Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred


Let’s Come at this From a Different Angle

posted by Pete Enns

incarnation_inspiration.jpg

Every Friday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay
from a guest voice in the science and religion dialogue. This week’s
guest entry was written by Peter Enns. Enns is an evangelical Christian
scholar and author of several books and commentaries, including the
popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional
views of Scripture. This is the fourth of his multi-part series on an incarnational model of Scripture.

Much of the concern surrounding the Christian faith and the acceptance of evolution and modern cosmology and geology centers on how to read the opening chapters of Genesis. Very often, and rightly so, that discussion turns to such issues as how modern data, such as extra biblical texts and scientific developments affect how we read Genesis.

That is all fine and well, but let’s come at this from a different angle.

There is a factor that rarely enters the discussion among conservative readers of Scripture. It is only one factor, but it is very important.

If we want a clue as to how to read the opening chapters of the Christian Bible, we should go to the closing chapters.

At the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, in the very last chapter of the last book, we read the following:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5, NIV).

The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic book, which means it is a figurative, symbolic description of what the “end” will look like. Much of Revelation is concerned with showing God’s ultimate rule over history, and how he is bringing that history to its consummation in Christ.

And note how history will end: in a garden, with a river, a tree of life, and the removal of the curse. I hope bells are going off right about now.

In a manner of speaking, the point of the entire story of redemption laid out in the Christian Bible is to get us “back into the garden,” to regain what was lost, for the obedient Second Adam to undo the disobedience of the first Adam.

The book of Revelation, however, is not a literal description of events in time and space. To be sure, God will bring history to its consummation, but the description of that consummation in Revelation is figurative or symbolic. That is the nature of apocalyptic literature in the ancient world, and Revelation participates in that literary convention.

Although it has occasionally been tried, a “literal” (meaning time-space, historical) reading of Revelation does not work at all. The message behind Revelation is something God will do in history, but the description of those events are figurative. This is especially clear beginning in Chapter 21, where we read of a “New Jerusalem” descending from the sky. Its description is a symbolic amalgamation of Jerusalem, temple, and Garden of Eden imagery. It is not a literal city crashing down on the Earth, but a theologically potent, concrete, ancient description of what God will eventually do in time and space.

The use of such imagery was a powerful communicator of theological truth to ancient peoples–and it should be to us, as well. And here is my point to ponder: the symbolic, non-literal nature of the renewed Garden in Revelation 22 should suggest to us, quite strongly in fact, that the Garden of Genesis 2-4 likewise, although communicating theological truth, is also symbolic and non-literal. Both are “true,” deeply so, but neither are literal, historical, or physical.

Discuss amongst yourselves, but try to keep it nice.

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steve martin

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:49 am


Hi Pete,
I really appreciated Nolls’s essay posted here at BL. His discussion on assumption #13 seems particularly relevant to how we as evangelicals have approached scripture (same angle you are talking about?):
Moreover, literal interpretation of the outer portions of Scripture seemed to many evangelicals only a natural extension of—and sturdy protection for—literal interpretation of the Bible’s central account of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Thus, a complex web of assumptions and practices led to the wide spread belief that (13) the norm for interpreting all of Scripture as God’s life-giving revelation is strongly supported by literal interpretations of the first and last parts of the Bible.
Hmm, if we can accomplish a civil Evangelical discussion on evolution and eschatology simultaneously, this post may go down as a historical first :-).



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dopderbeck

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:07 am


Pete, because of the recapitulation theme in Rev. 22, I’ve actually wondered at times “Eden,” like “heaven,” was a dimension outside of ordinary time and space. Yes, this notion is more than a bit sci-fi and wacky to modern ears, but it would have resonated with many pre-modern interpreters, such as Origen. I know at least one important Easter Orthodox theologian who describes himself as an “Origenist” when it comes to the Fall — not exactly what I’m thinking here, but somewhat similar. I’ve wondered the same thing at times with respect to the reference in 2 Peter 3:6 to the Noahic era, where the writer says the cosmos of that day was destroyed. Does Gen. 1-11, like the aboriginal “dreaming time” stories, describe a cosmographic space that is ontologically “real” but not present in our dimension of reality?
But ok, enough flights of wild fancy and speculation. Here’s my more concrete question: did the original writers of Second Temple apocalyptic literature draw sharp distinctions between “metaphorical” and “literal” as we are wont to do? Or would they have understood the “tree of life” and the “New Jerusalem” as both metaphorical and literal?



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Turmarion

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:25 am


This is an excellent post, but the problem is that for those of the Left Behind type, there would be a tendency to read Revelation literally, too, and thus there would be less openness to seeing the beginning and ending in the Garden as a symbolic literary device.
dopderbeck: [D]id the original writers of Second Temple apocalyptic literature draw sharp distinctions between “metaphorical” and “literal” as we are wont to do?
That’s a complicated and vexed question, but many Jews (e.g. Philo) used the allegorical method, as did later interpreters such as Maimonides. Most scholars would argue that apocalyptic literature was not inteded as a literal description of present or future events–thus, there is a certain distinction between metaphorical/allegorical and literal meanings.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:58 am


Peter,
You conclude, “the symbolic, non-literal nature of the renewed Garden in Revelation 22 should suggest to us, quite strongly in fact, that the Garden of Genesis 2-4 likewise, although communicating theological truth, is also symbolic and non-literal.”
I think that there are several problems with your conclusion:
1. There are varying degrees of figurativeness, some of which do not preclude historicity of the account. While I would grant you that the Book of Revelation represents figurative literature, we certainly wouldn’t want to entirely negate its historicity and the literalness of its prophecy with this stance. As you quoted Revelation: “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” We certainly expect that we LITERALLY will not be under a “curse” in heaven and that Christ will be in our midst (1 John 3:2-3).
2. Although there might be figurative elements in Genesis 2-4, the account is also historical, as cited by NT authors and Jesus Himself.
As you cautioned, I truly want to be “nice.” But I must also be transparent about my suspicions. (Perhaps this is also being “nice?”) When the “steady-state” theory of the universe held sway, theologians were rushing to conform the message of Scripture to a the idea of a universe that always existed. Of course, watching this, we naturally ask ourselves, “Where has this theologian placed his trust: In God through His Word or in the latest theory?” Now that evolution holds sway, theologians and exegetes are trying to conform Scripture to Darwin along with gay marriage, Marxism, psychoanalysis and to whatever other theories happen to be currently in fashion.
Can you blame me for my cynicism? Can you fault us regarding our concern for the Church?



