Surprised by Jack, Part 2: Reflecting on the Scriptures

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December 11, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by David Williams. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Surprised by Jack, Part 2: Reflecting on the Scriptures

Note: In part 1, Williams discussed C.S. Lewis’ views on the inspiration of scripture, noting that its “incarnational” character leads us to read it differently than an encyclopedia or an encyclical. Today Williams turns his attention to Lewis’ understanding of Genesis.

Mere Creation: Lewis on Myth, Truth, Fact and Genesis

What, then, did Lewis think specifically about Genesis 1-3? Did he consider the opening chapters of Genesis to be myth, or history, or science, or what?

Ever since George Smith discovered and published the ancient Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, in 1876, theologians, biblical scholars and informed laypeople have been aware of the fact that the book of Genesis was not written in a literary or cultural vacuum. As other ancient Near Eastern creation stories have been brought to light we have come to know a lot more about the intellectual, cultural, theological, and literary milieu within which Genesis was written, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to assess just what sort of text Genesis is. Taking all of this new evidence onboard, the majority report among contemporary biblical scholars is that the ancient texts which Genesis chapters 1-3 resemble the most are ancient Near Eastern myths—an observation which suggests that that is probably the best way to read Genesis, as well. In fact, most mainstream biblical scholarship today would understand Genesis to be an Israelite revision or version of prior mythical creation stories.

This critical consensus had more or less already been settled within mainstream scholarship by Lewis’s day, and Lewis directly addresses these matters in chapter XI of Reflections on the Psalms. He begins by dispelling the misperception that he believes “that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical scientific truth.” On the contrary, says Lewis, “[This] I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation ‘after the manner of a popular poet’ (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction.”1

Lewis is doing two things here: First, he is staking out his own position as a critically informed interpreter of Scripture, and, second, pointing out precedents for his approach in the grand Christian Tradition, namely Saint Jerome and John Calvin. Lewis was too well read to fall into the all-too-common misconception that all Christians were wholesale biblical literalists before the dawn of the Modern era. Figurative readings are, in fact, well represented among the best of the Church’s historic interpretations of Genesis. Recognizing that fact, Lewis was perfectly happy to grant the emerging scholarly consensus about the genre and origins of Genesis. He writes, “I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.”2 Lewis goes on to sketch his idea of how God could “take up” a clutch of Pagan myths, guiding their tellers and re-tellers over the generations so as to make the stories His own:

Stories do not reproduce their species like mice. They are told by men. Each re-teller either repeats exactly what his predecessor had told him or else changes it. He may change it unknowingly or deliberately. If he changes it deliberately, his invention, his sense of form, his ethics, his ideas of what is fit, or edifying, or merely interesting, all come in. If unknowingly, then his unconscious (which is so largely responsible for our forgettings) has been at work. Thus at every step in what is called–a little misleadingly–the “evolution” of a story, a man, all he is and all his attitudes, are involved. And no good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights. When a series of such re-tellings turns a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.3

Lewis’s belief that Genesis, as we presently have it, was fashioned out of an extended, divinely guided oral and written tradition of telling, modifying, and retelling “earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical” and that Genesis itself is “mythical” fits squarely within Lewis’s incarnational and sacramental understanding of Scripture. God “takes up,” as Lewis says, human literature, blessing, shaping, and sanctifying it for His own mysterious redemptive purposes. “Thus,” writes Lewis, “something originally merely natural–the kind of myth that is found among most nations–will have been raised by God above itself, qualified by Him and compelled by Him to serve purposes which of itself it would not have served.”4

It should be clear by now that for Lewis “myth” is not a bad word. It does not necessarily carry connotations of falsehood or contrivance or deception or muddle-headedness. Being a “myth” or a “folktale” does not, for Lewis, disqualify Genesis as the most sublime articulation of the doctrine of creation found anywhere. As he writes in chapter IV of his book Miracles:

No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that “In the beginning God made Heaven and Earth.” I say “radical” improvement, because the story in Genesis—as St. Jerome said long ago—is told in the manner “of a popular poet,” or as we should say, in the form of a folk tale. But if you compare it with the creation legends of other peoples—with all these delightful absurdities in which giants to be cut up and floods to be dried up are made to exist before creation—the depth and originality of this Hebrew folk tale will soon be apparent. The idea of creation in the rigorous sense of the word is there fully grasped.5

For Lewis, myth is a highly imaginative way of speaking about the world that can speak truth at least as well as history or science can—indeed can sometimes speak truths about which history and science must remain silent. For Lewis, “myth” hardly means false. Lewis had no trouble calling Genesis mythological, not because he had a low view of Genesis, but because he had a high view of mythology. In fact, says Lewis, “Even assuming (which I most constantly deny) that the doctrines of historic Christianity are merely mythical, it is the myth which is the vital and nourishing element in the whole concern.”6

