Strong Words, Certainly Fair

From Pete Enns, on evolutionary theory and evangelicalism:

The two most common attempts are (1) to see Adam and Eve as the first hominids in the evolutionary line that God chose as the first representative humans, and (2) “Adam and Eve” represent the gene pool from which the current world population is has descended–which I am told by people who know these things is something like 5,000 to 10,000 people living 100,000 or more years ago.

Neither Genesis nor Paul say either of these things. I continue to find it ironic that, in an effort to protect the Bible, some see no problem in advancing readings of texts that aren’t there and for which the biblical authors had no frame of reference.

As far as I am concerned, these ad hoc solutions do more to expose the inadequacies of evangelicalism than they do to solve the problem of a biblically oriented faith vis-a-vis evolution.

Merging evolution and inerrancy like this is what Denis Lamoureux has called“pinning the evolutionary tail onto the evangelical donkey”–blindly stabbing away, hoping to hit the target one of these days.

Or to use another image, one cannot simply graft evolution onto the evangelical theological system and hope no one notices. This graft will never really take to the host. One will always see the mismatch. To ward off infection and tend the graft, rounds of medication are needed. When going out in public, the area has to be protracted with layers of gauze, covered up with clothing, or disguised….

The way forward, I feel, is not to make up transparently ad hoc solutions to the problem–finding a better graft or training people to play a better game of pin the tail on the donkey.

It is time for evangelicalism to sit down and think this one through–without feeling that lines have to be drawn immediately, theological turf has to be protected, or that “the gospel is at stake” every five minutes.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Joel

    I’m not convinced by Enns. Don’t parts of Genesis support the idea that Adam and Eve may not have been the very first biological couple? “Where Cain got his wife” and “Why was Cain afraid of people killing him?” have always been an awkward questions. There is also the ambiguity of the fact that the garden may not have been the whole of creation.

    Someone might respond to this that Adam and Cain come from different sources/traditions. That’s an interesting question, but secondary to the Genesis we’ve been given. I’m speaking of the finished text we have, not the ur-texts that may have served as sources.

  • gingoro

    ” I continue to find it ironic that, in an effort to protect the Bible, some see no problem in advancing readings of texts that aren’t there and for which the biblical authors had no frame of reference.”

    I see something like option 1 but not because it fits in any way with Gen 1-11. But rather because it seems logical and fits with the rest of the OT story of God’s gradual revelation of himself and teaching of his people. Right now I have no real idea of what to do with Gen 1-11 besides something like what Walton has suggested. Inerrancy has nothing to do with how I think that maybe God first started to deal with mankind. Sure I use the terms Adam and Eve but only because they have come to stand for the earliest people that God dealt with. Furthermore it could easily have been not just a pair but a tribe or other small people group. If Pete objects to the use of the names Adam and Eve we could just as easily call them Dick and Jane or some better mid-eastern names. In terms of a fall, I do not see a fall from perfection but a legal fall when God taught his people what was right and wrong and not just to do what we did naturally as a result of the evolutionary process. As I see it such a legal fall fits in with Paul’s statement about their being no sin without the law and so on.

    But then I do not see myself as an evangelical but rather as an orthodox Protestant.

    DaveW

  • wyclif

    “It is time for evangelicalism to sit down and think this one through.”

    I’ve read remarks like this over and over again, and they always sound somewhat condescending to my ear. Does Peter really think that evangelicals haven’t thought this through, or is it simply the case that he just can’t let go, and can’t accept that evangelicals have arrived at very different conclusions based on the text than he has?

  • Phil Miller

    Can’t speak for Dr. Enns, but it seems to me what he’s asking Evangelicals to think through isn’t so much related to how they read the text but rather how well scientific understandings of human origins actually fit with their readings of the text. It seems that the Evangelical response is not necessarily to adjust the reading of the text, but essentially stick pretty close to the same reading and say that reality actually fits with their reading.

    It really all comes down to whether we believe that sin is something that is biologically passed down through humanity or not. That’s why having some sort of Adam and Eve as the genetic parents of humanity is important to Evangelical theology. But if we can get to a point where we can account for sin without pointing to a biological reason behind it, than it becomes less important.

  • AHH

    I think it is fair to say that most Evangelicals in the pews have NOT thought this through.
    In the scholarly and pastoral world there has been some thinking, but when suggesting that Gen. 2/3 be read as a figurative account in Ancient Near East genre (as many Evangelicals are willing to accept about Genesis 1), the dominant objection seems to be “we’ve always [at least since Augustine] told the story that way”. Which does not strike me as “thinking it through”.

