The Genesis of Everything, Part 1

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June 9, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by John P. Dickson. 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.

The Genesis of Everything, Part 1

Note: Today's post is the first of a four-part series by theologian, historian and Christian apologist Dr. John P. Dickson, dealing with the history and interpretation of Genesis 1. Making no claims about human biological origins, Dickson's paper forms a bridge between recent discussions at BioLogos about the purposes of God in creation (the Southern Baptist Voices exchange between James Dew and Ard Louis) and an emphasis on the "image of God" coming later this month.

Dickson's paper first appeared in 2009 as "The Genesis of Everything: An historical account of the Bible’s opening chapter," at Christians in Science and Technology (ISCAST), an Australian organisation dedicated to exploring the interface between science and the Christian faith. As that title suggests, it urges us to treat the early chapters of Genesis as a literary and historical statement, and listen carefully to it on those terms, since understanding the purpose of God's revelation in the first book of the Bible is key to understanding the purpose for which he created the cosmos and the human beings upon whom he bestowed his divine image.

In Part 1, below, Dickson frames the contemporary debate and surveys how Genesis was interpreted in a non-literalistic fashion long before the rise of modern science. In fact, the non-literalistic viewpoint was esteemed throughout both Jewish and Christian traditions.

Introduction: a heated debate

It is obvious to anyone with even a cursory interest in the topic of ‘origins’ that the Bible’s opening creation account (Gen. 1:1–2:3)1 has been the subject of a very heated debate in recent years between so-called ‘six-day creationists’ and those branded ‘scientific materialists’. These labels are frequently used in a pejorative sense, so let me flag that my use of these epithets is one of convenience not criticism.

The six-day creationists insist, largely on the basis of Genesis 1, that the universe was created in just one week about 6000 years ago and that no other interpretation of the biblical material is possible for those seeking to be faithful to Scripture as divinely inspired. The scientific materialists retort, largely on the basis of the scientific data, that such a view is patently false and that the universe is close to 14 billion years old. Therefore, the Judeo-Christian account of our origins, they say, must be dismissed as irrelevant for our day. There are, of course, innumerable ‘middle-positions’ that are less relevant to the argument of this paper.

In what follows, I hope to demonstrate that both sides of the debate—as they typically present themselves—make a similar mistake. They form their conclusions about the biblical account of creation in isolation from the conclusions of many mainstream contemporary biblical historians. And it is as a historian that I wish to address this theme.

Six-day creationists and scientific materialists approach the opening chapter of the Bible in a ‘literalistic’ fashion. I use the word ‘literalistic’ deliberately, as I want to distinguish between literalistic and literal. A literalistic reading takes the words of a text at face value, interpreting them with minimal attention to literary genre and historical context. A literal reading such as my own, on the other hand, gives serious consideration to both the literary style and the historical setting of a text. It tries to understand not only what is said but what is meant—i.e. what the original author intended to convey. Sometimes in literature what is meant and what is said do not have a one to one correspondence. In metaphor, for example, what is meant is greater than what is said (‘The Lord is my shepherd’, Ps. 23:1). In hyperbole what is meant is less than what is said (‘If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away’, Mt. 5:30). One can read such literary devices literally—trying to discern what the literature intends to convey—without reading them literalistically.

Both six-day creationists and scientific materialists approach Genesis 1 as if the original author had intended to narrate the mechanics of creation in historical prose. I believe this is a mistaken, literalistic reading. For over a century now, a great many biblical historians have detected in the Bible’s opening words a style other than simple prose and a purpose other than to explain how the universe was made. These two issues, genre and purpose, are critical for understanding this foundational portion of the Jewish and Christian Bible. In what follows, then, I want to unpack what many modern scholars are saying about these issues and demonstrate that, properly understood, Genesis 1 teaches nothing scientifically problematic for the modern enquirer. I emphasize the adverb ‘scientifically’, since there is plenty in Genesis 1 that is theologically and existentially confronting. That is the aim of the text, as I understand it.

But, first, an important clarification: I must emphasize that this paper assumes no particular view of human origins. The questions explored are literary and historical, not scientific. My rejection of the literalistic reading of Genesis 1 offers no direct support for old-earth, progressive creationism (or ‘theistic evolution’, as it is sometimes called), nor is it intended to do so. In fact, the case made below is consistent with virtually any scientific account of origins. To put it starkly but no less accurately, even if science ended up proving that the universe was created in six days around 6000 years ago, this happy correspondence between the scientific data and the surface structure of Genesis 1 would not affect my interpretation of the text at all. I would still insist that the opening chapter of the Bible does not aim to teach a particular cosmic chronology and that to suggest otherwise misconstrues the author’s original intention.

