Response to Question: Is Genesis 1-11 to be taken literally?


MESSAGE

Just read on renew.org your review of "Origins". You wrote that the book is helpful for people like you who find a literal interpretation of Gen. 1-11 "implausible." I wonder two things: first, is your opinion based on "natural science", which by definition excludes the possibility of the supernatural? (To the unbiased scientist, there is plenty of evidence in the geological record and such things as DNA that give weight to the literal view;) and second, if God is the all-powerful God of the Bible who can do anything, can't He make the universe appear older, make the light from the stars travel ahead of them, since He created time itself? I often ask people "how old was Adam when God made him?" 20, 30? or one second?

I ask this because the entire gospel breaks down if you abandon the literal approach. If you have death and decay around for thousands or millions of years then Adam's sin didn't cause the corruption and God is lying to us. If you haven't checked out Ken Ham's materials from Answers in Genesis, please do. And take your family to the Ark Encounter and you will see just how easily God put all those animals on the Ark.

MY RESPONSE

Hi, I definitely don't plan on giving a comprehensive response here, as that would be much too long. My short answer is that the article does not reflect a higher belief in science than scripture, but is a recognition of the literary nature of the first few chapters of Genesis is evident from the text and not simply because of a higher belief in science than scripture. For instance, different church fathers have believed that the first few chapters of Genesis should not be taken in a woodenly literal way, and they lived long before modern science. Just looking at the differences between chapters one and two, we can see by reading the text "literally" that things happen in a different order in the second chapter than the first. For instance, man is created first and then plants (2:5-8).

While there is much that is "un-scientific" even from a very surface level (light is made before stars, stars are made after plants! just to mention a couple things) what ultimately leads me to a literary rather than "woodenly literal" view of these accounts of creation is what is actually in the text; not what science says. When we actually read the text we see that the writer is being poetic and is not meaning for the reader to take things hyper-literally. There is much more I could say, and many books have been written about the poetic nature of the first couple chapters of Genesis. The writer, while not focused on our modern questions about science, is crafting a masterfully written poem about creation that conveys the truth that God created the world and everything in it, that he created man and woman, and that it is under His control, and not the control of any other god.

Earlier I used the phrase "woodenly literal." A thousand years from now someone might find my post and think I'm talking about wood. But if they read the context they would have to infer that I wasn't talking about wood but was using a figure of speech. Such is the case with literature. If something doesn't make sense, we give the writer the benefit of the doubt and look at the context and see if the writer was meaning something other than we initially assumed. I think something similar is going on here.

As for your statement that literal view is backed by science, I'm not a scientist, but as I've pointed out, there are some surface things that all moderns can agree should not be taken literally. I would argue that even an ancient would not have taken everything in the first couple chapters of Genesis literally, and that the writer was not trying to create a perfectly scientific or even "journalistic" description of how creation happened. This was also obvious to many ancient readers, and ancients wrote in metaphor as much or more than we do today. In fact, they did not value consistency or total coherence in historical reports as much as we do today. History was often meant to teach the audience something and never had as it's objective a bland statement of facts.

The question is not whether God can make the universe in an instant, but whether the first couple chapters of Genesis require us to believe that. I have argued that they do not. There's no need to try to make the scientific data fit the first couple chapters of Genesis, or to try to make everything fit together coherently, because clearly that was not the goal of the author. He could have written it in this way, but he didn't, and he doesn't show the concerns many moderns do either for scientific accuracy or a journalistic description of events.

As for your statement that the entire gospel breaks down if there has been death and decay for millions of years, this is only true if you see death and decay or suffering as a wholly bad thing. God clearly created our bodies so that we would experience these things. I suggest reading Joshua McNall's book Perhaps as it gives some thoughts on how we might deal with Christians with the seeming conundrum of millions of years of death or decay. For now, I'll just point out that Peter does state that a thousand years are like a day and a day is like a thousand years. God does not view time the same way we do, and the same question could be asked as to why we experience these things now. Why do we experience death and destruction now and not simply become immortal the moment we are saved? Just because we struggle to answer a question doesn't mean we need to throw out factual data so we can be more comfortable. This often ends up backfiring in the long-run. We can sit with some uncomfortable facts because we live by faith, not by sight. We know we don't understand everything in the universe or exactly how God will bring about all his promises.

The gospel is about how God sent his son to die for our sins so we would be able to have eternal life and live for Christ in this life. I'm not sure how the reality that millions of years of dead corpses that has created the world we live in (for instance, we wouldn't have natural gas without it) has any bearing on the reality of the gospel. Perhaps we might view the thousands of corpses in a strange way as a reflection of what Jesus did on the cross. In the gospel itself we see that pain and suffering must occur to give birth to new creation.

I hope this helps you better understand why I believe what I do on this matter. Thanks for sending in your questions.

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