on reading genesis 1-3

What Genesis 1-3 is not: a play-by-play, atom-by-atom historical and scientific account of creation.  The author/community which produced the text clearly had other things in mind than producing such a thing.*

This is widely accepted by people who should know: scholars in fields relevant to Genesis 1-3 (biblical scholars, ancient near east religion scholars, hebrew linguists, experts on ancient semetic poetry, etc. – see relevant examples in the Denver Seminary Old Testament bibliograpy – updated annually). Yael Klangwisan spoke on Genesis recently at a TANSA event at Laidlaw college, and a very informative PDF of her slideshow can be found here.

Unfortunately there are two kinds of people I know of that both tend to insist that Genesis 1-3 is intended as a ‘factual’ report of the exact, literal events of creation.  These two types of people are (who would have thunk it!?) young-earth Creationists (YEC’s)… and many (not all) atheists.

YEC’s are convinced that science supports their literal interpretation (see pretty much anything on this site)…

…and some atheists are convinced that this literal-and-only-literal-gosh-darnit interpretation has been replaced by science (see the opening statement of Richard Dawkins from his 2007 debate with John Lennox – and I’ll put a transcription of it as the first comment below).**

Meanwhile, there are those who are willing to listen to what Genesis is really trying to get across, and who refuse to use science to prove their religious or anti-religious views.

*Many/most/all? of the characters in the Bible, for example, would have been aware of the poetic and metaphorical nature of Genesis 1-3, though would naturally have had little/no reason to question whether or not it took 6 days for God to create the world, etc.  A prime example of just how much the literal-ness of this text does not matter in Jewish thought is the story of when Ray Vander Laan asked the world-class Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner how long the days of creation were; to which the reply after a long pause was “I’ve never thought about that.”

** No… wait… Dawkins doesn’t only say that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is replaced by science, he says that religious explanations in general are replaced by science…  Wow.

110 thoughts on “on reading genesis 1-3”

  1. Damian,
    again… ‘the fall’ didn’t ‘happen’ (in a ‘one-off’ fashion) way back when (either 6,000 or 6,000,000 yrs back)… rather it ‘happens’ as a continual, unfolding, constant thing – humans fall/sin/miss-the-mark-of-full-humanness… It’s not about some ‘thing’ that happened, but rather the missing of a goal/end/purpose/(Gk: telos)/intent

    The cross/resurrection are about the truly human One redemptively/selflessly taking and inviting broken/un-truly-human-beings into the completeness/fulness of himself; not about a ‘plan b’ because of some unexpected eating of a bit of ‘knowledge-fruit’ (or some ancient chimp smacking his momma) way back when…

    In other words, ‘the Fall’ is too large and real to ‘fit’ in those ‘gaps’.

  2. Thank you Frank. I’d read those posts before but it’s always a pleasure reading your thoughts on such matters. Even so, after having read what you’ve written I struggle to see how you would insert two explanations into what I wrote that would make sense to me.

    If I were to take a stab at it I would interpret what you are saying I would insert your explanations as something like, 1. “Humans gradually evolved the ability to control their destinies but their abilities had fundamental flaws.” and 2. “The reason God had to manifest physically and die and rise again was to somehow show humans something…” (as you can see, I get lost here).

    Perhaps it would be easier if you were to fill in those gaps in your own words?

    Dale, yes, I’m content with a non-literal interpretation of a description of a state rather than an event (although I don’t believe anyone who features in the Bible saw it this way) but it’s the literal need for a God/man sacrifice and resurrection I don’t understand. Perhaps you, too, could try inserting your explanation into that screed I wrote. I think I’ve left enough scope for an explanation that isn’t reliant on a fixed point in time (as per my first attempt in my response to Frank above).

  3. And I’d still be interested to hear where Jonesboy and Viper stand on those four verses way back there (if you are still following this).

  4. Damian,
    Would it be fair to say that your question (esp. in the last few comments) has moved on from the issue of the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 and has now focussed on ‘how the cross/resurrection works’?

