From the Dust: The Book of Genesis
Last week we debuted the first clip from the documentary “From the Dust”, directed by filmmaker Ryan Pettey. It is our sincere hope that, above all else, the film can become a focal point for some of the big questions that inevitably arise at the intersection of science and faith.
To help foster such dialogue, we are including several discussion questions with each clip from the film. In the transcript below, you’ll find several prompts that are meant to help viewers dig deeper into the material being presented. Mouse over each highlighted region and a question will appear on the side. We encourage you to watch this video with your friends, your church, your small groups and Sunday School classes, your pastors -- or anyone else for that matter – and take some time to discuss what is being said (and maybe even what isn’t). You may not all agree, but you will find yourselves engaged in fruitful and spirited conversation. And it is this kind of conversation that will help move the science and faith discussion forward. We have more discussion questions that go with this transcript and we'd be happy to send them to you to foster further conversation within your church or small group setting.
"The Book of Genesis" Transcript
Dr. Alister McGrath: “The Christian church has always wrestled with the interpretation of Scripture, realizing both how important it is and also sometimes how difficult it is to get it right. Certainly, the opening chapters of Genesis have been a topic of much debate throughout Christian history.”
Dr. John Polkinghorne: “The Bible is very important to me, but it is very important to recognize that the Bible is not a book. The Bible is a library. It has all sorts of different kinds of writing in it—It has histories, it has stories, it has poetry, it has prose. When we read Genesis one, we have to figure out, what am I reading? Am I reading a divinely dictated textbook to save me the trouble of doing science, or am I reading something, in fact, more interesting and profound than that?”
Dr. John Walton: “We have to approach Genesis 1 for what it is. It is an ancient document. It is not a document that was written to us—we believe the Bible was written for us like it is for everyone of all times and places because it is God’s Word—but it was not written to us. It was not written in our language. It was not written with our culture in mind or our culture in view.”
Dr. Alister McGrath: “It is not about the authority of Scripture, it is about the interpretation of Scripture. What method of interpretation do I use in the case of each individual passage?”
Dr. Karen Strand Winslow: “Biblical scholars urge people to take a literal, plain reading of the text…but I think in the controversy between theology and science, literal is often used to mean scientific, as if it is scientific, and that is a whole different story.”
Dr. John Walton: “We are inclined by our culture to think of the creation narrative as an account of material origins because we think about the world in material terms. For us, that is kind of what is important about origins. People come to Scripture thinking that they need to integrate it with science and so, they want to either read science out of the Bible or they want to read science into the Bible. That is not the way to do it because inevitably you end up making the text say things that it never meant to the ancient audience.”
Dr. Chris Tilling: “We are importing meaning into the text; we are bringing our own presuppositions and assumptions into a text and reading it in light of that as if it were in the text. Now, there is a sense in which we all inevitably do that, but there is also a sense in which we need to be aware when the times that we do that are damaging to the reading of the text.”
Dr. Nancey Murphy: “When I was a kid and the film industry was still relatively new, it was possible to depict people from two centuries ago as modern Americans dressed up in togas. As the film industry has gotten more sophisticated, they have gotten better and better at creating human figures that actually look and behave and think as they probably would have in the past. So, we Bible readers ought to be equally sophisticated and recognize that someone who was writing three thousand years ago, which is very hard to imagine, that these people must have been very different from us, with very different concerns. They certainly had very different understandings about how material things worked.”
Dr. Peter Enns: “One of the benefits of understanding the historical circumstances of the Bible is that we are reminded of how incredibly old this literature is. Let’s understand it in view of what we could even remotely expect of the Biblical writers to say.”
Dr. Nancey Murphy: “We can understand what our own creation stories are saying better, if we know what the creation myths were that were known at the times that those stories were written—for instance, to realize that a lot of the Genesis stories were written as a counter measure against the other cultures’ creation stories. That throws an immense amount of light on what parts of the story we are supposed to be paying attention to.”
Dr. Chris Tilling: “The Gilgamesh epic, for example, has a flood narrative and so forth, and so it wants to reflect creatively and theologically in light of those creation myths; it is going to be something recognizable.”
Dr. Peter Enns: “Genesis one shares theological vocabulary with the other stories—it just sort of takes things and turns it on its head.”
Dr. Nancey Murphy: “If one creation myth talks about the earth being created as a result of the battle between gods, we know to look in our creation stories to say, ‘wait a minute! Is violence intrinsic to the very creation of the universe?’ We find very clearly written that no, it is not.”
Dr. Peter Enns: “It’s Israel’s declaration that Yahweh is worthy of worship. It is a potent and counter-intuitive theological statement in the ancient world where people say, ‘That is totally different from anything we have ever seen.’”
