In this video conversation, Pete Enns sheds light on the key difference between the ancient and modern mind with regard to interpretation of texts.
A literal understanding of Genesis from an ancient mind frame would not necessarily be the same as what we now think of as a literal reading—where everything corresponds to reality in a one to one fashion.
Ancients were much more accepting of the language of metaphor and in many cases, expected it. This was the way that complex ideas were often transmitted in terms that people could understand.
In contrast, modern evangelicals carry very modern assumptions about reality that can be in conflict with the ancient (and therefore metaphorical) way of telling a story. Moderns presume that good communication will be literalistic and accurate and since metaphor departs from linear history and communicates things using imagery, misunderstandings can occur.
Enns suggests that we be cognizant of our twenty-first century context in order to read Genesis the way the ancients might have. “Be self conscious and self critical into what we bring into reading the Bible,” he says, “and trust God that something good will come out of it.”