Read Genesis Literally

Read Genesis Literally August 28, 2013

Indeed, I’ve made the case here more than once for Jesus having interpreted Genesis 2 in a decidedly non-literal fashion, as the story itself indicates it ought to be understood.

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  • As pointing out as a response to one of your articles on the Christian Century, I believe a good case can be made that Jesus also acted in this way with respect to the law:

    /(Sorry if it’s redundant, for I didn’t know if you’re automatically aware of new posts on the Christian Century),

    One question to you: did Jesus believe in many traditions not included in OUR Bible?

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Brian P.

    Jesus was rather loose exegetically. We can do better.

  • Dwayne Polk

    Ok. Maybe I need some clarification here. The answers to the following questions to Dr. McGrath will help me, concerning the Jesus seen in the Gospels:

    1) Is it likely that Jesus believed that Moses authored Genesis?

    2) Is it likely that Jesus believed in a historical Adamic couple?

    Maybe the idea of Jesus having a “literal” reading of Genesis is being distinguished from Jesus believing the Adamic couple to be historically rooted realities.

    • It is likely that Jesus shared the ancient assumption that Adam and Eve were real people. But at the very least, he also shared the view that real/symbolic was not a choice one had to make. And here, the story is treated on the symbolic level. It is about the experience of finding one’s other half metaphorically, not a person who was once part of a single hermaphrodite human being and later separated. It is about two becoming one, even though if taken literally the story is about one becoming two.

  • I’ve the impression that Jesus rejected many literal interpretations of reports in the OT, but still believed in the symbolic interpretations and considered the whole torah as being, in this extended sense, true.

    There is little doubt he considered the story of Jonas to be symbolic, and maybe he also viewed the flood tales in this symbolic way.

    James and other readers: do you believe these are not-implausible or even likely ways to understand the relation of Jesus to the Torah?

    I want to learn more and improve my views.

    Lovely greetings from Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    Edit: sorry for this new post, my thoughts keep evolvingl

    • joriss

      James, if we read Gen. 2, we find the reason why a man will leave his parents and be one flesh with his wife. It’s because she has been taken out of man and is bone of his
      bones and flesh of his flesh. Therefore a man shall leave …etc.

      Jesus obviously refers to this “therefore” when he uses also “for this cause” in his words in Mark 10.
      So he refers to the creation of Adam and Eve, which is immediately in the text before “therefore”.

      Even, according to Matthew 19:4, Jesus said: Have you not read….and then the same words as in Marc 10. The more it is clear that Jesus, supposing the Pharisees know the context in Genesis, refers to the creation of Adam and Eve.

  • Herro

    I fail to see how Jesus’ saying imply that Gen 2 is interpreted in a “decidedly non-literal fashion”. He just repeats the stuff about husband and wife becoming “one flesh”. And adds that since god joins them together humans can’t separate them. I fail to see how you get from this to something like Jesus not thinking that Adam and Eve were actual people.

    • Oh, he probably assumed they were literal people. It wasn’t an issue, in the absence of scientific data that made that view problematic. But he does understand that the story is a depiction of wives as husbands’ other half, and seems to understand that it is telling a story about someone literally being half of the other, it is about an experience for which that is a metaphor. But if course, prior to the rise of the modern sciences, and the advent of e Enlightenment, there was much less belief that one had to choose between accepting a story as factual and symbolic. It simply doesn’t seem to be as much of an either/or dichotomy to people in antiquity as it has been for us more recently.

      But at this point, at least, Jesus is focused on the story’s meaning which, when examined closely, doesn’t fit within the approach of modern literalism. That is the point I was trying to make.

      • Herro

        “But he does understand that the story is a depiction of wives as husbands’ other half,…”

        Right, it’s an etiological legend about why men and women get married. The story even tells us that (“this is why men leave their parents…yadayada”). I don’t see how this is a “decidedly non-literal” interpretation.

        • Because a literal interpretation has no bearing on those who are literally nothing like the scenario depicted. It works as metaphor, but even two becoming one flesh is a metaphor, never mind that that is depicted through a story about one becoming two and becoming one again.

          • Herro

            “Because a literal interpretation has no bearing on those who are literally nothing like the scenario depicted. ”

            I don’t understand what you mean by this. Are you saying that since modern women weren’t literally made from a piece of a male’s body, then from the story’s perspective we shouldn’t expect them to want to become one again?

            “but even two becoming one flesh is a metaphor,”

            Right “becoming one flesh” sounds like a metaphor, I assume that even a YEC admits that.

          • Not all of them admit that, alas. The only thing they all seem to agree is not literal is the statement attributed to Jesus in Luke that no one can be Jesus’ follower unless they give up all they possess. 🙂

          • joriss

            That Adam should have been a hermaphrodite and was made two from one is not part of Genesis. I don’t think many christians believe that, although sometimes I have heard somebody saying that. Since a rib has no gender in itself, as far as I know, no kind of a female part left Abraham, when God took his rib. He closed the place with flesh and after that He made Eva of the rib. So it is, as Paul says: the woman is from the man. Not from a hermaphrodite.

            What I think interesting is that Jesus refers to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as well.

            He made them male and female. G1
            Therefore a man shall leave etc. G2

          • Translating the “part” as “rib” has a long tradition in English, but it isn’t as though that is what the Hebrew clearly denotes. The Rabbinic tradition understood the “part” to basically be “half” of an originally hermaphrodite human being. The other possibility is that it referred to the baculum, which humans lack, and that this is an etiological explanation for this fact.

          • Herro

            So is that the extent of Jesus’ non-literal interpretation, the “they shall become one”?

            You seem to agree with the YECs that Jesus thought of Adam and Eve as actual persons. In my opinion that puts Jesus in the “literalist” camp.