The Earliest Readings of Genesis 1

One of the areas we need to get sharper on is knowing how other Christians — ages ago — read Genesis 1. The singular problem of reading Genesis after Darwin is that he reshaped how we all read Genesis 1. That is, the pro-Darwin crowd sought either some kind of concord between science and Genesis 1 (for example, seeing aeons and aeons between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2) or concluded that Genesis 1 was ancient near eastern myth. The anti-Darwin crowd then said it’s history, science proves it, if science is done properly. Both sides, then, relearned how to read Genesis 1 in light of science. Darwin casts his shadow over most readings of Genesis 1 today.

What do you think of the idea that we are all influenced by Darwin in our reading of Genesis 1? Is the creationist, the intelligent design, the theistic evolutionist — is each of these a Darwin-shaped reading? How so? Is there a non-Darwinian reading of Genesis 1?

That’s simply too bad. For us. Because there are readings of Genesis that are not forcing the scientific questions. Andrew Louth, in his contribution to Reading Genesis After Darwin, examines how the Greek fathers — his focus is the great theologian, Basil of Caesarea — read Genesis 1. What he turns up is well worth serious consideration today.

To begin with, a number of theologians wrote interpretations of Genesis 1 in the early church.  Theophilos of Antioch was deeply concerned with the rise of Gnosticism and so his focus was that God indeed created this very earth and God created this very earth out of nothing. It cannot be argued this was a widely held view in the Bible or in Judaism, for it is found in only two texts at the explicit level: 2 Macc 7:28 and Shepherd of Hermas Mandates 1. But Theophilos also emphasize that God prepared earth for humans — so humans are the highest order of creation. Creation leads to wonder and pondering the goodness and wisdom of God.

Basil. He did not read Genesis 1 allegorically and fought the allegorists; he read Genesis 1 literally: “I take all these as they are said” (47). Basil, however, did read some things allegorically but he thought Origen did too much allegory in Genesis 1 so he pushed against him. The focus of Genesis 1 ought to be on proclaiming God as creator and marveling at the goodness of creation.

Basil appealed here and there to contemporary science. He used Genesis 1, evidently, in the lens of Plato’s Timaeus.  There was for him no opposition between Bible and science; science filled in the sketch of Genesis 1. The Bible is not a scientific account, he argues. He pondered time as “indivisible and without extension” so that Genesis 1:1: intersection of timelessness and time. Creation has inherent sympathy — it all hangs together. It’s a marvel of wisdom.

And humans are the center of creation. The human is cosmos in miniature. Humans have a role in creation analogous to God and humans are a “veritable shepherd of being” (52).

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