An analogy may help. Suppose that some clear historical evidence were discovered that around AD 29 a certain fellow from Samaria was travelling along the Jerusalem-Jericho road and came upon a Jewish man stripped of his clothes and beaten half to death. The Samaritan promptly tended to his wounds and paid two denarii for his care at a nearby guesthouse. Would this chance discovery—perhaps in some passing report by Josephus or Philo—have any bearing on the actual point being made in Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) where precisely such details are narrated? The answer is ‘No’. It would certainly be a happy coincidence if one of Jesus’ didactic illustrations turned out also to be a true story, but it would not alter the fact that the ‘parable’ itself—a well-known literary device of Jewish antiquity—was never intended to be heard as a historical narrative. Parables are narrative constructs with a moral or spiritual message. Whether they correspond to events in time is of no consequence.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, therefore, is (in theory) consistent with any view of the historicity of the story because factuality is not relevant to the genre. A person reading the text may, of course, believe that Jesus was telling a factual story—it may well be—but he or she could not argue that the story puts itself forward as such; it is obviously a parable (even though, interestingly, the story is not introduced as a parable in Luke’s Gospel). The point here is not that Genesis 1 is also a parable. Not at all. I am simply emphasizing that some parts of Scripture, rightly interpreted, commit us to no particular view of the factuality of what is described. I do not believe that Genesis 1 teaches a six-day creation but this is neither an endorsement of theistic evolution nor a denial of six-day creationism. It is simply a literary and historical statement. I am happy to leave the science to the scientists.

Interpretation of Genesis 1 in the pre-scientific era

Before I give an account of what contemporary scholars are saying about the genre and purpose of Genesis, I want to establish for readers that a non-literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 is by no means a recent phenomenon. Sceptical friends have often put it to me that my interpretation of Genesis 1 is really just an act of acquiescence to the troubling conclusions of modern science: ‘It is now clear that life emerged over a period of billions of years’, they say, ‘so now you are trying to appear respectable by picking and choosing how you read the Bible.’ Richard Dawkins has echoed this criticism with great flair recently (Dawkins 2006 pp. 237–238). Interestingly, six-day creationists say the same thing. They insist that the non-literalistic reading of Genesis 1 is the result of biblical scholars losing their nerve or being taken captive to the Zeitgeist.

It is never wise to second-guess the motives of scholars on such questions but, more significantly, it is important to realize that the precedents for a non-literalistic reading of Genesis 1 can be found in the very distant past. What follows is not intended as a proof or validation of my interpretation; it is simply a counter-argument to the above suggestion. Genesis 1 was being interpreted in a non-literalistic fashion long before modern science became a ‘problem’ for some Christians.

The Jewish scholar Philo

The prolific Jewish scholar, Philo, who lived and worked in Alexandria in the first century (10 BC – AD 50), wrote a treatise titled On the Account of the World’s Creation Given by Moses. In this work, Philo says that God probably created everything simultaneously and that the reference to ‘six days’ in Genesis indicates not temporal sequence but divine orderliness (Philo 13, 28). In the introduction to the Loeb Classical Library edition of this work the translators, FH Colson and GH Whitaker summarize Philo’s rather complex and subtle view of things:

By ‘six days’ Moses does not indicate a space of time in which the world was made, but the principles of order and productivity which governed its making [original emphasis].

It is perhaps important to note that Philo was not marginal. He was the leading intellectual of the largest Jewish community outside of Palestine.2 How widespread his views were we do not know, but his discussion of the topic reveals no hint of controversy.

The Greek ‘Fathers’

Philo is followed in this interpretation by the second century Christian theologian and evangelist, Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–215), for whom the six days are symbolic (Stromata VI, 16). A generation later, Origen (185-254), the most influential theologian of the third century—again, an Alexandrian—understood Days 2–6 of the Genesis account as days in time. However, he regarded Day 1 as a non-temporal day. He reasoned that without matter, which was created on the second day, there could be no time; hence, no true ‘day’.3 What is interesting here is that a leading Christian scholar of antiquity was comfortable mixing concrete and metaphorical approaches to Genesis 1 (Origen in Heine 1982).