    I’m not quite as negative as Enns is on these welded-together approaches that preserve a literal first pair and literal Fall while recognizing what is now known about humans’ physical origins. While I think they are unnecessary, they are not an unreasonable place to land.

    But a big barrier to “thinking through” these issues is that some see their whole theological system as gravely threatened if there is no first pair (and/or no literal Fall), so even bringing up the issue is a “third rail”. If people can’t bring up the questions without fear of losing their jobs, we do have a problem that keeps us from thinking it through.

    I also think the comments Enns directs at “Evangelical” theology mainly apply to the conservative end of that spectrum, such as those who would make “inerrancy” a litmus test for being Evangelical. Many of us who consider ourselves Evangelicals have no problem with the things Enns suggests. Of course nobody gets to officially decide who is an Evangelical; whether it would be the narrow set that, say, Al Mohler might want or a bigger tent that would include people like me and Scot.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Where Cain got his wife” and “Why was Cain afraid of people killing him?” have always been an awkward questions.”

    That’s because Adam and Even (and Cain and Abel) are COMPLETELY AHISTORICAL!!! How people can read Genesis and honestly think this is some retelling of actual events alludes my mind . . .

  • Rick

    Maybe because it appears to possibly be told as historical, there are genealogies traced to the individuals, they are mentioned in the NT, etc…
    Not saying you are wrong, but there are actual reasons people see them as historical.

  • Rick

    “I’m not quite as negative as Enns is on these welded-together approaches that preserve a literal first pair and literal Fall while recognizing what is now known about humans’ physical origins. While I think they are unnecessary, they are not an unreasonable place to land.”
    Since NT Wright, F Collins, etc… hold to such a view, I think Enns may want to cut such views some slack.

  • NateW

    To me, it simply doesn’t matter whether Adam and Eve actually existed whether as the two original humans, the chosen hominid representatives, or the entire gene pool. To be frank, I don’t care whether they have ever existed in any capacity other than in the collective imagination of ancient people group and I can’t see (any more) what theological difference it makes. Whether they existed or not, the truth that the ancients saw in the story, that which inspired them to pass it from generation to generation, is clear as day in every moment of life. Adam stands as a representative of man because he is every man (and woman). The great irony of the whole debate over the historicity of Adam is that it is a perfect playing out of that which the story is meant to show us and warn us against—the idea that nearness to god can be achieved by attainment of knowledge, that by ascertaining in our own minds what is “good and evil” the felt distance between each soul and God can be gapped. It doesn’t matter if Adam existed 10,000 or so years ago, because its obvious that he still exists today!

  • Dan Kimball

    I have heard very intelligent scholars who by no means are fundamentalists propose the very views Peter is somewhat mocking. They have carefully thought through what they were sharing. I would disagree with his argument of using the way Genesis or Paul didn’t say something, so therefore they are not valid views. We don’t see explicit and explained verses which states The Trinity as we understand it in the Bible, but we piece together indications of God’s tri-unity from the whole of the Bible and conclude it’s reality. I have read almost all of Peter’s books on this topic and do appreciate his thinking. But I do think amongst evangelicals, this isn’t the time to make generalizations about those holding different viewpoints than Peter to then be having less intelligent ones or assuming they have not thought through issues. At least with the scholars I have listened to and read, they certainly have.

    I love debates and believe we need to always be sharing differences of opinions. One day we will know the answers to things like this and hopefully not be ashamed at how we discussed differences while in this life with on another. Let’s honor other people’s differences within evangelicalism on issues like this as these are days we need to unite and support each other all the more.

  • Susan_G1

    wyclif, would you be kind enough to tell us what conclusion you have reached about the text after thinking it through? I have read Peter Enns’ posts, and I come from a conservative background. I would appreciate your insights, as I do believe, from my experience, that most of my Evangelical friends have not thought this through rationally, but have compartmentalized their faith and their science. I know that I can’t breech the gap with them.
    What have you decided?

  • Phil Miller

    Actually, I don’t think Wright or Collins hold to a historic Adam, at least not in the sense that Enns is talking about here.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/historicaladam.html

    In a recent pro-evolution book from InterVarsity Press, The Language of Science and Faith, Collins and co-author Karl W. Giberson escalate matters, announcing that “unfortunately” the concepts of Adam and Eve as the literal first couple and the ancestors of all humans simply “do not fit the evidence.”

