The Challenge of Adam 5 (RJS)

I am currently reading a book by David N. Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. David Livingstone is Professor of Geography and Intellectual History at Queen’s University, Belfast and this book reflects both of his interests. It is a readable, but thorough and academic, book looking at the history of the idea of pre-adamic or non-adamic humans in western Christian thinking from the early church (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine) through the middle ages, the explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, the debates on racial supremacy, and on to the present day.

Chapter 4 of Adam’s Ancestors broaches a fascinating topic – Apologetics: Pre-adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion. In this chapter Livingstone sketches a variety of approaches taken in the  nineteenth century to find ways to synthesize what was being learned from investigation of the world with the accounts of origins found in scripture. Darwin’s The Origin Of Species did not start this activity – it was well underway before Darwin published. But Darwin’s theory did contribute to the mix. The key factors early on were the issues of geological age, the fossil record, and the discovery of tools and artifacts (and eventually human fossils) that predated any reasonable date for a literal Adam as calculated from the biblical genealogies. Another consideration – one we often don’t consider much today – was the history of language and the evolution of language.

This leads to the question I would like to ask today …

When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science?

When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?

Livingstone gives a fascinating discussion of the kinds of issues confronting Christians in the 1800′s – and the responses they devised. Two hermeneutical approaches were generally used to reconcile science and scripture; a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or a distinction between the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3.

The “gap” … In the early 1800′s Scottish evangelical intellectual Thomas Chalmers and Oxford geologist William Buckland among others popularized the idea of a gap of unspecified length between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.

John Harris, Congregationalist clergyman and later principle of New College, London wrote published The Pre-Adamite Earth in 1846 and Man Primeval in 1849 both of which had unoccupied geological ages and a six day Adamic creation.

Where Harris went beyond these standard concordist schemes was in his attempt to craft a metaphysics capable of mounting a robust defense of the idea that pre-adamite earth history was orchestrated by the Creator to be the theatre for human occupancy. (p. 83)

Herbert William Morris writing ca. 1870-1890:

Here then is a Hiatus – a vast gap – in the Mosaic narrative which it is important to observe. Between the creation of the earth, as stated in the first verse, and the condition in which it was found and described, in the second verse, there must have elapsed a long and indefinite period of time. (p. 85)

Two creations – successive human races. As evidence of human artifacts and later human remains  in strata with long extinct animals came to light these narratives came to include pre-adamic people.  Isabelle Duncan writing in 1860 suggested that the two Genesis stories reflect two creation narratives – the first, Genesis 1 is a pre-adamic creation. The six days are long ages and “the events of Creation must have passed in six successive visions before the mind of Moses.” Duncan’s pre-adamic world was populated by animals and by humans.  The presence of “pre-adamic” human artifacts, but absence of “pre-adamic” human remains was explained by bodily resurrection to be come the Angelic Host. James Gall, on the other hand saw “a botched humanity under the influence of satanic forces” in the pre-adamic artifacts and remains.  George Hawkins Pember speculated that Demons might be “the spirits of those who trod this earth in the flesh before the ruin described in the second verse of Genesis. (p. 93)”

The approach in all three cases – Duncan, Gall and Pember – was concordist, a direct attempt to reconcile new discoveries in archaeology and paleontology with the Biblical account.

Polygenism. Some thinkers and apologists took a concordist approach in a somewhat different direction. Harvard naturalist Louis Agassiz, as a prime example, sought a concordist approach that accounted for pre-adamic and non-adamic man and the diversity of mankind in a polygenic creation. Separate origins served to reconcile science and scripture and to provide a rational for racism. The lines of argument in these apologists, and Agassiz is only one of many, show a tendency to value scripture, to seek a concordance between science and scripture, and to justify and sanctify a deeply ingrained racism.

And we could continue – the history of relationship between languages spawned a substantial literature.

What lessons can we learn? Livingstone concludes this chapter:

In their encounter with the new geology and emerging human sciences, religious believers turned to the idea of a pre-adamite earth and pre-adamite races in order to retain solidarity between scientific knowledge and theological creed. … It facilitated the revelations of deep time that the geologists were exposing even while preserving a relatively recent date for the Mosaic story of Adam; it allowed room for archaeological excavations of primitive artifacts and, later, human remains; it offered a means of untangling the complex genealogy of human languages; and it provided an explanation for racial differences without postulating an extended biblical chronology. Securing these gains took many forms. For some the pre-adamite earth was uninhabited, … For others entire pre-adamic civilizations had populated the primeval earth, … According to some, these residents were entirely wiped out before the advent of Adam; others were sure that pockets of pre-adamites survived to intermarry with Adam’s progeny. (p. 107-108)

Why was all this industry so important? In large part, of course, it was motivated by a passion to retain good faith with religious heritage in the face of scientific challenges. But it also sprang from the fundamental importance of the adamic picture to the Christian West’s sense of its own identity, culture, and worth. (p. 108)

An undercurrent of racial and cultural superiority permeates the entire discussion. Preserve scripture – for sure – but also preserve the “status quo” as they saw it. The whole discussion is a mix of desire to follow God, defend scripture mixed with cultural blinders and human frailty.

I posed two questions above: When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to
science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?

These are important questions – because it seem obvious that the relationship must go both ways – but these questions can be refined and focused.

When should we expect a concord between science and scripture – and when is this simply the asking the wrong question of the text?

In what areas should scripture inform our understanding of science?

How can we know when the answers we reach reflect God’s truth – and when they reflect more clearly our human failings?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

  • Joanne

    When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?
    I would ask the question another way… When doesn’t it?
    I think the science of the day becomes somewhat embedded in culture and the becomes a lense through which we view the scripture.

  • Brianmpei

    When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?
    When it’s good science and not science fiction or scientific speculation. There is a great deal of science that has been proven, disproven, re-interpreted, etc. over my lifetime (and that’s not too long). There’s a rush in our academic system to get published, tenured, etc. and the quickest route is discovery and publishing.
    When something “scientific” conflicts with Scripture I think we should submit it to the test of time before we re-interpret scripture. A generation (40 years) without science refuting science (ie. what study proves what doesn’t cause cancer?) and it’s reasonable to reconsider how we interpret the text.
    To take a poem like Genesis 1 and use it as a scientific text book, however, is just as silly as adjusting our understanding of it based on every new “discovery” that comes along.