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Glen Davidson

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:13 am


I’d hardly argue for reading Genesis literally, but the fact is that even apocryphal literature makes reference to very non-figurative, non-symbolic entities and events. Presumably, Jesus and the earth are mentioned in Revelation as quite existent realities.
I certainly don’t know where one is supposed to decide that something in Revelation is a reference to the “real” and what is merely meant to be symbolic. Just because it’s in Revelation, however, doesn’t in the least mean that it’s a reference to something not “real.”
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Kathryn

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:21 am


Pete,
The parallels between Gen 2-4 and Revelation are indeed striking. I wonder, though, if one takes a purely figurative approach to Genesis 2-4 (or maybe 1-11), when does the history become historical as we understand it? That is, the text reads (in English, at least) like a historical narrative after Gen 1, albeit with a heavy mythological component until Abraham appears on the scene.
Could you say a word about the long lifespans, the Nephilim, the Flood, or Babel? The former two seem less obviously important for imparting theological truth, though I’m not saying they don’t. In the case of the Flood, since we do have other ancient flood narratives and some evidence for a massive regional flood around the Black Sea, maybe these stories began with literal truth and became mythologized over time?
I agree with you in that the Genesis 2-4 mythology is true in a profound sense even if not literally true, but I don’t think the science demands we throw out the historicity of Adam completely. For those who hold to covenant theology, a non-literal Adam is even harder to accept than a literal Adam whose physical body God made through evolution. All that said, if we focus too much on delineating what’s literal and what’s not, we run the risk of missing out on the real and vital meaning of Creation, Fall, and promised redemption in the Genesis narrative.



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dopderbeck

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:27 am


BTW, appropos of my fanciful speculations, I noticed an interview today in Christianity Today with Dinesh D’Souza, who is promoting a new book arguing that string theory supports the idea of “heaven” because “heaven” is a sort of alternative universe! That would be an interesting book to review, given that string theory probably isn’t very good science (if it’s “science” at all) and that contemporary scholars such as NT Wright see “heaven” as a very physical new creation…



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#John1453

posted December 4, 2009 at 3:04 pm


Daniel Mann’s comments on December 4, 2009 10:58 AM don’t hold up, at least not in respect of the example he gives. The curse has real effects in Genesis and those effects really are ended in Revelation, but just as the new Jerusalem City is not physically real, neither are the 6 days of Genesis actual twenty-four hour periods. Nor is the tree of life likely and actual physical tree like an elm or pear tree.
Just as there are literary clues in Revelation that indicate it’s genre, so to are there such clues in Genesis, such as the repeated use of “7”, the perfect number (i.e., 7 occurances of certain words, etc.). In this regard one can not the symbolism of the number 14 and its employment by Matthew in his listing of the generations. There were not exactly 3 sets of fourteen generations (Matthew skips a number of generations to make his listings come out at 14 each), so his list is neither “literally” true nor correct (where “correct” is understood in the modern historical understanding of exhaustively correct listing of all ancestors, using the correct spellings and in the correct order).
Finally, in Genesis one should note that 24 hour days and alternating dark and light ONLY MAKE SENSE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PERSON STANDING ON THE EARTH WHICH IS BOTH ROTATING IN RELATION TO THE SUN AND CIRCULATING AROUND IT. Therefore, if there was a “literal” evening and morning on the first day, there must have been both a rotating earth and a sun present. But if that is true, then we have TWO creations of the sun: on the first and fourth day. These sorts of things (symbolic numbers, nonhistorical “double” creations, etc.) indicate that the literature is not a narrative history as we would write it, but a theological history or a narrative theology, etc.
regards,
#John



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Daniel Mann

posted December 4, 2009 at 3:38 pm


John,
Even if you’re right about the figurative-symbolic elements (and we can always read these things into any narrative, whether they’re there or not), this doesn’t preclude the historicity of the account. Clearly, God works history according to patterns or symbols. Therefore, it’s not necessarily an either-or proposition!
Regarding “double creation accounts” – this is a matter of interpretation. I tend to see Genesis 2 as an elaboration of Genesis 1, not a pick-the-one-that-you-like-best proposition.
Instead, if I regard the words of Jesus and Paul as inspired, I am duty-bound to regard Scripture in the way that they had regarded it. If Scripture is truly the Word of God, then I want to humble my mind and interpretation before it and allow it to do its precious work (through the Spirit) in my life as it already has so wonderfully done (1 Thess. 2:13).



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Mere_Me

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:49 pm


Mr. Enns,
Your opinion of what Revelations means is one more fascinating read.
I wonder what world, or rather, which world Jesus was reffering to about His kingdom being not of this one. Did He mean Roman ruled Palestine of that day and age, or Earth in general?
And of course, a mark on the head or hand to identify a person being able to buy or sell, seems a rather stark reality looking at our digital world of globalism . . . as of 12.04.09.
And of course, there are so many people looking for an absolute ruler (Obamunism), it looks to me that Revelations is representing far more reality than metaphor in real time in the real world. And it looks to be sooner than later.



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Russell

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm


I don’t know where to stand on the literal versus non literal interpretation of creation and the first chapters of Genesis. I tend to take a more literal interpretation because that helps me take the rest of the Bible more literally and most importantly Jesus and His resurrection. However, I do not necessarily believe in 6 exact Earth days of creation. But, while I do say that the most important event to believe in is the resurrection, I have a hard time not believing in a literal Adam who first sinned. Jesus is the second Adam and comes to free us from that sin, so without believing in a literal Adam, do we then believe that Jesus’ Earthly lineage begins with a mythical person (Luke 3:23-38)?



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Pete Enns

posted December 4, 2009 at 5:51 pm


Thanks for the great comments, folks. And just so we’re clear, when I said “be nice” that didn’t mean we can’t disagree, so keep the thoughts coming. I’m sure many are stimulated by the discussion.
I will try to take some stabs at some of your points, but there are too many to address fully. But, let me say two things. (1) Every single objection or question that has been raised on this thread has in one sense or another been the subject of generations of academic scrutiny. “The truth is out there” as Agent Mulder would say. I bring that up to encourage you to read widely, but also to say that for some of your points, a really long answer is needed. You are asking “blog’ questions that really require some time and effort to set up before even launching into an answer. That is one reason the science/faith issue is so tricky: it is actually exceedingly complicated both scientifically and hermeneutically.
(2) A related point. A seminary professor of mine used to say “For every difficult question there is one, clear, unambiguous, certain WRONG answer.” If something seems like a slam dunk, black or white issue, it probably isn’t–hence an organization like BioLogos to help introduce people to the complexities.



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sean

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:13 pm


Great post and congratulations on your new position Dr Enns. I think it would be helpful to include what i consider the central message of the Gospel which is that if you don’t seek Jesus your own physical/spiritual temple will go down in lonely flames. In terms of understanding the “lake of fire” i would suggest David Foster Wallace’s short story “Good People” from the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2007/02/05/070205fi_fiction_wallace
Amazing how DFW made the New Yorker cut with it being so “evangelical”(see snip-it below). It takes place with the main characters looking out over a lake:
“What he believed in was a living God of compassion and love and the possibility of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through whom this love was enacted in human time. But sitting here beside this girl as unknown to him now as outer space, waiting for whatever she might say to unfreeze him, now he felt like he could see the edge or outline of what a real vision of Hell might be. It was of two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent. There would be battle but no victor. Or never a battle—the armies would stay like that, motionless, looking across at each other, and seeing therein something so different and alien from themselves that they could not understand, could not hear each other’s speech as even words or read anything from what their face looked like, frozen like that, opposed and uncomprehending, for all human time. Two-hearted, a hypocrite to yourself either way.”
In terms of high brow firepower Dr Enns it doesn’t get any better if you ask me. Peace be with you



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Mere_Christian

posted December 5, 2009 at 12:56 am


The hell with hell! says the modern mind. Of all Christianity’s teachings, hell is certainly the least popular. Non-Christians ignore it, weak Christians excuse it, and anti-Christians attack it.
Some, like Bertrand Russell in his famous essay “Why I Am Not a Christian”, argue that because Jesus clearly taught it, he was not a good moral teacher. (Russell’s essay, by the way, makes fine devotional reading for a Christian. My college roommate was about to lose his faith until he read it; he said to me, “If those are the arguments against Christianity, I’d better be a Christian.”)
– Dr. Peter Kreeft
http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/hell.htm
///
The very nature of things in the modern wolrd, sure seem to be on the path spoken of in the Bible.