Perhaps Lewis’ clearest exposition of his view of myth is to be found in his short piece, “Myth Became Fact,” which you can find in his book of essays, God in the Dock. Lewis argues that, far from being inevitably false, myth is uniquely able to articulate abstract truths in concrete terms. “In the enjoyment of a great myth,” he writes, “we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.”7 In our usual experience, abstract truths and concrete experiences are quite opposed to one another:

Human intellect is incurably abstract. Pure mathematics is the type of successful thought. Yet the only realities we experience are concrete–this pain, this pleasure, this dog, this man. While we are loving the man, bearing the pain, enjoying the pleasure, we are not intellectually apprehending Pleasure, Pain, or Personality. When we begin to do so, on the other hand, the concrete realities sink to the level of mere instances or examples: we are no longer dealing with them, but with that which they exemplify. This is our dilemma–either to taste and not to know or to know and not to taste–or, more strictly, to lack one kind of knowledge because we are in an experience or to lack another kind because we are outside it.8

Abstract truths are not true in the same way that historical truths are. Two plus two did not equal four only once in a particular place and time. Two plus two equals four in all places and times. It is not a historical fact, but an abstract universal truth. But there are other abstract truths and concepts besides necessary logical and mathematical ones which similarly transcend space and time, like Personality, or Pain, or Justice, or the Human Condition. Truths such as these, according to Lewis, can often be better illuminated and communicated by means of mythology than they can by theoretical treatises.

Take, for instance, the phenomenon or concept of narcissism. We may describe narcissism in two basic ways, mythically or conceptually. The myth of Narcissus, classically set out by Ovid in book III of his Metamorphoses, is well known. A famously handsome hunter, Narcissus, is led by his enemy to a still pool of water where Narcissus catches sight of and falls deeply in love with his own reflection. Unable to pull himself away from the beautiful countenance looking longingly up at him from the pool, eventually there Narcissus dies. There is narcissism in a nutshell. Compare the myth of Narcissus, however, with the definition of narcissism found in Webster’s Dictionary:

nar•cis•sism noun \ˈnär-sə-ˌsi-zəm\
1: egoism, egocentrism
2: love of or sexual desire for one’s own body

Now, clearly, if one were to propose the above dictionary definition as the meaning of the myth of Narcissus, there would be a way in which such a proposal would not be completely off-base. But, still, to flatten the myth into a dictionary definition is inevitably an impoverishment, and, clearly, if one wants to really get a handle on what narcissism is, the myth beats the dictionary, hands down. Lewis writes:

[When reading a myth you] are not looking for an abstract ‘meaning’ at all. If that was what you were doing the myth would be for you no true myth but a mere allegory. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what you were tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we state this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely.9

To really taste abstract realities, one needs myths—not definitions, abstract theological accounts, or philosophical expositions.

So, what follows from this for our understanding of what Lewis means when he says that Genesis 1-3 is myth? Two things are clear: First, Lewis is not using the word “myth” as a loose term of opprobrium, connoting falsehood or silliness or any such thing. Rather, he means by “myth” a very specific literary genre, which he takes to be the genre of the stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, of Narcissus and the pool, of Icarus and Daedalus, and also of Adam and Eve. He comes to this conclusion primarily on literary grounds, reading the texts in their contexts and on their own terms. When he takes that same literary critical approach to the rest of Scripture, he finds not a book of nothing but mythology, but a book packed with a kaleidoscopic variety of genres: epics, chronicles, psalms, proverbs, hymns, poems, apocalyptic visions, Greco-Roman biographies, histories, epistles, and more. Moreover, Lewis makes it quite clear that Christianity, mere Christianity, depends ultimately on the miracle of the Incarnation, which Lewis takes to be the fundamental Fact at the core of human history. So there is no reason whatsoever to think that if Lewis takes Genesis to be myth, he is on a slippery slope towards taking the whole Bible to be myth as well. That’s a silly argument and people need to stop making it, whether they agree with Lewis or not. As Lewis would be quick to point out, to make a “slippery slope” argument is to commit an informal logical fallacy, in any case.

It is clear, too, that for Lewis good myths put us in touch with abstract reality in a way that neither abstract definitions nor historical anecdotes can. Good myths really do illuminate and convey realities and are, in that sense, true, even if that which they narrate never occurred in space and time; that which they narrate is not fact, per se. Myths are true not if (and only if) what they narrate happened, but if they make vivid intangible, unempirical realities. The truth of Genesis chapters 1 and 2-3, then, lies not with their historicity or scientific accuracy, but with their ability to help us to taste the bittersweet human condition as both akin to and estranged from God and to see the world as it is, as God’s good handiwork and cosmic cathedral. So, then, for Lewis, one need not assess or defend the historicity of these stories, but only to receive them as they are and to taste and see that the Word of God is, indeed, good.