  5. No, I’m still very much fascinated by how interpretation changes in the face of evidence that is contrary to literalism (although I acknowledge that you would believe you got to your understanding by a nuanced examination of literary styles) and in what causes one person to believe that Noah literally lived for 950 years and another not to.

    The fall/resurrection is of particular interest to me because it seems to highlight what can happen when one part of a story moves to metaphor but another, critical part is kept as literal and factual.

    I realise that it is heretical for a conventional Christian to believe that the death and resurrection is just another part of this ongoing metaphor that tells us how we ought to behave and so don’t expect a resolution any time soon. The best I can hope for is to give you an opportunity to explain it in a way that I’ll comprehend according to my understanding of the world in which we find ourselves in. (thankfully, we share much in common in our understanding of the reality of the history of the world! This kind of conversation is almost impossible to have with a YEC).

  6. The central conviction here is that there actually is some kind of over-arching purpose, story, progress, direction to things. That there is a goal, end, completeness and ‘place’ toward which God desires things to go. Because God loves his creation and calls it ‘good’ (btw, one of the main points of Gen 1), He desires the creation to enjoy its fullest expression of existence (‘fullest expression’ being a meaningless concept in the absence of at least some kind of ‘telos’/goal/end/etc.). God progressively orders his creation, patiently moving it from ‘tohu’ and ‘vohu’ (wild/waste – chaotic) to a more and more and more ordered state.

    Humans find themselves with an immense amount of power to either fit in with this divine ordering, or not. Not only with ourselves, but in areas such as food production (chickens living in tiny cages covered in their own manure, etc. or having full expression of chicken-ness being able to live a fully-chicken-ish life), city-planning (wisely ordering cities to reduce crime, and maximise community, health, etc.), science/technology (atomic bombs or medicine), art (overly-positive fake-ness or overly-negative screamo v. wise, creative reflection on life, etc.), and many other areas of life. Rather than bringing God’s wise and good order to things, we find ourselves using our power to create chaos. (Getting my tire changed just this morning, I saw a sticker that said “Power is nothing without control”) The conviction here is that we are sinful in the most (w)holistic of ways (thoughts, actions, etc.).

    The salvation enacted/enabled by the death/resurrection of Jesus Christ is the (w)holistic salvation which our (w)holistic fallenness needs. The death/life pattern seems woven into the fabric of the universe (albeit some interpretation required – but not much, methinks). Entering into that salvation is both an event and a process. Our hearts/minds are renewed and re-created as we continually let our ‘fallen’ thoughts/passions ‘die’ and ‘rise’, etc. Of course, salvation is not just a mental game; our actions/patterns-of-behaviour also undergo (gradually as the work of salvation continues in us) the death/resurrection (D&R). Of course, there’s another level to all this. As important as our thoughts/actions are, we believe that the death/resurrection of Jesus represents a real defeat of sin/death and evil.

    We work from the D&R in response to having sin/death/evil conquered in us (again, event and process). We work out the D&R in the present, working to implement the defeat of sin/death/evil in the world around us. And we work toward the D&R in hope that Jesus glorified/renewed body is the ‘first-fruits’ of a glorified/renewed creation which the present creation will be tranformed into. At the end of THE resurrection chapter (1 Cor 15), Paul says effectively, Therefore, in light of what the resurrection means, get on all the more with doing God’s work, because your labour isn’t worthless.

    In sum, the resurrected body of Jesus is a body-shaped example of the hope of new creation. In Jesus, everything that holds the entire creation (and humans in particular as the powerful, hugely responsible, and divine image-bearing part of that creation) back from it reaching God’s goal for it is defeated.

    This is quickly becoming a book, so I’ll stop there!

  7. Damian,

    There are two discussions in play. The first is about literary style and more succinctly, the difference between the literary style of the fall account as compared to the resurrection – until one is willing to move beyond the shere fact that these two things seem outlandish and therefore lump them in the same boat and imply that we who are entirely interested in the literary styles are simply using that as an excuse to shift thinking around to suit the time, that discussion cannot go very far at all and is simply frustrating to people like myself.

    It would be nice to see an acceptance from you that behind the English translations and in the original structures, there could very well be different literary styles that demand that one be taken literally while the other is open to looser interpretations.