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Scott Jorgenson

posted December 5, 2009 at 2:34 am


Peter Enns wrote:
“If we want a clue as to how to read the opening chapters of the Christian Bible, we should go to the closing chapters…And here is my point to ponder: the symbolic, non-literal nature of the renewed Garden in Revelation 22 should suggest to us, quite strongly in fact, that the Garden of Genesis 2-4 likewise, although communicating theological truth, is also symbolic and non-literal.”
I’m not sure I get that point. I agree there are very good reasons for understanding Revelation as apocalypse, and the apocalyptic genre as ahistorical and non-literal. And I agree there are other, different, independent, good reasons for understanding Genesis as ahistorical and non-literal, as well. But in connecting the two the way you do in this posting, Peter, you seem to imply that the nature of Revelation must necessarily have some bearing on the nature of Genesis. And that seems to me to be a very good example of exactly the sort of wildy cross-contextual application that biblical studies folks are always calling the systematic theologians to task for.
Revelation is a product of 1st century CE Jewish Christian apocalypticism. Genesis is a product of a quite different time, culture and situation – the Ancient Near East – composed and edited 600 to a thousand or more years before John of Patmos. There is no literary-critical reason to think that the later book would tell us anything concrete about the original intent of the earlier book (which certainly doesn’t mean that Revelation can’t tell us what John and his commmunity in their time thought of Genesis – it certainly could, and does – but that’s not the point you’re making, as far as I can tell). Only certain theological doctrines, about say the univocal consistency of every book in the Christian Bible, would lead deductively to such a conclusion. But I know your work well enough (which is to say, not very well, but well enough, I think) to know you wouldn’t agree with that.
So I’m a little confused at the connection you are trying to draw; it seems inconsistent with what I know of your entire approach to biblical studies.



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Mere_Christian

posted December 5, 2009 at 8:22 am


Paul (and Peter) were focused on end times as well.
The falling away from the faith mentioned by Paul to fellow Christians in his letter to the Thessalonians, shows the futute actions of people we have come to know now as Humanists, secularists, skeptics, liberals and progressives, will cause a great falling away of Christians from the faith.
Revelations is just one piece of written preaching about the reality of the end of the age. Sometimes to individuals and sometimes to the corporate body of believers.
From vantage point 21st century; their words are ringing louder and clearer than ever before.



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John Murphy

posted December 5, 2009 at 8:49 am


A couple of objections to Mr. Enns:
1. Most evangelicals objection to evolution does not stem from their reading of Genesis per se, it stems from their interpretation of the scientific data. Thus Michael Behe in “The Edge of Evolution,” and Philip Johnson, “Darwin on Trial.”
2. Mr. Enns states that Revelation is symbolic and figurative. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The point is that what part of Revelation is symbolic and what part literal we have no way of knowing. That same reading of Zechariah would say, “The Messiah betrayed by 30 pieces of silver?” Purely symbolic. No, literal. Elijah will come before the advent of Christ. Definitely literal! No, symbolic.
I would like to know how Mr. Enns KNOWS that Revelation is purely figurative. Just stating the fact does not an argument make.



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Martin Rizley

posted December 5, 2009 at 9:34 am


Dr. Enns,
Your argument, I think, is self-defeating; for repeatedly in this post, you state that the reason we are to interpret the imagery in the book of Revelation symbolically is because of the genre of literature the Revelation represents– namely, apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is, by its a very nature, a visionary, symbolic depiction of spiritual truths. Thus, John’s vision of Christ with a sword protruding from His mouth does not mean our Lord is walking around in heaven with a long steel blade sticking out of His mouth; the imagery highlights the fact that He speaks the Word of God. The question regarding Genesis is this, however: are there any literary markers in Genesis to indicate that we are dealing here with apocalyptic literature or some other highly symbolic, visionary type of literature (such as fable, myth, or parable)? On the contrary, it seems to me abundantly clear that we are dealing here with historical narrative. Especially when you get to the birth of Seth and the genealogical list of Genesis 5, which ties Adam as an historical figure into the lineage of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., leading right up to the New Testament and our Lord Jesus Christ, it is so clear that what we have in Genesis one continually flowing historical narrative that is intended to be understood by the biblical author as real history. The seemingly ‘mythical’ elements in Genesis 1-3 stem from the fact that, at this very early point in human history, before man fell into sin, God revealed himself in more intimate way (indeed, supernatural, miraculous ways) than He did after the fall. I personally believed that God appeared to Adam and Eve in the Garden in theophanic form, as He later appeared to Abraham by the trees of Mamre. Moreover, I believe that there is no “talking snake” in Genesis 3 (talking snakes belong in fables and fairy tales), but rather, a normal snake such as you would find in any field that has become “demon-possessed”– that is, inhabited by Satan, who uses the snake as his medium of communication with the woman (you have another instance of demonic possession of animals in the gospels, when Christ casts the unclean spirits of the Gardarene demoniac and sends them into the herd of swine). Everything in Genesis seems to has the literary markers of historical narrative, in contrast to the Book of Revelation, which is clearly a “vision” given to John that is highly symbolic and figurative.



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Pete Enns

posted December 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm


Thanks for all of your comments.
Scott, you are correct (and yes, I think you know me well enough). Part of my intention in my post was simply to stretch those who feel that the Bible, because it is God’s word, privileges a literal reading. But, to be sure, Genesis and Revelation are non-literal, but for very different reasons.
John, placing the burden on me to discern “what parts” of Revelation are symbolic or not is a false challenge. For example, Homer’s epics are based on historical events, but to read the Odyssey asking what is to be understood as a literal description of reality and what is not is to miss the purpose of the story as a whole. Now, Revelation is not anything like the Odyssey, but the book as a whole is Apocalyptic and Apocalyptic “does” something when you read it. It paints images. It is as one writers calls it “a sacrament for the imagination.” Also, John, I am not simply “stating” that Revelation is symbolic. This is what all informed readers say except those who feel they are protecting Scripture by advocating historicity and literalism. In the grand scheme, “stating” the symbolic nature of Revelation is not the position that needs defending. Your’s is.
Martin, I understand the passion with which you continue to maintain your views on Genesis on this blog, but I will say that you are not reading Genesis well. For what it’s worth, your understanding of Genesis is not supported by the broad sweep of biblical scholarship that crosses most every ideological boundary, except for the most conservative. You may feel that is a badge of honor, but before deciding, exposing yourself to views that differ from yours may help soften you a bit.
Have you read any of John Walton’s works? He may be a good place to start. He understands where you are coming from and is very patient in walking readers through the paces.
OK, back to Florida vs. Alabama.



