December 15, 2018

Monday with Michael Spencer: My View of Genesis 1

From The Six Days of Creation, by Escher

Note from CM: In preparation for tomorrow’s installment of Genesis: Where It All Begins, I thought I’d bring back Michael Spencer’s perspective on Genesis 1, a general perspective that matches my own.

• • •

From To Be or Not to Be?
Everybody thinks I should be a young earth creationist. I’m not. Why?
by Michael Spencer (undated)

The young earth creationists believe that Genesis 1 is “literally” a description of creation. I do not. It is this simple disagreement that is the cornerstone of my objection.

I believe that Genesis 1 is a pre-scientific description of Creation intended to accent how Yahweh’s relationship with the world stands in stark contrast to the gods of other cultures, most likely those of Babylon. Textual and linguistic evidence convinces me that this chapter was written to be used in a liturgical (worship) setting, with poetic rhythms and responses understood as part of the text. It tells who made the universe in a poetic and pre-scientific way. It is beautiful, inspired and true as God’s Word.

Does it match up with scientific evidence? Who cares?

Here I differ with Hugh Ross and the CRI writers. I do not believe science, history or archaeology of any kind establishes the truthfulness of the scripture in any way. Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it. If God spoke poetry, or parable, or fiction or a pre-scientific description of creation, it is true without any verification by any human measurement whatsoever. The freedom of God in inspiration is not restricted to texts that can be interpreted “literally” by historical or scientific judges of other ages and cultures beyond the time the scriptures were written.

In my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless. Utterly and completely worthless and I will freely admit to being bored the more I hear about it. I react to this much the same I react to people who run in with the Bible and the newspaper showing me how 666 is really the bar code on my credit card…

Does the Bible need to be authorized by scientists or current events to be true? What view of inspiration is it that puts the Bible on trial before the current scientific and historical models? Has anyone noticed what this obsession with literality does to the Bible itself?

The compliment that is paid to the Bible by those who say it is “literally” and scientifically true comes at the expense of an authentic and accurate understanding of the text.

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””The compliment that is paid to the Bible by those who say it is “literally” and scientifically true comes at the expense of an authentic and accurate understanding of the text.”””

    It feels as though once the Bible is “literally” true that it no longer matters what it says. Once it is “literal”, it says whatever I/we/they need it to – a fascinating conundrum.

    While my literary Bible’s ~805,000 words offers clear pointed answers/solutions/declarations for a count of issues I can enumerate on one hand. For everything else it is likely to answer with more questions. Which was also one of Christ’s more annoying habits.

    Aside: I heard someone who claimed to have counted assert that Jesus was asked ~180 questions, and he asked ~300 questions.

  2. Stbndct says:

    n my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless. Utterly and completely worthless and I will freely admit to being bored the more I hear about it. I react to this much the same I react to people who run in with
    the Bible and the newspaper showing me how 666 is really the bar code on my credit card…

    I also agree to being more bored the more it’s discussed

    • Robert F says:

      I also find the 666/End Times theorizing uninteresting. Thankfully, not many people talk to me about that. But I do encounter people totally wrapped up in the latest secular conspiracy theory they’ve gotten while watching Youtube. Ironically, as totally uninteresting as that stuff is to me, it seems to excite them, and add a dimension of drama and intensity to their lives. The idea that there is a worldwide secret cabal controlling history and human affairs, that this organization is in possession of super secret technologies given to them by extraterrestrials that allow them to travel to distant galaxies, time travel, and control the weather, and etc., technologies and capabilities that they hide from the rest of us, really seems to give quite a few people a real thrill. I imagine something similar is at work in the fascination with the details of End-Times prognosticating.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Not similar — IDENTICAL.

        End Times Prognosticating (“Pin the Tail on The Antichrist”) is just Conspiracy Theory Excitement with a Christianese coat of paint. (I survived The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay in the Seventies; I know whereof I speak.) Speshul Sekrit Knowledge (Occult Gnosis), the Lure of the Inner Ring Who Know What’s REALLY Going On, the hyper-detailed scenarios of History Written In Advance, all ramped up by God Himself through SCRIPTURE.

        It’s even more blatant in the Culture Warriors/Spiritual Warfare types. They’re so deep in Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory (everyone other than us is Part of the Vast Conspiracy headed by SATAN himself) they probably won’t ever pull out. The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

        • Randy Thompson says:

          “Pin the Tail on the Antichrist.”
          Wonderful.
          That made my day.

        • Robert F says:

          I don’t know. I think I might just have been converted to End Times Prophecy, Book of Revelation-thumping Christianity, because I may just have watched the Beast and the False Prophet give a news conference together. Lord have mercy.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            While all the Court Evangelicals chorused “AAAAAAAA-MENNNNNNN!”

