Sunday School: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Today in my Sunday school class we started a series on the creation stories. Before trying to ask how the natural sciences might cause us to reflect in new and different ways about God and our place in the universe, it is usually helpful for Christians to look first at the creation stories, and consider what they do and do not tell us. Today our focus was on the story of creation in 7 days found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Many of the subjects we touched on are ones I regularly cover in my course on the Bible, such as the similarities and differences between Genesis 1 and the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish being a key to understanding the text.

A key point I made, as always, is that no one (even if they call themselves literalists) takes the dome literally. To single out evolutionary biology as though it were more at odds with Christian faith than other realms of scientific explanation is likewise unjustified.

Also mentioned was the fact that the text of Genesis 1 depicts God commanding the earth to bring forth life, rather than creating in some more direct manner. Although we did not get to talk about it in the class, this presumably reflects the ancient understanding of the origin of life in terms of spontaneous generation. Ironically, while some creationists actually appeal to Pasteur as an ally against evolution, in fact, Pasteur’s conclusion is at odds with Genesis 1, while evolution explains currently existing life forms as deriving from earlier ones. If the reference is not to spontaneous generation, then one has to imagine God imbuing the earth with creative potency, only to revoke the gift at some later point for no obvious reason.

The question of authorship came up briefly. Next time we’ll discuss whether there is more than one creation story in these early chapters of Genesis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04584208121954765202 Geoff

    You said:”Also mentioned was the fact that the text of Genesis 1 depicts God commanding the earth to bring forth life, rather than creating in some more direct manner.”How ever my bible says:gen 1:21 God created the great sea creatures and every living and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was goodand v25: God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creatures that creep along the ground according to their kinds. God saw that it was good.Couldnt v24 be a reference to the “material” in which all things come?Verses 21 and 25 certainly suggest god “created” – especially 21 which uses “bara`” directly.Just a passing thought.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    Actually, I’ve heard people earnestly invoke the dome as the source of the diluvian waters.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    iYRe, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “material”. The text clearly has God command the Earth (for instance) to bring forth living things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395422809298131385 Levi

    It doesn’t surprise me that y’all went where you did. I don’t mean anything behind that, it just seems where you’ve headed a lot lately with your blog post. How did your class respond?We went over Gen 1-11 a few months back with the college group. I discussed the similarities of the Babylonian creation stories as well, but focused more on the differences and the scandal the genesis poem would have been assuming it was composed in exile.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01759655568104782267 Divers and Sundry

    Irritable said, “Actually, I’ve heard people earnestly invoke the dome as the source of the diluvian waters.”Yes, me too. That’s why I clicked through to respond. A member of a church we used to belong to claimed there had to have been a physical dome because the Bible said so. He also claimed there was no rain before Noah’s Flood.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    Yes — a mist arose everyday to water the earth. And when the dome broke, the resulting deluge carved the Grand Canyon. I’m sure this is in the AiG literature somewhere.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I’ve heard young-earth creationists refer to there having been a canopy of water (the one I’ve read usually said it was water vapor, and did not mention a literal dome to hold it up). None of them seems to have taken the trouble to calculate how effectively that amount of water would have blocked out sunlight…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    You may be right about the dome — I was conflating that with “canopy” — but it seems to me that some folks persist in thinking there was water up there.The point about blocking sunlight is a gem, though, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s an answer for that too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01759655568104782267 Divers and Sundry

    I’ve heard it argued that the sun and moon were inside the dome or that the sun and moon passed through gates. One person told me that the harmful rays from the sun were blocked by some sort of water barrier and that was the explanation for how long people used to live. All that apparently changed at the time of Noah’s flood. I never did understand the difference between the water barrier and the idea of a physical dome, which seemed to be different somehow.The man I talked to who thought there was a physical dome up there told me that the Bible clearly says there were windows the water came through in addition to waters from “the deep”. For there to be windows up there he argued there had to be a physical structure for the windows to be in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    One of course has to add to this the conspiracy theory that NASA knows about the dome and the reason it lauches from Cape Canaveral is that one of the “windows of heaven” is conveniently overhead…

  • Anonymous

    The late Ernest L. Martin — a meteorologist and theologian who wrote some compelling, if eccentric, books about the Bible and history and inspired the "Original Bible Project" now headed by James Tabor — wrote that there was a ring around the earth like Saturn that broke and caused Noah's flood.BTW, The New Republic has an intersting article this week about creationism and science. Link:http://www.tnr.com/booksarts/story.html?id=1e3851a3-bdf7-438a-ac2a-a5e381a70472&p;=1pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Of course, who better than a meteorologist to determine whether a planet once had rings? Or perhaps he took the “meteor” part the wrong way… :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    ‘A key point I made, as always, is that no one (even if they call themselves literalists) takes the dome literally.’Presumably the Biblical authors did.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I am quite sure the Biblical author did think the dome was literal. As for the days, they clearly consist of evening and morning, and yet the author seems aware of the problem of having the sun used for reckoning days only be created on the 4th day (presumably to emphasize that these “lamps” are not divine sources of light, but merely bearers of a light created independently of them). But there is a difference between believing what everyone in your time happens to believe about the universe because no one knows better, and dogmatically rejecting the best scientific knowledge in your time because of a sacred text that happens to have been written when modern scientific knowledge was not available.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00798753206614838161 John Shuck

    But there is a difference between believing what everyone in your time happens to believe about the universe because no one knows better, and dogmatically rejecting the best scientific knowledge in your time because of a sacred text that happens to have been written when modern scientific knowledge was not available.Keeper quote of the day! Thanks, James!

