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Posts Tagged ‘Genesis 1’

There’s been quite a bit of buzz as of late regarding creation again (how we should reconcile science and the Bible- if at all, creation vs evolution or some combination of both, etc).  I don’t really want to get in on all of that, but I want to jump in to talk about one idea: the “natural reading” of the text and the “day” of Genesis 1.

There are various ways to view the days of creation in Genesis 1: literal 24 hour days, longer and undefined periods of time, a literary device, etc.  Each of these views has their own merits and problems, which I won’t go into here.  But I do notice that many of those who argue for a literal 24 hour day do so, in part, on the appeal to the “natural reading” of the text.  That is, they claim that if you just take the text for what it appears to be saying, you’d have to see them as 24 hour days.

I suppose, in one sense, that’s true.  Most of us would probably see the “day” as 24 hour periods of time.  That doesn’t prove, in my opinion, that it’s the natural reading, and certainly not that it’s the correct reading.  My point is that the “natural reading” is often times a fantasy, rather than a fact.

Before anyone accuses me of dipping my toes in the murky waters of postmodernity, let me affirm that I do think there is a correct understanding of the word “day” in Genesis 1 (namely, mine).  I’m not arguing that there are multiple correct views, that we can each pick our own view and everyone gets to win.  I do think some readings are more “natural” than others, but I’d argue that this isn’t always the case.

The problem is that none of us come to a text as a blank slate.  I try quite often.  I fail quite often.  What sounds like a natural reading to me may not be all that natural; it simply may fit my grid more easily than other readings.

Let’s go back to the days of Genesis 1.  Many have claimed that the refrain “there was evening, and there was morning- the __ day” is a clear indication of a literal 24 hour day.  It’s the most natural way to understand the text.

But, how natural is it when you consider that the sun, moon and stars don’t show up until Day 4?  I could be wrong, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a civilization who kept track of days without the use of the sun.  Yet, we’re supposed to believe that the natural way to understand “day” is as a 24 hour period of time, even though the only means of measuring an “hour” is the sun, which didn’t exist until Day 4.  See the problem?  It doesn’t sound all that natural to me.  Side note: I know that there are other views that argue the sun, moon and stars were already created, but weren’t given their function until Day 4 (whatever that means).  I’m not convinced because this is not the natural reading.  =)

Interestingly, in my 5 years or so of teaching Genesis 1 at church, I have not had a single student point this out.  Not one.  Mind you, these are intelligent people.  I live and minister in Boston, and it’s a proven fact that people in Boston are smarter than people everywhere else (and by “proven fact” I mean “arrogant and unfounded assumption”- and don’t get mad, I’m just trying to keep you interested).  I’m not entirely sure why no one has caught this, but I’ll hazard two guesses:

  1. We’re generally bad readers, whose powers of observation desperately need a work out.
  2. We seek the familiar.

The second point is the one I want to make.  A reading may seem “natural” because it already sounds familiar.  We understand the concept of “evening and morning.”  When we read those words we fit it into an existent category, because it feels natural.  And we pass over the fact there was no sun or moon.  But we also need to look for features in a text that seem “unnatural.”  Noticing the unexpected can often reveal more than you bargained for (see the broken chain of death with Enoch in Genesis 5, or the unexpected list of tribes in Revelation 7 discussed in this post, and so on).

There are probably a million directions to go with this, but I titled this post “Somewhat Random…” to get me off the hook of drawing out the implications of what I’m saying.  My main point is that there needs to be a little humility when we shoot down an opposing view because our reading is “natural.”  What may be natural to us may betray our own inability to process everything containted within the text, and show that we’re really just fitting everything in to a comfortable category.  It does, after all, feel natural.

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To Err Is Human… or Is It?

It’s an agreed upon assumption by pretty much every person alive that no human is perfect.  Even the non-religious have some view of sin, not just that people make mistakes (like providing an incorrect answer on a math test) but that they make moral errors as well (I realize this could lead into a number of debates, but for the sake of brevity I’ll pass them by).  In Christian theology, this belief is in many ways central to our understanding of who we are (anthropology) and how we relate to God (sinners in need of forgiveness). 

Along with this belief, I’ve heard expressed many times that “if we were perfect (morally speaking), we’d be God.”  The correct assumption behind this sentiment is that God alone is perfect.  What makes humans not-God is that they are sinful.  Christian orthodoxy has always held that people are inherently sinful, even if there is not always perfect agreement on the particulars (or, more specifically, how God overcomes that sinful nature in His saving grace is seen slightly differently between Calvinists and Arminians).  All this to say, in the minds of many, what makes us human is that we, unlike God, sin.

But is this really what makes us human?  Are we ultimately defined by our sin that separates us from God?  I tread lightly here for fear that I’ll end up sounding heretical, so hear me out before you travel to Boston with a load of stones in your trunk.  I firmly believe in the inherent sinfulness of all people, and we are desperately in need of God’s grace.  But let me ask a couple questions to demonstrate where I’m going with this:

Were Adam and Eve human before the Fall?

Will we cease to be human in the New Heavens & New Earth, when sin shall no longer exist?

I think the answer to the questions are ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ respectively.  In other words, humans were human before the first sin, and will continue to be human after sin is long gone.  I’m not disagreeing that all people sin; it’s a fact of living between the Fall and the Consummation of the Kingdom.  What I’m saying is that sin is not the primary thing that makes us distinct from God.  If it were, then I’d have to wonder if we believe we will become God when our bodies are raised, creation is restored and all evil and sin are abolished.  I doubt any of us will go that far.

My point is this: to be created is human.  What separates us, and everything else, from God is that He is Creator and we are creatures.  Humans have always been created beings and will always exist as created beings. 

Let me go one step further.  If human beings are defined primarily as created beings, then what separates us from the rest of creation?  The answer is found in the very first chapter of the Bible: “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).  What makes us human, and not some other creature, is the we alone were created in the image of God.  The Fall may have tarnished that image, but it does not remove it entirely.  When sin is completely eradicated, and “death itself turned backwards” (to borrow from C S Lewis), we will not cease to be human, but conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God.

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