    Once an acceptance can be reached there, then the other discussion can come into play a whole lot easier – how the fall and resurrection connect in the thinking of those who see different literary styles, demanding different things from the reader.

    Let’s keep Noah and the tower of Babel out of it for now and discuss the central questions here. Based on literary style and structure, Do I think the Adam and Eve writings demand to be taken literally? No. Do I think the resurrection story demands to be taken literally? Yes.

    Because I don’t take the biblical fall literally, you see a disconnect and can’t see how a literal resurrection is needed. Also, because I don’t take the biblical fall literally, your proposition for an explanation of the fall doesn’t work for me as it demands an event in a timeline. I don’t have that.

    The fall is simply humanity’s disconnection from God – this is what the story in the Bible acts as a metaphor for and I explain it in one of those links and connect it to the resurrection like this:

    Is the central element of salvation and the reason of the incarnation of Christ the initial sin of Adam and Eve as presented in the biblical story, or is it the sinful nature and actions of all of humankind? Do I need Christ because of Adam and Eve or because of myself? An understanding of sin does not rise and fall on Adam and Eve, it rises and falls on God’s righteousness and the fact that we all fall short of that.

    I still believe that humanity distorts it’s connection to God continually and for me the literal death and resurrection “heal” that disconnect. There may not have been an Adam and Eve that did it, but every human being since some undefined moment (that point you’re probably looking for… the origin) has done it. My thinking doesn’t need that original moment because I can see the problem since humanity has been able to tell its own story.

    In terms of needing the resurrection to “conquer” death – one of the problems I have with how many people see the resurrection is that they make it something that predominantly points backwards – to correct something in the past. I don’t see it like that. I see it as something that points forward. To use the terminology, I see it as the first fruit of something entirely new. Because of that, I am comfortable with death being something that has always been present in this “creation”, but also as something conquerable and entirely unecessary for what may come. That future is mostly a mystery to me, but the resurrection points towards it.

  8. Also, quickly on the whole literal/metaphor thing…

    Many interpreters of Scripture WAAAAAY before modern science interpreted various Scriptures with varying degrees of metaphor, which is just one example demonstrating that it’s not just science-dodging that makes people read a text in non-literal ways… :)

  9. No, I’m still very much fascinated by how interpretation changes in the face of evidence that is contrary to literalism (although I acknowledge that you would believe you got to your understanding by a nuanced examination of literary styles)

    Damian, I think that is a very good question. I’m preaching on the Ascension on Sunday and I’ve been using Wright’s book “Surprised By Hope” quite a bit. At one point, he says, “…The Ascension invites us to rethink all of this; and after all, why did we suppose that we knew what ‘heaven’ was? Only because out culture has suggested things to us. Part of Christian belief is to find out what’s true about Jesus and let that challenge our culture.”

    Now, I don’t always find the Bishop entirely consistant with his own thought (for example, how he takes a pretty dualist view of “hell” as in losing ones “soul”, so to speak, in a book in which he otherwise critiques a dualist view of our bodies and of creation), but that’s not the point.

    I’m not throwing rocks at anyone in particular, but in a broad sense, it also intrigues me that so often discoveries about how we “got it wrong” in the past in Christian thought seem to end up aligning Christian thought with much of what science is saying, or with what our culture is saying rather than challenging them.

    I see this in the way we are willing to see more and more of the biblical text as metaphor because if we don’t, we look backwards. And I see it in the more recent phenomenon of books which tell us we have got the gospel “wrong” and, really, it’s not all about sin and how Jesus makes us righteous and saves us from the wrath of God (because, of course, that seems terribly unfair, and brutal, and humans these days don’t like to admit they are “bad” in a personal sense), and so now we have a gospel that is about new creation and sin as a more disembodied abuse-of-power scenario.

    Of course, all of this is on a spectrum. And I’m happy to be part of a church where people hold to an array of views. Theistic evolution does not keep me up at night, and I’d accept a job under a senior pastor who held to it, no worries.