  • stephen

    JamesWhat are your thoughts on the book of Enoch and using it to try to understand the cosmology of Genesis?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    The entirety of this post must be a big joke…right? Nowhere is there any indication that Genesis 1 teaches spontaneous generation. No one for century upon century understood Genesis 1 to teach this. They instead understood it to teach Creation ex nihilo. Rather, it is modern evolutionary biology that still teaches as it’s overarching paradigm that life spontaneously emerged from non-life. A bunch of chemicals in a pond, with some possible electricity somehow miraculously formed the simplest form of life, which then just kept multiplying and becoming more and more complex. What an amazing miracle.Yet somehow you have twisted this. Because the idea of spontaneous generation is so ridiculous, you would like us to believe that it is historic orthodox Christianity that teaches this, while rational science teaches something logical. The reality is the opposite, but you have done an excellent job of twisting the truth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel,Pasteur’s work doesn’t show that there are no circumstances in which life could arise through chemical processes on primordial Earth. Pasteur showed that flies are not produced by rotting meat, nor mice from cheese. And these were the more visible aspects of a world thought to be capable of producing living things. All that Genesis specified is that the Earth and seas do so at God’s command. Nothing in Genesis challenges the assumptions of ancient peoples about the life-producing character of the Earth.I suggest that, once you have calmed down, you read the text carefully – in Hebrew if you are able – and consider its meaning to its original readers. I’d also recommend exposing yourself to some high quality commentaries on Genesis and high quality books on evolutionary biology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02444240789468003424 Herman Cummings

