Reading Genesis: Let’s be Adult about this, Shall We.

Over a hundred years ago, German-and-therefore-easily-dismissible-Old-Testament-scholar Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), the dapper gentleman pictured to the left, wrote the following about Genesis:

A child, indeed, unable to distinguish between reality and poetry, loses something when it is told that its dearest stories are “not true.” But the modern theologian should be further developed. The evangelical churches and their chosen representatives would do well not to dispute the fact that Genesis contains legends–as has been done too frequently–but to recognize that the knowledge of this fact is the indispensable condition to an historical understanding of Genesis. This knowledge is already too widely diffused among those trained in historical study ever again to be suppressed. It will surely spread among the masses of our people, for the process is irresistible. Shall not we Evangelicals take care that it be presented to them in the right spirit? The Legends Of Genesis, pp. 11-12.

I was kidding about all that dismissible business above. Gunkel was one of these biblical scholars that don’t come along any more. He profoundly changed how people thought about two huge areas of the Old Testament: Psalmsand Genesis.

To make a long story short, before Gunkel, Old Testament scholars on Genesis focused largely on what we might call an internal analysis of the Hebrew text–things like the literary style, usage of certain words and phrases, and what all of this tells us about when Genesis (and the other books of the Pentateuch, Torah) were written–which is what we in the field call source criticism (we like our code words).

Gunkel came along a little bit later, after archaeologists brought to light mythic stories from some other of Israel’s ancient neighbors, the Mesopotamians, that were clearly very similar to Genesis 1-11, especially the creation story and Noah’s flood.

Gunkel called these stories “legends” and, along with pretty much every Old Testament scholar since, said, “Yeah, these stories and the Bible are similar enough to say they are connected somehow. We need to think about how this information helps us understand what Genesis means and what we can expect from it.”

In the quote above, Gunkel makes 3 basic points:

1. The cat’s out of the bag: Genesis contains “legends,”

2. Children may be thrown by this, but adults shouldn’t be,

and,

3. Rather than denying what is so widely known, evangelical leaders have a sacred obligation to help their people process this information rather than letting others do that who might put their faith at risk.

Evangelicalism in America (which is not the same thing as evangelicals in turn of the century Germany) has essentially rejected Gunkel’s advice.

The results have not been pretty. Because of a failure in leadership to help their people process the kinds of data Gunkel is talking about, a lot of Christians over the last century or so have struggled in needless and unhealthy ways with their faith.

Too often the issue is posed as “Genesis contains legends” OR “be faithful to the Bible.” When presented such a choice, you are asking of people to make a choice between remaining a childish reader of Genesis in order to stay Christian, or to become an adult reader and an unbeliever. 

The church, Christians colleges, and seminaries would be the best place to have a faith crisis, provided their leaders embrace the call to help their people through it rather than hiding the crisis out of fear, under a cloak of piety.

But, instead of helping people process the information, the evangelical tradition has a strong track record of minimizing the deep impact of historical study on how Scripture is understood, or providing answers that strain and groan to maintain the old ways despite the evidence–in other words, of working hard to legitimize a childish reading of Genesis.

I really, really, really wish that hadn’t happened. I really do.

I would like to see evangelical leaders do a better of job of training adult readers of the Bible. But, I also know that is asking a lot. Structures are in place, with deep cement footers and reinforced steel, that prevent this sort of rethinking.

  • http://www.thebarainitiative.com Randy

    I think the term “childish” might be a little bit of a euphemism here Dr. Enns. As one who was for some time a YEC, I can tell you that many who embrace such positions and other literal readings of Genesis often do so without having a mental framework where something like TE could make sense. I look back now, as a Biblical Studies graduate, and think “How could I not see that?” but it seems like most things my mental framework needed to grow and “evolve” itself. I think “childish” was the wrong word to describe it–perhaps undeveloped or underdeveloped, but “childish” has connotations of selfishness and natural immaturity. When my kids are “childish”, generally they’re choosing to do so even though they know better. Much of this framework was substantiated by trusting relationships both with the Church and the YEC/OEC scientists, whom I trusted and ways in which I was told, by the majority, the rules of reading a text. I had never heard of Enuma Elish nor done ANE comparisons, so what I had to go on was what those “scientists” and “pastors” told me (my guess is, most pastors have not done Genesis background reading either).

    My point is that “childish” carries with it the idea that you know better when, while some do, most in the Church that read literally do so because they simply don’t know any better or have never been told that evolution does not mean God is dead (I know, I just spoke to a group of high school youth who had know idea that TE was even an option on the table). It’s the difference between choosing to be immature and simply being underdeveloped.

    • peteenns

      Fair point. I don’t mean “childish” is a pejorative way toward those individuals. If there is any rancor, it is toward those who kept them that way. Thanks for the helpful comment.

  • Biju

    Is that the reason for Jesus call to be like children? May be adult reading reads something that is not really there. Good luck with your adult reading!

    • peteenns

      Jesus’ call is to be childlike, not childISH. I think 1 Cor 13:11 is very appropriate here. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

  • Truth

    As I’m reading your article as it relates to evangelical interpretations of Genesis, I’m also made keenly aware of Mormonism and it’s attractive attributes by the ad at the top of your page. You’re letting ad space for a competing religion? Capitalism and Jesus, my two favorite subjects!

    • peteenns

      I don’t make ad decisions.

    • Chad Woodburn

      While it is true that one might not have any authority over WHICH ads appear on one’s blogs, it is also true that one does have authority as to WHETHER there are ads. For my own blog, I use WordPress and intentionally host it independently of any ads because I don’t want those kinds of ads. Also, for my YouTube account I intentionally do not participate in their ad program through which I could get money through it. It isn’t the money or capitalism that I object to, it is the use of ministry as a commercial enterprise that upsets me.

      • peteenns

        No, not with Patheos.I get no money from the ads.

        • Mark Erickson

          Are you saying Patheos doesnt pay you to blog here? Because if you are being paid, the money comes from ad revenue.

          • peteenns

            Mark, where did I say or imply Pathoes doesn’t pay me? I said that I have no control over what ads pop up (and of course this generates revenue!). Maybe you wold do better to take a step back and not focus on ads. There are all sorts of ads that pop up on all of the pages. For those ads you don’t like or get upset about, just don’t read them or do the equivalent of muting the sound or changing the channel. My guess, though, is that you are really more upset about the content of my post than the ad. Feel free to leave comments about the content of the post. If you want to focus on the ad policy of Patheos, you can contact Patheos directly.

  • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

    Agreed, but one of the reasons for those “structures” is precisely to guard the faith of our children. I was extremely unsettled to see for myself how very shocked (I’d even say traumatized) my young children were when I first suggested that a passage of Scripture wasn’t historical. The first question my children ask when they hear something amazing is, “Did that really happen?” Children are gullible and will believe beautiful lies, but this is because it’s easier to get them to trust in things that have not been proved, not because it’s easier to get them to trust in things that they know to be false. So how can we expect them to shake off that mentality so easily when they get older? Separating factuality from falsehood is foundational in our thinking as humans, so I don’t really buy it when someone tries to tell me that the ancients didn’t really care as much as we do whether or not their mythologies and legends “really happened”: even if historicity wasn’t such a focus, I think they assumed their cultural stories did happen in some sense or another and would have abandoned them if they thought they hadn’t.