  • Joel

    I’m not saying that Genesis is literal history.

  • Rick

    Perhaps not exactly as Enns may be describing, but I recently heard an interview with Wright where he talks about his view, and he mentions Collins.

  • Guest

    I agree with Dan here. Pete seems to be mocking views that he doesn’t accept instead of seeking to dialogue with them charitably. To be fair, Pete has suffered a lot of pain from the constant criticism he has received from evangelicals and its clearly taken its toll. I think he wants to have a dialogue with other evangelical scholars, but his (apparent) bitterness is making it hard to even get off the ground.

  • AHH

    This description of the view of Collins and Giberson could still fit scenario #2 in the post, where “Adam and Eve” are a figurative representation of a real “Fall” by an early population of humans. I don’t know if Francis Collins holds view #2 — I’m pretty sure Giberson doesn’t.
    It could also be a source of confusion if “Collins” is mentioned in such a discussion that conservative OT scholar C. John Collins advocates this view #2 and has written a whole book on the topic.

    While I lean toward the view of Enns, I respect this scenario #2 and see it as the best place to land for those who decide (one hopes after “thinking it through”) that theology demands a “Fall” as a singular event.

  • gingoro

    Phil What do you mean by sin is passed on? Do you mean guilt for Adam’s sin? If one accepts an evolutionary origin to mankind as I do then it seems to me that the tendency to act in bad ways is definitely passed on. As I see it sin only occurs once mankind knows God’s law and then decides to break that law.
    DaveW

  • Andrew Dowling

    Joel: Thus the drawbacks of the ‘reply’ function in Discus. My comment was spurred by ideas created by your post, but it wasn’t meant as a direct assertion or comment on your own beliefs.

    Rick: I understand “why” people see them as historical . . I just don’t see those reasons as legitimate. The genealogies in Luke and Matthew are not historical either; they were created as a means to show Jesus as fulfilling Scripture (son of David, born in Bethlehem). It’s this literal reading of the text that creates problems . . .

  • Guest

    I love what Enns is trying to do. I think he has become a leading apologist for making sense of Scripture in light of the evolutionary story. At the same time, I feel his tone and seemingly ridicule against those who do not hold to his view is unjustified. There are many questions that he doesn’t adequately address in his writing (that I’m aware of) that I think would move the discussion forward. Here are a few of my concerns that I’m still working through:

    1. Why should we think that the biblical definition of “human” must equate to the biological category homo sapien? If anything, the biblical category is much broader including a relationship with God. Thus, for Adam & Eve to be the first “humans” has little to do with whether or not they were in the group of early homo sapiens.

    2. Why should we think that the proper evangelical interpretation, i.e. finding the divinely inspired meaning of the written text, has anything to do with the worldview or perspective of the original author? If we confess that the divine author used author(s), editor(s), etc. to produce the text, and that the text and not the author or the events behind the text are inspired, why do we limit his intentions to a speculated authorial intent? For instance, Enns has recently suggested Karel van der Toorn’s book Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. One of the main claims of the book from the start is that thinking of books and authors in relation to the Hebrew Bible is anachronistic. Thus, finding the sitz im leben of the author is a fools errand. We can only find the meaning in the way that the words have been received by the church who confesses them as divine. Many evangelical OT scholars dealing with these issues will jump all over some of Augustine’s interpretations concerning Genesis, but are wary of the methods he uses to get there. I’m not sure we should be and would like to hear why we need to be.

    3. Why should we assume that “the land” in Genesis 1-3 that is being shaped for people to rule over it is equivalent with the earth? If they are not the same, then God created one couple for a specific purpose in a specific place would have little influence on the greater biological story going on elsewhere. There are plenty of rabbinic (and even modern) interpretations that see these references as specific to the Promised Land and using the Garden to foreshadow the tabernacle/temple, and thus I think its something worth considering.

    So, so much more to be said, but we need to have charity and grace in how we say it and how we interact with one another. Scot, I’m sorry this comment was so long but this topic needs much more space, and would be better over coffee anyway!

  • Phil Miller

    It all comes down to our view of original sin. According to Augustine, all of humanity was present in some sense when Adam sinned, therefore we are all guilty of his sin. Because of that, we’re all born sinners, as it were. The Reformers were highly influenced by this view, and a view of total depravity that comes from this is prominent in Evangelicalism. Sin is almost like a gene that gets passed along within the human gene pool. We all bear the guilt of Adam’s sin, essentially, is what this view says.

