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Friday, February 13, 2015

I just READ Genesis 1 - but you INTERPRET it!

There are many different views of origins. None of them are without flaws. Young-earth creationism (YEC) is a popular view, and it may be correct. But some YECers say, of other Christians with different views: "I just read the first part of Genesis. But you interpret it."

Let's examine that idea.

Unless you are reading Genesis in Hebrew, you are reading a Bible which is the result of interpretation by translators. That's true of all English versions of the Bible.

Here's some of the first part of Genesis, in the King James version: (The King James is not perfect, but it is public domain, so it can be used this way; at least the first verse is familiar to most people; and some YECers prefer it).

Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. 7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Genesis 4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; 12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13 And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 

14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
16 And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch*: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.
25 And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.
*Note - according to the Bible, this is not the same Enoch as the one mentioned in Genesis 5:18-24

Genesis 7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

A response to the statement of the title comes from reading YEC literature. In Six Days of Creation, (Institute for Creation Research, 2013) by Henry Morris, III, a prominent YECer, there is this sentence: "The biblical record indicates that God separated the light from the darkness." Fair enough. That seems to be reading, not interpreting. But the next sentence says this: "This most likely indicates that the earth of Day One was shaped into a sphere (by the Holy Spirit 'energizing' it)." If that isn't interpreting -- going beyond what the Bible actually says -- I don't know what is!

 Then there's The New Answers Book 1 (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006.) Ken Ham, probably the most prominent of today's YECers, is listed as author on the title page, and as general editor on the cover. In one chapter, written by Terry Mortenson, presumably with Ham's blessing, we read "The Hebrew words translated 'the fountains of the great deep burst open' (Genesis 7:11) clearly point to tectonic rupturing of the earth's surface in many places for 150 days, resulting in volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis." That's interpretation. The Bible doesn't actually say any of this that Mortenson says is "clearly" meant.

I don't know the writings of Morris, or Ham (or Ham's assistants), other than superficially. I'm not aware that any of them have ever said "I just read the first part of Genesis. But you interpret it." But some of their followers do make such claims, when, logically, they should not. Interpreting, as Morris and Mortenson have done, can be part of legitimate Biblical scholarship, but it is important to remember that it is interpretation, and to not present it as being certainly what God had in mind.

As another response to the statement of the title of this post, consider some questions about the text quoted from Genesis above:
1) How could there have been morning and evening before the sun appeared?
2) Where did the light come from before the sun appeared?
3) Did the lesser light really rule the night? Currently, about half of the time, while the sun is visible, the moon and the sun are both in the sky at once. About half of the time, while the sun is not visible, the moon is not, either, so the moon does not seem to rule all the nights. Did the arrangement of the sun, moon, and earth change, somehow, after the original creation?
4) When did water plants (Such as algae of all kinds, which are part of the plant kingdom, in older classifications) appear? They are not mentioned.
5) When did flying insects, such as bees, flies and butterflies, appear? Are they part of the "fowl" in day 5? Part of the "creeping things" in day 6? Just not mentioned at all?
6) When did bacteria and fungi appear? Were they part of the plants mentioned in day 3? (Most likely, the Hebrews had no conception of bacteria at all, so it isn't surprising that they aren't mentioned.)
Here's a post related to questions 4, 5 and 6. 
7) Did animals we now consider to be predators, like tigers and hawks, actually eat only plants -- not animals -- before the living things in the Ark came out? If they did, what changes took place in their behavior and anatomy, to make them predatory? Would these changes have made the names Adam used to name them invalid? (In most of the Old Testament, including Genesis, the names of people were chosen carefully, and matched the person's perceived character. Adam may have done that in naming the animals.)
8) What does "after their kind" mean?
9) What is the "image of God"?
10) Adam is said to have been made of the dust of the ground, but Eve from Adam's rib. Were they, therefore, of the same substance?
11) Why do Genesis 2:4 and 2:17, in the KJV, say "day"? Didn't the creation take six days, not one? Adam didn't die during the 24-hour day when he ate from the Tree, but much later. Therefore, the word "day" doesn't seem to mean a 24-hour period in 2:17. In 2:4, "day" seems to refer to the entire period of creation. (The Hebrew word used in 2:4 and 2:17 is the same one used for each day in Genesis 1.) With these usages in 2:4 and 2:17, how can we be sure that "day" meant a 24-hour period in Genesis 1?
12) Does Genesis 2:5 mean that plants hadn't appeared completely yet, until Adam did? How can that be reconciled with Genesis 1, which puts plants on the third day?
13) What is the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2:4-25? Is 2:4-25 a re-telling of Genesis 1, or is it an expansion of the sixth day, or is it something else? Genesis 2 leaves out some important things which were given in the description of the six days of  creation in Genesis 1. Why?
14) Were there marine bodies of water, as well as fresh water, before the Flood? If so, how did marine organisms survive the increase in fresh water? If not, when did marine and freshwater animals become separated?
15) Where did Cain get his wife? What other people was he afraid of? Did he marry and have offspring before the birth of Seth? If not, why does the mention of Seth's birth come after the story of Cain?

Anyone answering any of these questions must do some interpreting. For example, related to questions 1 and 2, it is possible that the sun was not visible on earth, because of a cloud cover, which would have meant that there was light, and also morning and evening, before the sun could be seen through that cloud cover. But the Bible doesn't say any of this explicitly. 

YECs interpret Genesis 1 and 2 to mean that the earth and the living things on it, and other features, were created in six 24 hour days. Perhaps they are right. But there other ways to interpret Genesis, held by Bible-believing scholars who understand Hebrew and the culture of the people of Bible times, that may also be correct. Some important Christians of the distant past held such views.

My conclusion is that anyone saying, about the first part of Genesis, or any other part of the Bible, "I just read it. but you interpret it," should reconsider. We have to interpret it into our own language, and recognize that it was written by people in a different culture. The church of the past often drew conclusions that aren't explicitly stated in scripture, but that most Christians of today consider to be valid, for example on the nature of Christ. May God help us to interpret correctly.

Thanks for reading. I added question 15, and the quotations from Genesis 4, on February 21, 2015. I added links to the material from YEC literature on February 26, 2015.

January 27, 2016: I'm adding a link to a relevant conversation on how to interpret Genesis 1, and a link to a relevant interview with John Walton, an influential Old Testament scholar, in Christianity Today. His views on how to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 are important, and influential. Here is one part of a series, examining Walton's views, as set forth in his The Lost World of Genesis One, in the BioLogos blog.

April 4, 2017: I added Genesis 2:17 and 18 to the scripture quoted, and noted that Genesis 2:17 uses "day" for something other than a 24-hour day. 

January 13, 2019: I did some minor editing, for clarity. 

February 8, 2019: This post points out that the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 accounts give different sequences of creation events. It doesn't seem reasonable to say that both accounts are straightforward narrations of what took place.

April 1, 2019: This post, which does not deal with origins at all, from resurrecting orthodoxy, is a review of a book about how people from Bible times understood the Torah. It says "Someone who scoffs at the valuable insights scholars try to give about the Bible is someone who is not serious about understanding the Bible."

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