THE PROBABILITY PROBLEM…

There are standing at opposing corners of today’s intellectual arena, particularly in the United States, two heavyweight fighters – each taking blows at the other. These gladiators are Fundamental Christianity and Metaphysical Naturalism. And while these two views are diametrically opposed, the one to the other. They oddly enough share a few basic similarities. The Fundamentalist is sure that his view of the world, religion, Christianity … even the language that his Bible was written in … are the pinnacle of revelation.  At the opposite corner and equally sure of their view are the Metaphysical Naturalists – or Atheists as we might call them. The Atheist is confident that his interpretation of the information gathered by science is the truest perspective, and any dissenter is obviously irrational and delusional. In fact the Atheist insists that his view alone is endorsed by science, just as the Fundamentalist alone claims that his view is endorsed by the Bible. Watching these two views go at it is quite entertaining, especially for those who do not take such a ridged stance.

One issue that seems to be a bit of battle front in this war is that of Evolutionism vs. Creationism. The Fundamentalist claiming that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that God instantaneously created all living things. The Atheist claiming that the earth is millions of years old and that living things began as small single celled organisms and slowly adapted and changed until the Earth was filled with the diversity of life that we see present today. The Fundamentalist cannot accept this, because in his view, the Bible demands a literal seven day creation period, thus millions of years are unacceptable. He also believes that the first chapter of Genesis describes a literal historical description of creation and with that God instantaneously causing fully developed creatures to appear.

The Atheistic response to this is an appeal to science, in which we find evidence of an older planet, older universe and a progressive adaptation to living things that to the rational mind seem to explain the diversity we see in living things. For instance even Creationists will admit that God did not create a wolf, coyote and dog separately, but they probably share a common ancestor.  The Fundamentalist response is then to challenge the scope of evolution and the science which Atheists claim vindicates it. This is because to the Fundamentalist the entire concept of Theism is inextricably bound up in their view of Genesis and scripture. In fact Atheists seem to share their view; that being that the only possible scenarios that exist are that the Fundamental Christians are right, or that Atheists are right. (Neither side seems to have entertained that there could be other alternatives.)

One of the most compelling debates is the one over the probability of evolution by natural selection and random mutation producing the diversity of life on Earth. The Fundamentalist points out that the statistical probability of such an event occurring is beyond the pale or reasoning. In fact they will take one instance of evolution, such as that of certain complex proteins which are essential to life, and demonstrate that for even that minor thing to have evolved by natural selection is so improbable that to suggest it did is irrational. When we are dealing with probabilities we are speaking of things in the realm of winning the lottery, or shooting dice. One man observed that the probability of one enzyme to have formed might be like winning the lottery one million times in a row, or shooting snake eyes an equal number of times with no variation. We as rational people might observe that such a thing is not impossible, but … it aint gonna happen. This is essentially the argument of the Fundamental Creationist, that evolution is so improbable that it simply did not happen.

On the other hand the Meta-Naturalist claims that multitudes of improbable things happen every day. Have you ever met a friend in a grocery store by random chance? What are the odds of that happening? Yet it happened. If I were to deal out a deck of cards, the odds of it falling in that one particular order are astronomical, yet after it has been dealt we can clearly see that this order is the one that happened. Of course with the deck of cards scenario there had to be an order, so one order must have taken place. However with life, the deck could have never been dealt with to start with – so to speak.  Further the improbability of life occurring, surviving and evolving is light years away with regards to probability – more like dealing millions of decks and getting the right order. Their point however is valid in this – if life did evolve into present forms the improbability of that happening does not cause it not to happen.  No more so than the improbability of a deck of cards falling into a certain order keep it from having fell into that order once the deck is dealt.