    Stop misrepresenting Genesis. There are no “creation accounts” in Genesis. I believe I’ve told you this before, yet you insist on teaching foolishness. Genesis 1:2 through 2:3 is the account of the revelation given to Moses by God, about the 4.6 billion year geologic history of Earth. It’s not about Creation Week. Each of those visions were 12 hours long, but the days were not linear.Why do you insist on teaching false doctrine?Herman Cummingsephraim7@aol.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    Does Poe’s law apply to blog comments?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    James,Thank you so much for your suggestion. I will definetly take that to heart. I have 16 excellent commentaries on Genesis on my shelf, and I enjoy reading my Hebrew Bible as often as time permits, but at your suggestion I will do so more carefully. Which of my commentaries do you suggest? Your blog entry clearly indicates that you believe that Genesis 1 is somehow in harmony with the view of spontaneous generation, and I indicated that nowhere can you glean this from the text. You instead seem to want to indicate that the silence of the Genesis text in refuting some ancient form of spontaneous generation (which is reading between the lines of those texts as well) somehow proves your point. As any scholar can tell you, arguments from silence are weak at best. You must prove that the author of Genesis (whether it be Moses or someone else) was aware of views of spontaneous generation and was in at least some level of agreement with it. The Genesis text/literary history/ clearly lays out creation ex nihilo by a personal God as opposed to the Babylonian and Mesopotamian mythology of gods in conflict with themselves and a “living sort” of earth. The Genesis account is, in fact, very different. As B.W. Anderson wrote, “The God Israel worships is the lord of nature, but he is not the soul of nature”. God is not fertility participant in Genesis, unlike the surrounding concepts. In fact, Moses (I do not adhere to the documentary hypothesis because it is utterly inconsistent and completely unproven), who until the 18th century was nearly without exception recognized to be the author, is clearly refuting the Egyptian cosmology, and instead, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly laying out the Creation of the universe ex nihilo — with the command for life to be fruitful within it’s own kind (clearly excluding macro evolution, while affirming micro evolution). The constant repetition of “according to their kind” emphasizes the point that God creates by his commands and restricts/limits. Nowhere is there any kind of thought to gods/goddess fertility myths incorporated in a living/reproductive process found in the surrounding mythologies/cosmologies. Genesis presents itself within a clear Hebrew framework of historiographic literature. You have a long way to go to show that the Genesis text can be harmonized with any view of spontaneous generation. By the way, just because someone disagrees with you and sees massive holes in your argumentation, does not make them ignorant of the issues or unable to read Biblical Hebrew, and interact with critical commentaries (and own a great many of them). I don’t believe you will find anyone who would appreciate the dismissive tone of your comment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Herman, what you call “teaching false doctrine” I call “refusing to make stuff up” and perhaps more importantly “refusing to pretend I know things about Moses that no one does” – except apparently you.Adel, I apologize for making assumptions – you are not typical of those who tend to leave comments on blogs about this subject! I’d recommend Wenham’s commentary perhaps more than any other I can think of.As for my “reading between the lines”, I am certainly doing so, but I don’t think inappropriately. Let me make a comparison. People in the ancient Greco-Roman world were divided over whether the seat of thinking as well as of emotion was in the head or the heart. When Paul consistently uses “heart” in such contexts, it seems natural to take this to indicate that he sided with Aristotle and chose the heart – wrongly, as it turned out. Now, of course we can all regard this as a metaphor, one that still has currency in our time. But if an ancient author says the same sort of thing as his contemporaries, and doesn’t specify that he means something different, isn’t it an appropriate contextual reading to assume he meant what those words were understood to mean in that time?Apologies again for the tone of my reply – I really am sorry!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    James,I accept your apology.And I agree that Wenham’s 2 volume commentary is probably the best overall. I also have a great deal of appreciation for the works Waltke, Hamilton and Cassuto, and particularly enjoy Sarna’s Rabbinic perspective. I cannot agree with you that simply because there are some similarities in language that you have an implicit agreement. The accounts are starkly different. For instance, simply because I incorporate some similar language to communicate with post-moderns does not mean I agree with the post-modern paradigm. Rather, it makes it easier to communicate by bridging from what is known to what is unknown. Paul of course uses this at Mars Hill. Simply because he quotes philosopher/poets of his day and uses some similar language does not mean that he is agreeing with their weltanschauung. Rather he uses this as a bridge to communicate the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Again, arguments from silence are at best weak, and often rejected off hand. For instance, John does not include communion in his gospel despite the fact that his upper-room discourse is by far the longest (3 chapters). Some scholars have posited that this is because, having written latest he is taking a position against early forms of sacramentalism that were beginning to arise in the church. While this is a possibility, one cannot defend this with any sort of certitude, because nowhere is this explicit. So while it might be fascinating for some to sit around discussing the possibilities of why things might be absent and I always find the discussions interesting, they do not tend to have any weight behind them unless intentionality of the author can be clearly shown. So far you have failed to show any clear intention on the part of the author, and I can find no help in Wenham. Instead of focusing on what is not there, you should first see what is there and if what is absent is in harmony with what is in the text. Clearly Genesis is in stark contrast to the mythologies of the Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Sumerians and Egyptians. The most stark contrast is to the Egyptian Cosmology, which would make great sense if Moses is truly the author.The stark differences in what is there make it highly unlikely that the author of Genesis has any sympathies with spontaneous generation. There is also nothing in the rest of the Pentateuch that would point in that direction (at least nothing that I can think of…if you have something I would certainly be interested in exploring it further).Rather the picture of one God speaking everything into existence and commanding fruitfulness within limitations of “their own kind” (repeated many times for emphasis). Clearly those are the emphasis of the text and not some possible affirmation of one possible interpretation of the Babylonian cosmology. I also do not necessarily agree that the Babylonian view is anything like the idea of spontaneous generation that existed during certain periods in the Western world. To use the term “spontaneous generation” for it is to misrepresent the Babylonian myth as well. But not having done extensive reading in this area from primary sources I cannot comment for certain. But what I have read, would lead me to be skeptical of your position, unless you were to clarify their particular view of spontaneous generation and give greater detail, quoting directly from those texts. All in all, I find your position untenable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I think the similarities and differences in comparison to the Enuma Elish are helpful in grasping the author’s point. Like the author of the Enuma Elish epic, the author of Genesis 1 believed that the sky and sea were created by dividing waters and using a dome to hold up the “waters above”. I take the point of the Genesis author to be found in his differences from what others thought about creation, such as his depiction of a God who simply speaks and it happens, who need not fight the sea in the form of a sea monster. This last difference sets the author of Genesis 1 apart not only from the Babylonian/Mesopotamian epic, but also from other Biblical authors who use the language of God fighting Leviathan/Rahab.To use your example of Paul in Acts 17, when Paul says “in him we live and move and have our being”, does he not agree with the philosophers on this point? I certainly did not intend to suggest that the author of Genesis agreed with all his contemporaries on all points. But it still seems legitimate, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to regard the Biblical author as meaning by the words, phrases and expressions he uses that which his contemporaries would have understood. In the same way, neither you nor I can use a well-known word or phrase in speaking to one another in a completely different sense without needing to explain ourselves.You may say this is untenable. But the examples I’ve seen, such as for instance those who suggest that all other ancient authors who spoke of the world as a “circle” thought of it as a disk while the Biblical author knew it was a sphere, seem to me to be engaging in special pleading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    As it is getting late, I will only post one more time. Thank you for the discussion.While it is true that the atmosphere is depicted as a canopy or dome in 1:6-7, there is nothing in the text that would indicate that the author saw it as a solid mass that supported a body of water. Later he speaks of the “expanse” as a place where the lights were set, and he describes the sky where there are birds. He is clearly using phenomonoligical language. Just as I would still say that the sun will rise and set at certain times and not mean that I believe that the sun did any moving. So too, we often find phenomonological language, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is not at work revealing the exact scientific nature of creation. Rather, using Moses (if you will) and his limited knowledge to communicate significant truth, without scientific precision. Having said that, in fact, the picture is remarkably accurate as much of the atmosphere actually does consist of water molecules, although I know that is not what the author has in mind. Once again, I believe you can find a bridge of revealing things that are unknown from what is known. Thanks again.

