Via slacktivist: Several prominent, relatively conservative Protestant theologians explain why they believe Genesis 1-11 was never intended to be read literally.
Actually, there’s a fair bit in there that I’m not so sure of; e.g., they present the Genesis myth as a reworking of other myths at the time, whereas I tend to think the other myths are corruptions of the original story. That said, I like the general point, that the original audience wasn’t looking for a scientific account of how the world was created.
I especially appreciate N.T. Wright’s comments beginning at about 8:18, arguing that the primary purpose of the story is to describe how God made a dwelling place – heaven and earth – for Himself. “It’s a temple story,” Wright says.
To any Christian, that should set off bells – if this is a temple story, then in the deepest sense it’s a Jesus story. And in the epistles, we do find several references to Jesus as being the new Adam. If the entire law and prophets are really about Jesus, if the stories there are shadows of the Lord who was to come, then it stands to reason that this creation story in the deepest sense would be about the process by which God made His dwelling place with us in the form of Jesus – the way He prepared to “dwell in a tabernacle among us.” (John 1:14) And, if it’s about God dwelling with us in His Divine Humanity, it’s also about the new creation of a person as he or she is being regenerated and born again by the Lord, since by that we become His dwelling place and His body.
When we think of the story of creation as describing the process by which a person becomes a dwelling place for God, it makes a lot more sense. It makes sense, for example, to have light before the creation of the sun and the moon: a person, as he’s being led along the path of regeneration, starts to get a glimpse of the Good and the True before he actually recognizes their Source. The simple assumption that this is a story about how we become dwelling places for God opens up new depths in the story.
Fortunately for us New Church-ers / Swedenborgians (along with anyone else willing to read Swedenborg), we’ve got the (relatively brief) first chapter of Arcana Coelestia to give us some of the details in that depth. And having grown up New Church, the concept of looking for a deeper sense in Genesis is nothing new. But what I love about the comments in the video is the way that they show that even some literal readings of the story point to the fact that this is really not so much about the creation of the physical universe, but about how God makes His home in what He has created.