But perhaps in their herculean efforts to prove one another wrong each of these views have missed the point. Let’s say for instance that you could pull a card at random from a deck of cards, any deck, and I could always guess the card. Let’s say I did this a thousand times in a row.  What would your response be? Would it be denial -essentially because the event is improbable that it could not have happened?  Or perhaps rather than denial, you would simply assume that it was random luck? I do not think that we would, as rational people either deny the event or relegate it to random luck. We would assume that there was something at work beyond what we could see. You would assume, and logically so, that some force was at work that effected the scenario which went beyond the ability of the human mind and luck of the draw. Perhaps I have a system? Maybe some sort of technology is involved?  At any rate you would not simply dismiss the event. When things that are seemingly impossible take place, we are compelled to ask why; to look for the explanation.

What is the definition of a miracle? Isn’t it to some degree when something that should be impossible in fact happens? When something that logic and reason say should not take place in fact takes place right before us? Atheist commonly demand for evidence of God – they want to see God in action. Creationists fight science because they feel that is ignores the supernatural. Perhaps neither side can see what is right in front of them. Perhaps science is providing the very evidence that they are asking for – the miracle that both sides feel is essential. Perhaps the fact that life exists in this universe, in spite of such a thing being all but impossible, perhaps this is one of the greatest miracles of all. Perhaps while they argue over how life was created, they are missing the fact that it was in spite of all. Unlikely – reality – wonderful miracle.

Ps 19:1 The heavens are telling of the majesty of God;
And the very created earth is declaring His craftsmanship.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4 Yet their message has gone out through all the earth,
And their teachings to the furthermost regions of the world.

THE ALLEGORICAL ADAM …

In the opening chapters of the book of Genesis we read of the First Man, in the English translations of the Old Testament he is called Adam. We read in Genesis one that God created man in His own image, and then in chapter two that God forms the First Man from the dust of the earth and breaths upon the First Man and he becomes a “living soul.”

In more recent times Christians have understood this Adam to be a literal individual who was the father of all living people. Because of this, as well as other reasons, many Christians believe that human beings have only been on planet Earth for around 6,000 years. Further that every living human being that exists on the planet came from the First Man.

When we look at the book of Genesis we see several things that would cause us to question this interpretation. For instance the sons of Adam in Genesis 4 have wives to marry, and when Cain is indicted by God for murdering his brother he affirms that “whoever finds me will kill me” and then afterward he travels to Nod and lives there finding a wife and having children. The indication is that at the opening of Genesis four there are already established human cities beyond the land they are calling Eden. Now it has been suggested by some that these other human communities were in reality the children of Adam and Eve, but it is hard to believe that in that short amount of time that Eve could have had enough children to populate several cities. Further what would be suggested is inbreeding and incest. Finally the context of the story clearly indicates that Cain and Abel were the two sons of Adam, not just two out of hundreds of children birthed by Eve.

The natural flow and context of Chapter four indicates that Adam, his wife and two sons are living in a time of human cities and where the population is certainly more than four. In fact Genesis four almost seems to describe a different scenario than what we read in Genesis 1-3 where we have one man and one woman who are the First People. This is because that Genesis four is in fact a different story. When we study Genesis 1-3 it becomes apparent that the literary form of those chapters differ from what we find beginning in Genesis 4. Gen 1-3 uses many mechanisms of Hebraic Poetry. Jeff A. Benner in an article entitled, The Poetry of Genesis Chapter One, says “…we read the Hebrew Bible from a Modern Western thinkers point of view and not from an Ancient Eastern thinkers such as the Hebrews who wrote it. The Hebrews style of writing is prolific with a style of poetry unfamiliar to most readers of the Bible. This poetry is nothing like the poetry we are used to reading today and therefore it is invisible to us.”

It is because this poetic prose is, as Benner says, invisible to Western readers, that many have interpreted Genesis chapter 1 as a historical narrative rather than a poetic liturgy describing God as creator and mankind His image. Genesis 1:1-2 describes God filling the dead and empty planet Earth. The six creation days form a parallel with the first set of three days correlating to the next set of three days. These are clearly poetic mechanisms and stand out clearly to those familiar with ancient Hebrew Poetry. When we begin to read this chapter in its proper context we see that we have God filling the earth and then based on the liturgical form of the sabbatical week God fills the earth with life.