My sense is that many American Evangelical admirers of Lewis would be surprised by Lewis’ overall theology of Scripture, to say nothing of the ways in which Lewis’s ideas about Scripture anticipate the proposals of current controversial scholars like Peter Enns and Kenton Sparks. Regardless, it would be a mistake to think that Lewis had simply capitulated to the Spirit of the Age or to Darwin here. He hadn’t. Lewis had too much backbone for that. Lewis was a professor of literature, a man trained in the reading, understanding, and appreciation of texts, and his literary instincts, given the available evidence, led him to the conclusion that Genesis was myth. Meanwhile, his theological instincts led him to the conclusion that that was perfectly fine. He knew that figurative readings of Genesis were well represented in the grand tradition of the Church and took the deliverances of modern biblical scholarship to be not a betrayal but a refinement of that tradition.

Tomorrow, Lewis and the Fall.

Notes

1. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 109
2. Ibid, 110
3. Ibid, 110-11
4. Ibid, 111
5. Lewis, Miracles (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 47
6. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” in God in the Dock, 64
7. Ibid, 66
8. Ibid
9. Ibid


David Williams is the campus staff for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Graduate & Faculty Ministries at NC State University, Meredith College and Campbell Law School in Raleigh, North Carolina. A native of North Carolina, David earned his MAR from Westminster Theological Seminary and his ThM from Duke Divinity School. He has taught students from grade school to college at St. David's School and Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, respectively. In April 2012 David organized the symposium Biblical Faith in an Age of Science: Adam and Eve, Evolution, & Evangelicalism at NC State University, which was cosponsored by InterVarsity and Ratio Christi. As a part of his ministry, David works to encourage healthier and better-informed conversations about the Christian tradition and modern science in both the university and the local church. You can follow him on his blog at www.resurrectingraleigh.com.

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thedwill - #75178

December 11th 2012

  1. It seems, then, that Lewis would not subscribe to the modern doctrine of inerrancy? 
  2. While I tend to agree that the Genesis creation account need not be historically accurate to be “true,” as you explained above, I also feel safe regarding the account as having actually occurred.  In Matthew 19:4-8 (also Mark 10:5-9) we see Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24 as part of a broader historical discussion of Mosaic law.  My reaction to those passages is that, if Jesus treated Genesis as historical, why shouldn’t I? I wonder if Lewis ever addressed that and what he might (or did) say.

In any case, very good essay!  I am looking forward to the remaining parts.


David Williams - #75184

December 11th 2012

I wonder if this is thedwill I had dinner with last night?  Either way, thanks for reading and commenting!

1.  Right, Lewis was not an inerrantist.  There are a lot of reasons why he wasn’t, too.  For one thing, the modern doctrine of inerrancy as we know it was basically hammered out in debates in the United States in the 1970s, well after Lewis had died.  But, also, as can be seen above, it’s doubtful that Lewis would have affirmed inerrancy had he lived to see those debates.

2.  I can’t think of any place where Lewis looks at Matt 19:4-8 and parallels with an eye to the question of Adam and Eve’s historicity.  Perhaps some other Lewis-o-philes out there know of one.  As you’ll see in my next post, Lewis (whatever he may have privately believed in his heart-of-hearts) was publicly non-committal on the historicity of Adam and Eve, and consistently affirmed that mankind descended from the animals.  I’m sure he thought about Jesus’s citation of that passage, but unfortunately I’m not sure he ever wrote those thoughts down for us.

In any case, you are more than welcome to disagree with Lewis on any of these points.  My main interest in this series is to get us all to own up to what Lewis actually said.


Seenoevo - #75189

December 11th 2012

“So there is no reason whatsoever to think that if Lewis takes Genesis to be myth, he is on a slippery slope towards taking the whole Bible to be myth as well. That’s a silly argument and people need to stop making it”

Likewise, would it be OK to say that if someone does not take Genesis to be myth, he is not necessarily on a slippery slope towards taking the whole Bible literally?


thedwill - #75192

December 11th 2012

I would agree.


David Williams - #75193

December 11th 2012

As would I.


Eddie - #75339

December 15th 2012

It depends on why the person takes parts of Genesis to be myth.  If the reason is something like, “We must find a mythical interpretation of these passages, because science has now shown that the historical reading that we all used to believe for 2,000 years is no longer possible”—then of course the person is on a slippery slope.  Eventually such a person will deny all the miracle stories in the name of “science” and will doubt the truthfulness of the authors who wrote the miracle stories, and thus, will regard the Bible overall as a merely human construction and without divine authority.

