Genesis: The Polemic, Part 2

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, September 26, 2019 0 comments


by Steve Risner

Last week was part 5 of a series we've been doing on the literary style of Genesis and how it was intended to be taken. You can read the other parts at these links: here, here, here, and here. We began to talk about the idea that Genesis might be a polemic work against neighboring pagan religious peoples. We introduced the idea last week and touched on some of the major issues with this approach which I'll outline quickly here:
1) If the creation account is a polemic (a work against neighboring beliefs), it would only satisfactorily render neighboring religious myths false if it were true and not just a rival myth.
2) The Jews who were captive in Egypt for 400 years would likely have little to no knowledge of other people groups' religious beliefs except for the Egyptians.
3) If the work is a polemic work against neighboring pagan societies, this in no way impacts the historicity of the narrative.

One of the claims made by people who support the idea that Genesis (specifically the creation account) is poetry and, therefore, nothing more than allegory or myth like a polemic against other religious ideas, is the use of parallelism. This is defined as the use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose which correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning, etc. Notice it is not restricted to poetry. An example would be Psalm 19:1: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” The days of creation are said to be 2 unique triads that use parallelism that represent something theological/spiritual rather than something physical or temporal. If we look at the days of creation, they say, you can see days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6 describe the same “stuff.”

Let's see what a person who accepts this idea as the truth says. She posted this on the Worldview Warriors Facebook page (under The Genesis Myth: Part 3):
“When we notice this and think of the Hebrew tendency to create parallel structures, we might begin to wonder if the author doesn’t intend days 3 and 6 to be related to each other in some way. If we follow up on this line of thought then we will look at days 1-2 as possibly related to days 4-5.”

As with the entire idea of Genesis being poetry, does it impact the historicity of the narrative if this grouping is actually legitimate? The answer is obviously (I hope to everyone), “no.” This doesn't impact the factual nature at all if (a big if) the text actually is grouped this way. It would simply indicate that God Almighty chose to create in an orderly fashion. He may have done this because He is a God of order and not chaos, or He may have chosen to do this to teach us something. Was it a response to Ancient Near Eastern people groups and their false religions? This is highly unlikely since He created all that there is long before these people groups existed. And since this writing, that of Genesis, has traditionally been predominately recognized by scholars for a very long time to be written by Moses about 1400 years before Christ walked the earth, most of these people groups would have been unknown especially to any real depths by the Hebrews. They had just spent 400 years in Egypt predominately as slaves.

Let's look at the alleged pairings to see if they, in fact, fit nicely together as these people suggest. You may be surprised. According to Tim Chaffey (Th.M., M.Div.) and Dr. Bob McCabe (Th.D., Th.M., professor of Old Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary):

The Two Triads of “Days” argument is a premise that all Framework advocates agree with. Framework supporters claim that the two triads of “days” is a topical parallelism where the topics of days 1–3 are parallel with those of days 4–6. About the parallel nature of days 1 & 4, Mark Futato states, “Days 1 and 4 are two different perspectives on the same creative work.” Returning to the overall topical arrangement the entire creation account, Kline writes, “The successive members of the first triad of days [days 1–3] correspond to the successive days of the second [days 4–6].” In other words, days 1 and 4 are simply two different ways of stating the same event, as are days 2 and 5, and days 3 and 6.

They go on to say:

At first glance, it may seem as if these writers are on to something. However, a closer look reveals some problems with this argument. First, this supposed semi-poetic construction is inconsistent with the fact that Genesis 1 is a historical narrative. Hebrew scholar Steven Boyd has clearly shown that Genesis 1 is written as historical narrative rather than poetry. Hebrew poetry commonly utilizes a high percentage of imperfect and perfect verbs. By contrast, Hebrew narrative is marked by a high frequency of waw-consecutive preterite verbs that indicate a sequence of events in past tense material. Comparing Judges 4 and 5 shows a good example of these differences. In Judges 4, the account of Deborah and Barak defeating the forces of Sisera is explained in historical narrative. The following chapter is a poetical song describing the same event. The difference in language is readily apparent even in English translations. The same is true with the historical narrative of Genesis 1 and poetic descriptions of creation activities such as those found in Psalm 104. After studying and cataloging 522 texts, Boyd concluded that Genesis 1 can be classified as narrative with a probability of virtually one.