    Maybe I’m wrong. But at any rate, we’ve got to find better ways of talking about these things, ways that explain things to children better, because everyone still has that simple, logical child in their head saying, “But if it didn’t happen, it’s a lie!” I suspect the answer lies in the realm of cultivating their ability to embrace uncertainty and live in hope, but that’s certainly a long-game sort of affair.

    • peteenns

      Hitting the nail on the head, Steve. Thanks.

    • Ron

      “If it didn’t happen, it’s a lie” is not a child’s instinctive reaction to a myth or legend. There’s more to it than that. Otherwise, we would have been forced to give up on Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy long ago. There is something about how it is presented that makes a difference. Maybe that was your point.

  • The Misfit Toy

    I think this way of reading Genesis is sort of locked up behind the walls of the seminaries. It is common, and there is a lot of writing about it, but there isn’t a lot of preaching about it. I’m wondering what the dynamics behind that are.

    • peteenns

      fear

  • NW

    It’s not that simple.

    The more conservative branches of Protestantism have been very reluctant to acknowledge the existence of legends, myths, etc. in the Bible because to do so would mean that the credibility of their teaching on matters vital to Christian faith can no longer simply be based on their understanding of an inerrant Bible alone. These people need a whole other paradigm for understanding how to derive Christian doctrine form a Bible that contains legends, myths, etc. before they could ever be willing to give up the old paradigm of teaching from an inerrant Bible that doesn’t contain these things. And this is something that I think the likes of Gunkel have yet to provide, which is why so many people have not heeded his advice and instead worked hard to shore up “a childish reading of Genesis.”

    The way to break the conservative addiction to pretending the Bible doesn’t contain legends, myths, etc. is to show them how to continue to do all the good things they’re doing now with a Bible that contains legends, myths, etc.

    • Barbara Prince

      I think gentlemen that I would rather be “childish”, if that is the term you prefer, and sit in the Kingdom of God, then be an “adult” and rot in hell. How horrible for you to put a stumbling block before children for who the Lord Jesus Christ died, or do you consider that another fable?

      • peteenns

        Barbara, are you suggesting that a wrong reading of Genesis makes one bound for hell? That seems to be what you are saying. I’m not sure this discussion is worthy of that type of rhetoric–unless you require people to agree with you about the Bible to enter heaven. I hope that is not the case. Perhaps we can dial this down a notch?

    • JimM

      “These people need a whole other paradigm for understanding how to derive Christian doctrine form a Bible that contains legends, myths, etc. before they could ever be willing to give up the old paradigm of teaching from an inerrant Bible that doesn’t contain these things.”

      I see. Here is your problem. You don’t think that the Bible is God’s Word, but that it contains God’s Word in there somewhere and we need to put our human thinking caps on and try and figure out what is true and what is legend as we read it. In other words, you exalt yourself as the Judge of Scripture giving yourself the authority to say what is and is not true/legend/myth, etc.

      Guys, this view of the Bible will only lead to trouble down the road. A Bible that has myths and legends in it is worthless in my opinion. I find it quite interesting that the early Church and most of all Christians and even Jews throughout history took Genesis as literal history, including Jesus and other biblical authors. A literal reading of the passage was the normal understanding of it until evolution came along. If it was intended to be understood as myth or legend, I would think God would have made that very clear such as Jesus does when He speaks in parables. It is written as literal history and understood as literal history all throughout history. I find it difficult to understand then why it is childish to understand it as literal history. This is demeaning to those who hold a high view of the Bible.

    • Matt

      I was just reading numbers this morning and there was a detailed description of what manna was like and how it was prepared for eating, not to mention that the Israelites missed their meat and veggies from Egypt.

      It is simply not the authors intent to present that as a mythical understanding of how God takes care of us. It is presented as historical fact. I know that more liberal types hate to hear conservatives say “if you believe this, then where do you stop???” but honestly the whole Bible record depends on faith in amazing miracles of God.

      However, as a conservative pastor, Genesis’ creation story does not strictly have to be interpreted as 7 days, if that is the implied “childish” thing here. There are various viewpoints on this amongst my congregation and I don’t pretend to be an expert on the proof for evolution. I can say that by the language it is possible as John Walton suggests that we are completely missing the point, which is the function of what God made not the HOW and how long.

      To be honest, the subject is at this time not important enough for me to dedicate time researching. I have no problem with a 7 day creation and I lean that way, because much of the argumentation I hear from Christians seems to me to carry overtones of disbelief in supernatural actions. We all must agree on this: Heb 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. ”

      Having said that, would a TE person recommend me the best book on the subject, especially about WHY evolution is so compelling? I have never understood why we humans think we know what happened millions of years ago without witnesses and it strikes me as lacking the proper humility as to our limitations. I don’t feel like reading an athiest mans book unless it is the best one out there(Dawkins)

  • Doug

    Dr. Enns,

    The words “legend” or “mythology” are difficult (for me) to get a grasp on, unless the terms are precisely defined in their relationship to history. I struggle with what to do with them, because they are so often undefined and I don’t know what people actually mean by them (though it is tempting to guess that I think I know what they mean). For example, “legend” is defined as “A nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” But there seems to be ambiguity in this definition. Does this mean it is utter fiction, pure fantasy, the world of magic and make-believe, which is how “nonhistorical” can certainly be taken? Or does it mean it could have been historical, but we will never fully know because it is “unverifiable?” Those are not identical terms by any stretch of the imagination.

    An example of how this might work out. There are legends of Paul Bunyan and Babe the giant ox and then there are legends of Buffalo Bill Cody. Bill was certainly real, Bunyan probably wasn’t but was perhaps based on someone who was, Babe certainly wasn’t. A specific legend might be that Annie Oakley could shoot a silver dollar in the air. She actually could(!), yet it is legendary. So while legends and legendary figures may be utterly nonhistorical, others may in fact be quite historical. Mythology seems very similar to me. Even though I think most people use the term to refer to that which certainly didn’t happen historically, I’m not convinced that myth has to be like this (I’ve commented on that before).

    It seems to me, then, that both legends and myths are genres, forms of telling stories, which may or may not be true. The genre itself cannot tell us and we have to take the genre for what it is without thinking that it holds the clue on historical veracity. As someone who does believe in the historicity of the Adamic/Flood/Nephilim/Babel narrative(s) for other reasons, I’m at the same time not uncomfortable calling any of that legendary or mythological, because I’m not convinced that those words have to mean non-historical. However, again, it does seem to me that most people today use those terms as meaning non-historical–it didn’t really happen. I would say it didn’t have to happen in the way we might expect it to have happened if the genre was a PBS documentary on Lewis and Clark (and part of the problem is that people *think* Genesis is a PBS documentary), but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have to happen at all.