            (Actually New York magazine called it “meeting with his KGB handler?”)

    • My credit card? No. I do however find it of interest that the enigmatic scripture, “that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name”, is in light of current trends toward a cashless society and the current technologies, an easily decipherable possibility. A simple, practical reality that would not seem strange to the average teenager. An imprinted code that wouldn’t get lost in the mail. Just saying that the idea of that doesn’t seem foreign or even that invasive to our society.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I understand that refers to a shtick done by the Roman Emperor of the time, requiring a loyalty test of Caesar-worship before entering a marketplace, with those who passed “marked” to show they passed.

        However, the current History Written in Advance is (of course) an implanted chip (Apple’s new iMplant).

        Many years ago, there was a VISA commercial with a Busby Berkely dance number of all the Beautiful People shopping and swiping their cars in perfect choreography — until one Traitor and Thought-Criminal tries to use case and disrupts everything. I always wanted to pirate that video and add a voice-over at the end with that verse from Revelation.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      According to Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, YEC and Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist are usually found together as a package deal, bundled with Personal Salvation itself.

  3. Robert F says:

    Literary understanding of Genesis — yes.
    Literal understanding of Genesis — no.

    • john barry says:

      Robert F. Good summation

      I think that the problem a lot of Christians have is that if the Bible is not literally true it will lose its authority to speak the truth. I believe that at the very beginning of our Christian education when we are young the Bible must be presented as absolute “fact” as we think and act as children. As we grow , we grow in many ways. When I was under , let me pick a number 10, I took the story of Noah as pure absolute fact. The only word I can use and this Is funny, is that we evolve, like M. Spencer did

      Then in the story of Noah what about kangaroos, penguins and all the other questions. My children and grandchildren when they were young, I kept the explanation short and simple. Hold my hand, go not run into the street, they ask why? I say the car will kill you? and etc. finally I say because I said so and I will enforce it. When they get older, they reason it out but learn to be careful . First you have the foundation and then you expand.

      Look at the journey of many here. I think M. Spencer framed it well . ”

      Prove” the Bible, I cannot “prove” I love my wife, I can only tell her and demonstrate I do. I have my brother -in – law over for Thanksgiving, no greater love shown, I do it for my wife. I think my brother in law comes over for the same reason, Maybe we should eat out.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I believe that at the very beginning of our Christian education when we are young the Bible must be presented as absolute “fact” as we think and act as children. As we grow , we grow in many ways.

        Then we’ve got a LOT of Arrested Development cases in the Evangelical Circus.

  4. Robert F says:

    The problem is that Christians who believe in a supposedly literal understanding of Genesis and the rest of Scriptures (even though they are comprised of multiple factions, each believing in a different interpretation that excludes the others) keep saying that those who don’t aren’t really Christians.

    • Patriciamc says:

      Which, when you think about it, is unbiblical.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Agree completely, Robert. I’ve felt that same kind of pressure from a few Christian acquaintances.

      I was going to add, “Are we doing the same when we criticize Biblical literalists,” but I think there’s a difference. While literalists wonder if non-literalists are “true believers,” we non-literalists think literalists are just misguided. I have no doubts about them being Christian, it’s just not a healthy Christianity (my opinion).

      • Robert F says:

        But there are non-literalists who question the validity of literalist’s Christianity. This happens when non-literalists derive a radically different understanding of faith, discipleship and ethics from the Scriptures than literalists do, and find the literalists so misguided as to be completely off the tracks. To be honest, because of the social/political climate we are in now, I as a non-literalist find myself questionong the validity of many literalist’s Christianity, particularly when they occupy positions of government authority and exert governmental power. I try to avoid it, to be as tolerant as I can, but some things just seem beyond the pale to me, just as the keeping of slaves by Christians in the past makes me question if they were really Christians at all. Tolerance does have limits.

        • Robert F says:

          Questionong?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Good thoughts. Which makes this interesting to ponder, then…

          Literalists question non-literalists’ Christianity because of their “wrong” beliefs, while non-literalists question literalists’ Christianity because of their “wrong” witness.

          Personally, I take “good witness” over “good belief” any day. I think it is more representative of Jesus. (Except he clearly had BOTH…lol.)

  5. Stephen says:

    Well so far everybody seems to be on the same page and since mostly I am too my incipient contrariness naturally kicks in.

    “I believe that Genesis 1 is a pre-scientific description of Creation intended to accent how Yahweh’s relationship with the world stands in stark contrast to the gods of other cultures, most likely those of Babylon.”

    From a Jewish perspective this is spot on. But from a Christian perspective this become problematical. How so? The Apostle Paul. Paul clearly believes that Adam was a real human being. Paul bases his interpretation of Jesus and the nature of salvation on his view of Adam and the consequences of Adam’s sin.. Or is the Second Adam figurative and not literal too? Are we really going to do away with the Fall?