  • Scott Leonard

    I’ll state the obvious:We must always remember our interpretations are subject to error. Scripture is not. To the degree that the text and its full contexts are abundantly clear, Scripture should inform science. Where it is not abundantly clear, science may inform scripture. Remember that science is also subject to error, especially when it is dealing with history. See the writings of scientists on the flaws of carbon dating, previously thought to be gospel, and for Christians, how the pre-flood canopy may have affected the dynamics related to carbon dating.
    One other thought…Clearly there was one language until Babel. Things like that must inform science, though the question would be whether ‘the whole earth’ means just that.
    Blessings

  • RJS

    Scott Leonard,
    Our interpretations are subject to error – in science and in scripture. But the “flaws” of C-14 dating are over blown – there is no evidence for a pre-flood canopy, even in scripture it is an accommodation to the cosmology (science) of the time – and there was not only one language some 4000 years ago (i.e. at the tower of Babel). To interpret scripture as enshrining an ANE view of cosmology is just plain wrong – and (almost) no one even does it consistently, they pick and choose.
    All of these assumptions represent misinterpretations of scripture as something it is not – a misunderstanding of the nature of scripture.
    But there are other places where scripture must inform our interpretation of science without a doubt. The racist arguments of polygenic creationism and the social darwinism that was justified by survival of the fittest are two examples.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I think the first issue is determining what genre of literature we are looking at before we can know what contribution science would make.
    I was thinking the other day, What if I had the collected works of C. S. Lewis in on set of volumes. Included would be things like “The Narnia Chronicles,” “The Screwtape Letters,” and “Till We Have Faces.” But there would also be “Mere Christianity,” “The Abolition of Man,” and “God in the Dock.” There would also be a volume of collected letters Lewis wrote. How science (or economics, or sociology, etc.) relates to these texts depends heavily on the genre I’m reading.
    Similarly, the Bible is compilation of genres … even different genres within the same books of the Bible. Thus, to say that doubting Genesis 1 as a fact-for-fact historical account of past events means you’ve compromised the ability to believe in every other part of the Bible, is comparable to saying that unless you accept that there is a wardrobe in England that serves as gateway to Narnia that you compromise the ability to read Mere Christianity with confidence.
    The first place to start is to have some appreciation for what we are reading.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Remember that science is also subject to error

    Which doesn’t mean quite what you seem to think it means.
    http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm
    “[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was [perfectly] spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.” – Isaac Asimov

  • TDavid

    RE: When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?
    Always!
    Everything that man thinks, says and does begins as a belief in things unseen, a religion; and remains a religion until proven by scientific method. New discoveries in Quantum Physics indicating that all is not as it seems, that there are unseen dimensions, that matter is not matter in the way we perceive it at all; calls into question everything we hold as a truth. That yet, one day, the heavens could roll back as a scroll.
    Scientific inquiry is religion, belief; a desire to make it through the next door drunk. The result – faith, or no faith.
    The Bible is “Science.”

  • http://meafar.blogspot.com Bob MacDonald

    Nice responses – splitting the hairs well. Scripture is meant to point us to Christ, and Christ Jesus the incarnate, and the work of the Spirit. In doing this, it also points us away from idolatry whether of our bodies, our works, or our mind’s constructions. In the encounter with Our Lord the Spirit or with the Anointing of the Tanak or the witness of the New Testament, if we find ourselves in him, we will find ourselves less and less insisting on our private wrenching of the Scripture to conform to our predisposition and need for conformity and uniformity of thought. We may even find ourselves believing the earth is flat and round at the same time in the same body – and learn to laugh at ourselves.
    I have noted some fascinating developments in the thought experiments about gravity recently suggesting that gravity is not mediated by a wave/particle duality but by conformance of the whole universe to the second law of thermodynamics. It reminds me of John 1:1 In the beginning was the word and that other place – he upholds all things by his word of power. See the blog Entangled States for the pointers.
    And do seek his presence, for in spite of and because of his followers, he is good. As the Scriptures say – and God saw the light that it was good. (That ‘because of’ is a quantum preposition – changing the nature of time itself.)

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS and others,
    There’s so much about Adam and Eve and origins; but not enough serious study on Genesis 3. Is the Fall untouchable? It seems to me the same method John Walton used in Genesis 1-2 can be used to good effect in Genesis 3 (or Gen 3-11).
    Anyone have recommendations on this?
    I’ve read Atra Hasis … Gilgamesh etc…

  • DRT

    Here is the language I use to think about this.
    Science is a method. Interpretation of scripture is a method. Both of those things have the same general failings and successes in that they are both different methods of translating a specific thing (reality and the bible respectively) into our comprehension.
    Then, the underlying specific things (reality and the bible) each have causal factors that we try to infer or deduce from the specific item. I for one believe now that the same causal factor was behind both of the specific things.
    So, science and scripture research are both at least one step removed from the universal cause, that I call God.
    Each can inform the other, and neither is the Truth itself (IMHO). If you view scripture as being the equivalent of the underlying cause of scripture then you will have a different answer to the questions.
    A further take on this is, as discussed in the post, the capability of language. The language used in scriptural analysis is inherently more limited than the language of scientific investigation since the mathematics of scientific investigation allows a degree of abstraction that is impossible to reproduce with our languages. Like the idea of God, the idea of a greater than 4 dimensional universe (the current thought is that there is at least 11 dimensions) is actually incomprehensible to the human mind.
    Now I will have to think about the questions, but the obvious answer is that rationality needs to prevail….and that is not an objective criterion.
    Dave

  • Darren King

    “When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?”
    “When should we expect a concord between science and scripture – and when is this simply the asking the wrong question of the text?”
    Okay, my initial thought when pondering these two questions is: No matter how we answer, aren’t our perspectives basically arbitrary? Or, put differently, what kind of objective source could we point to support how we answer these questions?