However, if the person who takes parts of Genesis to be myth has text-based reasons for doing so—i.e., early Genesis stories seem to him to have the character of myths (in the technical sense, not in the sense of “falsehoods”)—then the case is quite different.  Such a judgment need not be extended beyond the early stories of Genesis.  Indeed, the operative principle would require each book or unit of the Bible to be analyzed for literary form separately, which means that no “domino” judgment would be involved.  The Gospels, for example, would only become treated as “myth” if their literary character could be shown to require it.  Nothing in the treatment of Genesis would require a similar treatment of the Gospels.

Lewis’s view was clearly that the Gospels were to be understood as, in the main, factual accounts.  His treatment of Jesus is quite different from his treatment of Adam and Eve, because he judged the Gospels to be more historical in genre than the Genesis story.  So the slippery slope effect never took hold of Lewis, as it did many modern Christians who had been raised fundamentalist and, once they couldn’t accept all parts of the Bible as accurate history, threw it all away.  


wesseldawn - #75195

December 11th 2012

Stories do not reproduce their species like mice. They are told by men. Each re-teller either repeats exactly what his predecessor had told him or else changes it. He may change it unknowingly or deliberately. If he changes it deliberately, his invention, his sense of form, his ethics, his ideas of what is fit, or edifying, or merely interesting, all come in. If unknowingly, then his unconscious (which is so largely responsible for our forgettings) has been at work. Thus at every step in what is called–a little misleadingly–the “evolution” of a story, a man, all he is and all his attitudes, are involved.

This is true about human beings and their stories but then the Bible was not authored by human beings…and how can one claim to be Christian and at the same time argue against the inerrancy of scripture?...according to it’s own tenets of faith, Christianity is founded upon a perfect God, not one that tells myths!


David Williams - #75201

December 11th 2012

Hi wesseldawn,

Thanks for reading and commenting.  My purpose in these posts is simply to clearly outline Lewis’s thoughts on some crucial subjects for his admiring American evangelical public.  It doesn’t sound like you’re much of a Lewis fan, which is fine.  

In any case, I think you’ve broken with the classical Christian understanding of inspiration which is that God inspired human authors to write the Scriptures and that, therefore, the Scriptures inevitably bear the mark of their human origin while communicating the very Word  of God.  The perfect God apparently has ordained to communicate with us in this way and so, though it may seem counterintuitive to simple, sinful creatures such as we, apparently this is what He, in His perfect wisdom, thought best.

From Lewis’s standpoint, as I thought the post made clear, to say that something is a “myth” is not to say that it’s a pack of lies, but rather a way of narrating abstract truths.  If that’s so, why couldn’t a perfect God speak in myths if He wanted to?


wesseldawn - #75333

December 15th 2012

Oh but I do like Lewis, I’m a big fan of his fiction writing…his theology on the otherhand is too much like muddy water to me and I think he should have stuck to writing fiction.


wesseldawn - #75334

December 15th 2012

I understand the allegory, David, but a myth is in fact just that ‘myth’. God may have inspired human authors to write the scriptures but they did not leave “their” mark, they perfectly communicated God’s words - otherwise you might as well call the Bible just another book - an abstract one. It’s the play on words I don’t like: God is not vague but Lewis’ ideas are and to me that’s a bad representation of a perfect God.

Many Christians cannot prove the divine spark so they look for every other thing to try and justify the lack of perfection…and it simply ends up making God look confused and contradictory and it’s that I take issue with.


robynhood - #75346

December 16th 2012

reply to wesseldawn:

I think what you are reacting to in Lewis is not so much vagueness as it is his reluctance to put God in a box of his own pre-conceived ideas.  Lewis most certainly did believe in a perfect God, but he viewed that perfect God as choosing to work through imperfect men, and that includes the work of His written word.

If God had intended to give mankind His word without any “mark” from human beings, why couldn’t He simply send down from heaven a miraculous tablet of some in-destructible, other-worldly material that He directly carved His words into.  Alternatively, why didn’t Jesus himself write down His teachings instead of having them given to us second hand by His disciples and through the Apostle Paul?  Why isn’t there a book called, “The Gospel of Jesus”?

What Lewis is saying is that as much as we may personally want God to be direct with us, He is not.  He doesn’t swoop in like a super-hero and save us from harm.  He doesn’t answer us with a booming voice from the sky when we pray to Him.  And he doesn’t give us His written word directly, but rather through the inspired writings of mere mortals who were allowed to include their unique cultural perspectives and literary preferences when they wrote.

