2.3 – Interpretations of Genesis (19 min video)
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Well, welcome to our third lecture for this week. For today, what we’re going to do is we’re gonna take a look at the different interpretations by Christians of Genesis one and two of the creation account. And of course, how you interpret those usually affects how you interpret Genesis one through 11 and how you interpret the rest of Genesis, even sometimes the entire Bible and so forth.
So I’ll go through the views. I, I do have my obvious bias, but, uh, I’ll go through the views and try to unpack those for you. Actually take a look at evolution, which really is not a Christian view at the very end here, although we’ll talk about theistic evolution and so forth. But, um, we’ll start out with the calendar day view. This is the traditional view or the view that takes Genesis as a literal historical account of what actually happened. It’s a quote by Sid Dyer, I’ll share with you. He says, forsaking the literal interpretation of Genesis one reduces its revelatory significance. The literal interpretation that is the interpretation that’s actual history, takes the entire chapter and its full revelatory significance. Rather than seeing Genesis as presenting God as a creative author, someone who kind of came with a creative way to describe the creation he goes on, he says, it sees God as the author of Creation who brought it into being by his spoken word, and we could add by his spoken word at a certain point in time, beginning with the creation of time.
Now, the advantage of seeing Genesis as this kind of literal calendar day view is it allows for a straightforward reading of the text. It means that anyone, uh, a young child can read the story and can understand it, and it sees, seems very clear. It’s a seven day pattern, uh, with more expl explanation about the creation of, of Adam and Eve and the Garden in the second chapter of Genesis.
One thing you may have noticed when you read Genesis is that the second chapter in the first chapter, uh, they’re, they’re not exactly the same story. The first chapter takes you through all seven days, includes the creation of man, and then the second chapter’s a little bit different. It, it talks about the creation of the garden. It talks about the creation. Uh, well, it talks about the creation of Adam again, in more specific detail and the creation of Eve. A lot of commentators, a lot of Christians have had different ideas of what to do with this. If you take a calendar day view a literal view, you typically will say that the second chapter of Genesis, it’s just further explanation of what’s going on on day six, which is found in Genesis chapter one. Of course, you can study this a whole lot more, and there’s, there’s all kinds of very specific details to deal with, but that’s kind of the gist or the general idea. Another nice thing about it being straightforward reading is it preserves what is called the perspicuity of scripture. I do know that’s a big term, but what that means is it means it preserves the clarity or the clearness of scripture. In other words, it doesn’t require an interpretation by experts. We’re gonna see with some of the other views they require that you take either modern science or that you take a knowledge of, say, Mesopotamian mythology, or you take some kind of, uh, really advanced understanding of Hebrew writing to try to understand Genesis one.
What that means is that means your common person cannot understand Genesis one, but, uh, if, if those other views are true. But one of the, one of the hallmarks that we’ll argue going back to especially the great Reformation, is that s is easy to understand, at least in general stories and in the main ideas.
Now, of course, as you get into the Bible, you know, there are always scriptures that are difficult to deal with, uh, especially into the prophecies, for example.
But Genesis one and two seem to be pretty straightforward. Uh, another thing that we should point out about this view is the meaning of the word day. ’cause you know, after all, we have these seven days in Genesis one. Uh, the Hebrew term for this is yam, and this idea of yam, which you actually see, it’s described as being an evening and a morning each day. In fact, we have the creation of day and night on the first day. But this is a term that those who argue for a literal understanding of Genesis will say means a regular day or essentially a 24 hour day.
Now, it is true the seventh day doesn’t have the same language. It seems to go on, so to speak, but the seventh day is when God rest, and so his rest from creating, uh, that rest never ends.
It goes on forever, would be the idea there from this view. Another thing we should note is that the New Testament alludes to the creation as being a literal and a real event. So in Matthew 19 four, or in Ephesians 5 31, or in one Corinthians six 16, all of those verses we have, uh, an illusion from the writer either Matthew or Paul in these cases to the creation of Adam and b, Adam and Eve almost at Evan, be there, sorry, to Adam and Eve being actual historical characters, or for example, in Mark two verse 27, uh, we have Mark telling us, well, actually the words of Jesus the Sabbath was made for man referring back to that initial creation of the Sabbath.
Rest on the seventh day, John 8 44 refers back to the deceit the serpent caused in the garden. And of course, Romans 5, 12 20 specifically deals with the fall of Adam, with the fact that because Adam’s sinned, we are all affected by it. And then of course, deals with the fact that Christ is the new Adam, and that because Christ has risen from the dead and has lived a sinless life, we can all rise with him.