The Latin Fathers and beyond

Moving to Latin-speaking scholars, the fourth century Bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose (AD 339–397), taught a fully symbolic understanding of Genesis 1.4 Moreover, his greatest convert, and perhaps history’s most influential theologian, Saint Augustine, famously championed a quite sophisticated, non-literalistic reading of the text. Augustine understood the ‘days’ in Genesis 1 as successive epochs in which the substance of matter, which God had created in an instant in the distant past, was fashioned into the various forms we now recognise (Augustine 2002). Augustine’s view was endorsed by some of the biggest names in the medieval church, including the Venerable Bede in the 8th century (Hexaemeron 1, 1), St Albert the Great (Commentary on the Sentence 12, B, I) and the incomparable Thomas Aquinas (II Sentences 12, 3, I) in the 13th century.5

It must be said that such views were not the majority position during this period. The literalistic reading appears to have been the dominant one from the 5th century through to today. In her review of the interpretations of Genesis 1-2 offered by the ancient Fathers, Elizabeth Clark argues that this concrete approach to the text developed in the 5th century partly as a response to the ascetic, anti-creation heresies of the period. Only a literalistic understanding of the Bible’s creation account, it was thought, could preserve a truly biblical doctrine of the goodness of creation (Clark 1988 pp. 99-133).

Be that as it may, the larger point I wish to make is that a non-literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 is not necessarily a nervous, modern reaction to the rise of contemporary science. It is a viewpoint (even if a minority one) with a long and venerable history in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

Having said this, there are aspects of the modern interpretation of Genesis 1 that only became possible in the 16th–19th centuries, at precisely the time of the scientific revolution. This is no coincidence. The Renaissance and Enlightenment periods precipitated a literary revolution in parallel with the scientific one. This was a time of increasing sophistication in the historical-critical analysis of ancient texts in their original languages. Out of such analyses have come particular conclusions about the genre and purpose of Genesis chapter 1.

Notes

1. Genesis 1:1–2:3 is the literary unit under discussion, even though I will frequently refer to it as ‘Genesis 1’ or the ‘opening chapter of the Bible’.
2. For a concise history of the Jewish community of the intellectual centre of Alexandria (and Philo’s place in it) see Binder 1999.
3. In this, Origen echoes Philo who argued similarly about Day 1 in On the creation (Philo 15, 26-27, 34-35).
4. For a history of interpretation of these sections of Genesis see Genesis 1-3 in the history of exegesis: intrigue in the garden (Robbins 1988). A detailed account of patristic (both Greek and Latin) interpretations of Genesis 1 is also found in Appendix 7 of St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae (Aquinas 1967 pp. 202-210).
5. For Aquinas’ own careful and even comparison of Augustine’s view of creation with other ancient Fathers see Summa Theologiae Ia. 74. (Aquinas 1967 pp. 1-3) Excellent articles on the interpretation of the ‘Six Days’ (Hexaemeron) among medieval theologians are found in Appendices 8 and 9 in St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae (Aquinas 1967 pp. 211-224).

In the next post, Dr. Dickson examines the genre of Genesis 1.


John Dickson is founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. He has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specializing in the birth of Christianity. An ordained Anglican minister he is also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), where he teaches a course on Christian origins. He has hosted two nationally televised documentaries (The Christ Files and Life of Jesus), authored over a dozen books and is a busy public speaker.

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Merv - #70344

June 9th 2012

Thank you, Dr. Dickson for this introduction to some of our theological history.  I realize that the blogosphere is the wrong place to try to fill out my deficiencies of historical knowledge, and you might just respond by recommending a book or two—which would be great.  But I have a “sagging bridge” in my understandings of what you describe between two poles.

On one hand you make your primary point that ‘literalistic’ were motivated by many legitimate considerations other than (and pre-dating) our modern origins controversy.  All well and fine.  Then you seem (to my ignorant ears) to almost oversell that point by pointing to the many major church fathers who can be sited as examples for this thesis.  But by the time your list is done, I’m wondering—so who is left who insisted on literalistic interpretations? 

You do offer the beginnings of an explanation in a paragraph towards the end that begins…  “It must be said that such views were not the majority position during this period. The literalistic reading appears to have been the dominant one from the 5th-century through to today. In her review of the interpretations of Genesis 1-2 offered by the ancient Fathers, Elizabeth Clark argues that this concrete approach to the text developed in the 5th- century partly as a response to the ascetic, anti-creation heresies of the period.  ...”

So Clark’s work can be referenced for further delving. 