God Himself may not be a ‘vague’ being, but the ways He has chosen to interact with His creation are vague indeed.  And it is not our right to require that He speak plainly to us.  Jesus spoke in parables… often vague, mysterious and hard to understand.  When people asked Him direct questions like, “what must I do to be saved”, He often gave different answers.  We must accept that this was His choice and learn from it what we can.


Jon Garvey - #75382

December 18th 2012

Robynhood

I don’t read Lewis as buying into the idea of Scripture as imperfect, and that certainly doesn’t come across in the essay. Rather he stands in the tradition who believes biblical truth to be expressed in some instances non-historically, or non-literally in that sense.

The essay doesn’t say much about his overall attitude to the Bible, but this quote seems apposite to that:

In most parts of the Bible, everything is implicitly or explicitly introduced with “Thus saith the Lord”. It is… not merely a sacred book but a book so remorselessly and continuously sacred that it does not invite—it excludes or repels—the merely aesthetic approach. You can read it as literature only by a tour de force... It demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms: it will not continue to give literary delight very long, except to those who go to it for something quite different. I predict that it will in the future be read, as it always has been read, almost exclusively by Christians.

From a scholar of ancient literature who didn’t expect his field of study to die, that is quite a strong claim to the uniqueness of the Bible across the wide range of genres he found there. 


robynhood - #75416

December 18th 2012

There is no doubt that Lewis viewed scripture overall as the inspired work of the Holy Spirit, but it’s important to establish we could mean when we use the word imperfect.

In one sense, all written language is imperfect. In the words of one of Lewis’ greatest influences, George MacDonald, “Whatever belonging to the region of thought and feeling is uttered in words, is of necessity uttered imperfectly.” (Unspoken Sermons)

Words can be vague or have multiple meanings.  Translation from one language to another is an inherently imperfect process.  Words (and even concepts) can exist in one culture but be a complete mystery to another.  So, I believe that Lewis would recognize the written word as a necessarily imperfect vehicle for God’s revelation to us, in the same way we all would recognize the human body as an imperfect vehicle for the incarnation of God.

Beyond that basic level, imperfect could refer to errors or misunderstanding about historical or scientific facts. By his use of the word “impeccable” in the following quote (sited in Part I of this essay series) I believe Lewis acknowledges this kind of ‘imperfection’ in the Bible as well:

“The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naïvety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.”5

Others may attach the word imperfect to literary genres such as mythology, but clearly Lewis does not do that.  To Lewis, it is not how God communicates His message to us but what that message is.  And I would agree that Lewis viewed the overall message of the Bible as perfect (or true).  

But far more than anything that the Bible said, it’s what the Bible was meant to do that mattered to Lewis.

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.” (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 8 Nov. 1952)

Like George MacDonald, and many others before him, Lewis viewed the whole of scripture as a pointer to Christ.  It’s purpose is to bring us to the living God so that we may know and worship Him.  It’s goal is that we have a relationship with Christ and be transformed by Him directly lest we get hung up on the details of scripture and even perhaps risk worshiping the written word of God rather than God Himself.


wesseldawn - #75765

December 31st 2012

All that is true…and in that regard C.S. Lewis’s theology was not so different from much of what we find today…obviously there is much suffering in this world and Christians are not immune.

My objection with Lewis is the same one that you express above: the insistence that God is perfect and the other insistence that His interaction with us is vague, which are contradictory.

Also, the Bible is not a cultural book, because it assumes that God was not smart enough to write a unique book and you completely miss the repetitious algorithm that reveals a divine mind at work.


lancelot10 - #75389

December 18th 2012

Peter the apostle  said that ALL scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit not by man’s own interpretation - in other words it is inerrant - it is not the writers thoughts but God’s - so it can be trusted 100%.

 

 


2cortenfour - #75224

December 12th 2012

Hi
According to the definition of “myth” presented, stories about things that never actually happened can be “true” as long as they accurately portray abstract reality. For Genesis 1-3 what would some of these abstract realities be?  And does the insertion of evolutionary thought into the Genesis story undermine these truths?

THE HUMAN CONDITION:
Sinful and estranged from the perfect holy God through our own rebellion, typified in Adam and Eve. There was a time in humanity’s past where we DID “walk with God”, but we rebelled. Human beings were not “born this way” - we fell. Those are some truths conveyed by the Genesis narrative.

Does the insertion of evolution into the story change those truths?
Yes.
According to evolution, Man was not a special, separate creation apart from the beasts. He is simply the highest evolved animal. There never was a time when human beings “walked with God”.  We inherited our savage, sinful, rebellious disposition from our furry ancestors. Mankind itself was “born this way”. It’s not our fault ultimately (although today we hold people responsible for destructive acts, mankind as a whole can point to God and say, “He made us this way!”).