  • Scott Leonard

    RJS,
    So there wasn’t one language at that time at Babel? What does the passage mean, then? Please tell.

  • R Hampton

    Pope John Paul II discussed this topic in a letter addressed to Reverend George V. Coyne SJ,
    Director of the Vatican Observatory (June 1, 1988)
    …To be more specific, both religion and science must preserve their autonomy and their distinctiveness. Religion is not founded on science nor is science an extension of religion. Each should possess its own principles, its pattern of procedures, its diversities of interpretation and its own conclusions. Christianity possesses the source of its justification within itself and does not expect science to constitute its primary apologetic. Science must bear witness to its own worth. While each can and should support the other as distinct dimensions of a common human culture, neither ought to assume that it forms a necessary premise for the other. The unprecedented opportunity we have today is for a common interactive relationship in which each discipline retains its integrity and yet is radically open to the discoveries and insights of the other.
    …Now this is a point of delicate importance, and it has to be carefully qualified. Theology is not to incorporate indifferently each new philosophical or scientific theory. As these findings become part of the intellectual culture of the time, however, theologians must understand them and test their value in bringing out from Christian belief some of the possibilities which have not yet been realized. The hylomorphism of Aristotelian natural philosophy, for example, was adopted by the medieval theologians to help them explore the nature of the sacraments and the hypostatic union. This did not mean that the Church adjudicated the truth or falsity of the Aristotelian insight, since that is not her concern. It did mean that this was one of the rich insights offered by Greek culture, that it needed to be understood and taken seriously and tested for its value in illuminating various areas of theology. Theologians might well ask, with respect to contemporary science, philosophy and the other areas of human knowing, if they have accomplished this extraordinarily difficult process as well as did these medieval masters.
    …The matter is urgent. Contemporary developments in science challenge theology far more deeply than did the introduction of Aristotle into Western Europe in the thirteenth century. Yet these developments also offer to theology a potentially important resource. Just as Aristotelian philosophy, trough the ministry of such great scholars as St Thomas Aquinas, ultimately came to shape some of the most profound expressions of theological doctrine, so can we not hope that the sciences of today, along with all forms of human knowing, may invigorate and inform those parts of the theological enterprise that bear on the relation of nature, humanity and God?
    … Both the Church and the scientific community are faced with such inescapable alternatives. We shall make our choices much better of we live in a collaborative interaction in which we are called continually to be more. Only a dynamic relationship between theology and science can reveal those limits which support the integrity of either discipline, so that theology does not profess a pseudo-science and science does not become an unconscious theology. Our knowledge of each other can lead us to be more authentically ourselves. No one can read the history of the past century and not realize that crisis is upon us both. The uses of science have on more than one occasion proved massively destructive, and the reflections on religion have too often been sterile. We need each other to be what we must be, what we are called to be.

  • Scott Leonard

    RJS,
    I know this seems a bit off the subject, but maybe it is not. It’s just interesting that the very next verse after Moses details the grandchildren of Noah, he writes, ” 1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” and then five verses after that he writes, “And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
    What does that seemingly plain text mean to you?

  • RJS

    Scott Leonard #12,
    I would love to sit down with OT scholars and learn more about the text of the primeval history in Genesis (Gen 1-11). As a stab isn’t it just possible that the primeval history is a story told to the people of Israel. Perhaps by Moses – inspired by God – along the lines of the parables told by Jesus? They are stories with important meanings set in the context of the audience, not dictated literal histories?
    There were important questions to be addressed by the people of Israel as God called them – and one important piece, throughout the OT, is the cycle of God calling, God meeting – and people failing over and over again, in relationship with God and in relationship with each other.
    Won’t satisfy you I am sure – but worth thinking about … I don’t think concordance is the way to find truth here. The truth is much deeper than that.

  • T

    I would love for someone with more theological education within the pentecostal branch of the Church (not a contradiction of terms) to mention this, but I was happy to read this:
    “The six days are long ages and ‘the events of Creation must have passed in six successive visions before the mind of Moses.’”
    Several that know me here know that I’ve seen God use visions and other prophetic insights in various work today, both evangelistically and pastorally. As I’ve listened to many of the discussions here on Genesis issues, I’ve often thought that one angle that ought to be considered more often and more deeply is that several of the Genesis stories were likely a series of prophetic visions, given to Moses and/or to prior Israelites and passed down.
    I know that doesn’t exactly push the conversation forward for many people (creating more questions than answers), but visions and dreams from God aren’t exactly uncommon in our Story, and we would all, IMO, do well to study how God has used them (and continues to do so). If we look at the visions Peter gets, for example, regarding unclean animals and how that played out, we can at least start to see that getting a vision doesn’t equal total or even partial understanding of the vision by the recipient (at least not initially), nor are visions necessarily showing events that actually happen in the past, present or future, even though they give critical guidance. Or look at Revelation. I don’t think John felt the need or ability to understand the series of visions he received, nor did he think he was necessarily seeing photographs of future events, but he did feel bound to get them down on paper and communicate them so they could do their work in the Church then and now. Visions often give important insights indirectly through symbols and sometimes they are more direct. Sometimes they are short, others are rich and amazingly detailed. The NT writers seem to be clear that many OT prophets didn’t ever understand what some of their visions were pointing to; the meaning wasn’t revealed to them, let alone the immediately following generations. It was revealed much, much later.
    At any rate, I’ve often heard folks talk about the options for Genesis as either history or myth. I think it would be better to think about a third option of prophetic dreams and visions and talk about how those have worked in other parts of our Story and reconsider the (early) Genesis narratives in that light. A prophetic dream that is passed down isn’t “myth” in the way we usually use the term, nor is it necessarily “history.” We have to hold our interpretations loosely and keep looking at it, telling it, and seeking its meaning as we go.

  • Brian in NZ

    I’m sorry to ask such a simple question, but what is the core of a Concordist view point?