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Kent Sparks

posted December 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm


A few thoughts …
The relevance of Revelation might be that its author interpreted Genesis symbolically, even if, in fact, the original author of Genesis intended no symbols.
At the same time, Genesis itself has all the marks of symbol … snakes that talk (contrary to Martin’s point), trees of “life” and “divine knowledge, woman made from a rib, a God who walks in the garden and asks of Adam, “where are you?” The author couldn’t have done much more to clue readers about his fictional mode of composition. As CS Lewis said, even a child can see that the creation story is s myth.
If Gen 1-11 were written by someone other than Gen 12f as some scholars suggest), then it may be that the later editor of Genesis thought that Gen 1-11 really was historigraphical, just as did and do many later readers. But this wouldn’t really change the point.
Besides, even if the author of Gen 1-11 meant his work as history, it’d be very wrong as an account of human origins and early human history. That wouldn’t bother me much, but no need to create a problem by misreading the text.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 6, 2009 at 7:04 am


Martin, Peter, and Kent,
I think that the most important question about figurative language is whether or not its presence precludes the historicity of the account or whether the characters within the account are/were real. Clearly, figurative or symbolic language doesn’t rule this out! In the Psalms, God is often spoken about figuratively, riding on clouds or smoke emitting from His nostrils. However, this imagery is never intended to rule against His existence, but to highlight it.
Instead, as others have already written in this dialogue, the job of sound interpretation is not to issue blanket, meat-ax indictments against the historicity of an account (ie. the existence of Adam and Eve) because of the presence of figurative language, but rather to interpret each passage according to all its many nuances.



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Pete Enns

posted December 6, 2009 at 4:46 pm


Daniel,
Maybe you can think of another example than rider on the clouds imagery. I agree that use of mythic language there doesn’t mean Yahweh doesn’t exist. But that is what Kent and I are saying, too. Just because there is indisputable mythic language in the creation stories doesn’t mean God did not create. It’s just that the creative act is described in mythic language (i.e., a dome keeping out the waters above; garden, 2 trees, talking serpent, etc.)



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Larry Fafarman

posted December 6, 2009 at 7:34 pm


One thing that I think needs to be understood is that evolution theory is mainly in conflict just with the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 and that there is little or no conflict between evolution theory and Genesis 3 and later chapters.
Darwinist “cafeteria Christians” (they are called “cafeteria Christians” because they pick and choose what parts of their religion they are going to believe or accept, like people choosing food at a cafeteria) take the gospel literally while not taking literally the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, even though the creation story makes more sense than the gospel. Both the creation story and the gospel involve the supernatural, but the creation story is fairly straightforward whereas the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguity, and unintelligibility. Also, the creation story is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful god whereas the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world.



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Beaglelady

posted December 6, 2009 at 8:59 pm


The question regarding Genesis is this, however: are there any literary markers in Genesis to indicate that we are dealing here with apocalyptic literature or some other highly symbolic, visionary type of literature (such as fable, myth, or parable)? On the contrary, it seems to me abundantly clear that we are dealing here with historical narrative.

Of course Genesis is not apocalyptic literature, and no one said it was, but Genesis 1-11 is a very special genre of literature. It is divinely inspired and compelling, but hardly historical narrative.
In his book Evolutionary Creation, Dr. Denis Lamoureux points out the importance of recognizing and respecting the ancient Near Eastern motifs in the opening chapters of the Bible. These ancient motifs include a lost idyllic age and a great flood.
Also, Genesis 1-11 features poetic structures that are often found in ancient literature, e.g. the chiasm (or palistrophe). Are you familiar with the chiasm? It’s really very interesting.
Finally, there are two different creation accounts in Genesis with important differences. There are even two flood stories merged into one!
And remember, Martin, you were very reluctant to accept Genesis 6 1-4 as a historical narrative. (You know, that’s where angelic males mated with human females and produced baby heroes.)



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Daniel Mann

posted December 6, 2009 at 9:45 pm


Peter,
It doesn’t seem like we’re saying the same thing! You originally wrote:
“The symbolic, non-literal nature of the renewed Garden in Revelation 22 should suggest to us, quite strongly in fact, that the Garden of Genesis 2-4 likewise, although communicating theological truth, is also symbolic and non-literal. Both are “true,” deeply so, but neither are literal, historical, or physical.”
By writing that Genesis 2-4 are “symbolic and non-literal…neither are literal, historical, or physical,” you are denying the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – foundational pieces of Gospel theology. By taking this stance, you are not only denying portions of both the NT and the OT that affirm their historicity (like the genealogies and the words of Jesus and Paul), but you are also calling into question the necessity of the Cross, disqualifying Jesus as the second Adam, the One who reverses the Fall (1 Cor. 15:22; Romans 5:15-19).
I think that it is important that we are apprised of the great personal and theological price that such a reformulation of Scripture requires. The non-historical, symbolic hermeneutic that you are recommending will sadly leave the Church without any sense of certainty or confidence about what the Bible is communicating. If Adam and Eve and just symbolic, we are left to wonder what other Scripture teachings, which appear to us to be historical and physical, are merely symbolic?
Besides, once we unhinge Scripture from its very obvious Historical and physical context, which invests it with its meaning, we are left with a substance-less Jell-O that can be shaped into any form we wish.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 6, 2009 at 9:50 pm


Larry,
For your information, BioLogos does not even take Genesis 3 literally. Here’s what Karl Giberson wrote in his book, “Saving Darwin”:
“Acid is an appropriate metaphor for the erosion of my fundamentalism, as I slowly lost confidence in the Genesis story of creation and the scientific creationism that placed this ancient story within the framework of modern science….[Darwin’s] acid dissolved Adam and Eve; it ate through the Garden of Eden; it destroyed the historicity of the events of creation week. It etched holes in those parts of Christianity connected to the stories—the fall, “Christ as the second Adam,” the origins of sin, and nearly everything else that I counted sacred.” (9-10)



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sean

posted December 7, 2009 at 2:28 am


For those interested in Dr Enns above suggestion regarding John Walton i found a youtube presentation of his entitled “Genesis as Ancient Cosmology”:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6B2qTdacBY



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beaglelady

posted December 7, 2009 at 6:55 am


So Daniel, do you accept Genesis 6:1-4 literally? That is, did “sons of God” really mate with human females and produce baby heroes?



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Daniel Mann

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:07 am


BL,
Why not?



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Mere_Me

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:25 am


If Angels can eat, well . . .



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beaglelady

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:41 am


In a strictly literal approach, everything reproduces after its own kind. But here, not only do angels and humans mate, they produce a hybrid called a “hero.” So something just doesn’t add up.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 7, 2009 at 11:28 am


BL,
I’m not sure about the correct interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4, but there’s a lot of Biblical evidence that angels do incarnate! I think that this would only be problematic for those who have an anti-supernatural bias.
I have been fortunate (?) enough to have had some pretty incontestable experiences with the supernatural. So I am far-from-ready to dismiss the Bible’s testimony regarding the demonic and angelic.



