Reading Genesis Literally

Reading Genesis Literally January 6, 2014

There’s a new blog, Scribalishess, written by a Hebrew Bible professor. Here is a quote from the end of the first substantive post, on reading Genesis literally:

This is why biblical literalism (in the sense stated at the beginning) fails. It fails to read Genesis 1 literally. It fails to acknowledge the ancient writer’s worldview. It tries to cram modern rationalism and modern pseudo-science into an ancient text, and in so doing, it completely ignores the sacredness of the text—its poetic beauty, its structure, its focus on the sacred week, its emphasis on God as creator and on humanity as God’s representatives, and its acknowledgment of the goodness of all creation. All of these things are communicated through a flat earth, dome sky worldview, but they transcend it.

I read Genesis 1 literally, but what I mean by that is I read Genesis 1 recognizing that the writer’s worldview is pre-scientific but his theology is transcendent.

Click through to read the whole thing.

Of related interest, BioLogos posted about exploring evolution through conversations in church, Unreasonable Faith highlighted the oddity of a religious fundamentalist appealing to logical positivism, Wesley Ellis reflected on a C. S. Lewis quote that gets at the desire that drives fundamentalism, Jeri Massi gives a quick history of fundamentalism, Chaplain Mike joins others in saying that a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham is a bad idea, Jim Spinti describes inerrancy as a square peg in the round hole of orality, Doug Hagler explains why religion and dogma need not go hand in hand, and Rev. Oliver Harrison highlights the apartheid outlook in ACE homeschooling materials.

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  • Thank you for the reference! Just FYI, it is spelled “Jeri Massi”. I pride myself on having a deceptively short name that is incredibly hard to spell correctly.

    • Sorry for getting it wrong – I will fix it! I will have to keep linking to your posts until I get in the habit of spelling your name correctly!

  • Creationism causes many people to leave Christianity, I think that Richard Dawkins and his underlings could never be as successful as Ken Ham and his minions with that respect.

    Otherwise, though it is unrelated, did you receive an email I sent you several weeks ago, James?

    I know you get at least hundred emails every day, so I deemed it preferable to call your attention to it.

    Lovely greetings from Europe, Marc.

    • Hi Marc! I did get some e-mails from you a while back. I’m sorry I’ve not found the time to get to the interview questions you sent.

    • Phil Ramsden

      Who are Richard Dawkins’ “underlings”? Does he have “underlings”?

    • Wow!

    • Berle George

      do you believe God created this world


        No I don’t believe the Christian god created the universe; nature’s own energy dynamics in various stages transformed itself into our present universe through the Big Bang.

    • Berle

      who are you, do you believe the Bible,? no I guess not because you just said you saw the back of the sun.You really should not do this, I know some people that would fall for this. Not I.


        I made no such assertion about seeing the back of the sun.

  • buzzdixon

    Also, the Bible is pretty explicit that the first 8 chapters of Genesis are just the best recollections of a drunken abusive Bronze Age farmer and his dysfunctional family.

    I mean, where else could it have come from if you follow a plain text reading?

  • Paul Jordan

    Yeah, that is an overly literal idea of the Old Testament. There is in fact Hyperbole, metaphors and other indirect forms of communication in the Bible. The literal interpretation of the Bible doesn’t require that we ignore these just that we learn what those are so we can have a proper understanding of what the authors were trying to communicate.


      They were trying to communicate a pre-science understanding of the world, and substituted superstition wherever they didn’t have an answer.

  • kso721


    What about polytheism? The author seemingly glosses over acknowledging cultural biases regarding specific belief systems in own his biases towards his belief in the bible and/or god.

    If a singular god is the prime mover of all creation and “his biblical words” are transcendent, why is there polytheism, or even atheism, or any other religions not based on the bible?

    Such varying beliefs across a singular species under a singular creator clearly doesn’t indicate transcendence. It’s especially not indicative via writings from one ancient culture being observed by current cultures, or even cultures that will exist in future periods.

    Humans = united by biology, divided by theology.