So in this sense,  if for the sake of argument it was conceded that early Genesis is mythological, it would neither be true historically, scientifically, NOR in regard to abstract reality (i.e. our guilt collectively as the human race before a holy God who created us to have fellowship with him, which we once did enjoy) in the evolutionary pardigm.
So, if evolution is true, early Genesis is false period.


Stephen Mapes - #75230

December 12th 2012

But isn’t our uniqueness linked to the Image of God, not how “special” the physical act of our creation was?


2cortenfour - #75240

December 12th 2012

Hello Stephen
Yes indeed. Our uniqueness is linked to the image of God. As it is written:
Genesis 1:24, 26 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Human beings were created completely separate from the creation of fish, birds, land animals, etc, which God created “according to their kinds”. 
But evolution says we are simply the highest evolved animal. Lets say,for the sake of argument, that evolution is true, and that God used it to produce Man, which represents His image. But evolution is continuing, right? So when we make the next big evolutionary jump and become MORE than human, or POST- human, will that then become the “image of God”? In the evolutionary paradigm, it seems that the “image of God” is a fluid thing.
Stephen, when you use the term “image of God”, what exactly are you referring to, and what basis do you use for your definition?
Jeff


wesseldawn - #75335

December 15th 2012

Our uniqueness from the other animals is most definitely linked to the image of God as when man/ruddy/animal principle entered the garden it got God’s image. We are the missing link.


Seenoevo - #75236

December 12th 2012

Would these be some of the modern lessons of Genesis 1-3?

1) That God’s “good”, “very good”, “six-day” creation actually included, “from the beginning”, destruction, disease, deformity and death, played out over billions of years.

2) That IF the Fall resulted in any “new” negative physical repercussions, these negatives were necessarily applied retroactively back through deep time to the actual beginning of life.

3) That man would continue doing, as he always had, things which we would call lying, stealing, fornicating, killing, and murdering, but would now know that these things were wrong. Basically, everything remained exactly the same, except that man would now be blessed with one more “good” thing, a guilty conscience.

[Might lesson #3 be premature? Before the Fall, do the verses say Adam and Eve knew these things were wrong? Before the Fall, had not God commanded them only to not eat from just one of the many trees in the garden?]

 

Would C.S. Lewis disagree with the above possible modern lessons of Genesis 1-3?


robynhood - #75243

December 12th 2012

Response to thedwill #75178:

 “My reaction to those passages is that, if Jesus treated Genesis as historical, why shouldn’t I?”

I personally don’t think Jesus is making any claim or even implying that Genesis is historical in those passages.  He is simply giving an answer to a question about the morality of divorce and is quoting the Hebrew scripture to prove his point.  Jesus often used parables in his teaching, so why wouldn’t he use parts of Genesis to do the same, even if they were mythical?

 

Response to wesseldawn #75195:

“…and how can one claim to be Christian and at the same time argue against the inerrancy of scripture?”

Because Christians worship Christ, not scripture.


2cortenfour - #75255

December 13th 2012

Couple of things to ponder:

True we do not “worship” the Bible.  However, the only place you find the TRUE Christ is in Scripture. Therefore, if there are errors in Scripture, how can we be sure we have the real Jesus? Or the true God, for that matter.

Also, in the majority of cases, when Jesus made His point using a parable, he identified it clearly as such. The story is normally prefaced by, “And Jesus told them this parable”, or words to that effect. You do not see that in reference to for example Jesus’ allusion to Genesis in support of biblical marriage in Matt 19. He simply states it as a matter of fact: “...the Creator made them male and female.”

Some people think Jesus’ humanity limited Him, therefore He was unaware that evolution is fact and Adam and Eve never really existed .... More fodder for the skeptics…


David Williams - #75258

December 13th 2012

Jeff, here’s what I think about Jesus’s limited knowledge and its implications for our thinking about Scripture:

By his own admission, Jesus didn’t know everything.  After warning the disciples about the great, apocalyptic trials that were soon to fall upon Jerusalem and about his own parousia, Jesus says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt 24:36)  And, as C.S. Lewis once pointed out, the most likely explanation as to why Jesus asked “Who touched my clothes?” when the woman with the issue of blood, reaching out from the crowd, desperately snatched at his garment, is that he genuinely didn’t know….

Personally, I have to agree with Robynhood here.  Jesus is making a halakhic point, not a historical or scientific one.  The historicity of Adam is simply irrelevant to the argument Jesus is making in Matt 19.


2cortenfour - #75277

December 13th 2012

That’s true… I don’t think that Jesus was intentionally using that instance to argue for the historicity of Adam and Eve.  The discussion was about marriage. He just assumes their existence.

