Tuesday, February 05, 2008

on Genesis 1

Last Friday at the weekly Bible study I co-lead we took a look at some of the alternate--by that I mean non-literal--interpretations of the creation account in Genesis.

We started off by reading the creation narrative of chapter 1 and on into 2, and then reading these two 'mystery' quotes:
And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that any one doubts that these figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.
I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of some scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were pagan and mythical.
Any guesses?

These two come from Origen (On Principle Things, Book IV, 16) and C. S. Lewis (Reflections on the Psalms), respectively. I picked them mainly to show the group two things: 1) that these interpretations are not some new, Post-Enlightenment trend--On First Principles is early 3rd Century--and 2) that they're not just the ideas of some crazy, liberal, heretical modernists (for Lewis's views on the relation of myth and truth, especially in the Christian context, see his essay Myth Became Fact). I admit I was taking advantage of the fact that just about everyone likes Lewis.

We went on from there to discuss the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation epic which may be as old as 18th Century BC, and also which is pointed to by many text critics as a likely source for much of the narrative of Genesis 1), the role genre plays in criticism, and the different types of truth, emphasizing that scientific, empirical datum is not the sole contender to that throne.
I taught this lesson to prevent, at least in our group, anyone's going through college without ever having to really consider this sort of view of scripture. If you've not wrestled with this, then you're certainly not ready for much of the contention that is out there.

The topic of Evolution never came up in the discussion, though it was brought up amongst the few of us left after the study had 'officially' ended, and a friend of mine made a point then that I don't think I'd ever considered before. I had mentioned earlier how I didn't feel that the issue of creation should really be as important a topic in the church as it is, since, beyond the theological, anthropological, and (I suppose) social ramifications, it really doesn't matter how the thing happened or was recorded. He began to make this same point about Evolution, except with one additional observation: if the conservative-evangelical community continues to put this immense weight on Creation-versus-Evolution, what will happen when the evolution theory wins? when some irrefutable evidence, without holes or gaps surfaces? 
I think I know what will happen; the fundamentalists will have two choices: 1) to completely reject the scientific method as a means to any sort of truth, or 2) to watch as the faith crumbles. Over an issue of little real concern, they'll see people lose their faith by the tens, or hundreds, of thousands. All because they are not willing to tackle a few textual issues.
This is a terrifying scenario. This is also why I'll continue teaching such Bible studies, though they'll always have their dissenters.
In the meantime, we must pray. Pray for wisdom for the believer and the unbeliever, and pray for the church, that rather than hanging all our hopes on some natural evidence of a super-natural God, we will pour our energies into answering the call of Christ, denying ourselves, taking up our crosses daily, and following. That will glorify our Father far more than any pseudo-scientific bickering on Earth, and it will show His love to the unbelieving world FAR more clearly.

1 comment:

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dude! The Pontificator writes again!