    The view that was prominent before Augustine and still is believed in the Eastern Church is that we all are living with the consequence of Adam’s sin but not the guilt. The guilt we bear is because of our own sin. The way I see it, it seems much easier to incorporate evolution into this sort of view compared to the other.

  • Susan_G1

    I think your view of Enns is limited. Is he bitter? Possibly; few of us wouldn’t be after all he’s been through, including being asked to resign a position because of his well thought out beliefs. However, I find his commentary refreshing, and he has led me to a more mature and loving understanding of Scripture. I find his snarky titles amusing. His books are not condescending or hostile in the least; indeed there is a godly and humble thinker at the helm. He has provided real support for other thinkers outside the realm of conservative evangelicalism. Finally, he has a lot of productive dialogs with other evangelical scholars, unless you include Ken Ham in that category. I think he’s fairly hilarious when it comes to Ken Ham, and I do mean “fairly”.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Good points Nate. Fussing over the nature of the Adam and Eve of history can be displacement activity that prevents us from letting the Spirit show us the neediness of the Adam or Eve in the mirror.

  • copyrightman

    I appreciate Dan’s comments here. I agree with Pete on many things but not entirely on this. There are many other possible nuances than the two or three mentioned here. And it isn’t really an “inerrancy” or even an “evangelical” issue, I think. It’s a bigger theological issue that implies broad philosophical questions about what it means to be “human” – which IMHO transcends population genetics. Read Josef Ratzinger’s lectures on creation for example and you’ll see a “relational” approach that is much more subtle and (again IMHO) helpful. It isn’t “ad hoc” to think not only “Biblically” but also “theologically” and “philosophically”.

  • RJS4DQ

    I think both Francis Collins and NT Wright do lean toward a view something like #2 – but can’t speak with certainty. As far as I know Wright doesn’t quite agree with the way Pete reads the NT evidence in Paul’s theology. (The genealogy in Luke isn’t really a sticking point.) CS Lewis presents a scenario 2 type view as well. I am fairly certain he thought it through, whether he’s right or not is a different question.

    I think we have to be able to have a conversation where these views are on the table. I appreciate Pete’s presentations of his view, but it does little good to ridicule the others. Rather the arguments have to be made rationally.

    I really liked the OT part of “The Evolution of Adam.” I learned a lot from this. But I wasn’t as convinced (yet) by Pete’s work on the NT.

  • Westcoastlife

    I doubt he is bitter. It is likely he is coming up against walls as he tries to dialogue with certain evangelicals. I think evangelicals have to own up to the fact that the Bible is being read and interpreted through 20th C. (possible 19th C.) western filters. Literalism wasn’t even used to describe the garden of Eden before the 18th C. The early church fathers pointed to the talking serpent as proof that it was myth. Evangelicalism makes a claim the bible is literal. Most Christian streams state the Bible is true. True can be decoupled from literal. The best analogy I have heard was a little girl (about 5) who asked her mother what love is. Now, is love even real? Are you sure? Or is it a construct? How do you explain love? So, her mother told her a beautiful story. The story demonstrated love, but it wasn’t a literal story. In a similar way, Gen. 1 – 11 demonstrates something to us. It being literal detracts from the main point. What if the litter girl began asking her mom who the characters in the story were, where they lived, how did her mom know them? Could her mom finish the story? Would she be able to get the main point.

    Even if you try and make Adam and Eve a later homo sapien sapien couple who had developed agriculture, calling them the first humans would mean any pre-agrarian culture is somehow pre-human (a great colonial view, but completely unethical). But, the bigger problem is, you have lost the point of the Adam and Eve story. Stopping God and bugging him for details. The Adam and Eve story is Israel’s story. This is a story of who they are as people. In the Adam and Eve story, the Jews are a people loved by God who reject Him. Israel is the Adam and Eve story writ large. Chosen to be placed in the temple of God/Eden, they rejected him for the earthly idols/forbidden fruit due to their rejection, they were removed from his presence (Babylon/East of Eden).

    It opens the story of the OT because it is a foretaste of what is to come. The linages point to “who they are, from the get-go” Walton takes those linages seriously, I don’t – consider that the Mesopotamians have similar linages from Gilgamesh to their current (when written) kings and Gilgamesh’s mom is a half-cow.

