How should the church interpret Genesis One?

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.” – Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis

At the start of the school year, I have my students read selections from John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One.  I do this for several reasons.  First, regardless of your opinion about Walton’s theory in Genesis, the book forces my students to learn about the importance of context.  Second, it reveals that the worldview of our own Bible is one that is very different from ours.  Finally, my hope is that Genesis 1 will no longer be viewed as a battlefield between religion and science.  The Bible neither proves nor disproves evolution, young earth, or old earth.  The message that is ultimately conveyed is that the world is good and a place for God’s presence.

What do you think about Walton’s theory regarding Genesis one?

If scripture does not reveal modern science, should its legitimacy be called into question?

5 thoughts on “How should the church interpret Genesis One?

  1. Scripture is a narrative and a work of literature, not a science book.
    I would have no problem accepting that some parts of Genesis (more prominently Genesis 1 and the flood narrative) draw from myths that materialized in the surrounding regions before the first parts of the Bible were transcribed. Now that’s not to make the Bible less true or the myths more so, but I think that imbuing the Hebrews’ stories with elements from the myths of the surrounding regions would actually make their own stories easier to remember.
    I actually found an article in the magazine that Logos releases that compared the flood narrative with … some other ANE flood myth. The Epic of Gilgamesh, that was it. So Ancient Mesopotamian, specifically Akkadian/Ancient Babylonian…
    As far as I’m concerned, I’ve had it repeated over and over to me: the Bible was not written in a vacuum. The very fact that it is a work of literature most likely means that it crossed over with other works of literature and built off them.
    As to Walton, I haven’t read him personally, but I’ve heard the bare bones of his theory, so I won’t say anything until I’m better versed with him…
    I think you do well to make your students read about how the Bible is nested in context. It gives them a more informed framework on which to build.

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      1. Oh, I understand entirely. Best to bring up the stuff that’s going to unsettle the students the most, but also prepare them the most.

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  2. It seems that the first thing we should question when Scripture seems to contradict scientific research is genre. That is what I appreciate about guys like Walton and Enns (though Enns can be a bit vociferous). Often times we are simply misreading the text. As in verse-by-verse exegesis, context is king. If it looks like ancient cosmology, then we ought to read it with the same rules that the ancients read cosmology.

    John,
    freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks for the reply and I absolutely agree with you. When you have Exodus 14 and 15 right next to each other, you can never underestimate the importance of genre. The most common assumption my students have about the Bible is that it is all one genre, and that it does not need to be unpacked.

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