    But at the same time, I think it’s about time to ask questions of oneself, when most, if not all, of one’s interpretive decisions align one with science or culture to the point where there really isn’t much to challenge.

  10. Rhett,
    (quickly)
    First, Let’s not clarify it here, but I’ve not seen anything ‘dualist’ at all about Wright’s views on hell…

    Secondly, (just so you know!) I quite happily acknowledge sin & wrath. Of course, it really is about how we connect the dots and what the ‘big picture’ looks like. Sin, dehumanising as it is by its very nature, is quite obviously going to incite the loving wrath of the humanising Creator.

  11. Thank you for your explanations guys.

    Dale, I have to confess I struggled to make sense of what you wrote back in #57. It might really help to read through my summary of the development of life on earth as we understand it to meet with my understanding, fill in any gaps as you see them and correct any errors. And use less brackets!!!! You punctuation fiend you ;)

    Frank, I read most of your first link here and extracted a sentence which might summarise the brief explanation that someone like you might slot into number 1: “humanity evolved from primate ancestors, and during this natural process the Image of God arose and sin entered the world”. Do you feel that this fills the gap in my sweeping overview for the explanation of the fall? If so, what does “image of God” mean and what is “sin” that is different from, say, what we observe in chimp behaviour?

    I’ve changed the second-to-last sentence of my historical narrative to reflect your ‘forward pointing’ solution to evil: “500 years later God provided a solution to our tendency to sin by sending himself to die for all mankind and to literally come alive again”. So far, from what I’ve read of your explanations I still have not been able to determine what you would say to complete the final sentence, “The reason it had to be done this way was because [insert explanation here].”

    Also, Frank, I accept that there are different styles of writing in the Bible which often will let us know whether or not to take something literally. I believe the creation story to not be literal primarily because of the evidence against it and secondarily because it sounds so much like so many other oral tradition origin myths. But I think that if we travelled back in time to say, Paul, and asked him how he really thought humans got here, he’d have said that God created Adam from mud. But, like I repeat, I don’t blame him for it. Perfectly natural to do so in the absence of any other evidence. But what happens when we come to the story of the age of Noah or the talking donkey? Those don’t have the same literary style as the creation story nor of the psalms or other poetry. I don’t think they’re literally true because they seem very improbable and it makes sense to me that these stories are the result of exaggeration or embellishment. Again, I don’t blame them; it’s the way things often happen in history. But what method would you use to determine the truth of a matter such as this? To me it seems that, if it is written in the Bible, that the language is not obviously flowery and that there is no direct evidence against it, you would take it as literal regardless of how impossible it otherwise sounds. Or am I wrong there?

    Rhett, I can see what you are saying and appreciate your perspective but I think that the wisest method is to stack up evidence for and against any proposition as honestly as possible. It seems to me that you have received one line of evidence (the Bible), given it an elevated status and then made all other evidence subservient to it (and, therefore, to your own interpretation of it). When I stack up evidence for and against the question of human origins without first giving priority to the creation story or to evolutionary theory or any other particular line of evidence I have to honestly say that after I’m done weighing it, the creation story is totally implausible UNLESS God carefully created everything so that it appears that the literal creation story is implausible. Against that argument I’ve got nothing except an appeal to common sense.

    Once again, thank you chaps for your patience and perseverance.

  12. Damian,

    I think that if we travelled back in time to say, Paul, and asked him how he really thought humans got here, he’d have said that God created Adam from mud.

    …yeah, something like that perhaps, but that’s not all he’d say. :) Again, Paul would have assumed various things about human origins, but he would also have been aware of mythic dimensions within the story. In other words, he could have distinguished between the accepted ‘scientific’ assumptions of his day (which he would have held very, very loosely) and the theological convictions underlying Gen 1 (which he took very seriously).

    it makes sense to me that these stories are the result of exaggeration or embellishment.

    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but are you not just admitting that the authors were ‘exaggerating’ or ’embellishing’ (i.e. ‘using poetic metaphor’???)

    And as for your summary of the development of life, I’d pretty much just want to add teleology – that it was God’s desire to bring about the order that has been brought about. As for why the literal cross/resurrection, what don’t you understand?