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Martin Rizley

posted December 7, 2009 at 11:36 am


Dr. Enns,
When I said that I regard the account of Eve’s temptation by the snake as literal, I was not denying the use of figurative language in Genesis 3. As Robert McNeill puts it, “It is a big mistake to perceive the third chapter of Genesis as wholly literal. Take Genesis 3:15, for example: There we read that God spoke to the serpent that tempted Eve to sin and said, ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.’ To take these words literally is to make this promise say that a descendant of Eve would bruise the head of the snake while the snake bruises the descendant’s heel. No one accepts that as the meaning of that judgmental promise. This is the record of actual events of a spiritual nature in physical life. Spiritual evil is represented as taking physical form to reach spiritual man through his physical being. When reading the Bible, we must therefore consider the physical facts while always observing the spiritual values.”
My main reason for regarding the snake as literal is because it is identified in Genesis 3:1 as a ’beast of the field;’ its ’cleverness’ can be attributed to the fact that it had become possessed by Satan, and was being used by Satan as a mouthpiece. Interestingly, Satan is never mentioned directly in Genesis 3, a subtle literary device which reflects the subtlety of the tempter himself, who always keeps his identity hidden behind a mask. The fact that a “beast of the field” addressed Eve should have sent off alarm bells for Eve, since we are told that God created the beasts of the field to be in subjection to man’s dominion, not on a level with him. The whole scene smelled of sulphur, and should have alerted Eve to the fact something diabolical was happening. So I see nothing odd about interpreting this chapter literally, and saying that a beast of the field literally spoke to Eve. In fact, the argument against taking this account literally reminds me of David Hume’s argument against the resurrection– I have never seen such a thing, neither have you; therefore it cannot happen. What sort of an argument is that?
When you write that “your understanding of Genesis is not supported by the broad sweep of biblical scholarship that crosses most every ideological boundary, except for the most conservative,” you should have inserted the word “contemporary” before the phrase “biblical scholarship.” It may be a fact that much contemporary biblical scholarship has gotten away from a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3, but that does not mean that such scholarship has greater insight into the meaning of the text than earlier, more conservative scholarship. After all, the terms “contemporary” and “modern” are not necessarily equivalent to “better” or “more insightful,” nor can truth ever be determined by a “head count” of modern scholars. When I was in college, I was told the same thing about my understanding of the resurrection accounts in the gospels– it was not in line with contemporary biblical scholarship. My religion professor told me that, to get at the true meaning of what the gospel writers are saying, I had to understand the “mythical” worldview of the first century and “demythologize” the text. I didn’t buy that with regard to the gospels, and I don’t buy it with regard to Genesis, either; for I can plainly see from the my own reading of the book of Romans that Paul regards the person of Adam as an historical figure, not a mythical symbol; and based on my respect for Paul as a recipient of divine revelation, I will accept his view of Adam any day over that of contemporary scholars– unless those scholars can make a credible claim to having received direct revelation from Christ, like Paul. I know of no contemporary scholar who has seen a light from heaven, or heard the voice of Jesus with his own ears, or has received a direct revelation of truth from heaven itself. Do you?



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Daniel Mann

posted December 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm


Martin,
Well said!



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beaglelady

posted December 7, 2009 at 12:34 pm


I’m not sure about the correct interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4, but there’s a lot of Biblical evidence that angels do incarnate! I think that this would only be problematic for those who have an anti-supernatural bias.

I don’t have an anti-supernatural bias; I’m just wondering how you reconcile a literal interpretation of this passage with the idea of everything reproducing after its own kind. Angels might appear as humans to a human, but they would still be angels. Are you saying that angels are shape-shifting into actual human form, complete with reproductive organs and a fictitious lineage? I don’t think this is the answer, since the angel/human hybrid is clearly not fully human. Please clarify.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 7, 2009 at 12:46 pm


BL,
Well, we acknowledge that Jesus is Spirit and yet He became fully human (with reproductive capacity). Why not also angels, who are also supernatural beings?



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beaglelady

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:03 pm


Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, so he had a human lineage. Christians tend to think this was a one-time event. And as I said, the angel/human mating produced a hybrid that was not fully human.



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Janet

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm


Another interpretation I’ve heard for Gen 6:1-4 is that the “sons of God” were descendants of Adam, and the “daughters of men” were humans that did not descend from Adam. (I’ve heard this from an evolutionary creationist who holds to a historical Adam and Eve). Another similar interpretation from a strong concordist is that the sons of God descended from the godly line of Seth, and the daughters of men had not.
Is there any merit to either of these views? How did it come about that sons of God was taken to refer to angels? Did this come from the Septuagint?



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Daniel Mann

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:46 pm


Janet,
The phrase “sons of God” is used by the book of Job to refer to angels!



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Daniel Mann

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:48 pm


BL,
Are you part of the BioLogos team?



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beaglelady

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:55 pm


Daniel,
No, I am just a participant like you. I do generally agree with their views.
btw, I guess Monday’s post is late. Usually it’s up by now.



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Janet

posted December 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm


Daniel,
Interesting – both the NIV and NRSV translate the Job passages as angels or heavenly beings, but leave Gen 6:1-4 as sons of God. Hosea 1:10 and Rom 8:14 refer to people as sons of God.
You can take a look at http://www.robibrad.demon.co.uk/Chapter5.htm – in Table 5.2 it shows some disagreement about this in the early church.
I actually lean toward the angels view, but don’t think it’s required.



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Pete Enns

posted December 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm


The identity of the “son of God” in Gen 6:1-4 has been gone over so often there is nothing new to say. It was even the optic of a a few comments on a recent posting on this blog. I would recommend to those interested to see John Walton’s brief summary of this in his recent Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. As I recall, he may have a footnote or two on this.,
Bottom line: sons of God are divine beings of some sort who are cavorting with human females, thus being yet another instance of “boundary crossing,: i.e., failure to maintain the order God established in creation.
Janet, the reason the NIV leaves Gen 6 as “sons of God” is because the translation team understood the difficulties with equating these beings with angels. Also, Janet, of the two other view you mentioned earlier, I know of the second one. Augustine may have held to that. I am not familiar with the first. Another view in the history of interpretation is that the sons of God were corrupt earthly kings, since divinity is ascribed to kings in the ancient world.
Still, for numerous reasons that can be found in good commentaries, etc, they are divine beings the existence of which is already hinted at in Gen 1:26 (let us make…).



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Janet

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:22 pm


Pete,
Thanks very much for your comments. I think in my next online order I will pick up one of John Walton’s books, or perhaps yours. I looked for yours recently at my local Christian bookstore, but only found G. K. Beale’s book responding to your view.
I’m still trying to figure out what I think about the historicity of Gen 1-11. Right now I’m just confused – some days I think one way, and the next I’m on the other side. I don’t doubt evolution and common descent, but can’t decide about Adam and Eve. I have a 7-year-old son who is totally enthralled with biology and asking questions about science and faith, so that adds to my desire to learn about these matters.
Thanks again.



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Pete Enns

posted December 8, 2009 at 6:43 am


Janet,
People like you are the reasons Francis Collins founded BioLogos. I know it is difficult. People talk freely about those who walk away from their faith because they are exposed to things like evolution of the ancient context of the Bible. I have found the opposite to be the case. It is a failure to expose especially young people to these things that gives them trouble later on in life, when they can no longer be shielded from truth.
If you haven’t done so, maybe you can read some of the books on the BioLogos website?



