Let the Bible be the Bible

Let the Bible be the Bible June 26, 2013

Sometimes what we want the Bible to be what it is not so we make the Bible what we want it to be and then we feel better about the Bible. Here’s a good example, taken from my friend and colleague, Claude Mariottini, and his new book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding. It comes from Genesis 2:19.

KJV: “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.”

ASV: “And out of the ground Jehovah God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the heavens; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

NET: “Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

All NIV, including NIV 11: “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

Why do the NIV translations (NIV, TNIV, NIV 11) all have “had formed” (called a pluperfect) when the other translations have “formed” (simple past)? The Hebrew is a simple past tense, not a pluperfect tense.

The simple fact is this: Genesis 1 has this order for creation: light, heavens, earth, seas, vegetation, trees, sun, moon, stars, sea monsters, fish, birds, animals, and man and woman. The order of creation in Genesis 2 is different: man from the dust, garden, trees, vegetation, animals, birds, and the woman (from the rib of man).

If though one posits that Genesis 2 in 2:19 means that God had already formed them then one can fit the order of Genesis 2 into the order of Genesis 2. But someone like John Sailhamer says this “misses the very point of the narrative, namely, that the animals were created in response to God’s declaration that it was not good that man should be alone” (5). He opts for Cassuto’s view, which Claude says is nothing more than supposition, namely that God had already made cattle but that in 2:19 he makes only animals and birds. But this, too, runs aground.

What is happening here, acc to Claude and others, is the desire to make Genesis 2 fit Genesis 1 in spite of the grammar. It is far wiser to let the Bible be what it is, and that means the simple grammar of a past tense suggests Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are actually two different, and variant, accounts of creation, both drawn deep from Israel’s own history and that each has a different emphasis to bring to the table. Two stories are almost always better than one. Two views highlights more truth. It is best to let the Bible be what it is.

There can be two accounts of creation and the Bible be inspired. Especially if one is concerned with the intent of the text and not assume it is strict historical chronology.

 


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