    Thus, with the ambiguity in the terms legend and myth, isn’t there another option here, which is that the narratives (and not only the biblical narratives, but also the ancient narratives of the ANE and beyond) are legendary, mythological, AND ALSO (at least could be) rooted in some sort of historical events that really happened? I asked you a similar question a while back and you seemed to answer in the affirmative, though it also seemed like you didn’t really want to go there. If so, isn’t this a direction worth pursuing? Or is the choice really, at the end of the day between legendary make-believe (with some or many other purposes other than historicity) vs. PBSesqe blow-by-literal-blow of everything that “literally” happened documentary?

    Thanks for your time,

    Doug

    • D. D. Lowery

      I promise I’m not a troll, Doug (I just enjoy reading the comments on posts like this). I’ve got a book coming out in the spring (http://www.eisenbrauns.com/item/LOWTOWARD) that attempts to tackle questions like the ones you’re asking. I use Cain’s genealogy in Gen 4 as a test-case, but the wider picture is Gen 1–11, trying to tackle this reality that Gunkel (and Pete) describes.

  • Don Johnson

    The very strange thing we find is that we find militant atheists AGREEING WITH some Christians that one needs to make a stark choice between what science says and what the Bible (supposedly clearly and plainly) says, but what is really just one possible way to interpret some ancient texts written long ago in a very different culture. And the result is that many people eiher shipwreck their faith or abandon science, talk about a lose/lose proposition.

  • Chad Woodburn

    I wish the author would write without demeaning those he disagrees with. Would he really be so impolite as to tell those scholars who disagree with them that their reading of Scripture is childish, and that they need to start acting like adults? Well, color me infantile and stupid because I don’t believe there are any myths in Genesis, nor any reasons to need to go in that direction.

    • Gregg

      I’m sorry, but it is childish to view Genesis as literally true. Please understand: “myth” is not a bad word. You are probably thinking of it in the “mythbusters” sense–a false claim to be disproven. But that is not the only definition of myth. All cultures have myths–stories that, while not literally true, impart deeper, “meta”-truths. These myths help define the culture and help people find their place in it, to understand who they are and what their roles and responsibilities are.

      To read Genesis, which actually contains two creation stories that contradict each other, literally is to miss out on nearly all of its meaning. I find it hard to believe even the people who put those two contradictory myths together in the first place took them that literally, or they would have tried harder to blend them together. They were more interested in the meta-truths they judged were present in the stories.

      • Ian Ridgway

        You’re sorry in the case of Chad W on the basis of what?
        The suppositions of 19thc, 20thc liberals about ‘myths’ and ‘legends’ seemed to have escaped the attention of Jesus and the apostles of the New Testament, much less the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. None of these writers INSPIRED so much as hints that Genesis (1-2, or is it all of Genesis?) is fable.
        ‘To read Genesis, which actually contains two creation stories that contradict each other, literally [sic] is to miss out on nearly all of its meaning.’ Are you telling us that the OT people of God and the church for 1800 years missed all this wonderful meaning that has now been found by the scholars of the last 2 centuries? That beggars belief! So Almighty God left the Church wallowing in its ignorance until the theologians of the 19thC came and put us all in the right!! Unbelievable.

      • Rick

        Gregg-

        I probably hold a position towards Genesis that is more like your’s, but your tone and wording in describing those that disagree with you is one way to really shut down conversation and progress. Those people have reasons for the position they hold, some quite logical considering presuppostions they hold about Scripture.

        And the contradiction argument needs to just go away. It does not work on those who hold to a more literal account since those people do not see them as contradictions, rather as differing perspectives and emphasis.

      • Michael

        Regarding your comment about two creation stories: its parallelism, a literary technique practiced widely in Hebrew literature especially in poetic words (Psalms etc). In the Bible you will often see lines of poetry or stories etc retold slightly differently to accentuate different aspects. That’s what’s happening in Genesis 1 & 2.

      • JimM

        “I’m sorry, but it is childish to view Genesis as literally true. “

        No need to apologize for your personal opinion. The majority of Christians throughout history and even of those alive today do NOT believe it is myth. They may not all believe in a young earth, but most Christians would think it is dangerous to lower our view of the Bible from the view Jesus taught “Thy Word is truth.” to your idea that it contains both truth and myth. So we have different opinions, but you need not apologize for that.

        ““Please understand: “myth” is not a bad word. You are probably thinking of it in the “mythbusters” sense–a false claim to be disproven. But that is not the only definition of myth. All cultures have myths–stories that, while not literally true, impart deeper, “meta”-truths. These myths help define the culture and help people find their place in it, to understand who they are and what their roles and responsibilities are.”

        Interesting idea, but how do you know this? You don’t know this. It is just your opinion. Why should others adopt your view of Genesis as a book filled with myths that help define the culture and help people find their place in it?

        “To read Genesis, which actually contains two creation stories that contradict each other, literally is to miss out on nearly all of its meaning.”

        And your evidence for this assertion is what? Why would a literal reading of the text cause us to miss out on nearly all of it’s meaning? Since this is how the Church basically read and understood Genesis all throughout history, you believe that the vast majority of Christians have missed out on nearly all of it’s meaning?

        Interesting. Can you enlighten us to the truths that we have missed all these years please? Better yet, write a book that will help the Church recover this all important knowledge that we have been missing for so long. If you are right, what does this say about the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture?

        If Genesis is a myth but has been misunderstood throughout all of history, it doesn’t say much for God’s ability to communicate truth. All interpretations that claim to be new and reject the majority of the Church Fathers and the history of the Church as extremely suspect in my view.

        “I find it hard to believe even the people who put those two contradictory myths together in the first place took them that literally, or they would have tried harder to blend them together. They were more interested in the meta-truths they judged were present in the stories.”

        Wow, sir! You are just full of amazing insights aren’t you! Meta-truths! Sounds so 21st century like and scholarly! Maybe the resurrection story is also just a meta-truth, eh? How would we know? Both Genesis and the gospels are presented as truth.

        By the way, why do you say “people” who put those two contradictory myths together”? How do you know that more than one person was involved in putting together Genesis 1 & 2? This is just your guess.

        When Jesus’ genealogy is traced back to a mythical person, what does that mean? Where in that line do the people become real as opposed to mythical figures? What clue is there that tells us – “OK, from now on, we’re talking about real people here guys.’? Really! This is a sensational claim you are making!

        The old argument of 2 versions of creation in Genesis 1 & 2 has been answered by creationists. I suggest you research their answers before beating a dead horse.

        • marko

          I think you miss the point here. I see what you are saying and how (if we are not careful) this way of viewing the Bible can be very dangerous. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with using our minds to challenge what we read. Hey God created us with an analytical mind, so let use it to explore what He left behind for us to study. Also I don’t know one person in this world that read the Bible and takes every single part of it literally; and I do belief that reading the Bible literally will make us miss many many truths, if there was one person that read and took the Bible literally they will be without an eye, without an arm, without a hand, etc. No one reads and takes the Bible literally NO ONE DOES! All of us are influence by the things that happen to us and happen around us; and that causes certain passages to speak to us more than others and that is the beauty of it all.