  13. Cheers mate. In answer to some of that, I would ask for your perseverance in reading the entirety of the two things I linked to… it will answer some of your queries regarding my perspective. :)

    Will get into the whole “image” and “sin” thing when I have some more time…. though you and I have addressed the “sin” thing in conversation before and the “image” thing is addressed in my brief exegesis of Genesis 1 on my blog… heck, I might as well just copy and paste the relevant bit:

    Humankind’s unique place is demonstrated by the fact that they are given dominion over all that has come into being, they are provided for (v 29) and most importantly, v 27 tells us that humanity was created in the image of God.

    V 26 uses the words tselem (which we read as ‘image’) and demûth (which we read as ‘likeness’). Hartley argues that in creating humanity, “God reached the goal of creation.” Hartley also presents the placement of the phrase “the image of God” in v 27 at the centre of a chiastic arrangement, thus stressing its importance. [xxii]

    Waltke draws out the centrality of this in relation to other ancient near eastern texts, where only the king is in God’s image whereas here, the whole of humanity is and just as the king would act as a functioning ruler in the place of deity, so too does humanity. Thus Waltke argues that the primary expression here is not one of “spiritual qualities” but of a functional representation.

    Waltke states that the importance of the term “likeness” underscores the fact that humanity is not divine itself, but a mere ‘facsimile’ of the divine. Thus God remains the hero of the story.[xxiii]

    The exegesis of Genesis 1 can be read here:
    http://fritchie.wordpress.com/2007/07/04/brief-genesis-1-exegesis/

    The point being that there is a large possibility that the idea of being in “God’s image” is more about function than qualities… though the latter may play a part as well…

  14. oh… and a quick note – the story of Noah does carry a poetic structure… it’s shown in the first link – the one you read most of :)

  15. I’m still not convinced that Damian’s questions are not, as Viper so eloquently puts it, an experiment. His premise seems flawed to me ie to examine how Christians will move from a so-called literal interpretation in response to reasonable scientific evidence. Methinks this is more a testing of the scientific method than a discussion about what literal really means.

    I’ve never really changed my mind about scripture in light of the available scientific evidence. I don’t have a mind to change. In general, I haven’t gone believing one thing about scripture to another because of anything science has taught me. This is simply because I started faith from the baseline knowledge of atheism which for me amounted to just about no knowledge of authentic Christianity. Any that I did possess was very much in line with the YEC reductionism of Dale’s original post which was deliciously fun to disassemble. So I have approached the texts fresh every time.

    Now I take everything in the Bible literally.

    But by literally, I mean its always true, if I read it through the appropriate literary lens. Much of the intervening discussion about the Fall fits in here for me. Its always true. And I freely acknowledge my initial University education in History biases me towards reading ancient texts from the perspective of the initial writers/readers and hearers. For example, so many classic histories that can be read are really contemporary (from the writer’s perspective) polemics with a current application.

    Now to the questions:

    The answer to the question did God open up Adam, remove a rib and create Eve, lies in a different question: why does the Genesis 2 account of Eve’s creation differ from the Genesis 1 account?

    The answer to the question to Noah’s extreme age lies in another question: how long does it take to build an ark big enough to house 30 million different species and get them all off again?

    The answer to the question, did a donkey actually speak (which is possibly the wrong question to ask of the passage) is: why did Balaam not seem surprised that it did?

    The answer to the last question is yes.

  16. Dale,

    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but are you not just admitting that the authors were ‘exaggerating’ or ‘embellishing’ (i.e. ‘using poetic metaphor’???)

    Yes, I believe that Noah – if such a person actually existed – would have lived to a fairly ordinary age but that the story got bigger in the retelling. I also think that the same thing happened in much of the gospels where a story goes around and becomes embellished as it passes, even to the point where some authors are driven to insert little details about this amazing man’s life so as to lend him the full weight of OT prophecies like the town of his birth, his ‘virgin’ mother, his ascension just like Elijah, etc, etc. The shame of it is when people in later generations fail to recognise how a story can grow. But I don’t think that the verses that surround the accounts of longevity and talking donkeys in the Bible are poetic metaphor any more than the accounts of Jesus’ birth or miracles.