    For the Old Mesopotamian tales have: men made from clay (mortal) or blood (eternal), separate creation accounts for men and women, a goddess being formed from a god’s rib – because Nin – Ti is a homonym meaning of ‘Lady’ and ‘Rib’ in Mesopotamian, not Hebrew. Therefor a lady from a rib, basically sounds like a “rib” from a “rib” or a “lady from a lady” to the Mesopotamians, not to the Hebrews. The tree of life was a goddess in the the ANE. The four rivers having their headwaters in Eden ties in with an ancient myth about an island called Dilune (ANE’s Atlantis) out in the Persian gulf where the true “spiritual” source of the rivers flowed in underground caverns under the ocean on up to water the Tigris and Euphrates. Noah wasn’t called Noah until the Hikkadian empire, before that Noah was called Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh survived a world wide flood in a boat with eight people. And on and on. Did the Babylonians teaching these “histories” to the captive young men in the the King’s courts believe this was literal? No. Did literalism matter? No. Symbolism did. In the ANE, and much of the East today, hiding important meanings in symbolism is considered a sign of wisdom. Could the Jews have written/said “Babylon or Persia is a serpent that God will curse for enticing his chosen Israelites”? No. But writing/telling the Jews “God cursed the serpent for deceiving Eve” is a pretty good cover when writing/speaking encouragement to your fellow captives.

  • Susan_G1

    “I would disagree with his argument of using the way Genesis or Paul
    didn’t say something, so therefore they are not valid views.”

    Could you expand on this confusing sentence? Because that is not how I understand his views.

    “Let’s honor other people’s differences within evangelicalism on issues
    like this as these are days we need to unite and support each other all
    the more.”

    I like the sentiment here. However, the way people interpret Scripture is foundational (duh). I wish we were all more Christ-like, myself included. My real objection with regard to Scripture interpretation and being supportive is when the interpretation is used wrongly and inflicts harm on others. Please allow me to go off topic. Look at the culture of abuse and the conspiracy of silence surrounding CJ Maheny and Sovereign Grace Ministries. This affects no small number of people; in fact, it affects us all. Said Barr, “It is probable that the needs of leadership support the continuance of a fully conservative or fundamentalist position.” This, to me, is obvious and inexcusable.

    So, let us debate the interpretation of Scripture as a pursuit of God. And let us be vocal defenders of victims of misinterpretation instead of nice people. Lewis chose “nice” to represent evil (National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) for a good reason.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “It being literal detracts from the main point.”

    I couldn’t agree more. When people try all of these alternate routes to justify making Adam and Eve literal people at some point in time . . . that’s not the point of the text. The text doesn’t demand you see actual people in time; it asks the reader to consider the larger themes and implications.

  • Douglas Pierce

    Evangelicals in the pews have been inflenced heavily by fundamentalist interpretation and fundamentalist views of inerrancy which make it often hard to have an open discussion in many evangelical churches.

  • Rick

    Here is the interview with N.T. Wright. The page breaks down where you can find certain topics discussed, including Adam.

    http://prodigalthought.net/2013/05/31/andrew-wilson-interview-with-tom-wright/

  • Guest

    Wright holds that God chose a pair from the existing hominid population and made them “human” by coming into relationship with them, creating a Garden for them and beginning the narrative of spiritual life/death that started in the garden. He equates it to Abram being chosen from among the existing fallen human population as the father of blessing.

    I’m not sure what Collins holds though.

    This is probably where I fall as well, and think it fits well with my understanding (and certain historical understandings) of Genesis 1-3. I’ve read Enns work and although I see the apologetic value in his “Adam as Israel” approach, I’m not convinced by it.

    That’s why his tone doesn’t help the dialogue. When you’re outside of the majority, you won’t convince them by minimizing their views and writing in such a way that seems condescending. As it currently stands, he’s outside of the evangelical majority in regards to science (which we’re all working to change). His interpretation of the Adam narrative is also outside of the majority of both evangelical scholars and rest of the field of Hebrew Bible studies (regardless of where you fall on the spectrum). Thus, if you’re in a doubly minority position a negative tone doesn’t evidence a willingness to dialogue.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the comment westcoastlife,

    I’ve actually read most of those tales. I’ve tried to read some of them in the originals and struggled. It’s not easy! One of the first things I noticed when reading them for myself (probably about a decade ago) were the vast differences with the biblical account. Having been trained originally in a mainline college, I expected the similarities to overwhelm me. What I found was that the worldview was radically different. The stories were radically different as well.