      • Matt

        says Joseph Campbell, not Jesus Christ. wrong JC

  • Chelsie Crook

    You have just described my church experience. In fact, my husband and I left our church over a year ago because there was no room to question and discuss. Although it’s been a rough year of major faith shifts, I am happy to say we are facing those questions and that my faith is much more alive than it was before. I do confess, though, that reading the Bible scares me now. I don’t know how to read it as an adult. In fact, the analogy our seminary friends used in describing our situation was that of still relying on milk instead of enjoying solid food. I think the child/adult image Gunkel used applies perfectly. Thank you for your words.

  • Alex Oh

    Dr. Enns,
    I am a software engineering student with an interest in Christian theology. I was playing a computer game called Prince of Persia (2003 version), which is set around 617 BC in a fictional version of Persia. I read a biT of background on the game and noticed that a later game in the series borrowed heavily from a religion called Zoroastrianism. I read a little bit about the religion and was surprised to see similarities in its eschatology with Revelation. It’s hard not to wonder if Zoroastrianism had on effect on the writer(s) of Revelation. To me it was interesting to see that ancient literature may not not only influence the OT but the NT as well. Are you aware of other ANE literature that may have an influence on NT texts?

    • peteenns

      Alex, some argue for Gnostic influence on the NT, though the extent is debated. Greco-Romanism is also on their radar, for example the possibility of neo-Platonic thought in Hebrews, though this too is debated. As for Revelation, the general genre of “apocalyptic,” which is already evident in the OT as well as later texts, is more likely behind that book that Zoroastrianism specifically.

      • Ras Erasmus

        Hi Peter: It seems to me that you are on a trajectory away from any kind of historical Christian belief system. You seem oblivious to the fact that the same methodologies which you seem to so confidently apply to the Old Testament are regularly applied to the New Testament. No doubt many NT scholars would find your faith in Jesus quite “childish” since for a long time now they have “demythologized” the NT . If you want to preserve some core historicity in the NT (e.g., the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection), then you would be, in the eyes of most modern NT scholars, touchingly naive. Of course, as a scholar you know this and so your public stance can only be disengenuous. You want to have your cake and eat it, too. You are cutting down the very tree on which you are perched and will end in ruin. I expect you will soon recognize the incongruity of your person. Then you will repent. Or you will renounce the faith.

        • peteenns

          Ras, I will try to be less oblivious, naive, and disingenuous in the future.

  • Gregg

    Churches and seminaries would also be a great place to discuss evolution and other scientific discoveries and help believers process this information while maintaining their faith (although I would hope their beliefs would “evolve” somewhat…the concept of a God that needs a blood sacrifice to forgive sin is barbaric no matter how you spin it).

    The scary thing is this “circle the wagons and deny reality” mentality is starting to break out of the religion vs. Biblical scholarship and science arena and make its way forcefully into politics. I think it’s highly likely that Mitt Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s conscious and subconscious efforts to maintain their religious convictions in the face of contradictory evidence has given both of them a mindset that allows them to lie to others (and probably to themselves) on political matters without any apparent shame or even awareness of their own deceit and hypocrisy. And if this is true for them, it’s true for millions of other Americans.

    • Jim M

      “(although I would hope their beliefs would “evolve” somewhat…the concept of a God that needs a blood sacrifice to forgive sin is barbaric no matter how you spin it).”

      Dr. Enns, here is a prime example of what happens when you start to allow humans to reinterpret the Bible. Where the slippery slope will lead, no one knows!

      Here’s a guy who wants to rewrite the whole theological reasoning for a sacrifice for sin!

      Once you open the door to this type of stuff, why stop at Genesis 1-11?

      Gregg wants to redefine the need for salvation

    • Matt

      honestly Gregg, you need to make an old earth friend and actually talk to them. Your concept of these wagon circling, trembling, reality-denying, evidence rejecting Christians proves that you do not actually know one(who actually studies the Bible).

      There are very strong reasons for people to believe this, hence the vast majority of Christians in History have. Also, do you think an extra-terrestrial army is going to interrupt human history by invasion and install a new monarchy, or is that crazy too? Jesus said that He would.

      It is legitimate to attempt with a clear conscience to understand what part of the Word is intended as allegory and what is history, but some of these things are so clearly understood as history by plain reading.

  • J.S. Lima

    Reading myths and legends as myths and legends made much more sense than reading them otherwise. Thanks.

    • Jim M

      Exactly. You read myths and legends as myths and legends and history as history! And how to tell the difference is also quite important.

      And who better to help us determine the verdict on Genesis than Jesus and the inspired NT writers!

  • Forrest Long

    It would seem today in the aftermath of the rise of 19th century fundamentalism in America that a strong literalism became the only way to read the Bible for many Christians. That attitude has not disappeared, in fact I think it has become more prevalent. Growing out of that is a concept of inerrancy which calls for a literal interpretation of Scripture, including all of Genesis. And today we continually hear the issues of debate in the creationist/scientific debate. Sadly all of this detracts from the deeper message of Scripture and the good news of the gospel. in this new century it would be beneficial to Christianity to leave all that in the past and chart a bold new course. Thank you for your bold, perceptive and thoughtful posts- they are encouraging.

  • James

    The problem evangelicals have with myth has a similar ring to the problem they have with abortion. The can preach all they want abortion is wrong, and technology is proving them right, but until society finds ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies due to hard times, easy sex or rape, selfishness, etc. the storm will continue unabated. Until evangelicals find ways to root their faith in something other than a ‘picture perfect’ text–something like faith in the authority of God through the text, a narrative-canonical interpretive approach, a stronger teaching office in the church, Jesus Christ, etc.–the battle for the Bible will continue unabated.

    • Jim M

      “The can preach all they want abortion is wrong, and technology is proving them right, but until society finds ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies due to hard times, easy sex or rape, selfishness, etc. the storm will continue unabated.”

      I see, so by your reasoning, because there is all this sin rampant in society, we should allow more sin to help control the problem? The solution to this problem is making it legal to kill our unborn children, right?

      Good luck with that kind of reasoning!

      Again, this is what happens when we lower our view of the Bible. This site provides excellent examples of what happens when we lower our view of the Bible.

    • Matt

      there is a time-proven way to stop unwanted pregnancies: do not commit adultery. Now that 98% of the unwanted pregnancies are out of the way, we can look at ways that married couples can do so without killing a child.

      BTW the Caananites had a way to get rid of unwanted babies too, very similar to our method. Give it to this guy(priest/doctor), and he’ll throw it in a furnace. problem solved, go and fornicate your little heart out

  • Brian S

    The nice thing about ad hominem attacks on your opponents is that it makes you look superior (adult) without having to deal with any problems in your own position and without having to intelligently deal with your opponents’ arguments. This is both rude and a copout.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I totally agree that this “childish” reading of Genesis has done a great deal of harm. First because of the damage done to people’s faith when they are faced with a reality that conflicts with a literal reading of the creation stories. But probably even worse – a literal reading of the stories has resulted in them not being taken seriously. If the stories are just an account of what happened, then you can read them as “history” and pretty much be done with it. But when you recognize that they aren’t history, but something much more complicated, it requires actually thinking about and interacting with the stories.