But you had stated earlier that Philo didn’t hint at any controversy in his own non-literalistic approach.  And yet his was apparently not the majority position (or wasn’t during the later centuries?)  Knowing more about what kind of anti-creation heresies the listeralistic approach was seized upon to confront would also shed some light on how this was born.  Because both Christian camps today are interested in demonstrating how their favored position  can be traced back to early church fathers and apostles, which is tricky since they had different sets of ideas to which they were responding.  I’m glad to see that your piece is labeled ‘part I’.

It may not be an accident that Jesus himself gave no direction in this.  Too busy healing sick people and giving thirsty ones living water.  But his disciples (us) have always been up for a good argument!   (not to minimize the importance of theological work—but it should be peppered with intrusive reminders.)

—Merv


Merv - #70345

June 9th 2012

Correction to the first sentence in my second paragraph above.  It should have read:

On one hand you make your primary point that non-‘literalistic’ interpretations were motivated by many legitimate considerations other than (and pre-dating) our modern origins controversy. ...


GJDS - #70348

June 9th 2012

Dr Dickson this is a welcomed discussion. I would like to your comments on an aspect that I think is relevant to this matter. The understanding of the Bible until the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods was determined to a large extent by the inability for most people to obtain the written text and also the lack of reading and writing skills of most people. Consequently, my understanding is that a few had the education and access to books needed to come to their own reading and understanding of Genesis (and indeed the entire Bible). The bulk of the Christian population obtained their understanding from attending Church and listening to the local Priests; most people could barely read and write during this period.

My question to you is this, “Would it not be the case the bulk of the population would have a simplistic view of creation by God, which you now term as literalistic. Would it not be the case that this is not an interpretation, but rather simply repeating what the local priest may have narrated to them?”

I note that Augustine in his commentary is as concerned with Christians appearing uninformed and uneducated, as he is with how Genesis is understood or read. Would this also not be due to the fact that the majority of Christians were not given the education that people like Augustine received? And if so, how much of the present debate is an outgrowth of this historical factor? By this I am not suggesting that people take a simplisitc view, but rather historically most Christians have heard this story from previous generations and have accepted it as stated.


Norman - #70350

June 9th 2012

This article raises an important observation. However the evidence for a non-literalistic reading of Genesis goes back deeper into OT and 2T literature itself which rigorous and non-biased research reveals was already in vogue. Metaphor and symbolism were to use a modern term “par for the course” in the construction of biblical writings. This author’s reflection about the common usage of parables lends credence to this reality. 

The ability of the church after the first century to continue to recognize this historically artful approach receded further and further into the backdrop of history as time proceeded and more intensely within the western church.  It was not until this past century that the constraints were lifted from the religious gatekeepers that allowed for a deeper and unfettered investigation into matters such as Genesis.  Societal and Religious constraints had become too powerful along with the lack of biblical research tools now available to get to the root of that period of history without bias blocking the investigation.

All one needs to do is read a lot of the literature from the times that the historical church has excluded to start gaining a more robust understanding of biblical literature and how it functioned. It’s what we don’t know that has kept the lid on for so long. However the Gatekeepers are still at work today. Just ask Bruce Waltke and Pete Enns if anyone thinks we are living in a purely enlightened religious period.


George Bernard Murphy - #70351

June 9th 2012

I have observed here over a few years that the editors of Biologos routinely erase references to actual science, so that the comments I have made have a half life of about 2 hours on these pages.

 But George Smoot’s work on the anisotropy in the microwave background radiation fits perfectly with the events described in the second day of creation.

 Now you can call that “literalism”.

God created an “expanse”,... spaces,... he made the cosmic soup lumpy. The mechanism for this was described by Alan Guth in 1970. Because the waters were separated the “sky” was formed as gravity pulled things together.

 We got galaxies! Without the expanse separating the “waters” gravity would have created a singularity.

 

 Is this “literalism”? I don’t know. but it is a fact.


PNG - #70352

June 10th 2012

It’s not literal or literalistic. It is concordism supported by eisegesis, the reading in of something that isn’t in the text and obviously wasn’t intended by the author. The trouble with it is that anyone can read in whatever they want. Hugh Ross reads different things into the Genesis account and other people have their own schemes to make the text fit aspects of modern science. It seems that everyone who dreams up a concordist scheme becomes very attached to it personally and convinces relatively few other people of it. Personally I think Augustine was playing the same game when he assumed that the OT was compatible with the spherical earth of the Greeks. It makes more sense to ask what the text could have meant to the first people who received it. The general meaning for them will still be meaningful to us, even if we know a lot more about the physical universe from other sources.


George Bernard Murphy - #70356

June 10th 2012

PNG I think it is the atheists who are eisegetical.