There are also practical reasons not to read Genesis one as a literal historical narrative. Did it take God a literal 24 hours to make light? If so, how would those hours be calculated without the sun and moon? Did God create the earth and living things without the Sun? A basic understanding of the solar system, gravity etc. causes us to believe that this is not a narrative account. Psalm 104 is also a creation account that describes God at work in creation. This is believed to be one of the oldest writings in the Old Testament. In Psalm 104 the writer is describing God actively sustaining and filling the Earth:
104 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. 2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: 3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: 4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:

5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. 6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. 7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. 8 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. 9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.

10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. 11 They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst. 12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. 13 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. 14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;

15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. 16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; 17 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. 18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.

19 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. 20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. 21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. 22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. 23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening. 24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.

25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. 26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. 27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. 28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. 29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.

30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. 31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works. 32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke. 33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. 34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.

35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.

When we read this account of God as creator we do not read it as a historic narrative in chronological order, but rather as poetry praising the creator who sustains all things.

It is important to set the tone in Genesis one, because this determines how we should then read Genesis two. You will notice that man is created in Genesis one and then created again in Genesis two. This is because Genesis one and two are distinct creation accounts. Genesis one deals with the creation of life on Earth, while Genesis two deals with the creation of man. The primary message of Genesis one is that God has created the cosmos, the Earth and then filled the Earth with life. Further the preeminent act of God in Genesis one is that He “creates man in His image.” That is in fact the great demonstration of God’s creative power – the finale so to speak. To create mankind, in keeping with the rhythm of Genesis one, a being after His own kind.

Genesis two focuses on this being. who is God’s “image”, and the implications of being a creature that can chose to do right or wrong, and that has come to an awareness of the implications of that. For those who would hope to find a literal Garden of Eden somewhere in Mesopotamia with a large Angel guarding it with a sword, I am afraid you will need to leave that to the realm of Indiana Jones. The Garden that is alluded to in Genesis two is none other than the planet Earth itself. Earth is God’s garden, and it is in this Garden that God brings forth a Being from the dust.

The fact that God creates humankind by physically using dust demonstrates that man is in part a physical creature, it shows that God has made a body for man. The fact that God breathes on man and man “becomes a living soul” demonstrates the spiritual nature of man. That man, above all creatures that God had created, possess the divine spark. Man is more than an animal, he is a living soul. The combination of dust and spirit is an illusion to the duality of man’s nature, a two fold nature, both physical and spiritual; both dust and divine. Paul draws on this in 1 Cor 15 when he says “the first Adam was made from the dust, the second Adam from heaven.” Paul then, speaking of the nature of the resurrection, says that if we have born the “image” of the first Adam, we will also take on the image of the second. This refers to the spiritual form that we will take on in the the resurrection.

The next thing we see is God placing man in His Garden and man is given a choice, He can obey God’s law and live or disobey and perish. This speaks to the conscious awareness of mankind of God’s moral law. This is an innate knowledge in humankind. The knowledge that some actions are inherently good and others inherently evil. This is symbolized in Genesis two as “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good And Evil.” This tree is none other than moral awareness. In Genesis three Adam fails to the three human weaknesses, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eye and pride, and then he is aware of his “nakedness before God”. The moral awareness of man has now condemned him in his conscious and he hides from God in fear. He is naked, or exposed, in his imperfect state. He cannot access the tree of life, which is divine fellowship with God.

What we see in Genesis 1-3 is the Allegorical Adam. He is not just a man, but he is every man. We are Adam. Adam is the man created in God’s image, condemned in his own mind by his imperfection and hiding from God. Adam is the lost son of God. It is to Adam that the voice of God calls in the Garden – “where are you?” Not that He does not know where we are, but that we do not know.

It has been asserted that Adam in Genesis 1-3 must be a literal person because that Paul references Adam as the one who brought sin into the world; Romans five. This however is not truly an issue, because Paul never indicates that Adam is a single historical individual. In fact Paul himself uses Adam as an allegorical figure. For instance he says “for in Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive.” Secondly this assumes that the Adam of Genesis four is in fact the Adam of Genesis 1-3.