  • DRT

    T,
    I think that it is allegory.
    Per Wikipedia
    Allegory (from Greek: ἄλλος, allos, “other”, and ἀγορεύειν, agoreuein, “to speak”) is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal. Allegory teaches a lesson through symbolism. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric, but an allegory does not have to be expressed in language: it may be addressed to the eye, and is often found in realistic painting, sculpture or some other form of mimetic, or representative art.

  • Your Name

    RJS,
    Thanks so much for responding. My thoughts on that comment are that one of the basic principles of hermeneutics is that you take a text at face value, with it’s normal meaning, unless you are given reason to believe it is poetry, or prophecy with images, etc. Gen 11 comes in a very matter of fact historical account. At least that is what most evangelcial scholars would say. So thus it appears you are bending rules of hermeneutics, perhaps to not appear so silly to those who refuse to believe God would do something just like what is described in Gen 11??? Did the fish swallow Jonah, or was that a parable, too?

  • RJS

    Your Name #19 – Scott Leonard?
    You know – taking the text at its face value in Genesis 1-11 provides many clues that it is not intended as a dictation of history. One of the most noted is Cain’s wife and Cain’s city. A literal interpretation is possible – but it requires a great deal to be read between the lines.
    These ideas are not entirely new – and don’t arise strictly from modern “knowledge.” The early church fathers struggled with the meaning of Genesis – and saw much allegorical meaning in the text. Even when holding to a short creation time, the text was treated in an ahistorical sense.

  • RJS

    Brian in NZ,
    A concordist view expects a concord – an agreement or harmony – between the historical events and the text of scripture. A day-age view is a concordist view.

  • Scott Leonard

    Why is Cain’s wife a problem? Certainly you aren’t worried about God not telling us where she came from? He didn’t name every person ever born back then. And back to Babel, why the need to take the story at something other than face value? It’s really not an issue, is it?

  • RJS

    Scott Leonard (#22)
    Don’t be ridiculous – there is no way to read Genesis 4 literally in the context of a YEC creation with only Adam and Eve as parents without assuming enormous amount of “between the lines” information. One can add to the story and achieve a concord with one’s assumption.
    I think we should take the story for what it is at face value – not literal history but an absolutely important and foundational truth.
    There is a fall in Genesis 3 and a fall in Genesis 4 and a fall in Genesis 6 and a fall in Genesis 9 and a fall in Genesis 11 … the falls differ, but they all represent a rending of covenant with God in some fashion – not by God, but by mankind. This always has consequence.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W Kruse

    Scott Leonard
    I assume you may have seen my comment about C. S. Lewis in #5. Would you agree that the best way to read the Narnia Chronicles is to assume Lewis meant them to be historical fact-for-fact accounts?
    Furthermore, Peter Kreeft wrote a fascinating book (Between Heaven and Hell) that has Lewis, John F. Kennedy, and Aludus Huxley having a dialog together in the afterlife. (All three died the same day.) Should this be a part of the C. S. Lewis collection? After all, for all appearances this is an actual conversation that Lewis participated in?
    “My thoughts on that comment are that one of the basic principles of hermeneutics is that you take a text at face value, with it’s normal meaning, unless you are given reason to believe it is poetry, or prophecy with images, etc. Gen 11 comes in a very matter of fact historical account.”
    This is born from the Scottish School of Common Sense philosophy that emerged in the late 18th Century. This is something you bring to the text. I suggest a better approach is to look at each work in light of its cultural context and norms for communication.

  • Scott Leonard

    Michael W Kruse,
    I believe you will find the reason all the major evangelical seminaries teach that principle of hermeneutics, and why Bernard Ramm and others did, is that it seems to be supported by the way Jesus and Paul viewed the OT writings. Look at how Jesus viewed them, how he referred to them at face value, and tell me where the problem lies. Am I off base in that?

  • Scott Leonard

    RJS,
    I think you will find you are in a small minority among those who hold a high view of Scripture. Can you be specific as to what you struggle with there?

  • RJS

    Scott,
    No – I am not in “the small minority.” Genesis 4 has been something of a conundrum for millenia. These days it is usually dismissed as Ramm did by calling it “an old saw” and implying (without ever stating such) that there is an obvious solution.
    The concordist solutions require a great deal of imaginative speculation and reading between the lines.
    Cain’s wife and Cain’s city are the base of the conundrum – there is an underlying assumption of a population bigger than Adam, Eve, and their offspring.

  • Your Name

    I have never been worried that God didn’t tell us every soul that was born during that time or how much time elapsed between one birth and another!

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W Kruse

    What Jesus and Paul may have implied about the historical nature of the O.T. writings isn’t irrelevant but neither is it determinative.
    God always speaks into a particular time-space location. With the Genesis stories he was speaking into an Ancient Near East pre-scientific culture. By analogy, would we answer a four year old daughter’s question about where she came from with a detailed account of sexual intercourse, sperm, eggs, cell division, and so on, or would we give her a story that helps her understand her valued status as your daughter using descriptions that any adult would know to be scientifically or historically inaccurate? We would do the latter.
    So here with Genesis accounts. God was communicating into a pre-scientific flat world with a vault of air trapped under waters above. Bodies move across the sky. Correcting their “scientific” understanding of creation is not in view. Understanding the significance of their origins and function in a world where God is sovereign is.
    Moving to the New Testament we are still dealing with pre-scientific people who inhabit a world very similar to that perceived by ANE cultures. Jesus (in his self-limited form) and Paul inhabited this culture as well. The early church fathers writing in the following centuries also wrote with these pre-scientific assumptions. If we are to accept that the Genesis 1-11 stories are fact-for-fact historical accounts simply because Jesus and Paul matter of factly treated them as historical, then we must also admit the earth is flat with a vault of air beneath the waters above on the same basis. These, too, were assumed as matter of fact history.
    The point is the theological truths told through ANE genres. Genesis 1 bears many similarities with ANE stories but some important dissimilarities. For instance, God is seen assigning the functions to everything in creation, like the sun and moon, … things surrounding cultures had made into gods. God was above all other gods. Also, most ANE stories cast humans as slaves subject to the whims of capricious gods. Genesis cast humans as God’s co-regents over creation.
    So, again, while the fact the Jesus and Paul talked about ancient O.T. events as history that is not determinative. They were working within the same cultural limitations of the places and times.