I recall the acceptnce of the Big Bang.

 The statement in the bible is very clear. No one was “Reading it into the acount”.

The Bible said there had been a sudden miraculous creation and the scientist said it had never happened.

Well who won that debate? Who was right?

 Now to claim the Bible won that arguement due to “people who have their own eisegetical schemes” is ,... well eisegetical. You have to twist the history of the debate to make it fit a scenario of eisegesis.

 It was a plain binary event. No “reading” of the text was involved.

This was not a bad call by the referee. You are too tough on Hugh Ross, in that case.


George Bernard Murphy - #70358

June 10th 2012

I guess what I am trying to say is

#1, not all concorance is due to eisegesis. There is also REAL CONCORDANCE.

and

#2 It is impossible to be eisegetic with a binary event.[That is why we love our computers so much.]

 

CONCORDANCE IS REAL AND GETTING MORE DETAILED.

 It needs to be reexamined.


PNG - #70365

June 10th 2012

Eisegesis is not the same as losing an argument. It is reading into a text things that aren’t there. The modern science that you are reading into the text simply isn’t there. One big reason not to do it is that you will only find in the text what you already knew by other means. It’s like finding modern history in Nostradamus. The text can’t teach you anything that you didn’t already know from other sources. If you are only to get out what you put in, what’s the point?The only points of what you are doing is 1) to prove how clever you are (that’s why every promoter of a concordist scheme gets so attached to their interpretation - it “proves” what a genius they are) 2) to somehow prove that the text is a magic text that predicts modern science. The reason I think I understand is that I have played the game myself. Decades ago I thought some concordist scheme was probably the way to reconcile Genesis with science, but at some point I realized that it was an arbitrary exercise that was partly compatible with multiple solutions, and the more sensible approach is to ask what God was saying through whoever wrote it to the early receivers of the text. I don’t think He was either trying to reveal modern science or providing modern people like us with a puzzle to solve so we could prove how clever we are. I don’t suppose I will persuade you to abandon this approach, but I don’t see anyone here buying it, and I predict that you won’t convince many people.


GJDS - #70366

June 10th 2012

I am not sure the point is to win or loose an argument. Perhaps one question worth asking is, “What is of primary concern to God?” Is it scholastic or non-scholastic interpretations of ancient text, or is it our Faith and how that may strengthens us to live according to God’s Law and obey His will?

The notion that sacred text can be subjugated to some type of scholastic and/or scientific debate is repugnant to me. Christ constantly speaks against those who would subjugate the teachings of Faith to their personal ambitions and exercise authority over people. He shows over and over that it is Faith in Him that is His primary concern.

Thus the book of Genesis (and all sacred writings in the Bible) has one primary purpose, which is to teach us of Faith in God. I propose that the greatest miracle that any human being may contemplate is not the big bang or neo-Darwinism (or any of these theoretical concerns of science of history); the greatest miracle is that we human beings are capable of having Faith. It is because of this that we are taught it is an act of Grace from God. 

Science and all related activities (including history and scholastic work) are to be carried out honestly and with the desire to accurately understand the creation and facts of events. Many have commented on this (further back then Augustine to many after Einstein) without showing any hint of contradicting the teachings of Faith, or goodness from God. It would be wise for us to consider these matters, and read Genesis to strengthen our Faith.


PNG - #70367

June 10th 2012

I’m in complete agreement.


GJDS - #70370

June 10th 2012

I am glad you do PNG. I have a suggestion which is meant to be fun, and if you accept it, I will be glad to participate. It is this: can you and I provide our view of Genesis 1-2, in the word limit imposed by this blog, to show how we both ‘read’ Genesi to increase faith instead of puting our views into it. If you accept, I need to warn you that I prefer to respond with poetry (my own this time).

This suggestion is for social interactions and not a theological debate, and only if the modirator agrees.


George Bernard Murphy - #70377

June 11th 2012

GJ,... I perceive you have a few lines of verse secreted away somwhere.

Why don’t you lay some of it on us?

SURE! The mods may erase it but it would be up there for at least 10 minutes and I would copy it down!

 Let your light shine! 

[Don’t hide it under a bushel.]

C’mon! Gve us a sample!

Pretty please!


GJDS - #70391

June 11th 2012

Thanks for the interst George, but I do not want to give the wrong impression. My interest is as a research scientist (chemistry, but very poor typing skills) with an Orthodox tradition. I had commenced to consdier the Christian Faith (and the Bible) as being ‘mixed’ with ancient Greco-Roman philosophy, and influenced today a great deal by scientific and technological outcomes. I have endeavoured to obtain a clearer understanding of the Faith by proposing a thesis on human beings, and also express my understanding in the gendre of poetry instead of scientific formulations and theory.