In the same way, Genesis 1:1 does not intentionally argue for the existence of God. The discussion there is about Creation.  The Bible just assumes God’s existence as a matter of fact:  “In the beginning God…”

So Jesus, Paul, Luke, Jude, etc. treat Adam as a real person - they seem to just assume his extistence in history. But according to evolution, Adam could not have existed. Plus there are scholars like CS Lewis who concede that the early chapters of Genesis look mythological.  So what is the conclusion?  Apparently the New Testament writers and Jesus Himself were wrong about Adam. And in Jesus’ case, He was in error because of His limited knowledge as a human being. And of course, since the NT writers were followers of Christ, they followed Him in His erroneous view of Adam…
I get it…I think


Eddie - #75373

December 17th 2012

I do not deny that Adam could have existed.  I do not assume that the Bible or theology should change in order to harmonize with the purported truths of modern science.  However, I would agree with part of what I think David Williams is saying.  I will try to put it in my own words, so that you can make me, rather than Williams or Lewis, responsible for any error.

If Jesus made an “error” about Adam in the sense of reading Adam as historical rather than mythical, I don’t think that “error” causes any teaching of Jesus to be faulty.  The key thing is not the incidental side-beliefs that Jesus as a mortal may have held (about the flatness or immobility of the earth or the historicity of Adam), but how Jesus uses the story of Adam (and other Old Testament stories) in his teaching.  A teacher might well use a story that he thinks to be historical in a way that does not depend on whether or not the story is in fact historical.  

Another possibility is that Jesus did not believe Adam to be historical, but knew that most of his contemporaries did.  It would be poor teaching strategy to challenge their belief in Adam’s historicity when such a challenge was not necessary in order for Jesus to use the figure of Adam successfully in a homiletical context.

I think the case may be different for Paul, since Paul, at least on the surface, does appear to base his understanding of the action of Christ on the presupposition of Adam’s historicity and the metaphysical effects of a real historical Adam’s fall.  I would wish to think carefully about the question whether a non-historical Adam would destroy Paul’s teaching.  But the case of Jesus, I think, is different.  He refers to Adam and Noah and other OT figures superficially and in glancing ways that make it clear that he is more interested in the moral he is trying to draw than in informing his listeners about his precise opinions regarding these figures.

I do not see, in the words of Jesus, anything to compel the literalist-inerrantist view of Genesis that is so prevalent in the USA.  When the Gospel accounts of Jesus are read with a literary eye, rather than with the literalist-inerrantist’s hangups, Jesus is seen to preach as any effective rabbi of his era would—he uses Scripture somewhat freely and loosely, to make whatever spiritual point he thinks his local audience most needs to be taught.  The attempt to make Jesus into some kind of Calvinist Scripture scholar is, I believe, a serious mistake.


Jon Garvey - #75383

December 18th 2012

True Eddie.

But in the specific instance, Jesus is at least pointing to the “mythic truth” (in Lewis’s sense) of Genesis 2 as divine authoritative teaching for his time, and by implication for all time (an inevitable result of his referring to the creation for doctrine).

Let’s paraphrase Jesus the contemporarily-informed scholar: “The sentence about marriage as God’s creation institution, though set in a mythic story, is nevertheless divine truth and should form the authoritative foundation for the theological discussion of marriage and divorce.” That would work, but leaves the interesting situation of a divinely-instituted original state of marriage with no historical setting.

If he were simply retailing a fictional aetiological detail of a fictional story, his teaching loses most of his force: I for one would not want to counsel a struggling married couple on the basis that Romeo and Juliet provide a binding paradigm for “till death us do part”. It would have surely been better for him to say, “I tell you, marriage is intended to be for life” on his own divine authority.

Of course, if Jesus is using the story, as many “evangelicals” nowadays seem to come close to saying, because he erroneously believed the story to be true when it was not, then he was also in error in the teaching he derived from it, and the Lordship of Christ is in danger of becoming obedience to what we have determined by our own means to be true, and correcting our Lord when we detect his all-too-human and very non-Chalcedonian errors.


Eddie - #75404

December 18th 2012

Hi, Jon:
 
Regarding the humanity of Jesus and possible errors on his part, here are some of my thoughts:
 
It’s often asked whether or not Jesus knew, e.g., the theory of relativity.  After all, as God, he would know all such things.  The response to that usually boils down to one of two answers:  (1) Yes, of course he did, but he chose not to demonstrate that knowledge because the people of his era wouldn’t have understood it, and it would have served no purpose; (2) No, he did not know it; he had no theoretical understanding of nature beyond that of any other Galilean carpenter of his era.
 