In other words, when you take this kind of literal view, death does not actually occur until after the fall. We’re gonna see in the other views. One of the issues you have to deal with is could there be death, say for example, animal death before the fall. This also comes up when you look at a verse like, uh, Romans eight 20 through 22, which talks about how the creation, uh, has been subjected to futility, how it is groaning, how it is waiting for the full redemption.
Uh, according to this view, this is the view that I’m going to argue from that would take, that would consider Genesis to be the actual account of what happened. This is also a view that was held by church fathers such as, uh, basil and Ambrose. It was held by medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Peter Lombard. It was held by the great reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin and Theodore Bezo was held by, uh, later reformers Puritans, uh, like John Owen and Jonathan Edwards was also the only view that the Westminster Assembly, the Westminster Divines, all these pastors who got together to make the Westminster, uh, confession of faith.
It was the only a view that they actually, uh, spoke or talked about in all of their writings. The other thing we should point out before we move on is this is a view that essentially says that modern science with all of its findings, all of its data has to fit within what genesis actually records.
In other words, it doesn’t look to modern science as a method to interpret Genesis based upon the data of modern science, because data, as we’re going to see, or as you should know, is never completely neutral. Data is something that yes, it is data, you can tell, well, we found this here and we found it at this level, uh, in the earth and so forth.
But the thing about data is data can be interpreted and we have to actually determine how do we actually figure these things out. And of course, these are questions that are enormous questions, questions that we can only begin to scratch a surface on in a history program like this.
But I should point out before we move on to the next age, I’ll just quote Douglas Kelly again. He says that a theology wed to the science of one age, meaning if you take the current science and use that to interpret Genesis, he says it’s a widow. In the next meaning that science is always changing, especially we’re gonna see dating is always changing because we’re always discovering new things. And the current system for how we date things usually causes Us to have to say, well, how does This fit in in our current system?
This is an evolutionary timescale, and do we need to change that? And so forth. And usually the answer is Yes. Now, the second view we’ll talk About is the day age interpretation. Uh, this is a view that essentially says The days of Genesis Are These long periods. They’re periods really Of an undefined length, and they look to, Uh, verses like Isaiah 11 versus 10 through 11 to Say, Uh, in that day, which I’m sorry, Says in that day, meaning that it’s a, it’s an unspecified day. It can mean like a period of time. We don’t know how long of time it may be. And so typically people That propose this view Will say that Because, because Time can be seen kind of fluidly Like this. And they may quote, for example, uh, the verse That says that, uh, a day with the Lord is like A thousand years and a thousand years is like a day to him.
They’ll essentially quote that and say, well, yeah, A day Is kind of a fluid idea. It doesn’t have to be 24 hours. Of course, when we look at those Verses about God, I would suggest that it actually shows this. He is above time. Whereas if you remember what Herman Balding said, he said That we are a creature, Uh, that Exists Within time. He actually specifically said that time is a measure of Creaturely Existence. In other words, we Actually live Within time. We actually have all of our events within history Itself. Now, this view, which Was held by Theologians like Charles Hodge or BB Warfield, or Jay Gress Machen or even Francis Schaeffer, All of these, uh, terrific theologians, all of these guys that I have, Uh, quoted over the years and things like that.
Anyway, this view, one of the things that It, uh, it Discusses and deals with Is The idea that in the Croatian account, we actually have something kind of strange going on.
We have Light Appearing before the sun. And this is always, Actually, this goes all the way back to early church History. It’s been debated Over because people Are arguing, well, how could that Actually exist? But of Course, when you look at the creation week, you’re looking at God’s sovereignty and his power, it makes sense that it could Actually appear before that. The other thing with this view we need to talk about, and this is gonna be with all the Interviews we talk about, Is it opens up the door to there being the death of animals Prior to the Creation of man.
In other words, is how they usually explain the fossil Record. This becomes an issue Because God calls the Creation good, and so this would seem to mess with that. It also seems to mess with verses like Genesis 1 29 through 30, which Tells us that he Gave the plants as food to all of the creatures.
He leaves out sea creatures which may open the door for something else there, but we don’t really know. The point is this, it, it means you have to interpret that first differently. You also get a problem with verses like Isaiah 11 versus six through 10, which talks about the new Earth and talks about the wolf and the lamb, uh, dwelling together, or the leopard lying down with the young goat and so forth, uh, that would seem to apply that, uh, the animals are kind of returning to a natural state, a state that they had at creation.