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Daniel Mann

posted December 8, 2009 at 10:56 am


Janet,
I don’t think that anyone involved in this debate wants to shelter children from the truth. However, the question is, “What is the truth?” Is it the truth that all of the glories of this creation – life, DNA, freewill, consciousness, sight, hearing, the fine-tuning of the universe, the laws of physics — came about by natural, unguided processes, as the Darwinist insists? Or has God created this world and its life forms in a “very good” state, as the Bible maintains? Has Darwinism achieved its almost-absolute hegemony over the sciences because it’s the truth or because this establishment has ruthlessly repressed contrary evidences and retaliated against anyone who broke rank with them, as the recent Climate-gate scandal has revealed about top climate scientists? (Also see the documentary EXPELLED in this regard!)
We mustn’t underestimate the power of “group-think” and how our current theories are able to exercise such control over the worldview of their culture. Here’s one example from BioLogos’ Karl Giberson:
“[Evolutionist] Ernst Haeckel nudged the racism of the Third Reich along its malignant road by suggesting that the various human races were like stages in the embryonic development of the fetus…”You must draw [a line] between the most highly developed civilized people on the one hand and the crudest primitive people on the other and unite the latter with animals.” Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution,” 76)
“How shocking it is today to acknowledge that virtually EVERY educated person in the Western culture at the time …shared Haeckel’s ideas. Countless atrocities around the globe were rationalized by the belief that superior races were improving the planet by exterminating defective elements…there can be little doubt that such viewpoints muted voices that would otherwise have been raised in protest.”
Of course, Darwinists have wisely retreated from these views, but I mention them to merely demonstrate the influence that the evol.-establishment (or any entrenched and state-supported worldview) is capable of exerting.
Here are some resources that I’d recommend:
1. The DVDs: “Privileged Planet,” “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life,” and “Icons of Evolution.” (Let me warn you that these will bring down loud denunciations from the Darwinists!)
2. SIGNATURE IN THE CELL, Stephen C. Meyer
3. GOD’S UNDERTAKER, John C. Lennox
Jesus and Darwin are utterly irreconcilable! We can’t serve both! Consequently, Jesus warned:
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6: 24)



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Pete Enns

posted December 8, 2009 at 6:16 pm


Daniel,
You are equating Darwin/Darwinism with evolutionary theory.
BioLogos and others exist to respect the science and not make certain philosophical leaps that were made by early “Darwinists.”
Janet, the best of science and the best of Christian scholarship will tell you that “Jesus vs. Darwin” oversimplifies the matter to the point of distortion. It might work with some, but there are many, many people in the world who understand that this polarization does not due justice to the facts.
I would suggest, as you have time, read through the FAQs on this site for brief yet balanced opinions on a lot of the questions you might be having.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm


Janet,
I’m sorry if you feel like you’re locked in a tug-of-war with you being stretched in the center. However, it’s important to understand the costs before you take a bite out of the apple. Karl Giberson writes about the costs he’s had to pay by inviting Darwin in:
“Acid is an appropriate metaphor for the erosion of my fundamentalism, as I slowly lost confidence in the Genesis story of creation and the scientific creationism that placed this ancient story within the framework of modern science….[Darwin’s] acid dissolved Adam and Eve; it ate through the Garden of Eden; it destroyed the historicity of the events of creation week. It etched holes in those parts of Christianity connected to the stories—the fall, “Christ as the second Adam,” the origins of sin, and nearly everything else that I counted sacred.” (Saving Darwin, 9-10)
If this seems like an abandoning of the Biblical faith, you might not be wrong. I hope and pray he’ll write a follow-up book: “Saving Jesus!”



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Karl Giberson

posted December 8, 2009 at 8:35 pm


I would not use quite the same hermeneutic on my writing as you are doing, Daniel. When I talked about “Darwin etching” my beliefs I was really just using a shorthand for “coming to understand what science has determined about the world.” I do not “follow” Darwin as though he were a guru. I follow the evidence where it leads and scientific evidence leads clearly to the belief that there were human beings on the earth long before Adam and Eve. This is complemented by Biblical evidence that the creation stories in Genesis were not historical accounts (Read John Walton’s book on Genesis).
Accepting scientific facts about the world is accepting the truths that God is revealing through science.



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sean

posted December 8, 2009 at 9:33 pm


I think one interesting Christian way of seeing the various culture wars now-a-days is to imagine the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70 between the power hungry Romans and the religious zealots that the Gospel accounts predicted would destroy the Jerusalem temple.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Roberts_Siege_and_Destruction_of_Jerusalem.jpg
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3-16
I think this idea the best starting point for having a living faith… the whole cliche thing about needing a Higher Power to save us from ourselves or whatever.
sean



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Janet

posted December 9, 2009 at 1:13 am


Pete and Daniel,
I’m not quite sure how best to respond to all the discussion, but here goes. Daniel asked
Is it the truth that all of the glories of this creation – life, DNA, freewill, consciousness, sight, hearing, the fine-tuning of the universe, the laws of physics — came about by natural, unguided processes, as the Darwinist insists? Or has God created this world and its life forms in a “very good” state, as the Bible maintains?
I strongly believe that God defined the laws of nature, and that the fine-tuning of the universe is the work of God. I also believe that there is more to evolution than simply random mutations and natural selection – that God has been guiding the process in some way. I can’t explain how this might be, but agree with Karl G that our own working through nature gives us a clue. And just because God usually works through the natural processes He initiated and sustains, that doesn’t means God only works that way. There’s still room for miracles.
Also, I’d say that the purpose of Scripture is not as much to inform us, but to transform us to be more like Christ. I want to study the Old Testament and its historical context more to figure out how to better reconcile my understanding of science with my understanding of Scripture. But even more I think I should dig into the OT to see how God uses it to transform me.
Pete, I’ve read quite a bit on the topic (lots of John Polkinghorne, a couple of books on the Biologos site, and also Hugh Ross for the concordist view) but still haven’t come to a decision on how to interpret Genesis. I think the piece I’m missing is more OT understanding. So I’ll check out your book and one of John Walton’s, and also look at some from other viewpoints (Daniel, feel free to recommend someone; I’m only aware of Beale’s). I think it will be an enriching process, even if I still don’t come to a decision.
Thank you both for your comments and your concern. I really didn’t mean to become the center of so much attention!



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Daniel Mann

posted December 9, 2009 at 9:04 am


Karl (and Janet),
Thanks for your response! Even though I often take issue with you, I want you to know that I appreciate your thoughtfulness, writing skills and your transparency. However, while you believe that you have simply made certain adjustments to our interpretation of Scriptural non-essentials, I believe that you have undercut the very foundation of Revelation and Gospel and the credibility of all the authors of Scripture.
While I would be glad to interpret the teachings of Genesis 1-11 in a non-literal, spiritual, salvific sense, the writers of the NT and Jesus forbid us from doing such. Jesus, for one, bases His teachings on marriage and divorce on what God had done in the beginning, joining Adam and Eve as one (Matthew 19:4-6) And there are many examples of this very thing!
Therefore, if we can’t trust what the NT authors clearly teach about the physical world, how can we have any confidence in what they teach about the spiritual?
Sadly, BioLogos has elevated the present scientific consensus to a place of authority above Scripture, in violation of Scripture (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Such a hermeneutic (interpretative principle) leaves the Bible entirely vulnerable to whatever fashionable theories have taken hold in our culture – psychoanalysis, the steady-state theory, liberation theologies, Marxism, and even geocentrism when it was in vogue. We are therefore left with this irony – instead of the Bible judging us, we place ourselves above God’s Word to judge and modify it.
The Pharisees also violated this principle. They elevated their religious traditions to the level of Scripture. In response, Jesus retorted:
“Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'” (Matthew 15:7-9)



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Pete Enns

posted December 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm


Daniel,
I understand what you are saying, but in the passage you cite, you are the Pharisee in that you maintain traditions that new light cannot allow.
Also, BioLogos is only replacing the authority of Scripture with science of you adhere to an unflinching literalism. I know it seems like a plain issue to you, but I study this stuff for a living and it is more complicated than you allow–even without throwing science into the mix. We are not all bowing the knee to Baal. Maybe you are missing something?



