How Should We Interpret Genesis?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, August 8, 2012 6 comments

I have heard numerous people say that the Bible should not be taken literally and their justification for that claim is Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. They say, “Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds. We know that it isn’t the smallest seed, so was Jesus wrong? Therefore, we should know that Scripture shouldn’t be taken literally.” Okay, let’s back up a moment here.

Jesus did not say that the mustard seed was the smallest seed of all, but that it was the smallest seed that they planted in their fields. Certain translations mess this up, but the NIV does an excellent job at making this point clear and it is clear in the Greek as well (For instance, the Greek word in this case is gayse = earth or dirt; not cosmos = earth or world). Many similar arguments are made against YEC in regards to Genesis.

The most common one in scholarly circles revolves around the word “day.” What is a day, Biblically speaking? After all, the sun and moon were not created until day 4, so how did God define a day? Furthermore, and most importantly, the word yom (Hebrew for day) can mean an indefinite span of time.

It is an interesting argument, but flawed. The word yom needs a qualifier in order to change its meaning; for instance, in the day of the judges or in the day of Noah. There is no qualifier in the phrase yom ehad (day one). Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) says that out of the umpteen-trillion times that the word yom is used in the context of speaking about a day, without a qualifier, it always means a literal day. It does not mean a literal day only when there is a qualifying statement.

Another common argument is that 2 Peter 3 says that “a day is like a thousand years to God.” That’s true. But it also says that a thousand years is like a day. Contextually, this passage is saying that God is beyond time and is actually defending the reality of the global flood in the days of Noah. Indeed, God is timeless, but he placed us in a realm where we can comprehend time and he has established order by creating time.

Recently, I have come across bizarre arguments by Hugh Ross and an organization called Answers In Creation. They both claim that passages like Psalm 104 indicate that the earth is older than 6,000 years and that animal death occurred before sin, but not human death. There is no end to the absurdities created to preserve the idea of OEC and their claims are clearly absurd at a glance.

To close, I’m going to list reasons why a person should not be a young earth creationist. 1) If you are an atheist. 2) You have accepted the common teachings of the science classroom. 3) You want to appear intelligent but remain a Christian. 4) You have convinced yourself of a more sophisticated interpretation of Scripture. 5) You just like to argue with self-righteous young earth creationists (and yes, I know, there are a lot of us out there). Blessings and peace to all of you YEC’s, OEC’s, ABC’s, MIA’s, and MIB’s!


Mr. Edwards said...

You can't treat "The Bible" like one book that should be interpreted throughout in the exact same way. Rather than being one book, it is a library of many books that tell a long story. However, different books are different genre. While some of the Bible is written to be historical narrative, some of it is written to be allegorical or mythical or poetic or apocalyptic. Should the Bible be taken literally? Sure, some of it. Should some of it be taken allegorically or hyperbolically? Sure, some of it. You certainly cannot take the whole thing literally, else we would all be walking around with no eyes and no hands.

Bill Seng said...

Your premise is correct. There are different types of genres in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of works. However, they all point to one person: Jesus. In this blog post, I have pointed out that the author does just that; he points his reader to the future coming of Jesus through the beginning of the Messianic bloodline. Luke cites the Messianic bloodline from Adam to Jesus. Again, I know that there are certain difficulties with genealogies, but it is clear that if the Messianic bloodline did not proceed from Adam to Jesus, the Messianic bloodline would be nothing more than a lie. The book of Genesis, as a whole, is not allegorical. It traces a bloodline from Adam to Joseph and sets the stage for the Book of Exodus where the Israelites are captive in Egypt and delivered by Moses. Given the natural flow of Genesis as historic, why do you deny the easy to understand reality that Genesis is historic. Would you make the same claim about 1 Chronicles that begins as a genealogy starting with Adam? In essence, Genesis does the same thing, it just sets the stage before outlining the genealogy of Adam.

Bill Seng said...

An example of poetic, allegorical, or hyperbolic books would be Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Other than that, certain cases could be argued for Job, all of the other books of the Bible are meant to be taken in a strictly historic context. Even prophecy has historic context! The books I specifically mentioned clearly, without dispute from any scholar (accept for maybe a few ppl who are few fries short of a happy meal), are meant to be taken as poetry.

Katie said...

Great post, Bill! I believe your interpretation of the Hebrew yom is right on.

Mr. Edwards said...

I don't think the 'natural flow of Genesis as historic' is as natural as you claim. Different parts of Genesis read very differently. Genesis 1 is told in a vastly different style than Genesis 22. Genesis 22 uses all of the hallmarks of a narrative of events. It is a straightforward narration of what characters do and say. Genesis 1 is not so straightforward. There is repetition, poetic language, a rhythmic structure, and so on. To read Genesis 1 and Genesis 22 in the same way, even though they are in the same book, would be to completely ignore the genre in which they are written.

Bill Seng said...

I respect your perspective on this, Mr. Edwards, but I must say that I disagree (shocker, right?). I do agree that there is far more repitition in Genesis 1 than what there is, say in Genesis 22, but Genesis 22 is actually quite poetic in how it's written. If you read the Hebrew of the entire book of Genesis, there are lots of poetic elements. Now, I don't know if you read Hebrew (honestly I'm not that good at it myself, but have studied about a quarter of the book of Genesis in referencing back to the Hebrew) but I think that you would agree with me on this point if you read it in Hebrew. That is not to say that the poetic nature of its writing automatically disqualifies it from being historic, in fact Genesis and the other books of the Bible, all of them, were written to be read out loud so that ppl might be able to memorize them easily.

Furthermore, you skipped Genesis 12-21. My point is very plainly that if you skip all of these chapters, chapter 22 doesn't make any sense. Likewise, the meaning of Genesis 1 is supposed to aid the reader/hearer to understand Genesis 2, 3, 4, and essentially the rest of the predicament in the Old Testament dealing with sin.

For instance, have you seen Star Wars? (stupid question, I know). When, so called, Episode 4 came out, it skipped 3 episodes that gave crucial context to understanding "A New Hope." The paragraphs before the movie started were meant to get the viewer up to speed, while neglecting certain key points that would be revealed and create an incredible drama that otherwise would have been spoiled (I digress: "Luke, I am your father...). Sure, the floating paragraphs were "quote" a different style but provided enough information that the viewer would not be totally lost when they watched the movie.

In essence, that is what Genesis 1-11 do. They basically say "the world was created by God, who is good, in six days. God saw that all of the works in his creation were good and he capped off his creation by creating the imago dei (image of God) man, to rule the earth. Man was good, there was no death, there was no evil. But, man defied God and all things went sour from there.

Once again, I apologize for the long post. I could go on, but I'd rather thank you once again for your civility in this conversation, it is much appreciated and if you have more to share, please do so. I think that you do address some valid points.

And really quick, Thanks Katie! Your kind words are encouraging! Especially since you are the Hebrew guru :) It makes me feel better to know that I'm not just making up what I say, but that reputable ppl who [cough, cough] actually know what they are talking about support the things I write about :) Blessings!