  • RJS

    It isn’t that simple – not every soul or time elapsed.
    You can assume a concordist position and make it fit – well gestation must have been shorter, growth faster, God didn’t tell us everything (absolutely no indication of children between Abel and Seth), 130 years is a long time – many generations. Adam and Eve could have had 128 other children in the meantime – and if each unnamed, unmentioned daughter had a child a year – say starting at 10 years old (with unnamed, unmentioned brothers I assume … we won’t touch incest) … well in that case you can build quite a population fast …
    And then we get to Noah – two lions on the ark … and two rabbits or two gazelles… well I wonder what the carnivorous lions ate, not on the ark – but afterwards … the carcasses remaining after the flood would have rotted fairly quickly … and no other animals world wide … it is a wonder that we have large carnivores today. Again “God didn’t tell us everything?”
    And Genesis 6:1-5 with the Nephilim and afterwards the sons of God?
    Look – the story makes great sense as God’s truth, it makes little to no sense as literal history. The problems are legion, I’ve only scratched the surface.
    Personally I think we need an approach along the lines of John Walton’s thinking in “The Lost Worlds of Genesis One” extended beyond this. We need to be thinking about what the story meant in the context it was told and what it teaches us today. The suggestion that it is not literal history doesn’t mean uninspired or false.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W Kruse

    And just to make the point from Calvin, Lukas Vischer writes in a paper “Rich Before You Were Born: On Calvin’s Understanding of Creation”:
    “When it comes to the origin of the world, Calvin adheres largely to the biblical account of creation, even though he is aware that it does not tie in with scientific knowledge in every respect. “The astronomers have shown convincingly that other planets exist that are larger than the moon.” The language of the Bible is not scientific, but is adapted to the understanding of those reading and listening to it. Like a nursing mother, it stoops to the level of her children and speaks in a way they can understand. The important thing is that we human beings should recognize God’s greatness and goodness in his work of creation. …”(11)
    (Theology and Worship, Occasional Paper No. 21, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2009. Vischer ascribes Calvin’s “Nursing Mother” analogy to Sermon XLII on Deuteronomy)
    Now Calvin did reject Copernicus’ view of astronomy published in 1543. He was living at the cusp of the explosion of scientific knowledge. Much of what we take for granted today was still quite novel and untested. Today we know far more about science and history, and we can see just how much the accounts we have are like a nursing mother to her child.

  • scott leonard

    RJS,
    Yes, now I see where you are coming from. You doubt all kinds of accounts in Scripture! Now you make sense to me. It’s all true, my friend. All of it. Two by two and everything. Jonah in the belly three days. And….most importantly, as Jesus bluntly told Nicodemus, unless you experience regeneration through the new birth, none of it will matter to you, because there is no hope, no other way to be saved from what you deserve, no matter how much theology you know or how kind you are to your neighbor.
    God Bless

  • RJS

    Scott,
    I have no doubts about the resurrection – nor about the teaching that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification, the witness of the church to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Nor do I question Jesus’s words to Nicodemus that we must be born again. But the specific interpretation of Genesis is not tied to this.
    Genesis is part of scripture, able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus, inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; … but it doesn’t need to be history for any of this. It isn’t “just ANE myth”- but we need to take it at face value for what it is, not make it into something it is not to match a preconception of what scripture must be.
    You won’t agree – I realize. But this is where I am.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W Kruse

    #32 Scott Leonard
    I don’t “doubt” any parts of Scripture. I merely want to understand them within their context. I fully embrace the historical life, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I fully believe in the atonement, including its substitutionary aspects.
    I don’t see that I said about Genesis has to do with the this. Back to my C. S. Lewis example, I distinguish between the Narnia Chronicles and Mere Christianity and Lewis’ personal letters. In the Bible, I distinguish between ANE forms of communication and the gospels (not to mention the supporting historical evidence of the resurrection.)
    Peace!

  • J-Mann

    Michael W Kruse and RJS – a couple of the best and most succinct summaries of the issues and how to treat them that I’ve read in a long time.
    Scott, such fanatical insistence that all must assume your position of a completely literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 or be damned is exactly what makes many in the church, and sadly so much of the life-changing truth of Genesis, irrelevant to wider society today. It makes us appear simple-minded and unable to wrestle with literature for what it is. And the truth is, even the most die-hard advocates of literal interpretation don’t believe that every single story in the Bible is completely historical. We know there is such a thing as history, and we know that there is such a thing as parable, analogy, poetry, proverb, and so on. When you read the parable of the Good Samaritan, do you think it’s a literal, true story? Jesus never announces it to be a parable, he just launches into the story. Applying your hermeneutic, this must be a true account, or else the whole of Scripture cannot be trusted! But of course no one thinks that. Why? Because we’re smarter than that. We can see that the story, from reading it, fits into the genre of parable.
    There are certainly many parts of Scripture that fit into the category of history, and we take them as such. But we can do better than childishly insisting that Scripture only has one genre of literary style, and that is absolute, historical, factual narrative. The truth is that even a cursory analysis of Genesis 1-11 reveals that it is not in the genre literal history and is not meant to be read as such. I’m not saying it’s strictly parable either. But something more is going on there. It’s more akin to ancient mythological narrative. And by that I don’t mean ‘false’ or ‘made-up’, but rather it has this epic, sweeping scope that spans both the cosmological and the temporal, intended to convey broader, metaphysical truths, that in this case set the scene for God’s historical revelation that will follow. In saying that, I’m not saying that it absolutely could not be historical fact, or that at least elements of it could not be. Rather, the historicity or otherwise of the story, in this style of literature, is secondary to the deeper, foundational truths of the narrative.
    Genesis 1-11 tells us that there is a God, that he is in control of the universe and it submits to his will, that he created us, loves us, and cares for us, and that we should likewise love and care for those around us, reflecting his image in us as the pinnacle of creation. It also tells us that we are horribly fallen and that the world is in such a sorry state because of it. And it reminds us that despite this, God continues to persevere with us. This is the message the world needs to hear. Sadly, ask most people what they think of when they consider the Church and science, and Genesis particularly, and it’s clear that the message they’re getting is not that at all. They dismiss us as simpletons, in denial and caught up in making sure everyone believes first in a literal 6000 year old earth, world-wide flood, etc. As though these are primary issues, or of utmost importance, to be addressed before, or at least equal to, God’s wonderful act of salvation! And with that, the beauty and truth of the wonderful message of Genesis 1-11 is lost forever.

