The Invisible Preface to Genesis

The Invisible Preface to Genesis July 11, 2013

Young-earth creationist Bibles do not begin with Genesis. At least, that is the impression they give. It is as though there is an invisible preface which they alone can see, which they read first, and which provides the lens through which they view the creation material in Genesis.

From the way they interpret Genesis, the invisible preface must read something like the following:

What follows is divinely revealed truth not merely about theology but about science and history. It contains no errors, and if it seems to, you must believe with all your heart that it says something that is not erroneous – no matter how different the meaning you attribute to the text may be from it actually says. You must suspend everything you have ever learned about genre, particularly as it pertains to literature with repetition and parallelism (do not even mention the word “poetry”) and stories with talking animals.

I own Bibles that have a preface. A real, visible one. In most cases, it tells me about the human beings and human processes involved in producing the translation before me.

I know enough about Bibles to not mistake the preface for the Bible itself.

I am not sure that the same can be said for young-earth creationists. Indeed, their invisible preface seems to carry more weight than either the text of Genesis itself, or anything they may have learned about reading and literature prior to reading Genesis for the first time.

But perhaps the biggest irony is that some young-earth creationists actually speak as though they simply read what the text says, imposing nothing on it. If only they could see themselves as others see them!

Of course, what is being spoken about here are the presuppositions we bring to the text. No one comes to the text without presuppositions. We learn much and are influenced by much before we are able to read, much less reading Genesis 1-3. Many young-earth do acknowledge that no one lacks presuppositions. But then they consistently assume that their presuppositions are the “right” ones. However, given that the YEC reading of Genesis has to ignore or explain away features of the text, and given that they have to do much the same thing with regard to the evidence from the natural world as well, YEC presuppositions seem to me to be not merely not better, but much, much worse, than other sorts of presuppositions one might bring to the text.

That is one if my assumptions that I bring to the text: if you have to deny that words and concepts, sentences and ideas, mean what they would have been understood to mean in the linguistic, historical and cultural context in which the text was written, them it is not a good reading of that text, much less the best one.

But at any rate, if everyone has an invisible preface, then if one wishes to interact with others who have different presuppositions, one has to make those invisible assumptions visible, by clearly and verbally articulating it, which of course involves opening up one's stance to criticism from others.

So what's in your invisible preface?


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  • TomS

    Why be so upset about the Young Earth interpretation of the Bible, when at least it does have some precedent to it? What is really a novelty in interpretation is evolution denial. The idea that God created species or kinds, rather than all things, nobody got that idea from reading the Bible.

    I disagree with your suggestion that YECs are opposed to ever allowing the findings of modern science to affect one’s reading of the Bible. Almost everybody accepts modern astronomy’s heliocentric model of the Solar System, despite the lack of precedent for that in scriptural interpretation before the rise of modern science. It is clear that YECs are selective in what they allow to influence their interpretation.

  • John Wilkins

    My Bible preface says: “Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

    • What of Sennacherib, Necho II, and Pilate?

      • Paul D.

        Pilate of the Gospels has little in common with the historical figure besides the name.

      • John Wilkins

        The Day of the Jackal mentions historical figures too…

  • lance Geologist

    Many people choose to believe in a God. Their interpretation differs all around the world. There is no need to deny a God because the facts of the Earth don’t agree with the odd interpretation YEC’s use. Evolutionary theory does not deal with origins or souls. The facts are the Earth is billions of years old, continents do move, land does rise and fall. Erosion does happen and organisms do evolve through time( lots of time).
    These facts do not say there is or is not a God. They do not deal with the origin of the universe, they do not say there is or is not a soul.If one’s faith depends on a translation of a translation of a translation of oral traditions thousands of years old, then maybe faith is lacking. The world is around us for all to see, I think one does a disservice to belief in God if one refuses to see the beauty around us, now and in the past.