I would submit that the Adam of Genesis four is not the First Man, he is rather an ancient ancestor of the Hebrews, a patriarch. This would refer back to the ancient pre-abrahamic priests such as Job and Melchizedek who are mentioned in the Old Testament. The important phrase of Genesis four is this “it was at this time that men began to call upon Yahweh.” In other words, Genesis four is looking back to the earliest instance of the worship of the One True God; the origins of monotheism. In fact the entire book of Genesis is not so much concerned with the origins of the Cosmos as it is with the origins of the Israel as a covenant people.

In summary we see that Genesis 1-3 is not a historical narrative, but an allegory describing men as they became aware of God and became condemned in their conscious. Of how the very moral awareness that set mankind apart from all of God’s other creatures also essentially divided man from God. Genesis four is the beginning of a narrative that traces the origins of those who “called on the name of the Lord.”

A RESPONSE TO: WHY GENESIS CHAPTER ONE IS NOT POETIC.

I would like respond to an article entitled: Why Genesis Chapter One is Not Poetic which can be reviewed at the following link:

http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/why-genesis-chapter-one-is-not

In this article the author takes upon himself the task of proving to us that Genesis chapter one simply cannot be poetic. The author begins by stating correctly that poetry is common throughout the Old Testament, although I find it interesting that he attempts to imply that it is isolated to a few particular books, rather than admitting the reality that it can nearly be found in every book ot the Old Testament. What he is attempting to do here is imply that there are some books of scripture that are historical narrative and other poetry. This is simply a misrepresentation of the reality. In reality the writings of the Old Testament do not fall neatly into the literary forms common to the Grecian systems that influence the New Testament writers. The writers of the OT frequently blend prose, poetry and history without indication of the change. There would be few but the utterly obstinate who would deny that the Song of Lamech for instance was not in poetic form, however it is seemingly woven right into the narrative.

After implying that the poetry of the Bible is neatly contained in books of poetry, the author then goes on to put forth a list a criteria that he claims will “easily” identify Hebrew poetry. I find that assessment rather interesting seeing that experts in Hebrew studies will admit that such an endeavor can be difficult. At any length we will look at the criteria given and then compare it to what can be derived from Genesis chapter one. Seeing as the criteria is enumerated we will use that format to make easy reference to the response.

1. First, it has its particular rhythm or meter. Each line typically has two halves with three elements each, though this pattern is varied often. 

Before I respond I would like to quote Dr. T. Witton-Davies, who was Professor of Hebrew at the University College of North Wales:

“…the poetry of the Hebrew is not in the strict sense metrical, though the writers under the influence of strong emotion express themselves rhythmically, producing often the phenomena which came later to be codified under metrical rules…Poets wrote under strong impulse, usually religious, and without recognizing any objective standard, though all the time they were supplying data for the rules of prosody. Those who think that Old Testament poets had in their minds objective rules of meter have to make innumerable changes in the text. Instead of basing their theory on the original material, they bring their a priori theory and alter the text to suit it…If, however, there were among the ancient Hebrews, as there was among the ancient Greeks, a code of prosody, it is strange that the Mishna and Gemara should be wholly silent about it. And if some one system underlies our Hebrew Bible, it is strange that so many systems have been proposed. It should be remembered too that the oldest poetry of every people is nonmetrical.”

He goes on to say:

“Another factor which led to the neglect of the poetical element in the Old Testament is the undoubted fact that Biblical Hebrew poets were less conscious as poets than western poets, and thought much less of the external form in which they expressed themselves. Biblical poetry lacks therefore such close adherence to formal rules as that which characterizes Greek, Arabic or English poetry. The authors wrote as they felt and because they felt, and their strong emotions dictated the forms their words took, and not any objective standards set up by the schools. Hebrew poetry is destitute of meter in the strict sense, and also of rhyme, though this last occurs in some isolated cases … ”

In other words this assertion is false in regards to Hebrew poetry. There can be a rough sort of meter to Hebrew poetry, but to suggest that the pattern he puts forth is the defining feature of Hebrew poetry is completely contrived. I might say that the use of a guitar is an indicator of music, but I would not say that only that which uses a guitar can be considered music; which is precisely what the author argues. Further his suggested meter is one of many and as Dr. Davies states is an a priori assumption and is not based on the source material.