I’ve always accepted the second answer, because (a) it seems more in accord with the Gospel portrait of Jesus, and (b) if we take the Trinitarian formula of “wholly God and wholly man” seriously, and if we consider that a man who knew all the secrets of the universe at every moment would find it difficult if not impossible to carry on as a man, the first answer would tend to make us think of Jesus as God travelling incognito, and would tempt us to Docetism.
 
If my conclusion here is right, it seems reasonable to extend it to other things.  Did Jesus know all about the ancient Egyptians, for example?  (As God, he would have seen the whole history of Egypt played out before him, even though as man, he could not read the hieroglyphs before Champollion had decoded them.)  But I would expect that Jesus did not know very much about the Egyptians.  Or about the Cimmerians, etc.  As a man, his historical and geographical knowledge would be limited by his time and place and upbringing.
 
So when Jesus read Scripture, did he read it with all the intellectual limitations of a pious Jew of his era?  Or did he have, in the case of Scripture alone, a telephone line to the divine knowledge— closed in matters of science, history, and geography—so that he knew fully what God knew, and knew exactly what God intended by every passage, without need of teachers or of exegetical study, and without being dependent in any way upon rabbinic tradition?  This is what I am not sure about.  Any comments of yours that could illuminate this question would be gratefully accepted.

Jon Garvey - #75423

December 18th 2012

Eddie

I’ll avoid discussing classical formulations because I haven’t delved into them sufficiently. They exist, though, as you well know even if many moderns don’t! I think Chalcedon implies that, since the two natures of Christ cannot be divided, the issue is more complex than “Jesus is a man, therefore has only a man’s knowldege.” He displays supernatural knowledge more than he displays ignorance in the gospels, at any rate.

As I said, ignoring that, we have at least the man perfectly indwelt by the Spirit without measure and perfectly in tune with his Father. In John he says he has told his disciples “exactly what his Father told him to say”.  Indeed, a whole bunch of passages in John give an indication of some kind of “divine hot line”, not to mention his self-knowledge of having come from heaven. “Before Abraham was, I am” would be a more than presumptuous claim from merely human knowledge.

Without some such divine knowledge (a) he is lying about his teaching being from God and (b) his teaching is little more useful to us than an equivalent rabbi’s would be. We would have also to assume that his wisdom was similarly limited to that of an averagely wise rabbi, his love equally so ... Jesus is either limited and error-prone in every area, or has divine qualities in all of them. Why should knowledge  be unique, seeing that the Spirit promised him in Isaiah 11 was of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and fear of the Lord?

So I ask, do we as Christians call Jesus “Teacher” with some kind of unconscious proviso that we mean only the risen, glorified Jesus teaching us by direct spiritual experience (superceding Scripture in best Zwickau Prophets mode) or by other means (Spirit-directed Higher Criticism, maybe, or Spirit-directed secular academic research… God help us!)?

I don’t pretend to understand the psychology of the God-Man - there’s a proper place for mystery there. But I don’t seriously believe that the Spirit of Jesus who, according to 1 Peter, inspired the OT prophets, was dependent on fallible human hermeneutics to interpret them and teach foundational Christianity. That would be bizarre, though quite in keeping with the the ad hoc nature of much modern evangelical theology.


wesseldawn - #75767

December 31st 2012

Eddie,

The Bible actually teaches that God’s original creation was forfeited to Satan who is the god of this world (prince of the powers of the air). As such this world is a delusion perpetrated by Satan to deceive people (evolution the product of this pseudo-reality).

Jesus wrote about those things which are needful to become free from the delusion because he knew it was all a lie whose end will come…not to say that Jesus may not have spoken about the theory of relativity:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. (John 21:25)


lancelot10 - #75390

December 18th 2012

Yes and Jesus is the WORD (scripture) made flesh.

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ   - St Jerome.


wesseldawn - #75766

December 31st 2012

but aren’t scripture and Christ the same thing (i.e. scripture is what God/Jesus wrote)?


Clarke Morledge - #76686

February 16th 2013

David,

There appears to be some good evidence that Lewis misattributed the reference regarding  parts of Genesis being written in the manner of a “popular poet” to St. Jerome.    Lewis makes this link between “myth”, Genesis, and Jerome on several occasions.   Unfortunately, some students of Jerome have not been able to locate Lewis’ original quote from Jerome’s writings.

http://www.lewisiana.nl/jerome/

Does this have any impact on your thesis?   If Lewis, in fact, did not get St. Jerome correctly on this, would it be fair to say that the lack of a “mythical”; i.e. non-historical, understanding of Adam in Jerome takes away from the “Genesis-is-myth-and-that’s-ok” argument?

Clarke


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