    As for why the literal cross/resurrection, what don’t you understand?

    Ummm. I don’t understand why, in the sweep of history I outlined, that if there really is a God that he would have to literally physically manifest, get killed and rise again to overcome our tendency to mess up.

    Frank,

    …the story of Noah does carry a poetic structure…

    I read that part but it didn’t seem to cover the account of the age of Noah which was what I was questioning. What lesson, metaphor or double-meaning can we get from the likes of Genesis 5 which is simply a list of people’s ages?

    Chaps, is it too much to ask for a couple of plain-speaking sentences to be provided that will insert into my sweep of history? Do you feel that I’ve somehow poisoned the well with the way in which I’ve summarised the origins of the human race? If so, let me know so I can ‘unpoison it’.

    Jonesboy, I’m not as full of ill-intent as you believe! But thank you for taking the time to answer the questions. Although, I have to admit my frustration at not actually being able to decipher what your answers actually are except for the last one which was ‘yes’. For clarity, was that ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘yes’?

  17. I don’t understand why, in the sweep of history I outlined, that if there really is a God that he would have to literally physically manifest, get killed and rise again to overcome our tendency to mess up.

    Do you mean this in the Dawkins-ish sense of ‘well, why couldn’t he just forgive us, then?’ or in the sense of ‘how is the supposed forgiveness actually given/achieved’???

    Chaps, is it too much to ask for a couple of plain-speaking sentences to be provided that will insert into my sweep of history? Do you feel that I’ve somehow poisoned the well with the way in which I’ve summarised the origins of the human race? If so, let me know so I can ‘unpoison it’.

    …is it too much to ask for you to understand that the ‘fall’ will not fit into just one ‘instant’ in your sweep of history? :D (meant in blog-friendly-ish way…)

  18. Ever looked into the meanings of the names in Genesis 5? Ever played with the numbers? Ever compared that list to other genealogies in the Bible? It’s never just a “simple list”. There’s a whole stack of detail in Genesis 5 behind the first simple reading… and it all tells a story. That story would have been hugely important to the original reader.

    I’m not giving you the lines you want because anything simplified and written in there will need to be unpacked with exactly what’s being said.

    The well hasn’t been poisoned at all… but you’re asking us to simplify big concepts (big for anyone who goes beyond the simplistic reading of the YECer) that I would imagine you’ll then throw a bunch more questions at and on it will go.

    The bottom line is, we’re never going to see eye to eye on it and I would venture to say, you’re just not going to get it… because you don’t want to. This is just going to keep going around and around.

  19. passing thought:

    ‘The Fall’ (captial ‘F’): the ongoinging spiritual reality of the incredibile human potential to truly bear God’s image fully and completely… shattered and ruined by selfishness and sin.

    ‘Salvation’ (capital ‘S’): In/through Jesus’ birth/incarnation, life/teaching, death/crucifixion, resurrection and spirit (all together), God rescues and redeems fallen humanity (and creation in general) by: uniting to it (incarnation), modeling true humanness (life/teaching), sacrificially taking upon himself the full weight of sin/evil (crucifixion), defeating death and evil, demonstrating within history the hope of renewed creation at the end of history (resurrection) and empowering and guiding the ongoing saving transformation of both individuals and the world until then (spirit).

  20. Damian, I’m gonna check the information in this link – but it throws some interesting info into your questions about ages in those early chapters:

    http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com/ages.htm

    There’s a few leaps and assumptions in it, but I am especially interested in having a look at the Septuagint and how it translates those figures as it is using an older text for translation.

  21. Dale,

    Do you mean this in the Dawkins-ish sense of ‘well, why couldn’t he just forgive us, then?’ or in the sense of ‘how is the supposed forgiveness actually given/achieved’???