  • Anonymous

    Concerning spontaneous generation in the Bible.There are other places in the Bible which seem to be consistent with a belief in spontaneous generation – for example, in the story of the Exodus (beginning at Exodus 4) and in the story of Samson finding bees in the lion’s carcass (Judges 14).As far as the history of interpretation of the Bible, is it really true that nobody ever said that Genesis 1 described spontaneous generation? I admit that I can’t think of any early commentator who said that it did – but it would be interesting to hear more about this.Tom S.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I decided to not reply until today – it didn’t seem fair to respond when you had said you were calling it a night, and it was indeed late! :)I will be the first to confess that I am primarily a New Testament scholar and am as dependent on lexica and commentaries as anyone who is not primarily a specialist in the Hebrew Bible. Be that as it may, the sources I’ve read indicate that the Hebrew word used, raqi’a (apologies for the inadequate transliteration), derives from a verbal root meaning to stretch out by hammering, as one would do with a sheet of metal, and thus (all other things being equal) suggests something solid, something thus capable of holding up water, and of having lights set into it, as the Hebrew text indicates. I have the impression that earlier English translations used firmament for a reason.I notice that you called it an “expanse”. That choice of word, found in the NIV, seems to me to be an attempt by translators whose primary readers will be self-proclaimed literalists, to make it easier for readers in English to believe that they are doing just that. If one reads “dome”, on the other hand, one might well realize that one is not a “literalist”, at least not consistently.Another passage that has similar issues connected with it is Matthew 4:8. Most readers today won’t think about the implications of the reference to a mountain from which one can survey all the kingdoms of the earth. But given that it was possible to understand that at face value in the context of an ancient cosmology, what (other than a strong desire on our part to have the Biblical authors be ‘right’ about everything) could justify our understanding the author to not have meant what he said literally?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    James, The Hebrew term expanse can be used for "something beaten out or spread out like a covering".In our modern language we often still use this kind of language to speak of the sky and stars. We speak of the firmament and a canopy of stars. Yet we all know that this is imprecise "descriptive", phenomenological language. Why will you not give the author of Genesis this benefit of the doubt, but instead take the skeptic perspective? Here is another point for your consideration. Your more critical (I use this in the sense of an inclination to find fault) skeptical interpretations are quite widely and readily used by atheists. I would venture to say that I am more likely to find more similarities with your writings and atheists who write about this topic, than you have found similarities between Genesis and the Enuma Elish mythology. I have just reread the epic and find any similarities to be superficial at best. Also, not knowing the date of writing, or how close any of copies are to those that might have been more ancient is greater cause of sketpicism for your view than more traditional interpretations of Genesis.Your particular perspective seems to be built upon many assumptions (and I would posit leaps of faith in the dark). 1. You must posit first of all, that Enuma Elish existed during the time of the writing of Genesis. We do not have any corroborating evidence of this.2. You must assume that the Enuma Elish predates the writing of Genesis. While this is not unlikely, it is far from certain.3. You must assume that assume that if it did exist at the time the contents of it would have been knowne by the author of Genesis. There is a great deal to doubt about this knowing the acrimonious nature of the times, the distances and lack of easy traveling, the isolated nature of tribalism, etc. 4. You are assuming that the form of the Enuma Elish is close to that which existed in previous generation, and has not been later altered — even altered by those familiar with Genesis.This is just a start to the assumptions you have to make.Another issue you ought to consider. If Genesis account has validity in history and reality (and you are obviously a skeptic and you reject this at the outset), then histories would have been passed down generation after generation from "Adam & Eve". If so, then it should not surprise anyone that the Enuma Elish would have at least some similarities with Genesis.

  • Anonymous

    Good God, Adel, for someone so smart who can delinate between the nits of ancient languages, you are completely oblivious to the obvious.You seem to be arguing that Genesis is a true account of the creation by YHWH, as expressed imperfectly by an author with limited knowledge.Whether Genesis describes “ex nihlo” or “spontaneous generation,” or “spongebob squarepantsio” anyone with an ounce of sense should realize that its just a flipping myth. The author wasn’t inspired by a deity to accurately describe some complex process in words that would be understood by his peers. It was a myth slightly different than other myths we now deem to be crazy that were created by other pre-scentific societies. It’s just as crazy as the idea that celestial beings mated with women and created a race of giants that are now conveniently extinct. I don’t care how many languages you can read Genesis in, if you think those stories are literal, you can’t be smart.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel, this isn’t about giving an ancient author “the benefit of the doubt”. It is about whether it is justified to assume that, when we have a large number of ancient texts that use similar language, one of them meant something in agreement with or compatible with modern science, while the others did not.As for the Enuma Elish, its composition is usually dated to the third millenium BC. Genesis in its present form cannot be earlier than the time of the monarchy, as Genesis 36:31 makes clear, but given that the Enuma Elish seems to be older than any of the commonly proposed dates for Moses, this is perhaps a moot point, but our oldest extant copy of the Enuma Elish is from around the time of the rise of the monarchy, and thus this perhaps not irrelevant. I am not, at any rate, positing that the author of Genesis had a text or tablet of this work before him, or had ever read it, but merely that the sort of view of creation (alluded to elsewhere in the Jewish Scriptures) was already known.I’ve also posted a separate post specifically on spontaneous generation, to see if I can get some more input from Hebrew Bible scholars that read this blog.There is an excellent article in a conservative journal about the meaning of raqia’ in Genesis 1. I recommend it to those interested in this subject.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14247799389009268470 James Pate