  • Fish

    When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?
    The two are unrelated. The Bible is not a science text, so it never informs my approach to science. Science is not faith, so it never informs my approach to Scripture.
    The Tower of Babel is an example. There were people living here, in Arkansas, 4000 years ago so they couldn’t have been in the Middle East to be Babel-ized, and they were speaking different languages. (One of the ways scientists are dating the entry of people into the Americans is by measuring the change of language over time and comparing it to the many different Native American languages we know of.)
    It really has no bearing on my faith. Jesus would still exist without the Bible; he’d simply be revealed in some other manner.

  • scott leonard

    Thanks for keeping it real. I don’t believe that everything in Gen 1-11 is literal, because I know there is a distinct difference between chapters one and two in style. And I don’t think that someone is lost if they want to be open to discovering valid differences in the type of literature in that those early chapters (1-11). I was an English and language major in college and an MDiv in seminary, and I know about all the different types of literary writing. I guess I have my antennae up for a spirit that is more eager to call something allegorical or parable when it appears in its context as historical, just because the world (whose wisdom God calls folly) scoffs. I don’t think there are a lot of critics around who are discounting the historicity of Genesis while wholeheartedly embracing the miraculous of Exodus and the prophets. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think history shows that most who sneer at the account of Noah or the details of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah will also be finding ways to spiritualize Jesus walking on water.
    Many of the greatest minds of all time have resided in the great evangelical seminaries and churches of America over the last century, and they seemed for the most part unconcerned that skeptics would consider them simpletons for taking seemingly historical leterature as historical. Where there is abundant evidence that something should be taken in a sense other than literal, by all means do it! But I’m not impressed with those who think they need to satisfy people who at heart are looking for reasons not to embrace the God of the infallabale word. That is an endless, futile endeavor.
    I have a hunch that the fruit of those who best embrace the truth of Scripture will be evident. If you are in love with Jesus and His word, and you long to spend time in His presence and lead others to saving faith, I believe that by and large that is both evidence of-and preparation for- a right understanding of God’s word, provided you employ basic sound hermeneutics. If you find yourself more in love with entertaining yourself pursuing the pleasures of this tantalizing world than meditating on the word and praying and being accountable for personal growth, watch out for where your theology and your hermeneutic will travel.
    Thanks for taking time to indulge me and stretch me.
    When you talk of the genre of writing that Moses would have embraced for Genesis, it seems that when it comes to Paul, who ministered and wrote to the Gentiles,

  • Jeremy

    Scott: I wonder how much of that effect is the older generations. Those of us raised in the Postmodern era tend to have no problem accepting that while all fact is truth, not all truth is fact.
    There are obviously other problems that come with our worldview, but we tend not to have any issues with being skeptical about absolute historical fact of a lot of the early OT and wholeheartedly embracing the belief that the NT accounts occurred.
    It seems to me to be a thoroughly Modern thing to want to demand factual accuracy from Genesis. Most, if not all of the people that I know who struggle with that are over the age of 40 or raised in very strict religious settings. The under-35 crowd tends not to bat an eyelash when you talk about parts of Genesis potentially being truth of the non-factual sort, but get a bit testy if you try to do the same thing with Jesus.
    Broad brush strokes, I know, but it’s my experience.

  • JHM

    RJS asks:
    When should our understanding of scripture inform our approach to science? When should science inform our interpretation of scripture?
    Question 1 -
    I see this as happening more through world view than through explicit “well the Bible says …”. If as a Christian scientist I view my profession through the lens of my faith I might perhaps see:
    1) that I should be diligent to pursue my work with joy, integrity, and a love for the people around me. Science is more than study, it’s mission.
    2) that I can revel in the beauty God has built into his creation, through the order, majesty, simplicity, complexity, etc. we find all the time as we work.
    3) that I can move beyond science in understanding the world around me, and the people around me. I can ascribe meaning, value, and purpose to not only what I’m doing but to the whole scientific enterprise. I have good way of determining the ethical boundaries of science, looking at not just what can be done but what should be done.
    Q2-
    It seems interesting to me that the Bible doesn’t spend much time telling us how to interpret it. There isn’t one of those “here’s how to read/use this book” sections like you often skip over at the beginning of a textbook. Instead it seems the idea is that we need to rely on the Holy Spirit and every God-given faculty at our disposal to make out the best we can. I think most certainly science is one of those faculties, as is good hermeneutics and as much understanding of the culture and context in which it was written, as well as “standing on the shoulders of giants” by studying the history of Biblical interpretation within the Church.
    One last thing, perhaps one possible answer may be to not ask “when” but “who”. We might say that serious scientists who are also serious Christians should be taken seriously by the Church. On the flip side, serious scientists who are serious Christians should take the Church seriously. By “seriously” I don’t mean blind acceptance, but rather trusting that the same God that is alive and moving within the Church is also moving within the Christian scientist. It is then that I think we have a point where science and faith can come together in dialog, informing and edifying each other.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W Kruse

    #32 Scott Leonard
    I don’t “doubt” any parts of Scripture. I merely want to understand them within their context. I fully embrace the historical life, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I fully believe in the atonement, including its substitutionary aspects.
    I don’t see that I said about Genesis has to do with the this. Back to my C. S. Lewis example, I distinguish between the Narnia Chronicles and Mere Christianity and Lewis’ personal letters. In the Bible, I distinguish between ANE forms of communication and the gospels (not to mention the supporting historical evidence of the resurrection.)
    Peace!