It messes with verses, or at least it causes problems versus like Romans eight we’ve already mentioned, what does it mean by the creation being subjected to fertility and groaning for the full redemption? In other words, once you open the door to animal death, it raises other questions. Uh, but then again, typically people that hold a day interpretation still see Genesis at least somewhat as a historical reality, at least there being a literal atom and a literal eve.
Uh, we’ll kind of briefly go through the rest of these. Uh, the framework interpretation is another one that we can briefly mention here. It’s the idea that the six days are some kind of literary construction. There’s some kind of metaphor, and that essentially after God created everything x in helo out of nothing, which the Dage theory believes also, uh, he then used natural means or allowed natural means to actually create everything.
But again, kinda like the dage theory, it’s not obvious from the text, requires additional interpretation. There’s also theological day’s interpretation. This is very similar to this idea that the days represent long periods of time and that they’re meant to be an analogy to our own week and so forth. Again, this also requires a special interpretation. More specifically, we should mention, we’ll camp out here a little bit longer. We have the idea of theistic evolution. This is the idea that God used evolution to create, uh, that he quote designed a world which has within itself all the capacities to develop life and its own diversity.
So what this tries to argue is that the creation has purpose because God is behind it, but he’s using evolution. There’s different theories about how this works. Like maybe God just began the process of evolution, or maybe he began it and then he jumps in at key moments when, uh, the sheer rate of improbability of things evolving isn’t gonna work. So he jumps in and makes them work through miraculous power, or that perhaps he is somehow behind every single, uh, evolutionary development, but in a way that is undetectable to science.
In other words, you can’t really see God’s work directly in the creation. So this is the kind of view that usually is comfortable with saying there was animal death. This is also the kind of view that will usually say that when you look at the fossil record in terms of these apparently early humans, something we’ll talk about in a later lecture as well, and I keep promising you things are coming up, but they are, we have a lot to cover this year, but it’s a view that says that, yeah, humanity probably did evolve from primates. And that a certain point in time when humanity achieved kind of the homo sapien status, the modern genetic or biological man as we know him today, that God gave a soul either to an Adam and Eve or perhaps to a whole group of people.
The point is this, with all of these views, uh, they all begin to ask different questions about Genesis, which raises this whole idea of how can you tell when the history of Genesis actually begins to be accurate history?
That is why as a history teacher, I like that first view because it’s actually kind of the, the clearest view besides this last view, which is evolution itself. Evolution is, uh, is a clear view as well, and I would, I would argue that evolution and that literal view are the ones we should probably focus on the most.
Of course, there is room for disagreement here within the church, but we should keep in mind what evolution means. Evolution means explaining everything simply by natural, uh, processes. In other words, what’s interesting about this actually, and this is actually from the National Association of Science Teachers, I love what they say about what evolution is ’cause it tells us that this is an alternative to creation. They say quote, evolution in the broadest sense can be defined as the idea that the universe has a history and that change through time has taken place.
In other words, they recognize this is all about history. This the whole debate right now and why we’re camping out some or taking some time to camp out here is because this is only a debate about what has actually happened in the past and what can we actually trust?
How do we actually know the truth and so forth. Uh, I find this, uh, this next quote by Dr. Richard, uh, Lawon, who’s a zoology professor at Harvard to be quite telling. He talks about why evolution has to be true for him personally. He says, it is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, that it has to be evolution.
But he says, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priority adherences. That means we’re forced by our assumptions that we can, that we bring with us to believe that material causes created us, and that a set of concepts that produces material explanations no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.
Moreover, we are convinced that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door. In other words, his whole statement there is that evolution has to be true. There has to be a material explanation because otherwise you have to admit there is a God. Going back to Carl Sagan, whom he mentioned earlier, I’ll, uh, quote his famous quote, the cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. This idea that essentially it is God, but was curious what he says next. This is often is not quoted. He goes on to say, our feeble contemplation of the cosmos stirs us. There is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory of falling from a height.
We know we are approaching the greatest of our memories. So curious that if the world is indeed just matter, the universe for that matter, and that we essentially are just matter and biological processes.
It’s a strange assumption that an evolved creature such as us that evolves simply for survival should even care or consider, uh, the universe as being this marvelous place that causes us to, uh, tingle as Carl Sagan points out.
But of course, you read a psalm like Psalm 19, for example, or you read Romans one, you have a better understanding and a better picture of why that actually is.