    Ernest Martin was a meteorologist?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    Genesis 36:31 can be interpreted in several ways. It certainly can be seen as a minimal redaction. Until the 18th century the Pentateuch was understood to be written by Moses, with minor and very limited editorial work and chapter 36 shows some evidence of such editorial work. It can also be seen as prophetic in nature. Certainly Deuteronomy 17 is indicative of an expectation of kingship. Even if I were to accept your dating version, which I don’t, it does not eliminate any of the assumptions that your perspective is based upon. If you are not claiming that the author of Genesis had knowledge of the Enuma Elish, but only a knowledge of a certain cultural understanding, you still would have to show proof of this, for you position to be tenable. Until then you are left with the actual text, which shows no affinity with the view of spontaneous generation, but rather the emphasis is clearly of a personal God creating ex nihilo by his powerful Word. This overarching theme, does not resonate with a view of spontaneous generation. You also have failed to explain what the similarities and differences are between a more modern Western perspective of spontaneous generation and that held by these ancient cultures. You speak of the proposed dates of the Enuma Elish, yet those are highly speculative and the extant copies we have make it very difficult to reconstruct an ancient form. One other point. The article you point to while very thorough and helpful is far from conclusive on the issue of the term for firmament. Even if I were to accept his premise that the term meant a solid canopy, it would not weaken my point one iota on phenomonological language. Also, as I pointed out earlier, simply because an author uses the term that was readily available, does not mean that he means the same thing by it as do the surrounding myths. The onus is on you to prove that he does, and so far you have not even attempted to do so. Just as Paul at Mars Hill incoroporates the poetic line “in him we live and move and have our being”, without incorporating all that the poet had in mind. Clearly Paul uses this as a connecting platform, without accepting a pan(en)theistic/polytheistic/pluralist paradigm, as one can clearly glean by the immediate and larger context of Acts.