Dr. John Polkinghorne: “The stories of the ancient world were not so concerned with minute, literal accuracy as we are today. People wrote not to give you sort of a factual, journalistic account of what is going on, but to tell you the significance of what was happening.”
Dr. Ard Louis: “And so what we see is that there are these really interesting structures in the Genesis text, which suggest that it is not describing the creation process as this is the order in which it happened. Rather, it is taking that story and emphasizing theological points. It talks about days; there was morning, there was evening—but the sun and the moon are not created until the fourth day. So why, for example, did the writer of Genesis put the sun and the moon on the fourth day? It is a very strange thing to do, and it is not as if it is only moderns who realize ‘Oh dear! Something is wrong.’ People at any time of history would have realized that that was an unusual way of writing down a journalistic account. And, of course, the reason most likely is that people of that day worshipped the sun and the moon, and the Israelites were always being drawn away that way, and the people around them were doing that. And so, what the writer was saying is, ‘no, I am going to demote these things to the fourth day. They are not the first thing to be created; they are something to be created somewhat later.’”
Bishop N.T. Wright: “This is simply the sort of language that people use to refer to concrete events, but to invest those events with their theological significance.”
Dr. John Walton: “We are well aware that people have to translate the language for us. We forget that people have to translate the culture for us, and therefore, if we want to get the best benefit from the communication, we need to try to enter their world, hear it as the audience would have heard it, as the author would have meant it, and to read it in those terms.”
Bishop N.T. Wright: “There is a distinction which is there in Scripture between heaven and earth. But the thing about heaven and earth is that they are supposed to overlap, and have an interesting, interlocking, interplay with one another. They are never supposed to be far apart.”
Dr. John Walton: “In the ancient world, they didn’t have a line between supernatural and natural. God was in everything. You couldn’t talk about God intervening because you can’t intervene in something you are doing—and to them, God was doing it all. That kind of functional aspect was very important to them.”
Bishop N.T. Wright: “In Genesis, God makes heavens and earth, and it appears that humans are in the world, but God is around as well because the heavens and earth have not split apart.”
Dr. John Walton: “The temple and the cosmos were all blended into one. If we used a modern metaphor it would almost be like the temple was the oval office. It is kind of where all the business is done, where all the work is run. It is the hub of activity and control, and when Deity took up his rest in the temple, it wasn’t for leisure or relaxation…it was to settle down to the work now that everything is set up and ready to go.”
Bishop N. T. Wright: “Telling a story about somebody who constructs something in six days, it is a temple story. It is about God making a place for himself to dwell…and this is heaven and earth. What you do with that is, the last thing is you put an image of this God into the temple. Suddenly, instead of Genesis one being about ‘were there six days or were there five or were there seven or were there twenty-four hours…,’ it is actually about when the good Creator God made the world, he made heaven and earth as the space in which he himself was going to dwell and put in humans into that construct as a way of both reflecting his own love into the world and drawing out the praise and glory from the world, back to himself. That is the literal meaning of Genesis. To flatten that out into, ‘this is simply telling us that the world was made in six days’ is almost perversely to avoid the real thrust of the narrative.”
Michael Ramsden: “If this is an inspired book, if this really is, you know, something where God is revealed and can speak through it, it shouldn’t surprise us that we find multiple layers of depth.”
Bishop N.T. Wright: “Genesis is one of those books like a Shakespeare play or like a Beethoven symphony or something where you can describe what it sort of literally says. Here is a Beethoven symphony; here are the notes, ‘Duh, duh, duh, duh.’ Then, you think, ‘well, that doesn’t actually catch what is going on in this’, and you want to use bigger language about the opening of Beethoven’s first symphony. This is an amazing statement about the power of empire and the fate of man…and goodness knows what! You still have got to play the notes. This world was made to be God’s abode, God’s home, God’s dwelling place. He shared it with us, and now he wants to rescue it and redeem it. We have to read Genesis for all it is worth. To say, either history or myth is a way of saying, ‘I am not going to study this text for what it is worth. I am just going to flatten it out so that it conforms to the cultural questions that my culture today is telling me to ask…and I think that is a form of actually being unfaithful to the text itself.”
Dr. John Walton: “The account in Genesis one is not intended to be an account of material origins. If that is so, then the Bible has no narrative of material origins, and if that is so, we don’t have to defend the Bible’s narrative of material origins against a scientific narrative because the Bible does not offer one. We can let the text be what it is and take it for what it is. That is the most literal reading that you could have.”
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
Ryan Pettey is a filmmaker and the director/editor of Satellite Pictures. He produced the feature length video From the Dust, which examines the question of human physical origins from a theological, historical and social perspective.