Evangelicals Reading Genesis 1-2

Evangelicals Reading Genesis 1-2 August 7, 2013

That someone like RJS, a fellow blogger here at Jesus Creed, can discuss Bible and science on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, which often enough returns to Genesis 1–2, routinely and still generate conversation after conversation of interest reveals the significance of this topic among many Christians, especially evangelicals. As indicated, the conversation ends up discussion Genesis 1–2, the creation of Adam and Eve, the historical Adam and Eve, and how theology flows out of a historical Adam/Eve or if it can flow from a less than historical Adam/Eve.

Why do all discussions of science and faith come back to Adam (and Eve)? Do you think those who say there “must” be a historical Adam and Eve are putting themselves into losing posture? Do you think those who say Adam and Eve “couldn’t have been” the original humans deny the essence of the Christian message?

An observation: We often speak of a historical Adam and forget Eve, but this must be corrected as often as appropriate — as Junia was silenced, as women in the history of the church have been silenced (see my Junia is Not Alone), so Eve gets silenced by colonizing here into the word “Adam.” Let’s do this better.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post, which is to begin a series on J. Daryl Charles (ed.), Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation. There are now (at least) five views of how to read Genesis 1–2 among evangelicals, which is a bit of a message in itself, and this book opens with Richard Averbeck’s reading of Genesis 1–2. (Chps are written by Averbeck, Beall, Collins, Longman, and Walton.)

Some highlights: he offers a literary reading of Genesis 1–2 with occasional ventures into “this must be historical” but which a times takes a literary reading instead of a literal reading, and frankly there’s not a theoretical discussion of how to know when and when not to do such a thing … and I guess that’s OK since that would lead to a much, much longer chapter. Some conclusions:

1. Genesis 1:1 is the title and not the first act of creation.
2. He reads Genesis 1–2 in the context of Ancient Near East (ANE) texts and also in consort with Psalm 104.
3. His approach modifies the “framework hypothesis” (never defined), but refers to Days 1-3 being filled in Days 4-6. The framework theory is often opposed by the more “literalistic” readings (vs. literary readings).
4. Genesis 1–2 corresponds to observational realities of ancient peoples, so that the language speaks analogically (how one knows it is analogy is up for debate) of material, earthy, cosmic realities in the way they perceive those realities.
5. The 7-day week is not literal but literary, and is an analogy to the human 7-day week.
6. The point of the text is to inform Israel that God is the one true Creator who created all, including humans, and that the earth is like a temple in which God has placed Adam and Eve to rule on God’s behalf.
7. There was a real, historical Adam and Eve.
8. Beall and Collins mostly affirm him; Longman and Walton push back, increasingly so.

Averbeck’s study is nuanced, more than I can give here, but there is a tension for me in a literary approach that gets literal/historical/physical at times and at other times suspends the literal and historical for the literary. He does not privilege science; he may disprivilege it in two ways: by not bringing in the science of origins, including scholarship screaming for attention here, and by then claiming historical (that is, ultimately, scientific) conclusions that do not square with modern science. In general it seems he has a bit of a separate magisteria approach with occasional claims of a traditionalist nature.

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