    Ok, how about the Resurrection as an actual event outside the contents of the disciples’ consciousness? Paul clearly believed that the Resurrection was a real event. I know many people who have no problem giving up a literal Adam but still want to hang onto a literal Resurrection. So what criteria are we using to distinguish between literal and figurative?

    Thoughts?

    • Robert F says:

      Paul being wrong about the historicity of Adam doesn’t bother me, since Paul did not live at the beginning of creation or the dawn of humanity, but Paul being wrong about the character of the resurrection of Christ would deal a serious blow to my faith, since he is talking about an event that is both foundational to Christianity and contemporary with his life — if he is getting that wrong, then the primary purpose of his witness is premised in a misapprehension or a fabrication. But even having said that, I’m willing to acknowledge that those who believe in a figurative or spiritualized resurrection may be Christians, as long as they are willing to return the favor to my belief in his bodily, “literal” resurrection. To my understanding, the resurrection is the actual creation of the world, not dependent on chronology. The resurrection of Christ makes both the past and future what they were and are; it is the beginning.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        In the first (historicity of Adam) , Paul was drawing on what was general knowledge at the time.

        In the second (Resurrection), he drew on personal experience (Damascus Road) enhanced by living memory of others about a recent event.

    • Robert F says:

      I hope my primary point is clear: The Old Testament writers and redactors in their treatment about Adam and the Garden are not writing a narrative about events contemporary with them, and Paul in referring to that narrative was at an even further remove than the OT authors from any question of their ascertaining their historicity or lack thereof. But Paul, in writing about Christ and his resurrection, is writing about someone and something contemporary with him and within the immediate field of his experience; the criteria for evaluating their historicity and the theological import of historicity in their case must necessarily be different from that of Adam and the Genesis stories.

    • Jeff Dunn tackled that subject here several years ago…

      https://internetmonk.com/archive/difficult-scriptures-romans-512-17

    • Christiane says:

      Hello Stephen,

      “So what criteria are we using to distinguish between literal and figurative?”

      I’ve been asking fundamentalist-evangelicals this question for years now. I’m Catholic, so I know whereof we decide as a Church, but without a doubt, evangelicals must be using some kind of framework, but what? And ‘why’?

      • David L says:

        The framework is here are my beliefs, my beliefs are pure and true, therefore I read the Bible in a way that fits those beliefs.

        But they claim the order is the other way around.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          The framework is here are my beliefs, my beliefs are pure and true, therefore I read the Bible in a way that fits those beliefs.

          i.e. “Hooray, Hooray for the One True Way!”

    • 1. First of all, your question does not really relate to Genesis 1, but to Genesis 2-3.
      2. Here’s an article on how we might think of the Adam-Christ connection: https://internetmonk.com/archive/65284. In it, I quote Peter Boutenoff, who writes:

      There is nothing here about drastic changes in the world or the nature of humanity after Adam’s sin, nothing about how Adam passed on a newly acquired sin nature to his progeny, or how his children bear original guilt because of the ancestral transgression. Nowhere in Genesis, the rest of the Bible, or in Paul is Adam blamed for any sin other than his own. Sin and death passed to all people, Paul says, because “all sinned,” which is fully consistent with what we read in Genesis 1-11.

    • Stephen says:

      Thanks folks. The response of Christians to modernity has been a source of fascination tor me for years. I have some definite opinions but I’m mostly interested in what other folks think. So I keep asking questions.

    • StuartB says:

      From a Jewish perspective this is spot on.

      Isn’t this the Jesus perspective as well?

      I think I’m less interested in what his fan club developed afterwards.

  6. Wayne Essel says:

    I can hear the ricochet now…

    In my mind, as said above, “literary” trumps “literal” and context is critical.

    Just because it’s in the Bible does not mean that God spoke it. Humankind has been putting words in God’s mouth for millennia…

    That also doesn’t mean that “if God didn’t actually speak it, that it isn’t true.” Metaphor and archetype are very powerful teachers.

  7. Iris Ifemey says:

    The point you all seem to be missing, author included, is that there were actually millions of years between Gen. 1:1 and Gen. 1:2.Clearly, something catastrophic happened if, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” and “Now the earth was without form and void.” This is when the dinosaurs existed. As to the connection of science in the Biblical narrative, science continually PROVES the Bible to be accurate. They have even found Joshua’s “lost” day!! Noah’s Ark was found like 20 yrs ago. The language of Genesis – Job is strictly historical. Poetry doesn’t come in until Psalms. And, just for the record, God didn’t actually SAY much directly in the first place. People wrote down the stories handed down by oral tradition. In the course of history, He only spoke directly to Adam, Eve, and Moses (maybe Enoch). Other than that, He spoke through Prophets, dreams, and angels.