2. It does not rhyme, but has “rhyming meaning,” this is what is known as parallelism. Often the three elements in the first half are matched with three elements in the second half, known as synonymous parallelism. This is only one type, however, but there are several types of balancing corresponding meaning, as the example below will show.

He here correctly states that there are differing sorts of parallelism.  This is significant because according to the experts in the field, parallelism is the hallmark and defining trait of Hebrew Poetry.  And while we could perhaps outline each of them, suffice to say here that there is ample example of both parallelism and rhythm throughout Genesis one. We certainly find repeated phrases such as “and there was evening, and there was morning – one day.” Further we find parallelism as in the “in the beginning God filled the heavens and the earth” and “the earth was formless and empty and God moved upon the expanse.” Also we see the parallel between Day 1 and 4, 2 and 5 and 3 and 6. In days 1-3. For instance on Day 1 God creates light and on day 4 God creates the sun, moon and stars. On day 2 God creates the water and on day 5 he fills the water with living things. On day 3 God creates land and on day 6 God creates man. Each day is again concluded by the repeated evening and morning phrase. The parallelism is unmistakable which again makes its poetic structure unmistakable.

3. Also there are characteristic grammatical features. For example, the article and the direct object marker ‘eth are used much less frequently, as is the conjunction “and.”

The author is again a bit selective here. While we do find such indicators, they are not the sole defining mark. Further even if they were we find such grammatical features in Genesis one. Such as the use of the Hebrew term for one (echad) rather than first on the initial day. Also there are three uses of the term (yom) in the passage.  These along with many other grammatical devices certainly qualify this passage as poetic, even in light of the authors attempt at narrowing the definition.

4. Generally, there is an archaic feeling to it, with older, otherwise obsolete words being prominent. Some words are considered “poetic” and occur in preference to certain prosaic words. One example below is bal, a negative which is used in poetry in preference to the ususal lo’, the negative of prose.

This is rather ambiguous and speculative. What the author is trying to do is create a strict criteria for Hebrew poetry that simply does not exist. An archaic feel? This is not a criteria that I have seen by any scholar of Hebrew. To quote Dr. Davies again: “Biblical poetry lacks therefore such close adherence to formal rules as that which characterizes Greek, Arabic or English poetry.” It seems rather clear that the author is approaching this chapter with the presumption that it must be a historical narrative and then is conjuring criteria in order to make that the case.

5. In addition to all this there is prominent use of figurative speech, particularly visual metaphors, personification, anthropomorphism and such. This is one reason why I insist on pointing out that Genesis chapter one is NOT poetry. Understand, prose does not mean it is to be taken as literal, as prose may well be used figuratively. However, to mistake the chapter for poetry prejudices the question in terms of how to interpret the passage.

This is perhaps my favorite assertion and the one that most clearly demonstrates the circular reasoning and presumption of those who want to protect their Sunday school story. Of course there is no figurative language if we insist that the passage is a historical narrative. This being the case we could assert that God took all day long to say “let there be Light.” Perhaps the slowest command ever uttered. We could also assert that God worked on the universe a whole week (a week incidentally that is based on Earths orbit around the sun which was not created until day 4). We could assert that He got really tired on Saturday and took some time off. Who knows what He did the next day after that? We could assert that God creates visible light on day 1 but there are no sun, moon and stars to give off light until day four. That the earth floated aimlessly in space with no heat or light until 4 days into a week where there is no sun rise or sunset to designate the 24 hours that define both morning and evening. Of course there is no figurative language. Notice also that the author says that “This is one reason why I insist on pointing out that Genesis chapter one is NOT poetry.” Thus one of his major reasons for stating that Genesis one is not poetry is essentially that he has come to the a priori assumption that it is not poetry.