    This goes to a more specific point regarding transcendence. If just one religion were absolutely true, why is it we find NO geographically separate culture with the same exact theological teachings as another? ANYONE?

    If transcendence is true, or biblical transcendence were true, we would find separate cultures with the exact same teachings regardless of what geographically separate area is being referenced/studied. Anyone know of this happening? I sure don’t.

  • Billie Jean Washburn

    Jesus spoke riddles, therefore the entire bible is one. Genesis..well that book was modified when the pagan massacre began. Changed, the story of Adam and “Eve” taken from the pagan belief of Armageddon, and twisted, to convert the pagans. Why? The original story was of Adam and Lilith, equals. Lilith walked out of the garden herself, due to inequality, and who knows how Eve came along (probably cloned) but she was submissive and obeyed Adam. Like a slave does. SATAN did that. If people think that this is the first go around on this earth with all this technology, cloning and DNA experimentation..well, they are wrong. Comical, but wrong.

    • Umm, evidence please?

      • Billie Jean Washburn

        Ummm…lazy generation…research it. Not have Google, you have libraries, you have the History Channel. Jesus did talk in riddles, everything He said was a riddle and seems to me the whole book is..and if you need proof that Jesus spoke in riddles, well read the book!

        • Frank

          Dear Billie, generally when someone makes a statement, the burden of proof lies with them. For example, if I say that snow is made from cotton candy, I need to supply some evidence -instead of expecting everyone else to waste their time googling for evidence of cotton candy becoming snow. If Jesus never told a riddle (and I can think of any), then I’m not going to have any success finding an example of one in the Bible. Just like you would not have any success finding an example of cotton candy snow in a science text. Also, please keep in mind that you can’t believe everything that turns up in a google search.

          • Frank

            Sorry, I meant “can’t”. I can’t think of any riddles that Jesus told. A parable is not the same thing as a riddle.

          • I would add that it is indeed the lazy generation that thinks that saying things without evidence, and then pointing to Google and the History Channel, constitutes an adequate demonstration of something.

          • Billie Jean Washburn

            Again, if you can’t find the Truth..blame yourself. Jesus said many things, and yes..he never spoke directly..which is, a riddle. Much of what he said, such as telling all the people they would not taste of death until His return. They all died, right? Only the first is a RIDDLE. Google and The History Channel are just two examples you could use James, but don’t get on here and act like a woman is supposed to do your job for you. Lead you, direct you to facts that you can find yourself. That has gone on for long it yourself. I’m not your Mother. 🙂

          • Billie Jean Washburn

            I will give you all this one though. IN biblical times..yes, a riddle and parable meant the same thing. Ezekiel 17:2
            Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;

          • Billie Jean Washburn

   can not like the Truth all you want. How’s that burn feel? Sucks don’t it? HA!

          • Billie Jean Washburn

            HA! You’re wrong and you can’t stand it!! LOLOL!!

          • Billie Jean Washburn

            I can type 80 words a can’t keep up with me. No fun. 🙁

          • OK, that’s not the sort of behavior I expect on this blog. Goodbye.

          • I am sorry that you have such a negative view of women.

            I do not dispute that parables are often riddles or riddle-like. I dispute your claim that that somehow means that there have been prior human generations with advanced technology.


            What’s with the Jesus and riddles? An intelligent person speaks clearly and without vague assertions. Stories that are wrapped in riddles only confuses uneducated people.

  • Rullbert Boll

    Where are the crystal spheres? And the planets in orbit around Earth? I feel something is perhaps missing: Augustine wouldn’t have accepted this cosmology, calling it “Manichaean idiocy”, “astrologer crap” or some such.

  • Todd S. Jenkins

    Someone on Facebook, in talking about this post, said that she was conflicted because the Bible is “God-breathed”, so she had trouble embracing the idea that it wasn’t meant to be literal or that some of it was directed toward particular cultures. But being “God-breathed” doesn’t *preclude* the use of metaphor and cultural specificity. Is God so uncreative that He can’t use a metaphor to illustrate a point, or speak to people in a way that relates to the particular culture they know and understand? When we send a missionary to China, do we not teach them elements of Chinese culture and the language of the region they’ll be serving so they can convey the message clearly? If we do this as humans, why in the world would we assume that God didn’t do the same thing when He communicated the Scriptures to people in the past?