    There are puzzles and mysteries that that I don’t think we’ve devoted nearly enough time and thought to. Just a few off the top of my head: what happened to Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit? Why were they shocked to discover that they were naked? What is the fruit? Is it significant that it was the fruit and not the tree itself? What was the significance of God giving them animal skins to wear? Why did God say that they would die if they ate the fruit and why didn’t they appear to die? Why was a tree that presented such danger to young Adam and Eve in the garden to begin with? What was a shady fellow like the serpant doing there? Contra what a lot of people think the garden wasn’t perfect – it was good. Adam and Eve were very good. What’s the difference between good and very good? Why does it mean that God declares the world good?

    I must confess, I’m rather fixated on the creation stories. It seems like there are answers to really deep questions there that we could be thinking about and seeking if we’d stop reading them “childishly” and start taking them seriously.

  • Sam M.

    Mr.Enns,
    I am new to the topic being discussed. Can you point me to any resource that will explain “TE” as someone commented above. Thanks!

    • Laurie

      Sam,
      I don’t think Peter Enns will mind me sharing this on his blog but we have a Facebook group that focuses on TE (Theistic evolution). Our group consists mainly people who have a Christ centered faith, who also accept modern scientific theories and believe God creates through those processes. It’s a wonderful group of very kind, very knowledgeable people in both areas: science and theology. Come check us out!

      http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/celebrate.evolving.creation/

      • Sam M.

        Thanks Laurie!

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com Craig Vick

    I find as I read the comments that not only my reading of Genesis but my social views and politics all need to conform to the wisdom the enlightened. I’m not sure I’m ready for all of that.

  • shamgar 600

    You present a false dichotomy. The choice is not only between reading the Bible as fact (childish) or legend (adult). One cannot deny that earlier cultures like the Sumerians had a flood story and creation account, although the details are so obscenely different as to render any kind of borrowing by the Bible absurd. You fail to mention that many ancient cultures the world over, isolated and independent from each other, have stories of great floods, giants, a garden paradise, and other “legends” found in the Bible. You may find it more reasonable to believe these Mesopotamian stories were somehow assimilated by ancient cultures as far away as China, South America, and Australia, but even a cursory study of the particulars reveals that contact between those cultures had not been established that early. I think a more reasonable explanation for the superficial similarities between these ancient and global legends is that they sprang from the same source. They are the remnants of actual events that evolved over time in the isolated people groups who moved out from Babel to subdue the earth just as the Lord intended. Your hubris at labeling anyone who believes the Bible literally as childish says more about you than it does about them. Jesus said that you must become like a little child to enter the kingdom. Paul says you must become a fool to become wise. Perhaps you can offer me a grown up interpretation of those words that would free me from my childish belief that God’s word actually means what it says.

    • David S.

      Flooding is universal whereever there is water, and science consistently draws histories that put the dawn of mankind several hundred thousand years ago and finds the concept of a global flood to be simply wrong. And at a certain point, when you dismiss the learned who have studied their field and universally came to dismissal of the global flood, I’m forced to wonder why I should accept any explanation from you that’s based on reason; that’s has been ruled out of the argument.

      • Matt

        universally?

    • vsm

      “One cannot deny that earlier cultures like the Sumerians had a flood story and creation account, although the details are so obscenely different as to render any kind of borrowing by the Bible absurd”
      I recommend reading the eleventh tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Its account of the Flood is almost exactly the same as the Bible’s, aside from the amount of gods. A god decides to drown all humans, one virtuous man is chosen to survive, he builds a boat, collects animals, stops next to what used to be a mountain, uses birds to ascertain whether it’s safe to go out… It’s ridiculous to claim the two stories aren’t related.

      • Matt

        if it really happened, then both authors(gilgamesh,Bible) descended from the surviving family. Not a problem that many details are the same, the oral tradition got “evolved” for the lesser god worshipping culture

    • http://www.thechristiannetwork.com jack jones

      Well said shagmar, well said indeed. Maybe we two fools for Christ could become friends and foolishly frollick like little children in the presence of a GOD, who sees us whether 1 or 100 as nothing more than children. Because we are in the big scheme of things. Alas knowledge puffs up.

    • Pam

      Late to the party, but if you’re going to appeal to the flood stories of other cultures, do read them first.
      You mention Australia. The flood myth here is the story the thirsty frog, Tiddalik, who drinks all the water in the country, so all the animals come together to try and make him laugh (people are almost an afterthought in this myth). And it is also a mythologised account of a real animal, the Water-holding Frog, which actually does hold extra water to survive through droughts.

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  • http://reasondecrystallized.blogspot.com andrew

    Personally I’m inclined to agree with Shamgar that the Bible does in fact mean what it says, though I would hasten to add that what it says is wrong. In a way, my years of progressive christianity were a prolonged attempt to save the Bible–and christian doctrine in general–from itself.

    I think that the fundamentalist objection to this line of thought is essentially this: if the Bible is shown to contain falsehood–if the stars are not set in a firmament “above” which there is water, in other words–then how can we trust anything else it says? And if we can’t trust the other things that it says, then how do we really know about Jesus and all the rest? The fundamentalist uses an ‘infallible’ Bible as a way to meet the burden of proof on his god-claims, and without it they all collapse.

    Which is a real problem for him, since the Bible–and not just Genesis–does in fact contain many ‘legends’, as you so circumspectly put it. You can stick your fingers in your ears and deny it (“infallible word of god lalalalalalala!”–conservative), or use it as one more datapoint in the counterargument against the christian case (“so your book says they almost built a tower to the firmament but god stopped them–and this book also talks about virgin births, you say?”–atheist), or read it as adults. Which means … what, exactly?

  • Cortney

    I have to ask, as a ThM. and a children’s minister, how am I supposed to teach Genesis to the kids in my church?

  • Mike H.

    Good discussion. I think a lot of our problems as 20th century Evangelicals comes from the fact that we approach certain passages of Scripture with our own questions that we want answered, but that the passage doesn’t deal with at all. For example, when most of us approach Genesis 1-2, we ask the questions, “How?” and “When?” But the passage itself is more concerned with “Who?” and “Why?” In that context, the actual historical details (six actual days, etc) don’t matter as much as “What is this passage saying and what does it teach us about our Creator God?”

  • Mark Erickson

    Peter, you are arguing not for an adult reading of Genesis, but a teen-aged one. You want an authority figure perched over the student’s shoulder making sure they don’t start thinking outside of acceptable bounds. It sounds like only after they are heavily socialized to fancy Evangelical doctrine would you allow them to explore on their own. The worth of a crisis of faith is not only to go from a childlike faith to a more sophisticated faith, although if that is where your freely chosen path takes you that’s great. The real worth is make your own journey, wherever that may lead.