After laying out his criteria for poetry which is largely based on presumption and opinion, and quite frankly in contradiction to scholars, he proceeds to make what are supposed to be points. The entire section on a supposed pattern for poetry is purely speculative. Again I quote Dr. Davies “Those who think that Old Testament poets had in their minds objective rules of meter have to make innumerable changes in the text. Instead of basing their theory on the original material, they bring their a priori theory and alter the text to suit it…” So his entire layout is completely contrived. In fact I would encourage the reading of the article by Dr. Davies which explains that an concept of meter or pattern has been reverse engineered by those looking to find it.

In order to try to suggest that Genesis one is a “procedural discourse”, which is another term that he has imposed upon Hebrew literary styles, he suggests that Genesis 1 should be read in comparison to the building of the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 37.

7 And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, 8 one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on
the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim
on its two ends. 9 The cherubim spread out their wings above,
overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one
to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim.

The first point to be made here is that it is very probable that the writings of the Old Testament were repeated orally from parents to children long before they were written. This being the case it is not surprising to find segments of the narrative that take on poetic flow. There are many such instances throughout the Old Testament, which strengthens the overall concept that poetic passages are to be expected. If we find parallelism in this passage, which I am not convinced we do, then what we have discovered is another instance of poetry woven into the OT narrative, not rather proof that parallelism is not a hallmark of Hebrew poetry. This passage, while certainly having a rhythmic flow, does not however demonstrate parallelism. Parallelism is when the same concept or action is repeated in a different manner. Where is that taking place here in this passage? We see that the term cherubim is repeated as the details of its construction are listed, but we are not seeing concepts or actions repeated. Now it is difficult here to tell whether the author is denying the parallelism in Genesis one or whether he is denying that parallelism is a hallmark of Hebrew Poetry. Either would be abjectly false.

In conclusion, the author here sounds as if he has a clue what he is talking about if you are unaware of the nature of Hebrew poetry and are looking to substantiate a preconceived notion about the creation of the universe. However if a person takes an objective view of the first chapter of Genesis, it is clearly written in poetic form. This does not mean it is totally ambiguous and conveys no message as those who oppose such a view will imply. It simply means that in order to derive the truth of it, we need to stop forcing it into a wooden literal narrative. We need to read it as it was intended to be read. The “historical narrative” view of Genesis one causes us to have to defend a view of the universe that the writer certainly had no notion to convey.

[1] T. Witton-Davies, Professor of Hebrew at the University College of North Wales, Hebrew Poetry, http://www.bible-researcher.com/hebrew-poetry.html

The End and the Beginning – a few thoughts on Genesis.

There is an old joke about this country Church which is having a business meeting to vote on purchasing chandeliers. After much deliberation one elder deacon stands and offers his aged wisdom. He says “Sirs I know many of you are wanting to buy these chandeliers for our church, however there ain’t none of us got enough education to spell so’s we can order it from Sears & Roebuck. Further aint nobody knows how to play it, if we had it. And to be honest I just don’t see why we would spend all that money when we need lights in the Church so bad…”

Very often, its all a matter of perspective – this is certainly true when it comes to how we interpret scripture. This is most especially true when it comes to how we interpret prophetic and allegorical passages. To interpret a passage is to essentially ask the question: “what does it mean?” With prophetic, allegorical passages we may need to expand our answer here to include more than one dimension of application. For one thing, we need to consider why the author, inspired as they were, chose to use allegory and symbolism to begin with? Why does the author use nonliteral language, rather than just simply spell out the meaning for us? While there are perhaps a few motivations for using symbolic, nonliteral language, one major reason is that what we might terms “straight-forward” statements cannot fully embody the essence of what is being communicated. The old adage is that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and this applies to word-pictures as well. When an author chooses to communicate in symbolism and allegory, he intends to communicate a three dimensional picture of truth – one that cannot be adequately communicated in the one dimensional mechanism of strict wooden literalism. It is because of this that we must be careful when “developing the negatives” of these passages, that we do not then try to stuff them into a one dimensional interpretation. In other words if the author chooses to speak to us in the language of symbolism and allegory, we should not then interpret these passages and say “this, and this alone, is what the meaning is.” Very often the meaning is multiplicitous; it may contain several pictures of truth. The issue at hand is that even among those who manage to see the rich imagery of scripture, they tend to try to distill it once again into a rigid formula. So while we have escaped the hermeneutical trap of wooden literalism, we have fallen into it again with our interpretation; essentially creating a second tier literalism.