    • Also worth noting is that the term “God-breathed” may allude to the Adam story – in which God brings Adam to life, rather than instilling him with inerrancy. 🙂

  • Taigen Riggs

    Well written, however I would add that though some parts are written metaphorically, other parts are chronicles. There in lies the beauty of Genesis. Plus Hebrew has its own challenges when translating into English or any language.

    I know of no scripture or historical writings of the church that describes the earth as flat. Does that mean that there were cultures that believed it to be the case? Of course but even religious entities such as the Roman Catholic Church took the platonic view early on.

    • By New Testament times, the view that would come to be called Ptolemaic, with spheres surrounding a spherical Earth at the center, had already become widely accepted. But we do find in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Book of Revelation, the view that the cosmos is three-tiered – heavens, earth, and under the earth. That suggests a flat earth. The Gospel of Matthew is unclear – it presumes the view that all the kingdoms of the world could be seen from a high enough mountain, but that is compatible both with a flat earth, and with a spherical one that is only inhabited on top (since gravity was not yet understood then – see Augustine and others on the possibility of antipodes).

      • Taigen Riggs

        Thanks for your response, however the discussion I was responding to was not whether or not we were in a geocentric or heliocentric universe but rather, the notion of flatness of the earth. You may suggest a flat earth based on that scripture but I have always viewed that portion as referring under the earth’s surface which would easily satisfy the idea of the earth being a sphere (platonic) as suggested in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah referring it as an orb (some translate it as circle but implication would strongly suggest sphere). It did not take long in the study of arcs that clearly what astronomers were observing were spheres. But I do love as well, the Bible as it is spoken in metaphorical overtones. There indeed is a beauty and poetry of the ancient canon.

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    Here is Jehovah God already putting into effect the plan for how to fix the sin that came into the world through Satan’s lie and Adam and Eve’s disobeying the command of God that brought ‘sin’ and death to the rest of us down to this day.

    (Genesis 3:15) And I*(*Jehovah God*)* will put enmity between you*(*Serpent/Satan*)* and the woman*(*nation of Israel*)* and between your*(*Satan’s*)* offspring and her offspring. He*(*Jesus*)* will crush your*(*Serpent/Satan*)* head, and you will strike him in*(*Jesus*)* the heel.”

    (Genesis 22:15-18) And Jehovah’s angel called to Abraham a second time from the heavens, 16 saying: “‘By myself I swear,’ declares Jehovah, ‘that because you have done this and you have not withheld your son, your only one*(*like Jesus is ot Jehovah God*)*, 17 I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply your offspring like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand on the seashore, and your offspring will take possession of the gate of his enemies. 18 And by means of your offspring*(*ultimately Jesus through Mary*)* all nations*(*meaning ‘Christians’*)* of the earth will obtain a blessing*(*salvation through Jesus*)* for themselves because you have listened to my*(*God’s*)* voice.’”

    (Genesis 49:8-10) “As for you, Judah*(*tribe Jesus came from*)*, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies. The sons of your father will bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion cub. From the prey, my son, you will certainly go up. He has crouched down and stretched himself out like a lion, and like a lion, who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiʹloh*(*meaning ‘He to Whom It Belongs*)* comes, and to him the obedience of the peoples*(*those who become Christians out of all the nations of the world*)* will belong.

    The Scripture is full of prophecy and figurative and symbolism that most definitely comes with ‘literal intent’. None of it is ‘make believe’ to be regarded as anything but truth from Jehovah God to us.

  • Emily Elizabeth Windsor-Cragg

    This is physically CORRECT. IF THE EARTH WERE SPINNING–think aboiut your washing machine–What would happen to all the water at the “south pole” when it goes into “spin cycle”???

    • What makes you think that a planet behaves in the same way a washing machine does in spin cycle or with any other setting?!