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Daniel Mann

posted December 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm


Peter,
I can’t blame you for calling me a “Pharisee.” In a sense, I had invited your retort. Actually, I’m glad that we both recognize that to be Pharisaical in this sense isn’t an enviable thing. It entails substituting the teachings of man for the teachings of God, and it’s clear that neither of us want to be guilty to such hubris.
Therefore, the question becomes, “Which side is substituting the teachings of man for the Word of God?” You seem to accuse me of “unflinching literalism” because I regard Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah as real, historic people, while you regard them as myth.
I would be glad to debate the specific passages with you, but since you “study this stuff for a living,” I will understand if you decide that your time is better spent elsewhere.



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Pete Enns

posted December 9, 2009 at 6:13 pm


Now, Now, Daniel. Don’t go off in a huff. I am, however, simply pointing out a fact I think should cause some reticence on your part to dive in a make a lot of declarative statements about what HAS to be the case re: the Bible, otherwise one is somehow selling to farm to unbelief. You’re clearly an intelligent man, but intelligence and long exposure to the stuff of which biblical studies is made of are two different things.
I like to read and learn and I read a lot about science, but I am an untrained lay person and I look to experts to help me understand things. The Bible, of course, is “every man’s” property, but that does not mean that everyman is competent to wade through the sometimes very deep muck and mire.
Much of what you assume to be true has been treated in various ways by readers of Scripture since before Jesus himself.



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Your Name

posted December 9, 2009 at 7:56 pm


Daniel Mann on Dec. 9th at 9:04 wrote, “Therefore, if we can’t trust what the NT authors clearly teach about the physical world, how can we have any confidence in what they teach about the spiritual?”
That statement exemplifies the approach taken by many who insist on the literal concreteness of all of Genesis 1 – 1l: it’s all or nothing. But that does not follow at all. Every person every day determines what is true by sifting through what other people say or write–people who are fallen and not perfect. Even if the Biblical writers were in error on some points, it wouldn’t prevent us from determining truth on other points. Even if we only took the writers of the gospels and Paul to be merely human historians and not divinely inspired, we could still arrive at truth about the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Furthemore, Mann’s all or nothing approach is irrelevant to the nonbeliever because she does not view Scripture as divinely inspired and errorless. For believers the issue of all or nothing is also irrelevant in many respects. Their salvation experience is not based on a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, but on an experience with the real presence of the risen Christ and on basic information about Jesus. Paul does not write in Corinthians that our faith is in vain if Genesis is not factually true in every respect, but rather he writes that our faith is in vain if Christ is not risen. Paul does not use Genesis to prove that Jesus is risen, and we do not need to do so either.
regards,
#John



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Russell

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:25 am


Dr. Enns,
I know this comes late, but I’m just now catching up with the comments on this post.
You said this “Still, for numerous reasons that can be found in good commentaries, etc, they are divine beings the existence of which is already hinted at in Gen 1:26 (let us make…).” back on 12/7/09 7:39 pm
I have always understood this passage (Gen 1:26) as ‘us’ to be specifically referencing the Trinity and not just divine beings in the sense of angels. Since 1:26 is specifically talking about the creation of man in God’s image, I wouldn’t think the ‘us’ could mean anything other than God because we are not made by angels or in their likeness.
Perhaps I missed your meaning or perhaps my interpretation is skewed. Either way I look forward to yours or anyone’s response.
Thanks for the post and such a lively debate. It’s amazing how these conversations just evolve.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 10, 2009 at 8:28 am


John,
Either the Bible is God-breathed Scripture or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then I don’t need it. If it is, then I can’t do without it, and I can’t sit in judgment over it.
In contrast to this, you wrote, “Every person every day determines what is true by sifting through what other people say or write–people who are fallen and not perfect. Even if the Biblical writers were in error on some points, it wouldn’t prevent us from determining truth on other points.”
In essence, what you are saying is “I am smart enough to determine what parts of Scripture represent Divine wisdom and which fall short of this standard.” However, if you do possess such discernment, then you don’t need Scripture at all. If you can penetrate its truth and wisdom with your own mind, then you are above Scripture. This stance is more presumptuous than me editing the research of an astrophysicist. Although I might be able to understand the terminology, I certainly wouldn’t be able to determine whether the researcher had understood and assimilated all the foundational research correctly. Perhaps a more appropriate example might be one of a 1st grader correcting his math teacher. Our very need for Scripture is undergirded by the fact that we are desperately lost without it.
Interestingly, there are several criteria that the books of Scripture give us to determine what truly is from God and what isn’t. However, while our wisdom is very important when it comes to the question of interpretation, wisdom and intelligence alone are never set forth as criteria to determine what is from God and what is coming from a false teacher or prophet. Here are several examples:
• “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deut. 13:1-5)
• “You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deut. 18:21-22).
• This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:3-4)
• Even Jesus stated, “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
John, I can’t truly argue against your next challenge: “Furthermore, Mann’s all or nothing approach is irrelevant to the nonbeliever because she does not view Scripture as divinely inspired and errorless. For believers the issue of all or nothing is also irrelevant in many respects. Their salvation experience is not based on a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, but on an experience with the real presence of the risen Christ and on basic information about Jesus.”
Along with you, I recognize that our incredibly gracious God can and does save through our often very deficient understanding of who He is and His Gospel message. I therefore shy away from arguing about who’s saved and who isn’t. Instead, I try to remain in the light that He gives me.



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Daniel Mann

posted December 10, 2009 at 11:44 am


Peter,
You wrote, “I like to read and learn and I read a lot about science, but I am an untrained lay person and I look to experts to help me understand things. The Bible, of course, is “every man’s” property, but that does not mean that everyman is competent to wade through the sometimes very deep muck and mire.”
I also resort to experts. I see a physician and also have occasion to place my trust in my plumber. But, as you point out, our relationship to the Word of God must be somewhat different. Although even here, I consult with the experts through their commentaries and systematic theologies, we should not allow any of these sources to interpose themselves between us and God as a priesthood as often insisted upon doing. Instead, Scripture mandates us to have our faith/trust DIRECTLY between ourselves and God (Romans 14:5-6, 22-23). This is the genius of the Reformation – “Sola Scriptura” not “Sola Experta.”
Ultimately, the expert testimony that should carry the most weight for us is the testimony from the other authors of Scripture – how they interpret the questionable passages. In regards to their testimony, there is not one verse or whisper that denies the historicity of Genesis 1-11, while there are hundreds of verses that affirm the historicity of these accounts and base doctrine upon them.