  • Leigh Copeland

    “I really, really, really wish that hadn’t happened. I really do.” Maybe you’re wishing against God’s plan. I’ve gotten so foot-stompin mad at the ‘fear’ and the ‘cloak of piety’ that I’ve taken up a pretty solid diet of Hitchens/Dawkins/Dennett/Harris and I find it, yes, crisis provoking, but also a come-alive tonic. The questions and challenges and doubts are now crisp, sharp-edged and insistent. I want to go sit down Sam Harris, compliment him for his mental body-blow and help him sort out some of the anachronisms upon which he’s built his very impressive anti-god war machine. I may die isolated from my traditional church family out there on the periphery arguing with some Lawence Krauss student – but who would want it any other way? Its better than getting fired up with “How God Became King”, finding some Theonomist or Reontructionist to work with and suddenly discovering that they’re YEC! I think I’d rather dig around where 13.7 billion years is a big pill already swallowed and narratives of the incomprehesibly huge are already on board. They going to be ready for this cosmic, royal announcement that is the Gospel. (I hope.)

  • Thomas

    Peter. I whole heartedly believe what you are saying and I filly believe that the church needs to be the place for helping the next generation process this information.
    I am the pastor of a C&MA church, and for the last 8 months I have been trying to lay out a plan of attack for teaching through the book of Genesis in the new year. I have decided that it is time to teach through this book because it seems like every time I get together at the local pub or gathering, all people want to talk about it genesis and revelation. They have so many questions and I am able to help build a framework for them during these one on one conversations.
    My fear is that I will not be able to successfully build that foundation in the minds of 200 people as I begin to teach through this book. I agree with what you say about avoiding piety and fear… But that doesn’t mean that I do not have fear. Fear of my elders, and fear of push back, fear of stirring the pot in a church that is strong and doing such great things in our community. I also have fear of just plain ol’ poor communication on my end.
    It is very real. I do not want the people to be ignorant of the scriptures, but how do I know when to back off and try again later?

  • http://www.thechristiannetwork.com jack jones

    God once came to me. No I did not get to see him, else I would not be writing, obviously. At the time I was trapped in addictions, self pity, suicidal and felt like there was no hope. An educated worldly man with many skills. A rationalist, relativist, evolutionist, advocate of science. So intelligent yet so lost in the trauma of a society that values alcohol more than starving children in the developing world. A world that confesses within seminaries and universities that it is all knowing. About God or non gods.

    Then one day, out of the blue, the Creator of the universe came and paid me a visit. Just as He did with another man (a far more educated man than myself). A man named Paul. At that time that educated man could only quiver on the ground and with all his theological training (many doctorates equivalent) all he could do was stammer out blindly “who are you Lord…” He was that terrified in the presence of something beyond his understanding. Even his deeply theological understanding.
    I felt Exactly the same way. To be honest I wept on the ground as mucus flowed from my nasal passage and I tried to dig myself back into the dust (atoms) I was created from (I to being atoms). I felt so unclean in His Holy presence.

    I promise you there is no myth in Genesis. None. The myth is the superior “knowledge” that modern Gnostics (Doubting Thomas Theologians) profess to know. Can God walk on water? I suppose that is myth also now? Can he command the elements (more myth?) can he raise the dead?
    As CS Lewis rightly proposed, “It shocks me how so called evangelical Christians confess to swallow the camel of the resurrection, yet strain the nat of a flood ”
    As one that has met Him (and now a nurse and also completed a degree in theology to see what all the ‘learned’ where learning) I am acutely aware that upon death – many people are going to be shocked at the results of their total lack of faith in what God has written clearly for all to understand. And how they fore went such knowledge for their own (Col 2:8).
    No doubt after the above I will be branded a fundamentalist. Or some other man made term that persecutes those that follow. Thankfully God will strengthen them in the Lord. That his armour is real not a myth and that whilst the devil (who does exist also) will do all he can to mislead even the elect, some due to Christ’s faithfulness, will remain faithful.

    An article below about manmade philosophy..

    http://www.thechristiannetwork.com/hollow-philosophy-col-28

    • Karen

      Thank you for your testimony.

    • gobsmacked

      thank you

    • Matt

      I’m with you bro. about a month ago was talking to a shaman woman about spiritual things and a demon came out of her right there mid conversation. That’s never happened before to me. I wasn’t trying to coax that out of her. She physically began uncontrollably coughing and afterwards told me what had happened. since then there has been a process of healing, though I don’t think she believes in Jesus yet.

      Spiritual things HAPPEN, it’s not all psychosis. Most of the world understands this.

  • Doug Smith

    Dr. Enns,

    Three things:

    1. What is your evidence for alleging that the Genesis account is not given by God to teach actual history? Is it just because there are similar legends? Could it not be that the other flood and creation stories from other cultures are simply corruptions and variations on the legitimate genuine one? It would seem to me that the so-called careful historians are making a huge and unfounded assumption to claim that Genesis actually contains legends if they are basing their belief off the similarity of some pagan stories. If I found a bunch of play money in a time capsule with a genuine dollar bill, I hope I would not make the error of assuming that everything was of the same quality. A similarity in style and content is not proof in and of itself that just because some are fictional, that everything that has some overlap must be as well. If these are the assumptions, they need to be acknowledged as such – assumptions.
    2. Was Jesus wrong in teaching that these things actually happened the way they were recorded, or was he being so sophisticated that we should be “adult enough” to tell that he didn’t really believe these were historical and that he knew it was something we should understand as just something presented in its genre? It seems that he had a belief that God made man male and female “at the beginning,” that there really was a great flood, since he said that “as it WAS in the days of Noah, so shall it be…”, etc. It appears that a denial of the historicity of Genesis reveals a completely different view on Scripture than that of Jesus and his apostles.
    3. It is really bad form to use name-calling to make your points (“childish” & the post title). I am teaching my 8th and 9th graders about logical fallacies, and this is a perfect example of throwing in something to try to discredit someone else’s idea without really dealing with the issues. Why not just say “These people are wrong and here is why I say that” ? I have taken classes from Bible professors who believe as you do. And I have taken classes from Bible professors who believe in the historicity of Genesis. I have also had some training as a student of history. I am an adult who is in graduate level classes. I have sought to work through many of these issues. I have much to learn and do not pretend to have all the answers, but those of us who see Christianity as a historical faith even from the beginning of the record of the world’s creation may well have good reasons for what we believe, even if our views are not considered up to date by some. I don’t think it’s childish to point out that “historical study” is not enough. I have found that “historical study” can often include a wide variety of approaches to historiography, many of which are based on unfounded assumptions and agendas that are selective in their presentation of all the options. I have a hard time seeing how a view of Genesis as literal history has been disproven beyond a shadow of a doubt by either science or “historical study.” Name-calling simply distracts from the reality that assumption-driven assertions can be a major factor in rejecting a historical view of Genesis. And yes, I take ministries like Answers in Genesis seriously. I found this post via Ken Ham’s blog, and would encourage people who want to debate and think through this matter to seek to actually answer some of the evidence and reasons that Christians (including historians, trained scientists, etc.) who believe in the historicity of Genesis have for that belief. (www.answersingenesis.org)

    • peteenns

      Doug, I can see you feel passionately about this, but if I can put my academic hat on, your points are somewhat burdened by many assumptions of your own that have been gone over many times in many ways in many places in this larger conversation. My sense is that asking for evidence is a canard: Is there theoretically “evidence” out there that could convince you that you may be wrong? And let me be clear, it is not name calling to say that a particular reading of Genesis that some hold is a childish reading, for the reasons Gunkel mentions.