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W Kruse

    Scott Leonard #37
    (I’m not sure why comment #40 reposted when I hit post. That is not what was in the text box but hopefully this time the following post will appear. Weird!)
    I still want to push back on this idea that we assume everything is historical until we see evidence to the contrary.
    Look at what Jesus does when a lawyer tries to justify himself by asking “Who is my neighbor?” Does Jesus give a didactic legal response identifying all the parameters of being neighbor? No.
    Jesus tells a story about a man beaten and left to die by the side of the road. Middle Eastern scholar and theologian Kenneth Bailey points out several things about this story. The road identified had long straight stretches where one could easily see who was ahead and behind you. It was likely assumed that each succeeding character would have seen that the person before them had passed by the victim.
    As the priest comes by it would likely be assumed that he had a donkey, in keeping with his status. He comes across this unconscious man who is naked. The two primary means of determining ethnic community were dialect and dress. Both are missing. The priest does not know if the man is a Jew … his neighbor. If the priest gets blood on himself he will be unclean and need to go through days of purification rituals. If comes within two cubits of a dead man, he is also impure. Is the man living? The priest is flipping through a mental legal index trying to determine what to do. He passes by. The Levite experiences the same dilemma but knows the priest passed this guy by. He does the same.
    Finally, the hated Samaritan, unencumbered by all this religious ritual, is the one who is capable of having compassion. He binds up the man’s wounds, which the Levite could have done. He transports the man to safety, which the priest could have done. Then he leaves money at the inn to take care of the man, restoring the wealth he had lost.
    There are more subtle details but we also have to note how Jesus flips the question. Jesus fires back at the lawyer, “Who was neighbor to the man in need?” By telling this story, Jesus indicts the religious leaders. Their legalistic obsessions have actually prevented them from being the covenant people, exercising compassion to one another … to the point that the hated Samaritans are more compassionate then they are.
    But here is the critical point. Note how Jesus answered the question and got is theological truth across: He told a story! The story tells of a real place. Were the characters real? Did these events actually happen? What difference does it make? The theological truth is the same. The truth is learned by entering the story and walking around inside it.
    What Bailey harps at constantly is that we Westerners tend to think didactically. We explain things and then supplement with an illustration to help those who may be slow getting the idea. In the ANE and Middle Eastern cultures, the story is theology. The logical didactic explanation is the supplement. Stories in these cultures, even stories about historical events, are never told just to communicate facts.
    My point is that by bringing this hermeneutic in that says “historical fact until proven otherwise” is an imposition of our post-Enlightenment Modernist mindset on to these ancient texts. The problem is that enemies of the gospel perceive that these Bible stories are purported to be fact and by showing they are not they believe they are undermining the Bible. Meanwhile, many Christians have bought this same perspective and see a need to defend historical interpretation at all costs. My guess is that if people of Moses’ day could hear this debate they would be utterly mystified by what we arguing about.

  • J-Mann

    Scott – my apologies if my assumptions were incorrect. You said:
    “And….most importantly, as Jesus bluntly told Nicodemus, unless you experience regeneration through the new birth, none of it will matter to you, because there is no hope, no other way to be saved from what you deserve, no matter how much theology you know or how kind you are to your neighbor.”
    I took that to mean that basically you can only accept that Genesis 1-11 is literal and historical if you have experienced regeneration, and by implication, if you do not accept it, you cannot have been regenerated! What did you mean by that?
    Once again, in your next post, you seem to imply that anything short of embracing your particular view of Genesis 1-11 is the result of being less in love with Jesus, spending less time meditating on his Word and not longing to be in his presence. As though if we just did that, he would reveal to us that Genesis 1-11 is historical fact. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I can assure you that just as you say many great minds have embraced an historical reading of Genesis 1-11, so too many of those that love Jesus wholeheartedly, long to be in his presence and meditate on his word, and are conservative, evangelical and embrace the fundamental tenets of our faith, do not believe that Genesis 1-11 falls into the genre of historical narrative, and believe that it should not be read as such.
    Again, this is what I object to – the continual assertion by so-called creation ‘scientists’ that an historical view of Genesis 1-11 is foundational to mainstream, conservative Christian faith, and anything less than that throws its proponents in altogether with the ‘liberals’ and ‘wowsers’. Not to mention it calls into question the sincerity of their faith and even the state of their souls! Many theologians throughout the centuries, even going back to Augustine (long before the modern scientific era) have questioned whether Genesis 1-11 is factual historical narrative.
    My point is not that anyone with an alternative view to my own is a simpleton, but rather that that perception is perpetuated out in the world by the insistence of many in making the issue so foundational. There is so much wonderful truth in Genesis 1-11 that the world needs to hear. Sadly, all they hear is that we think the earth is 6000 years old despite all the evidence to the contrary, and unless they do too, we have nothing to offer them.
    Generally speaking, those with a less literal interpretation seem to be willing to say “let’s agree to disagree and get to the heart of the message”, whereas those in the creation ‘science’ camp seem continually to be saying, “unless you agree with me, your entire hermeneutic is fundamentally broken, and potentially so is your faith.”