So with that being said we move on to ask: what is Genesis 1 about? What is the subject? Is it about the creation of the universe? Is it about the purpose of God in the Cosmos? Is it about God’s Covenant with Israel? Is it about God’s plan for the ages? Is it about the origin and destiny of humanity? Is it prophetic? Perhaps the answer to all of these questions is yes. Now I do not mean to indicate here that the interpretation of Genesis 1 is an open ended endeavor. I do not think Genesis 1 has anything to do with ice cream truck delivery routes; for instance. There is clearly a scope to work with. But when we look at Genesis 1 we notice several elements that are sort of interweaving themselves. Covenant, numerology, liturgy and prophecy – all of this using the language of cosmology and biology. This being the case, perhaps its not too far fetched to say that this chapter touches all of these in some way. It seems that many have moved away from the wooden literal understanding of Genesis; which I think is very well. However, it seems at times that we are eager to move into wooden symbolism.

Jesus often taught in parables, which is a form of allegory. A parable is a story intended to teach something of importance, and it does so by drawing parallels between the higher principal and a subject that the hearer can relate to. Jesus taught about shepherds, farmers, sheep and vines. He used these familiar things to related a greater reality. He demonstrated the love of the Heavenly Father, the value of truth and the call to the Kingdom – all using the language of agriculture and everyday life. In order for these stories to actually work however, there must be some sort of parallel between them and the spiritual truth they seek to reveal. If shepherd’s regularly abandon their sheep, for instance, then comparing the Father to a shepherd who seeks the lost sheep really fails to make the point. There must be some degree of substance then for an allegory to work.

In Genesis 1 the point is clearly to communicate a greater truth. There is no doubt that the author wants to teach us about Covenant. It also seems that he wants to show us something about God, man and our place in the created order. It seems that this chapter wants to do both. This is in keeping with Hebraic thought. God is, after all the sustainer, provider and creator. The Hebrew sees the cosmos as an oracle of God, something that reveals God to mankind. Paul affirms this: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse” Rom 1:19, 20 If the creation reveals the mystery of God, then is it too much to think that the author of Genesis 1 seeks to use the rhythm and poetry of creation to reveal the structure of the Covenant? In fact what we see in Genesis 1 is a dynamic relationship. The author uses the Covenantal language to interpret the creation, and uses creative imagery to vindicate the Covenant. To the author the Mosaic Covenant is only a microcosm of God’s faithfulness to all creation. The Cosmos is His tabernacle and the sun, moon and stars are His priesthood; carrying out His service in the heavens. The rhythm of life is His liturgy – and mankind is the sacrament of creation – dust and breath, the body and spirit, the bread and wine, mysteriously as one. (Of course this is perfectly revealed in Christ.) Now of course the language of Genesis 1 does not lend itself to literalism on either account. It is not a literal account of cosmology, nor does it say outright “this is liturgical and related to the Covenant.” Rather all of this is left for the the reader to discover. To bring this to a fine point, it is a mistake to say “Genesis 1 says God made the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day so bless God that was when they were created”; enter Answers In Genesis and Ken Hamm. It is however just as much a mistake to exclude any sort of cosmological reference. To do so would be to miss the depth of the symbolism.

Genesis 1 is a beautiful chapter rich in symbolism and poetic mechanism. When it is seen in its true light, it is perhaps one of greatest poetic masterpieces of all time. However if we are not careful we will find ourselves with an updated version of the same one dimensional sort of view that we have had before. Which may be a bit better, but is not the fullness of what God, in His wisdom, left us in this wonderful piece of inspired literature.

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By: W. L. Vincent, 2016