  • Anonymous

    James Pate:According to his books, Martin obtained a degreee in meteorology before he became a historian/theologian. Martin was a fascinating character. His historical works were very interesting to read, although I’m not qualified to judge whether his theories have merit. But since he had a literal belief in the Bible, it took his conclusions in some odd directions, such as that the Noahide flood was a ring breaking around the earth. Or that he identified Jesus’ exact birthdate through a verse in Revelation that was a coded reference to an astrological formation. Or his prophetic stuff. His successor was supportive of the Iraq war, not for political reasons, but on the grounds that it was fulfilling some prophetic timetable outlined in the Bible. That’s when the I couldn’t stomach it any more.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel, let me just make three points. First, while it may well be that phrases such as “in those days the Canaanites were in the land”, references to kings of Edom and Israel, and other such aspects of the Pentateuch reflect later redaction, it is not clear that they consistently do. They might just as easily be comments by the author. Your reason for rejecting the latter option is presumably a desire to preserve traditional authorship against evidence to the contrary. Second, it is quite clear that Genesis 1 does not speak of “creation ex nihilo” when it comes to the creation of animals. You seem not to want to take seriously the language used in the text: “Let the Earth bring forth…”Finally, the onus is not on me to prove that authors, unless we have indication to the contrary, use words in the same sense as others use them. If someone talks to me about “blogging”, and you wish to persuade me that the term was being used by that individual ironically in reference to his writing (with pen and ink) in his (physical book) journal, the onus would be on you to clarify the unusual non-standard usage, not vice versa.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    That is just my point. You have not shown that this is a common understanding. As I have indicated before your position is based upon numerous suppositios, some of which are more likely than others, but none of which you have been able to prove. All you have presented is a possibility of a possibility, with no real evidence of connection. It would be like me saying that I have discovered the identity of Jack the Ripper, because I found someone who lived in Whales named Jack, with a last name that begins with R and ends with r. He was thought to have possibly vacationed around the area from a source who lived 50 years after the events, but knew someone who says their gradfather told her this. This is not evidence but hearsay and speculation, much like your thinking on this topic. Throwing out spurious speculation as more valid than what has been believed for millenia, by those much closer to the events and the writing is of little value.It is interesting reading the speculative ideas of who wrote the book of Hebrews for instance, but ultimately all it is is speculation, some more informed than others, but speculation none the less. All we have is the text and we must deal with the text as it is.By the way, you seem to refer very positively to the documentary hypothesis. Have you missed the last 20 or so years of Hebrew scholarship that is abandoning this as ineffective and clearly subjective speculation — in favor of literary criticism. There is no consensus dating among those liberally disposed. It all turns out to be subjective speculation of those who think they are more intelligent than they really are. You have chosen to ignore my serious criticisms, and simply reassert what you have said before, without adding any further evidence. You have not addressed why an understanding of the text as phenomenological is not preferred. Yet, in a brief parousal of your recent blog entries I discovered the use of such terms as “loose ends” and “gearing up”. I do not take these terms literally, and I am guessing that you do not either. I am sure you have used the terms sunrise and sunset, yet most would not think that you held a heliocentric cosmology. The creation of animals does come ex nihilo with the accompanying command to be fruitful and multiply, without a hint of spontaneous generation. You would have to prove that this is the best way to understand the Hebrew, which you have not done. And it would also be very helpful to your cause to show that this was the majority of understanding of the early readers and this was somehow lost, again you have not done this. As I often tell students, let us not throw bovine excreement on the wall and hope some sticks so we can call it research.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel, you are welcome to throw male bovine excrement here, but don’t expect it to distract from the fact that you have failed to make your case persuasively and are now trying to shift the burden of proof onto me.The status of spontaneous generation as the common viewpoint prior to Pasteur, including in antiquity, is a matter of history of science and I am thus obviously dependent on the scholarship of experts in that field. Some of the links in my earlier comment are a good starting point if you want to look into that. If and when such thoughts as these become a book, I’ll provide much more extensive documentation.As for your statements about creation ex nihilo, it is well known that even in Genesis 1:1 it is not unambiguously asserted (creation ex nihilo only really catches on in Judaism in the Middle Ages). But in the creation of animals, it is unambiguously not creation out of nothing. God does not say “Let there be animals” but “Let the Earth produce…” You are free to allow your presuppositions to ride roughshod over the text in an attempt to make it say what you want it to, but so far you have yet to take the wording of the text seriously, much less make a case that might persuade someone else.If “Let the Earth bring forth” does not envisage spontaneous generation at God’s command, then do please offer an alternative interpretation that does better justice to what the text itself says.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    You must think that Gen. 2:7 also indicates spontaneous generation of humans then. Or maybe, just maybe this is the picture in mind for the creation of land animals…an intimate connection with the land…you know, the whole ashes to ashes and dust to dust thing. But you know that’s just too traditionalist and orthodox, and you seem to favor anything but, because anything conservative must be deficient in some way (I don’t have to read very far in you blog to see that). Do you think that maybe your own liberal bias might be influencing your interpretation? Of course not, because the liberal perspective is the true one? Your view is even more biased than any Young Earth Creationist I have read, and clouded by your own commitment to Darwinistic, naturaistic philosophy. I apologize for wasting your and my time, when you are clearly and utterly committed to a progressivist perspective. I will bother you no longer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel, you use a familiar and well-worn ploy of last resort. “You’re just too biased, more biased than those you oppose. I’m leaving.” If that is the best you can offer then perhaps there is no point in staying. But if you leave, please do not pretend it is because of my “liberal bias”. If you read as far in my blog as you claim, you would know that I was once a young-earth creationist and a Biblical inerrantist. What changed my mind? Reading mainstream biologists (in the case of the former), and studying the Bible (in the case of the latter). I am quite open to changing my mind again, having done it before. But it will take more than accusations that I’m “just too biased”. I am quite happy to defend an underdog viewpoint – if I’m persuaded it is correct.The depiction of God forming the human being from the earth/dirt/soil in Genesis 2 is simply not the same as the creation by divine command to the earth to bring forth living things. In Genesis 2, we have a “hands on” depiction. In Genesis 1, we have the earth intermediating, exercising its own creative potential at God’s behest.I will be the first to point out that this is not a “contradiction”, even though it is a significant difference. I don’t think the author/editor of the final form of Genesis was an imbecile incapable of seeing discrepancies. I think the placement of these different depictions side by side indicates that the author did not think that the different processes of creation portrayed detracted from the overarching emphases of these creation narratives.If you wish to leave, I cannot stop you. But please be honest and acknowledge that you have yet to be honest about what Genesis says, and are fighting against the Bible’s own words understood in context rather than against me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    I will try one last time, though I really don’t know why. I did not read about your past only your past dozen or so blog entries, and it is truly very sad to hear that you have abandoned Orthodoxy. I say that with great sincerity…it saddens me deeply to hear of anyone who abandons their Christian faith.But once again you seem to miss the key, which is that it is the spoken Word of God as the creative agent, while in the other myths it is the interaction of the gods with a psuedo living (conscious) earth in forms of sexual fertility. Also you fail to note that each creative act is a one time completed action, and therefore no indication of a continuing process (nothing about let the earth continue to bring forth), except in the filling and multiplying. “Let the earth bring forth” has no continuing action involved, but rather is concluded in the sixth day…and always within it’s own kind. You once again fail to make your point. On the other hand, if your point is that the Mosaic view of the completed actions of Genesis 6 are somehow in line with one possible interpretation of the Enuma Elish, although that view would see a living breathing earth which interacts with minor deities bringing forth life. If that is your point, few would quarrel and it would be scholarly, because it simply holds it out as a minor possibility in an inconsequential minor subsubpoint. You on the other hand have inflated a possible minor sub-point to an over-arching main point, mocking Creation ex-nihilo. This in a nutshell is the main issue. If I failed to make it previously, I apologize. Whatever your background, it is clear that you have a strong bias against conservative views, as you have made crystal clear. It is very sad to hear that reading mainstream naturalistically biased science so influenced you. My background is science and engineering and I always found their arguments against Christianity to be vacuous. Having many friends with scientific degrees (including friends with PhD’s in geology and Biology) of strong evangelical faith, I can claim that I am not alone in my doubt of Darwinian evolution. It is too bad you never showed those same critical faculties to orthodox Darwinian evolution as you continue to express toward the Bible, because I truly believe if you did, you would have a change of heart. I would point you to solid sources, but I’m sure your aware of them.But hey, I’m just a biased evangelical and proudly so. Reading your blog, I would have thought you would be proud to say you were a biased Darwinian naturalist? As my sons often say to me…my bad.I’m done. Thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01759655568104782267 Divers and Sundry