    There was a time in scholarship when everything was made to “fit in place.” For conservatives, this meant that every piece of archaeological data from the Levant was made to fit into the Bible. Thus, the Biblical Archaeology movement. For non-conservatives, this meant that every piece of literary data was made to fit into this grand historical evolution of literature. Thus, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Atrahasis epic became the Akkadian Noah story. The portions of Gilgamesh that had similarities to these two texts became the Babylonian Noah epic. Everything was made to “fit in place.” The countless differences were ignored. I’m not interested in that project, because I think the differences are key.

    My point is that it’s not that simple for me. It doesn’t all fit as well as Enns implies in his work and that’s why so many scholars disagree. Whereas your narrative for making sense of all the data may be right, I don’t find it convincing yet.

  • JoeyS

    “I would disagree with his argument of using the way Genesis or Paul didn’t say something, so therefore they are not valid views.”

    He seems to be suggesting, rather, that people who work so hard to defend their understanding of innerancy are not staying true to their own method. They are creating a version of history that is not biblically supported, let alone even comprehensible to biblical authors, to defend their understanding of Genesis. By doing this they are betraying their premise.

  • Phil Miller

    Wright holds that God chose a pair from the existing hominid population and made them “human” by coming into relationship with them, creating a Garden for them and beginning the narrative of spiritual life/death that started in the garden.

    I’ve got to say that I’ve read nearly all of Wright’s books, and I’ve seen him interviewed on the issue, and I’ve never seen him say anything that made be believe that he actually took a hard position like this on the issue. The closest I’ve seen is in this video where he says:

    “We need to lighten up about these words and maybe find some other words because I do think it matters that something like a primal pair getting it wrong did happen. But that doesn’t mean that I’m saying that Genesis is kind of positivist, literal, clunky [sounds like] history over against myth.He may very well believe that’s how it worked, but I’ve just not seen any clear evidence that’s what he believes.”

    http://biologos.org/resources/multimedia/nt-wright-on-adam-and-eve

    I guess you could take him saying “something like a primal pair” to put him in the #2 camp, but I don’t know how strong he would be in it.

  • Rick

    Phil-
    “I’ve got to say that I’ve read nearly all of Wright’s books, and I’ve seen him interviewed on the issue”
    Go to the link it listed above and you can hear him interviewed and asked about this question.

  • Rick

    Oops-

    Meant to say: go to the link I listed above….

    But here it is again

    http://prodigalthought.net/2013/05/31/andrew-wilson-interview-with-tom-wright/

  • Phil Miller

    Thanks!

    I’ll check it out sometime later today.

  • Westcoastlife

    Sorry, didn’t mean to try and convince you that the Bible was written before, in another culture, and I am certainly not saying you will find the Adam/Eve story in the Mesopotamian stories, just the key symbols – Tree of life, Rivers flowing from a mythical source, that sort of stuff – it is the symbolism, not the complete story that I was referring to. Yes, Genesis is a unique story with Ancient world motifs, and ancient world ways of viewing the story.

    I’m not American, so ‘conservative’ is just a political term to me, I don’t think international archeologists view themselves as taking a political side when they present their data. That is quite unfair. The data is the data. There was a goddess called the Tree of Life in Mesopotamia long before Israel existed. That isn’t a force fit, just an observation. All ancient gods had the Tree of Life in their Gardens, close to their thrones, Baal did, as did many of the Babylonian gods. Again, not a force fit just a fact. Those items in those gardens of the gods symbolized things to the ancients.

    It is by recognizing those motifs symbolized things to the ancients that we can begin to read Genesis as the original audience did. It wasn’t written to us, but them. They preserved it, because what they read in there they recognized as very valuable to their faith. They took care to pass those stories on, for us to have. The Bible is a collection of “when God spoke” throughout the Israeli history. But, Genesis was given to them, not us, so they get to hear it their way. We get to study and learn, so we can hear what they heard.

    If God had wanted us to read it our way, he would have given it to them in English, and then given them an interpretation. The very fact that God never gives a text to people other than in their own language means he meets people where they are at, in their time and place and doesn’t make it universal. He doesn’t edit it for future generations. There are words in the OT that we only have a guess about, since the original meaning has been completely lost. So, no I don’t buy the “this was given directly by God so we can bypass all history, linguistic and cultural considerations.” We see in a mirror only dimly, and learning the ancient symbols is a way of translating it. Dropping those symbols is like dropping letters out of the text, it either makes the text unclear or completely alters the true meaning.


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