There you have it - my poetry is lengthy and it is titled ‘Salvation’. A portion (fairly small) expresses my views on matters covered mainly by Genesis 1-2. I would place it on this blog only as part of a discussion on how other Christians may express their understanding of this section of the Bible. My position is that we are too keen to listen to scholastic and philosophical debates; perhaps instead we should state what we think and read in Genesis.


George Bernard Murphy - #70400

June 12th 2012

PNG said,....“Eisegesis is not the same as losing an argument. It is reading into a text things that aren’t there. The modern science that you are reading into the text simply isn’t there. “

But to name specifics, the text says “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

The modern science was the discovery of the “big Bang”.

 How can you deny that that is REAL CONCORDANCE? There is a lot of that real concordance and every discovery made recently has increased it.

 I don’t know what “concordist schemes” you followed years ago but you need to take a new look at it.


George Bernard Murphy - #70394

June 11th 2012

Well GJ it sounds interesting.

 I am interested in Genesis 1.

 It is basically eisegetical concordance WHICH I BELIEVE IS OK.

No one else is willing to look at it.

There is an old TV show called “who lives in the 11th dimension” that restarted my thinking recently. I think it is on youtube now. The scientists are going to find heaven soon in their math formulas it seems.


GJDS - #70401

June 12th 2012

Reply to George Bernard Murphy- #70394 (the reply button is not working)

Very well George: But to name specifics, the text says “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The modern science was the discovery of the “big Bang”.

This is my response to this text in Genesis (I cannot control the spacing between lines so it appears different here):

 

God of Eternity                                 

Lord of Salvation

Source of all Power

His presence throughout infinity

All Exists by His will

All is known to Him

 

Amidst glorious splendour

Dazzling perfection

Dwells the Lord of creation.


George Bernard Murphy - #70402

June 12th 2012

WEll uh,... YOU GOT THAT RIGHT!

I like your line,...“His presence throughout infinity”.

You know I have always looked at the bible verse where it says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but God’s word will never pass away.” 

[Unfortunately I lost the reference so that is not an exact quote.]

Well in 2011 the Nobel prize was given to Saul Perlmutter and associates for proving that is correct. Heaven and earth shall pass away.

REAL CONCORDANCE,.... again!


Joriss - #70461

June 15th 2012

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words…etc.   Matthew 24:35


D.U. Litz - #70475

June 15th 2012

I actually am with Walton on what “in the beginning God created…” actually means. I think the material was a given, and the passage commences with God installing order and function. But I realize this is a contested debate. So regardless…

Here is my problem with the type of “concordism” you espouse: It does not make sense that it would be in the text.

You used the example of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” as a statement that “concords” with science. Fair enough, but the statement first “concorded” with the ancient given that the earth was “created” by God. This no more “concords” with modern big bang cosmology than “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” concords with our understanding of the respiratory system.

I do not mean this to sound antagonistic, but do you really think the Ancient Israelite audience understood big bang cosmology? If not you are practicing “accommodationist Hermeneutics,” which I prefer anyway. And if you do think they had some “secret knowledge,” than that is poor exegesis.

Any given passage cannot mean something to us now that it did not first mean to the original audience. To say otherwise is, again, bad exegesis.

God did not reveal any science to Israel that we now take for granted. I am sure it was not even their concern. The bible is inspired by God and penned via human authors with ancient conventions of historiography, poetics, narrative, etc. IF science ahead of its time was given to Ancient Israel, it is difficult to get from the text, unless your presupposing it will concord with your modern views of science. What about science 100 years from now? Can we save some scientists some time by giving them something from the text yet to be discovered? Or is it only convenient to “concord” it with the text after the discovery is made? Furthermore, If science was revealed ahead of time why do we not see Israelite culture in general (and is writing) seem more advanced technologically? And where did the amazing concordance they presumably understood get lost in translation? The fact is Ancient Israel was less-advanced than their neighbors in many points of history.

I just cannot wrap my head around “concordism.” I get it to a degree; it comes down to issues with inerrancy. But I reject concordism and still consider myself an inerrantist. I think we should accept the text on its own terms and not place our categories of what we expect on the text. Its humbling to know the text is not always out to answer my questions.

Also what do you mean it had “divine origin?” I agree in a sense of inspiration, but not in a sense that God grabbed his holy pen and wrote down the passage.


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