    “My background is science and engineering…”Ever since I first heard of the “Salem Hypothesis” (that an education in engineering predisposes one to believe creationism) I’ve been struck by examples of it. Interesting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel, the only “bias” I have against conservative views is that I once held them, examined the evidence for them (at fairly conservative Bible colleges, although since they were in the UK they surely were not conservative enough by your standards, I imagine) and found the evidence from the Bible itself stacking up against the views I held. So I changed my mind. If I find evidence to persuade me that I was wrong to change my mind, I will change it back. If I find evidence that persuades me that I was wrong and am still wrong, just differently, I will change my mind again.You, on the other hand, have yet to offer an interpretation of the verse in Genesis under discussion that takes the text seriously. I’m quite certain that you consider yourself a “Bible-believing Christian” (let me know if I’m mistaken about that). But your ultimate authority is not the Bible, which you’ve consistently ignored in this discussion, but rather “orthodoxy”, and since I’ve departed from your understanding of orthodoxy (even though there is no sense in which young-earth creationism is “orthodox”), you declare me to have departed from my Christian faith. Personally, my perception is the opposite. You claim to regard the Bible with respect, yet you ignore it when it doesn’t say what you feel it should. You claim the Bible as your authority, I think, yet ultimately you refuse to let the Bible settle matters, but as a last-ditch attempt to win an argument you bypass the Bible and look to “orthodoxy” to rescue you. I do hope you don’t claim to be a Protestant!You are proudly biased. I, on the other hand, have carefully examined the evidence on many sides (there are more than two) regarding creation and evolution, and have drawn my conclusions based on an openness to learn new things both from God and from nature. If you understand the Bible to encourage you to be a “biased Evangelical”, that is your problem. Personally, I understand it to invite me to know the truth and thus be set free. If genuinely examining the evidence from both the sciences and the Bible is too much for your faith to handle at this point, you will be welcome to come back at any time in the future and resume the discussion. But then, as now, I will expect you to make a case for your views, and not simply try to stick labels on me and expect that to alleviate you of the need for evidence and argument.I harbor no ill will or hard feelings, and since you have an appreciation for Gordon Wenham’s work on Genesis, I’ll leave you with a suggestion that you try to track down a short book (published only in the UK, alas) he wrote together with Matthew Poole on the subject. It is the sort of Evangelical scholarship that changed my thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    James,Nice bait and switch technique. I am very impressed by your adept avoidance twisting accusations….very nice.I believe if you and your readers go back and read carefully you will find that it is you that has regularly avoided the Biblical texts and their context. You never addressed the issue of the layers of assumptions you have made. It is you that never once addressed the standard use of phenomenological language that even you use on a regular basis. It is you that never addressed the more dominant themes of the text, but instead focus only upon one phrase and build a massive case for an overarching theme from that one phrase–in the face of a more dominant theme of creation ex nihilo (I know you don’t see this either, but somehow the vast majority of commentators do) and by the power of God’s Word. It is you that has avoided making a clear case for interpreting even the Enuma Elish to be teaching spontaneous generation. Clearly the very idea of spontaneous generation from a Western mindset is very different than what is envisioned in ancient near East cultures. It is you that has not even shown that the phrase under consideration envisions a continuing reality, but only the possibility of a temporary reality in context (since you are a scifi/fantasy fan something like C.S. Lewis’ Magician’s Nephew). It is you that simply rejects out of hand the clear literary connection between 1:27 and 2:7, and therefore another important theme of physical life connected to the land. We still have not addressed other major issues, such as the differences between ancient near East mythological existentialism and Hebrew historical thought, which would impact the intersection of Mesopotamian/Akkadian/Babylonian/Egyptian views with Hebrew Cosmology (more on this in the commentaries by Hamilton and Mathews). You have yet to address why only land animals, and not the animals in the air and seas which are created in the previous day. But hey, according to you I am avoiding the Biblical text and reading my own orthodoxy into it. Maybe, just maybe, you have shown a bias in the opposite direction. You obviously don’t like people pointing out the deficiencies in your interpretation. Uh Oh….I just heard about a group of people that believe human life began on Jupiter and they infused the earth with radioactive pudding so that life could evolve on earth. I better get right on addressing that issue, or James will think that I agree with that idea, just like he thinks that Genesis (I’ll avoid using Moses for now for it obviously offends your liberal sensibilities) agrees with his interpretation of the Enuma Elish. Ahhh, my work is never done. Have a good day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Adel, there has been no “bait and switch”. If was too subtle and did not explicitly state some things I thought were obvious, I apologize.Why do we use phenomenological language? Because people once used it literally, and there has been no compelling reason to change it. But as I most certainly did say, the burden is on you to explain why, in a time before modern scientific knowledge, when various peoples had incomplete and inaccurate understandings of aspects of the natural world that are now better understood, the ancient Israelite authors of Scripture, even though they used the same language as the surrounding cultures, meant something different, and did not take their language literally.I like people pointing out the deficiencies of my interpretation. You haven’t done that. Instead you’ve made assumptions about the meaning of the text that show a lack of familiarity with scholarship on the subject. There is a nice summary of our scholarly understanding of creatio ex nihilo online. The historical scholarship on this subject has begun to be noticed by theologians, although there is certainly some disagreement. But you seem to think that simply by saying “creation out of nothing” over and over again, or saying “it is just one verse”, that somehow has addressed the issue. It is just one verse, and I am trying to have a discussion about what that verse means. Mentioning Moses doesn’t offend my liberal sensibilities. It offends my respect for texts that (1) don’t say it was written by Moses, (2) talk about Moses in the 3rd person, and (3) mention things after the time of Moses (cf. e.g. Deuteronomy 4:38; 29:28). You want to view the world with me being your enemy and Scripture being your ally. Yet I have devoted my life to the study of Scripture, and when I try to get you to discuss its specific contents, you dismiss them saying “That’s just one verse” or “there might have been some light redaction”.Of the making of books, and web pages, and of discussions, there is no end (except perhaps this one). But that is not necessarily a bad thing…

