jesus. If you posit a gap between Gen 1:1 and verse 2 and think of God’s act there being one of recreation, because of the fall of angels, then Jesus is not necessarily divine as John’s argues for, and that’s a nonsense conclusion.

If Genesis 1-3 is not meant to be taken as history, nor literal but rather as figurative, then we readily admit we know nothing about the real fall of man into sin and what that means. We know nothing about Who created the world for all that we have in Genesis 1 in the end is a literary tale to teach a certain topic and a very limited one at that. If Gen 1-3 is topical only, then what do we know about the first ancestors? What is this Adam to whom Jesus and Paul refer? Indeed many New Testament passages make nonsense as to their clear meaning if one rules that Genesis 1-3 isn’t literal nor historical. So Paul in his argument about headship in 1 Tim 2 argues that man has headship over the wife because Adam was created first and it was Eve who fell. Ie she was the one tempted and then tempted Adam to go along! If Adam are figurative and not literal people, the Paul’s justification about headship is nonsense.

The Third Scripture is perhaps the most powerful of all because it tells us Jesus’ attitude towards Genesis 1 & 2. In Mark 10:6 Jesus, in speaking to the question of divorce declared: “But from the beginning of the creation, male and female made he them” (Mark 10:6). Here Jesus plainly affirmed:
(a) There was a “creation” (ktisis—denoting “the sum-total of what God has created” [Cremer, 1962, p.381]);
(b) The first humans existed from the “beginning of the creation”. Not some billions of years after initial creation.
(c) The first couple was “made” (epoiesen—an aorist tense, stressing the fact that this original couple came into existence by single acts of creation. Had the Lord subscribed to the idea that the first humans evolved over vast ages of time, He would have employed the Greek imperfect tense, which is designed to express progressive action at some point in the past); and
(d) They were “male and female” from the beginning (not a bisexual blob that eventually evolved into male and female). Reference Wayne Jacksons :

Do these three passages tell us how we are to interpret Genesis 1-3 when there is so much confusion about those passages? I believe they do, and convincingly. I am interested to see what others say about this as one of the fundamentals of understanding Scripture and producing “theology” is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. If these passages perform the function I suggest here, then we do well to ask Why “Scholars” and pastors fail to take notice of them. And notice I haven't even mentioned the grammatical arguments which help you understand the day in Genesis 1 as 24 hour periods and that genre doesn't help alternative views, and that Genesis 1 is properly, historical narrative.

In Christ,


1 comment:

Joetrumpet said...

Very nice. Thanks for your explanations.