  • http://www.creationtheory.com Philip Bruce Heywood

    This is lifted direct from some other blog that Ken Ham reads and reports on so that people can go around the twist with Ken.
    The other learned gentleman has put in writing that GENESIS says the firmament is a dome that keeps water out. Plus ten other myths he makes up about what GENESIS says. Just like my baby sister. Not to detain you — because the entire topic is so personally powerless, it bores me to tears. And I was given to solve the Origins Questions. (Not to mention climate moderation plus other modern conundrums.) Getting to Heaven is not an academic proposition.
    “I”ll try and explain it. I hope it isn’t as impossible as trying to communicate with AIG &co. The word “firmament”, for example, literally means an expanse, or expansion. But you know that. The materials of which the earth was formed all came into existence at the point of creation, long before the earth coalesced. You know that. The word, day, as applied in GENESIS cannot possibly mean 24 hrs and the Bible is full of statements that the earth is old, not young. You know that. Ken Ham knows that. Ken Ham & co. also know that the Bible demands a staged revelation (over time) and they refuse to acknowledge any of it. Species are information outcomes and the Bible says in black and white they pre-existed. Information is timeless. Basic principle of thermodynamics. Quantum signalling is now a technical possibility. DNA etc. are quantum information outcomes. Darwin wrote a thesis about the origin of species a century out of date relying on the absurd proposition that species incrementally grade into each other. You know that species do not grade into each other — if so, they would not be species. Buy truth, sell it not. You are welcome to criticize my publications, which end the origins controversy. A ten minute internet investigation would have revealed this, years ago. P.B.H..”

  • John

    Jesus believed the account of Moses as narrative history and so do i and real science supports it. If that makes us childish in your opinion that’s fine. I can not see how you are left with any framework to decide which parts of the bible you choose to believe in or not and which miralces if you reject the Genesis narrative history other than your own fallen and worldly compromised mind. You are a brave man to put man’s pseduo scientific philosophy above the narrative of the holy spirit and to promote satans deceptions. I could turn the tables and say it’s childish to believe in the myths of molecules to man, to doubt God, to compromise with a fallen world that satan is the prince of out of fear of ridicule or to be accepted by the world. But that would be childish. No, it takes an adult to stand up for God’s truth knowing that you will be ridiculed, hated and attacked for it. A child will take the easy route and play along with world for reward and acception that our lord called us out of.

  • John

    Some wise and unchildish words from the ultimate authority.
    “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
    “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie”
    “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”
    ” For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse”
    “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called”
    “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”
    “Why do the nations rage,
    And the people plot a vain thing?
    The kings of the earth set themselves,
    And the rulers take counsel together,
    Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
    “Let us break Their bonds in pieces
    And cast away Their cords from us.”
    “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”
    “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God”
    “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you”
    “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world”
    “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”
    “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”
    “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you”

    • peteenns

      I want to be clear, John. Are you suggesting that this string of passages are prooftexts for reading Genesis literally?

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  • diane

    my question is about genesis is noah and a lot of other woman were not mentioned by name only by wife the sons were mentioned by name but not the daughters . was wondering why .

    • peteenns

      Good question, Diane. In the ancient world, lineage was generally traced through men. They were the “important” ones. That’s just the way it was back then.

  • http://www.creationtheory.com Philip Bruce Heywood

    Good on you for practising free speech. Take it or leave it whether you wish to publish my comments. Our old friend, Ken Ham of Answers in GENESIS (I am Australian and have met him and unhappily witnessed this crew in operation) as I hinted earlier could easily drive a person around the bend, if you let it happen. I only visit his (non free-speech) site after doing deep breathing.

    Now he is criticizing the AOG (not AIG) for counselling a non-extemist approach in this non-essential area. Talk about driving me around the twist, Ken. Do you never give up?

    Quote: “As believers, we have to take God at His word. There’s a reason God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).” End of quote.

    Hokay, let’s quote Job. Ten five, “Are thy days as the days of man? Are thy years as man’s days?….”

    One thing I daresay even AIG & co. won’t insist upon — Ken wasn’t here to witness the days of creation, so, by definition, they were not “man’s days”.

    These people have got me gnawing on my shirt collar. Should send them a bill for laundry expenses.

  • http://www.creationtheory.com Philip Bruce Heywood

    If anyone is actually serious about this topic, they are ahead of me. I was never serious about it but I am a geologist and was in need of a topic to teach in a school. I had scarcely even heard of Young Earth Creationism. I had a task — to teach: I needed info.: I asked to be enabled to do the job. All I am interested in is doing my job. This has limited relevance to real Christianity. If anyone is actually interested, I will show how Ken Ham & co. undermine the literal accuracy of the Bible every time they open their mouths. Here is an example. The Hebrew can say two things that are equally and concurrently true, with the same set of words. I repeat, equally and concurrently true. The only accurate extant English translation is the Authorised with margin. The margin is equal concurrent. I will reproduce GENESIS 1:20. ” And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. EQUAL CONCURRENT And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”
    Now, reproducing GENESIS 2:19. “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. ”

    Spot the contradictions? A contradiction is a key.

    The Authorized Version (the only fully reliable translation I have encountered), in 1:20, translates the Hebrew as ‘fowl that may fly’. These ‘fowl’ were brought forth abundantly by the ‘waters’. This of course is a direct reference to the Cambrian so-called ‘explosion’, Day 5, approx. 500 mil. yrs past. If we take only the equal concurrent listed first, we have a problem with accuracy. ‘Fowl that may fly’ means exactly what it says. We shall not quibble over flightless birds and similar incidentals, which are covered. The Bible was not written to satisfy academic nit-pickers. ‘Fowl that may fly’ include birds, bats, flying reptiles — and the most prolific and ancient of all — the insects. Herein the potential contradiction, if the equal concurrent is ignored.

    According to the literal meaning of 1:20, all complex life (i.e., above plant level) leaped into existence on Day 5. All of it. Yet it was water-generated and by implication water-based and water-dwelling. Exactly as the fossil record shows. Large swathes of it had not yet appeared, but, excluding (in some vital sense), Man, every species was effectively created, and alive, at that point in time. That is exactly what the Bible demands. On Day 6, already created divisions of life were merely modified or ‘formed’ (in the sense of over-formed) of earth. Precisely as the fossil record shows. The ‘over-forming’ of earth did not cancel the water base.

    Which division of ‘fowl that may fly’ was not ‘formed’ (over-formed) of earth? Try squashing one.
    And the insects are far older than the earthy fliers, and first appeared in conjunction with aquatic and amphibious species — long before even the gliding reptiles. Birds, bats, flying reptiles appeared in conjunction with the land animals — Day 6.

    Comparing now 2:19 against 1:20 : Note the changed wording referring to flight. ‘Fowl of the air’. Real fowl of the air, species that fly strongly and rule the skies. Like all complex life, they are water based, but — birds, bats and reptiles are —formed out of the ground. They are earthy, as distinct from insects.