  • Anonymous

    Darn, I keep doing that. Last comment was pf

  • Anonymous

    James, you try too hard to engage with someone who pretty obviously starts with a presupposition and has to bend over backwards to fit everything into it.The ideas that the words of Genesis impart some literal truth about the evolution/creation of living beings and that everything was created by the spoken “Word of God” is just unserious. The idea that the Bible represents some “stark contrast” to other pre-scientific creation myths because it envisions creation “ex nihlo” as opposed to some other babble is so much nonsense.I’d like Adel to tell me how celestial beings have the sperm to create babies in humans, or why God wanted the Israelites to murder pregnant women and slaughter animals because they were owned by non-Israelites. I wonder how “science and engineering” argue against religion, as Abel alleges. Are they people?I’ve noticed on some religious sites a apologetic strain of Lee Strobel types who have obviously been schooled well but are incapable of true interaction. They shrug off stuff they can’t answer with appeals like, “oh you haven’t read the most recent scholarship that demolishes that opinion,” or “well, that’s what a liberal would say,” as if those chestnuts settle the argument. The funny thing is even if you grant each and every one of his points, it still has no bearing on the “truth” of the creation story in Genesis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    pf,One particular reason I try as hard as I can to communicate even when I suspect the other person is interested in winning, not discussing and mutual learning, is because that usually becomes clear through the attempt at discussion. I have no interest in ignoring someone who is genuninely interested in mutually beneficial dialogue, and those who are not so interested usually expose their true motives fairly soon. Either way, truth wins, in my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    James, you have way more patience than I do, which I suppose is a good thing in your profession. pf

  • Anonymous

    I just read the story in Nature magazine about the discovery of the fossil of the 40-foot snake that lived hundreds of millions of years ago.Maybe Adel can tell us if this was related to the talking snake in Genesis. It does make sense. After all, who would listen to a puny garden snake? And rattlesnakes always have had trouble with diction. But when a 40-foot snake talks, people listen, even if it means getting kicked out of paradise.No word on whether the snake was created by intelligent design or if it had a name or vocal chords, but that’s because archeology is liberal.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14059435921761098111 Adel Thalos

    pfMy guess that the snake is one of your ancestors or maybe Darwin’s.Archeology? Andy your read Nature? Why is it that a person is immediately pegged as a young earth creationist when they reject philosophical naturalism? Maybe it is those aliens who seeded the planet who put that in your head?

  • Anonymous

    adel:Aliens in my head? My father the snake? C’mon, one so well-schooled can come up with a more creative retort than that. Seriously, you are arguing that Genesis is true. So explain to us the talking satan snake and mating between gods and human women. Is it your position that the difference between those stories and ancient myths is evidence of their truth? Or is it: “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it?”pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I hope that the Wilberforce/Huxley style jibes will not get out of hand…At any rate, I would point out that in the context of Genesis, one doesn’t even have “satan snake” as a way of addressing the problem. In the story it is simply a serpent, not a supernatural being. I advocate using the same readers’ common sense in determining the genre of Genesis 3 that one uses when reading other literature featuring talking animals. There is, after all, no disclaimer in Genesis saying “Put your reading skills on the shelf, this is different.”

  • Golfer_mcm

    that picture is not anything that creationists go by.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=662663242 Richard Williams

      several sundays ago, during an after church lunch discussion, i was informed that hell/hades/paradise is in the center of the earth just as Jesus said it would be. so i can assure you that there are at least 2 people who do believe part of the diagram, ie sheol is under foot in the solid earth.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    What Golfer_mcm says is true about most creationists, though – which just proves that they don’t take the Bible literally, even though they often claim that they do.


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