    More along the lines of “that seems an odd thing to do, I wonder why”. When I follow the narrative I outlined I can kind of get how humans got smart and that this also opened a can of worms with regard to our ability to do great harm. And then all of a sudden within 500-1000 years there is a massive tangle of stories cumulating (for Christians) in the story of a man who came to earth who was actually God in the flesh who got crucified and then rose again three days later and then disappeared and, in doing this, somehow provided a solution. Can you see how it sounds odd?

    the ‘fall’ will not fit into just one ‘instant’ in your sweep of history

    I’ve not asked for a single instant. In fact, I even provided an attempt at a gradual coming-of-age explanation. The thing is, given that we know that we shared a common ancestor with chimps 6,000,000 years ago and that you don’t believe chimps to qualify as part of the story of the fall we ought to be able to describe some time frame since then where began to qualify as ‘fallen’ and where your resurrection story becomes necessary.

    Frank, no, I’ve never really played with the numbers of Genesis 5 nor with Noah’s 350 years after the flood and his total age of 950. But what’s wrong with it simply being a series of oral hero retellings that just got exaggerated over time? There’s no shame in that is there? Surely there doesn’t have to be a reason or a pattern for everything that is written in the Bible?

    The bottom line is, we’re never going to see eye to eye on it and I would venture to say, you’re just not going to get it… because you don’t want to.

    I expect better than this from you Frank. Can you imagine how unsatisfied you’d feel if I reciprocated with the same comment to you? That you’ll just not get the fact that God is imaginary because you just don’t want to? If you don’t feel like pursuing this any further or feel that some questions just can’t be answered then just let me know.

  22. I expect better than this from you Frank. Can you imagine how unsatisfied you’d feel if I reciprocated with the same comment to you? That you’ll just not get the fact that God is imaginary because you just don’t want to? If you don’t feel like pursuing this any further or feel that some questions just can’t be answered then just let me know.

    Fair call :)

    I’ve been doing some rummaging around on the Genesis 5 issue. It’s not something I have ever looked into greatly.

    The last link I posted throws in some cool implications – a mistranslation of the numbers – meaning the decimal point should shift back one.

    One scholar I admire posted on the genealogy in Gen 5 in April:
    http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2009/04/genesis-4-5—biblical-genealo.html

    I’ll keep throwing up links as I find any of interest :)

  23. Frank, that’s an interesting take on the Biblical ages. I’m not entirely sure what method the author was using to recalculate the ages and I wonder how his system translates across the huge transition of ages as listed in the Bible (969, 962, 950, 930, 912, 910, 905, 895, 753, 600, 404, 460, 465, 466, 365, 339, 339, 330, 210, 205, 180… 110). You’d think that either the ones at the top end were wrong or that the ones at the bottom end lived to the age of about 7 under the corrected dating system. Did I understand it correctly?

  24. … oh, and I have no problem taking the flood story as a hero story that went through various translations in different ANE cultures via oral tradition… and in this instance, using an ancient Hebrew poetic structure to convey the story to drive home a point beyond the actual story.

    I don’t hold the resurrection in the same category because the culture of that time was entirely different. It did not rely on oral tradition in the same way – it’s impossible to look at the story of Noah and the story of Jesus and see the same traditions in play… they are extremely different pieces of writing put forward by very different cultures with more than 1000… maybe even 2000 years between them.

  25. Damian, with your comment about years… who knows. ;)

    That’s about the best I can do at the moment… will keep looking into it.

  26. How about the possible explanation that the ages of people’s ancestors were repeated orally for a long time but that, as the generations went by and as each teller slightly embellished the details, the further back in time an ancestor was, the greater the chance their age would have increased and the more fantastic their feats? Of course, if you can’t quite remember the exact age of an ancestor and you thought of them as a hero you’re more likely to increase their age than decrease it. It seems to happen in many other cultures too because if you lived for a long time you were special. This sounds like a reasonable explanation to me. Thoughts?

  27. When I follow the narrative I outlined I can kind of get how humans got smart and that this also opened a can of worms with regard to our ability to do great harm. And then all of a sudden within 500-1000 years there is a massive tangle of stories cumulating (for Christians) in the story of a man who came to earth who was actually God in the flesh who got crucified and then rose again three days later and then disappeared and, in doing this, somehow provided a solution. Can you see how it sounds odd?