    Where were they, at the ‘Cambrian Explosion’, Day 5? They were in existence, as living species, as information, pre-programmed to automatically be transmitted into a living cell. Hence, they were all alive. As the Bible implies of all species. (See GENESIS 2:4&5). Man, of course, is exceptional — how exceptional in terms of genetic engineering I am not certain. GENESIS could be taken to suggest he more-or-less pre-existed in an embryonic way with God himself.

    Not all creatures capable of flight or of the flying category leaped into visible view during the earliest outbreak of complex life. This is the testimony of the fossil record. GENESIS 1:20 informs the reader that some ‘fowl that may fly’, were ‘let fly’, but it leaves us with an unspecified generality. As we have learned, there was a category of flying life which the waters brought forth but which was not subsequently brought forth out of the ground, or formed of earth — the old and ubiquitous insects. GENESIS 2:19 goes on to explain that earthy fliers are associated with the land animals. Thus, the text of GENESIS is so accurate, it gives the origin of all complex (including flying) life at the Cambrian Day 5, says that watery water related flying creatures were a definite aspect of that far-off ‘explosion’, gives precedence to the insects, allows for future appearance of the birds, bats, and reptiles, giving them future rule of the air and association in time with land animals.

    You might see why some people find geology dull. Teaching this in a classroom could have its moments.

  • Eric Bosell

    It seems to me that the real source of the evangelical fear of modern biblical scholarship is that they (the evangelicals) have imbued it with all sorts of infallible powers. They have made it an idol. Woe betide anyone who questions its powers! But Biblical scholarship — ever since Hermann Gunkel — points to a different reality: that the text has many sources and many cultural influences. It represents a fantastic jumble of insights and prejudices and longings for love and justice and truth. In other words, it was written by people — the people of God. And the Word of God? What is it really? Christ among us.

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  • gobsmacked

    JimM (long way up now) hit the nail on the head. Thank you JimM for your word of sanity…

  • Phillip

    Some great points have been made here, by both sides. There are some that I thought worthwhile to contribute my perspective on. For example, if Genesis is myth/nonhistorical, does that mean Jesus lied or was fallible when he alluded to these stories and apparently accepted them as fact? I would say, No. At least, no more so than he was when he referred to the mustard seed as the smallest of seeds. The Incarnation asserts that Jesus was fully human, a first century Jew, a product of his culture as much as any human. Now, does that mean Jesus got questions on a math test wrong as a kid? That’s a debate, and personally, I think he did get some questions wrong in such a scenario, without doing harm to his impeccability and infallibility as Lord and Teacher. The only thing our faith requires is that Jesus was as much human as any other, except without sin. I don’t think having an incomplete understanding of biology, geology, botany, etc. qualifies as sin.

    As some have noted, the mythical and legendary nature of Genesis does not imply 100% no history, no real people, etc. Catholics accept evolution and don’t take Genesis as scientifically accurate, but also believe Adam and Eve were real, as were Abraham, Moses, etc. Even if there were no Adam and Eve? Some say it does damage to the Atonement and original sin. Well, the Eastern Church has gotten along fine without original sin and a propitiatory understanding of atonement.

    We should accept that God would have gotten nowhere explaining to the ancients the details of Einsteinian relativity and quantum physics. It seems he wanted them to know this: There is one God who made all things, and he is Israel’s God, indeed, the only true God. The sun and moon, earth, stars, are not gods, nor did the gods of other nations have anything to do with it. Israel’s God, alone, made the universe. As such, Genesis, seen as myth or perhaps a liturgical poem and epic, does its job. Are the ancient myths similar? Yes, because with the limited understanding they had, it was the best they could come up with. Centuries later, our technology and equipment for measurements will be seen as crude and inferior, and future science will shed much more light on what we think we know now. However, at present, we are doing the best we can with what we have, just as previous generations have. Genesis’ similarity to others doesn’t make it inferior. It shows that it was up to date as could be, written with the view of the world shared by many others, and could be taken seriously.

    One asked here, so Jews and Christians have been wrong for centuries? Maybe. Do we teach that the Jews had an imperfect understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they spoke of the Messiah? Their application of the Law and understanding of righteousness? Haven’t we misunderstood passages of Scripture, and God knows, horribly applied them over the centuries? Haven’t linguistics, textual criticism and ancient language discoveries increased our knowledge and shed light on obscure passages, putting them in contexts that made sense where before they didn’t?

    Just some ideas that run through my mind as I read this blog and its comments. I believe in the Incarnation and in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Genesis has no bearing on that, and shouldn’t, because the Gospels and apostolic kerygma are a different genre than Genesis, in my and scholars’ opinions. Our faith has to be based in the reality of the Risen Lord, built on the Rock of his Resurrection and not the sands of our flawed interpretations. Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord. That’s our touchstone, our battle cry. A 6000 year old earth doesn’t drive me to repentance nor does it sanctify. Current science to date increases my awe of the Creator and inspires adoration. Does it give us many more unanswered questions, make us struggle with certain texts? Yes, and thank God that it drives us back to his Word and make us submit to the Holy Spirit for understanding and guidance. Does it create problems in our theology and certain doctrines? Yes, and thank God that we are lovers of truth and want him to teach us the meaning of his Word so that we don’t make the mistakes our ancestors did and be unwilling to recognize Messiah and correct the flaws in our understanding. Does it do damage to the teaching of the Trinity, the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Christ, repentance and forgiveness? No! And that is what makes or breaks Christianity. I read Genesis as God’s Word, it’s what he wanted ancients to know, when he wanted them to know it. I embrace its message of one God, Israel’s God, who loves, gives life, redeems life, and acts in history. Yes, I take Genesis quite seriously, inspired, authoritative, just not as biology or cosmology…nor do I take the Gospels as a treatise on botany and seed measurements. I don’t say that carelessly, as I reverence the Scriptures and know that more often than not, God makes fools of us. But to be honest to God and to myself and others, this is where prayer, study, the Spirit, and the facts have led me. When a new discovery or piece of data emerges that changes all of this, then that is where you will find me. May God keep us all from error, guide us in truth, and grant us humility to make corrections when needed.

  • Fred Hamlet

    I have long assumed the legends around the globe that were similar to Bible teachings were the result of demonic influence. These rebellious angels created long before man have an agenda, have understandings and history we as humans do not. Just as crowd of “Christian” faiths are a clever deceptive work so are the myths that cause question to our faith? How clever is it really? If I were set to fool you into a particular decision, I would wash the car and not park it where it had been leaking for weeks right? Deception is as simple as making a bad choice look good or familiar. Angels are superior creations and were able to deceive the first couple who unlike us, were perfect.

    • peteenns

      Anything to back this up? It sounds like you are making this up.

  • http://www.amsiktik.com/ amsiktik

    i just be reading my TL like -_______-

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  • Richard Lee

    I found John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One, a terrific introduction to the idea that myth could have been used to proclaim the Truth of God. Conservative, scholarly, and largely breaking down the wall between science and theology…
    http://www.amazon.com/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology/dp/0830837043

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