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Martin Rizley

posted December 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm


John#,
“Even if we only took the writers of the gospels and Paul to be merely human historians and not divinely inspired, we could still arrive at truth about the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.”
Let’s assume momentarily that the gospels are what you suggest: fallible, but generally reliable, records that teach us about “the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus;” the question then is, what do those records teach us about Jesus’ view of the Scriptures? Clearly, He believed them to be the very Word of God; therefore, any person who comes to faith in Jesus through the testimony of the Scriptures must ultimately come to accept Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures. Otherwise, how can he claim to believe in Jesus if he rejects Jesus’ view of the Scriptures? Christ came not only to be our Priest and King, but also, our Prophet– to instruct us in the truth, and He clearly taught that the Scriptures are infallible, divinely inspired writings. It is our faith in Christ’s Person, therefore, that leads us to adopt His view of the Scriptures.
If your attitude is, “No matter what Jesus Himself believed about the Scriptures, I can’t believe they are infallible,” then I would suggest that you are only “believing” in Jesus up to a point– to the degree that Jesus agrees with you, your pre-conceived ideas, and the autonomous judgments of your mind; to that degree you are willing to “believe” in Him and no farther. But that is not the same thing as biblical faith.
Biblical faith bows to the divine authority of Jesus, and is therefore, willing to bring the judgments of one’s own mind into subjection to His overruling judgments. If one is unwilling to do that, then it would seem one is more committed to following the fallible dictates of human reason than the infallible teaching of Jesus Himself. That’s a pretty “sandy” foundation to build your life on; since what reason judges to be true today, it may judge to be false tomorrow. In other words, if my supreme intellectual commitment is to following the fallible judgments of my own autonomous reason wherever they lead me, rather than to bring every thought captive to the infallible teaching of Christ, there’s no telling where I’ll end up. Jesus called that building your life on a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:24-27)



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Pete Enns

posted December 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm


John,
You are touching on yet another very difficult issue. You are right that angels do not create. But an off-hand comment on the Trinity in ancient Israel would be highly unlikely–unless one whats to bypass what the human author would understand by all of this and appeal to divine authorship, seems more like an escape hatch.
I am not entirely settled in my own mind about the options here, but commonly accepted notion is that this is a reference to a divine council of sorts, sort of what you see in Job 1-2, 1 Kings 22, and Isa 14:13. In other words, it is another example of Israel’s God being spoken of in culturally understood ways.



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Russell

posted December 10, 2009 at 7:39 pm


Dr. Enns,
As we know from 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is breathed out by God thus I don’t think citing divine authorship is or should be considered an escape hatch. Thus if God really is in control of His Scriptures from Gen 1:1 till Rev 22:21 then nothing we read is really “off hand”. Also, I don’t see why the human author wouldn’t understand the concept of the Trinity – hey I mean the concept of the Trinity can be hard for us to understand yet we know of three distinct persons of God and we can see the impact and mentioning of each throughout all of Scripture OT and NT. So the author, as divinely inspired, probably has about as good of an understanding as we do, if not better.
Even in Gen 1:1 and 2 we see God mentioned and Spirit of God mentioned thus two of the three parts of the Trinity are already seen and for those existing post the writing of John we know Jesus was there at the creation as well. And so I see that the author of Genesis as well as the nation of Israel could have easily believed in a Triune God from the beginning.
For other Trinity references I point out the mentioning of the Angel of Lord as the Christ who definitely takes on qualities that regular angels do not. And there are definite distinctions between God as the Father and the Spirit of God seen throughout the OT. See Judges 13 for God, Angel of the Lord as God (13:22) who has the appearance of a man (13:6,10), and the Spirit (13:25) are all seen.
It may not have made sense then, and it may not make sense to us now, but how awesome to have a God who has imprinted His very nature from the very beginning, especially when it is something as complicated and debated (as far as Jews towards Christianity today) as the Trinity. And I don’t see anything else in Scripture that would lead me to believe that viewing Gen 1:26 as the Trinity is an inaccurate interpretation.
Thank you for your response.



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sean

posted December 11, 2009 at 1:50 am


Actually as Colossians 2-22 suggests is it not wise to examine things more closely so as to more purely follow the greatest commandment? Does it not refer to scripture as “human commands and teachings” in it’s reference to the old Holiness Codes of the book of Leviticus?



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Your Name

posted December 14, 2009 at 8:49 pm


Both Rizley & Mann miss the point of my December 9th post.
In prior emails both had asserted that if Genesis were not true, then we could not know true things about Jesus from the Bible, including of course his resurrection.
In my post I did not assert that the Bible was not true, only that the all or nothing approach was incorrect and fallacious. My point is that we can learn true things about Jesus regardless. Therefore, it is not true that we must hold to a certain view of Genesis and inerrancy in order to have a viable faith.
Determining how we view Genesis is not a question of “submission” to God and His Word. Before we submit to what the Bible says, we have to understand what it says. The Bible is an act of communication by God, in the form He desired, and we must use God’s gift to us of reason in order to determine what that message is. Then we submit to it. There’s no point in submitting to an incorrect understanding of the Bible. For example, we must determine whether the Bible indicates that the gifts of the Spirit are for today (or not) before we can submit to that teaching. Same with Genesis.
Neither Jesus nor any other inspired writer indicated that the creation period was 6 consecutive 24 hour periods or that the earth was only 4 thousand years old.
We must determine how God communicated the teachings in Genesis, not how we would like God to have communicated them. Did He work through cultural understandings? Did he correct their understanding of the physical cosmology of the universe? We have to use our God given reason to answer these questions.
Lastly, neither Rizley nor Mann have addressed my point that the writers did, in fact, believe that the sun did revolve around the earth at the time they wrote about the sun rising and setting (and that the earth was flat, that the firmanent was a solid that held up water on the other side that might come through it when windows were opened, etc.). So one of the authors (God) knew the truth about the reality of the solar system and the atmosphere, and one of the authors didn’t (e.g., Moses). What do we do with that?
regards
#John



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Phileo Truth

posted December 16, 2009 at 4:45 pm


Adam and Eve as “non-literal”?! Why tinker with the historicity of Adam and Eve? Why juxtapose what has been established as historical (Genesis) and symbolic (Revelation) as if the references in the symbolic book dispel the historicity of the references that it borrows? What gospel does such conjecture advance?



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Pete Enns

posted December 17, 2009 at 5:33 pm


Phileo Truth,
You seem to have missed the last few generations :-) The reasons people are “tinkering” with A+E is (1) the scientific data and essential consensus in the scientific world re: origins, (2) the voluminous ANE origins literature that are clearly non-historical yet have such close bearing on Genesis. The world of contemporary adult thought forces the issue.



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PhileoTruth

posted February 17, 2010 at 9:38 am


Enns,
Yes, how enlightened IS this generation! This generation that attempts to redefine the immutable… this generation whose enlightenment propels it, among other things, to tinker with God-given gender roles… and among many, to tinker with their actual gender attributes! How enlightened is it to think that it can conjure up the evidence that disproves the historical existence of Adam and Eve!
Science, if used honestly and without pursuing an “enlightenment” that pre-determines that Adam and Eve did not exist,
will not be able to disprove what is already established: the literal Adam and literal Eve as set forth by Holy Scripture.



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