  • J-Mann

    PS I appreciated your detailed analysis of the Good Samaritan Michael. It was posted while I was posting my most recent thesis! Thanks.
    I think the point there is too, for me at least, that it actually should be the reverse almost – texts should be considered NOT historical fact unless proven otherwise. Now before I am accused of heresy! let me clarify – what I mean is that clearly there are texts in Scripture that by almost any hermeneutic are historical narrative. The Gospels, Acts, Kings and Chronicles, etc. I personally don’t advocate that all Scripture is allegory first and then if there happens to be a few facts in there, that’s a bonus. There are all sorts of genres. Texts should only be considered historical for hermeneutical purposes where they clearly fall into that category. Otherwise, there is a need for further investigation. And in the case of Genesis 1-11, there is clearly a case for doubt (with respect to its historical, factual accuracy) and some further investigation. Particularly in light of the fact that it correlates with, but is also seemingly polemical against, other ANE creation narratives. Could something else be going on here?
    It actually requires us to do more homework than simply reading a text and taking it at face value (‘historical fact unless proven otherwise’). Genesis 1-11 appears a little strange. It doesn’t seem to merge well factually with what science is telling us (and our capacity for scientific exploration is gift from God and part of what makes us human, created in his image). Perhaps it fails the test with respect to being clearly historical narrative, and therefore at the very lest, should be taken with a grain of salt with respect to its usefulness as a didactically historical story. As you rightly point out, historical narrative is not the only source of truth, and we must get away from requiring it to be so at any cost. In this case, the cost is great.

  • TDavid

    R Hampton;
    You quoted in 13:
    “…To be more specific, both religion and science must preserve their autonomy and their distinctiveness. Religion is not founded on science nor is science an extension of religion. Each should possess its own principles, its pattern of procedures, its diversities of interpretation and its own conclusions. Christianity possesses the source of its justification within itself and does not expect science to constitute its primary apologetic. Science must bear witness to its own worth. While each can and should support the other as distinct dimensions of a common human culture, neither ought to assume that it forms a necessary premise for the other. The unprecedented opportunity we have today is for a common interactive relationship in which each discipline retains its integrity and yet is radically open to the discoveries and insights of the other.”
    You’ll forgive me if I say, “That just doesn’t work for me.”
    For me, there is but one True God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, one creation of His, and but one science. Science is religion. My consciousness, my conscience, is, like Isaac Newton, “with science.” Scientific method is what I use to come to Christ; it is what everyone uses who comes to Christ. Not that scientific method emerged from man, but that it is exampled by God, both in scripture and in the Creation. Come, let us reason together? Prove me false.
    We first believe, we test that belief, we have faith.
    It is all the same contest the powers of darkness wage against the Light, whether in Rome or the laboratory.

  • TDavid

    Re: focused questions and my views
    “When should we expect a concord between science and scripture – and when is this simply the asking the wrong question of the text?”
    We should always expect a concord between science and scripture, it is never a wrong question to ask. The battle is not between science and scripture, it is between the powers of darkness and Light.
    “In what areas should scripture inform our understanding of science?”
    Scripture should inform our understanding of all knowledge.
    “How can we know when the answers we reach reflect God’s truth – and when they reflect more clearly our human failings?”
    We can’t always, because we are finite, and for that we are forgiven.
    To look at this in any other way is to fight the wrong battle.
    The God of the Bible can be glorified or denied in our search for an understanding of His Creation.

  • JoanieD

    To Michael Kruse in #41 who wrote, “The truth is learned by entering the story and walking around inside it.” Exactly! Your entire #41 comment makes excellent points. Leave it to Jesus to explain things just as they need to be explained. We need to continually learn from Jesus as to how he approached and talked with people.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Michael Kruse (#41),
    All of your comments in this thread have been very informative and helpful to me. Thanks.

  • Dave Corder

    I think I have read all these comments,yet no one has said that scripture should never inform our view of science. It is a pre-scientific book. There is no knowledge of micro-organisms or the etiology of disease. There is no knowledge of the nature or distance of the stars. There us no knowledge that the earth is a planet.
    Should we really have expected God to reveal accurate scientific knowledge to the authors? Why would God have done that?

  • JHM

    Dave (#48),
    The only way to inform our view of science is via “accurate scientific knowledge”? I don’t think that necessarily follows.

  • Dave Corder

    JHM,
    i agree. But it seems that that the nature of scripture as pre-scientific needs to be taken seriously. Scripture might encourage a humble approach to the data. But information about the age of the earth or biological development of species is beyond the knowledge of biblical authors.

  • R Hampton

    TDavid,
    Reason is the process by which we understand Creation (Natural Revelation) — and Science is the most formalized and quantified application thereof. Theology is the process by which we understand Scripture (Special or Divine Revelation). Together these two modes of knowledge are unified in the embodiment of Christ as the singular Truth. Agree or disagree, but that is the teaching of the Catholic Church.

  • Scott Leonard

    TDavid,
    You got it right, my friend. There is a very pertinent reason why Paul said we are bringing every thought into the obedience of Christ.
    It would be interesting to know how many who weigh in here don’t believe in the Noahic flood, though Jesus and the writer of Hebrews talked very matter-of-factly about it. (Don’t tell me they were simply accomodating their hearers’ ignorance. That won’t fly.) Vain speculating and the darkening of foolish hearts is not reserved for the lost. We are all subject to it.
    “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”-Heb 11:3

  • JHM

    Scott,
    You said:
    Vain speculating and the darkening of foolish hearts is not reserved for the lost. We are all subject to it.
    That seems to be the case, which makes me wonder, how certain are we that we necessarily have the interpretation of the whole Bible nailed down? I know a lot of things confuse me.
    You brought up the Noahic flood, for instance. There are a number of troubling things about that story. One one hand it seems kind of incredible that you could get all the animals (even if you consider speciation since the Flood) on the ark. It seems incredible that there would be enough water to cover the entire earth, and deep enough to float such a larger ark. And we don’t really see the physical traces of a global flood that we might expect.
    On the other hand, things like the specific dimensions of the ark, etc. seem a little more factual than a parable. Also, as you say, I don’t see any place in the New Testament where the Flood is treated non-historically. So what do we do?
    It seems to me that we should pray hard, study hard, and do the hard work of investigating what science tells us about the world and history, what previous Christian scholars have discovered, and do the best we can at faithfully interpreting what God has to say. I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as “God said it, it happened” because that supposes we know 100% the intentions of God and I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as “it doesn’t matter, the truth of the story is only spiritual” because that supposes that the spiritual and physical are completely separable and that spiritual truth is independent of physical truth. For instance, scripture teaches us that Jesus was both fully human and fully God, I don’t think we can pull him apart so easily.


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