    Sure, if we read the history of the universe as if we’re a complete foreigner or in other words if we read history indifferently to things like meaning, purpose… But not when you see God, his desire, his action to work/demonstrate redemption all through the narrative. In other words, if God is real, and if Jesus Christ actually reveals Him, etc. :)

  28. On Balaam’s donkey,

    I’ve only done some cursory looking around and don’t have any commentaries on Numbers… so can’t speak into that much, but just found this dissertation on the Balaam oracles that could prove interesting.

    It was written by a student at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1973 (so yes, it’s a bit old), but was approved by examining committee who members included scholars such as Bruce Waltke (whom I referenced in my earlier comment on the idea of “image” in Genesis 1) and Charles Ryrie… both respected scholars.

    It’s over 500 pages… which demonstrates why these things are not so easy to address in blogs… when dealing with ancient writings, it gets very complex very quickly. When we’re dealing with the Old Testament (especially the earlier text), we’re dealing with a whole different ball game from the NT which is a whole lot newer and influenced by a completely new set of “rules” and world-view with a new set of factors feeding into it.

    http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/04-Numbers/Text/Books/Allen-Balaam/Allen-BalaamDiss.pdf

  29. Gentlemen, sorry for the silence; a couple of rush jobs have come in and I’ll likely be out of action for the next few days or so.

  30. No worries. Hopefully some jobs come your way that make up for the hit you’ve had to take after your encounter with the recession.

    I know it doesn’t mean a heck of a lot, but you’ve been the subject of a few of my prayers ;)

  31. Can’t hurt to have a bit of reinforcement. ;)

    And chances are, people are more likely to read it if I link to it since I’m more famous… hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

    Whatever.

    :D

  32. Wow how did I miss this conversation lol. I’ll have a read through it over the next few days and belatedly engage just in time for everyone’s interest to have waned entirely ;)

  33. yes – it’s done wonders for my stats :) (which genuinely caught my by surprise)

    By all means, do comment, but I definitely recommend having a look at the PDF in the OP as well as checking out the link in comments 12/89 (and the other ones if/when you get time) first. cheers.

  34. Just an update: I’m still inundated and it may be a week or so before I can pick up on this conversation again and give it the attention it deserves.

  35. it’s done wonders for my stats (which genuinely caught my by surprise)

    That would be due to my involvement…

    Note: I have to say things like that to continue the myths about my fame ;)

  36. Gentlemen, sorry about the long absence. Making hay, etc.

    So, I’ve just gone back and reviewed many of the comments here and I think I see an area that might need clarifying. It seems that there are two distinct ways for Christians to interpret the Bible and that I may have been falsely assuming that some people in this conversation were in a different category.

    1. The ‘God-authored’ interpretation. This is where people can have a vast range of opinions on which parts to take literally but all agree that the Bible is pretty much as God intended it to be. Almost everyone would agree that the trees don’t literally ‘clap their hands’ but there is some disagreement on whether Eve was made from a rib, that water was turned into wine or that a donkey really talked. All agree that regardless of whether a particular story should be taken literally, this is how God wanted it.

    2. The ‘human-error’ way. This is where you get hints of God from the various and erroneous writings of semi-literate humans along with all their mythology and superstition. That God is still perfect but that just because Paul had misinterpreted the story of Adam and Eve it doesn’t mean God put his stamp of approval on the scriptures.

    I had been thinking that Dale, Frank and perhaps Jonesboy were in the second category but now suspect I may have had the wrong end of the stick. That perhaps you all see the entire Bible as ‘God-breathed’ but requiring nuanced interpretation rather than a human construct that might actually contain mistakes that God would really have rather not been in there.

    Did I have the wrong end of the stick?

  37. Damian,
    A key distinction here is between inspiration and interpretation. Theories/understandings of inspiriation are perfectly good things to discuss, but regardless of ‘how much God did or did not want the Bible to be the way it is’, the issue here is one of interpretation: How is Genesis 1-3 to be rightfully interpreted? Where, to what degree and of what kind is the continuity/discontinuity between ‘original authorial intent’, and later (still ancient) interpretation, and modern interpretation, etc.

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