In other words, the text is conclusively a narrative, containing little if any similarities with Hebrew poetic writings. I have asked those who accept this passage as poetry to show me other Hebrew poetry like it. I've not seen anything yet. Yet, we will still hear how this text (just Genesis 1 or perhaps the first few chapters; I'm not sure where the break is since there is no known change in writing) is the “basic example” of Hebrew poetry. This cannot be further from the truth. Also, the alleged similarities between the days seems, on the surface, to be in great harmony, but at a closer look we find they are not very similar at all.

More directly to the “triad of days” and their similarities, that idea is simply inconsistent with the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3. Water was not created on the second day. It was created on day 1 (according to Genesis 1:2). This happened BEFORE light was even created on the same day. So maybe we're seeing that days 1 and 5 are more similar than 2 and 5? Further, the sun, moon and stars created on day 4 were put in the heavens which were created on the second day. So, then, perhaps days 1 and 5 are parallels and days 2 and 4 are parallels, but this topples the idea of the nice and neat pairings of the polemic idea (really the Framework Hypothesis). There are other details that just don't jive with the nicely packaged paired days we often hear about concerning this new idea. The order of events here is critical for this idea if we're to believe they were theological ONLY and had nothing to do with reality or time-and-space. If we rearrange the order, the entire series of events becomes absurd.

Not to beat it to death, but another summary by Dr. Wayne Grudem summarizes:

“First, the proposed correspondence between the days of creation is not nearly as exact as its advocates have supposed. The sun, moon, and stars created on the fourth day as ‘lights in the firmament of the heavens’ are placed not in any space created on Day 1 but in the ‘firmament’… that was created on the second day. In fact, the correspondence in language is quite explicit: this ‘firmament’ is not mentioned at all on Day 1 but five times on day 2 and three times on Day 4... Day 4 also has correspondences with Day 1, but if we say that the second three days show the creation of things to fill the forms or spaces created on the first three days, then Day 4 overlaps at least as much with Day 2 as it does with Day 1.

Moreover, the parallel between Days 2 and 5 is not exact, because in some ways the preparation of a space for the fish and birds of Day 5 does not come in Day 2 but in Day 3. It is not until Day 3 that God gathers the waters together and calls them ‘seas,’ and on Day 5 the fish are commanded to ‘fill the waters in the seas.’ Again in verses 26 and 28 the fish are called ‘fish of the sea,’ giving repeated emphasis to the fact that the sphere the fish inhabit was specifically formed on Day 3. Thus, the fish formed on Day 5 seem to belong much more to the place prepared for them on Day 3 than to the widely dispersed waters below the firmament on Day 2. Establishing a parallel between Day 2 and Day 5 faces further difficulties in that nothing is created on Day 5 to inhabit the ‘waters above the firmament,’ and the flying things created on this day not only fly in the sky created on Day 2, but also live and multiply on the ‘earth’ or ‘dry land’ created on Day 3. (Note God’s command on Day 5: ‘Let birds multiply on the earth.’)

Finally, the parallel between Days 3 and 6 is not precise, for nothing is created on Day 6 to fill the seas that were gathered together on Day 3. With all of these points of imprecise correspondence and overlapping between places and things created to fill them, the supposed literary ‘framework,’ while having an initial appearance of neatness, turns out to be less and less convincing upon closer reading of the text.”

This should put the entire idea to rest, really, but I know those who hold to such strange, new ideas (this was first introduced by Arie Noordtzij in 1924) are so dug in they will not be moved by any evidence to the contrary. It appears to me that they need to hold onto their claim of “science” telling us things it can't possibly tell us (like the age of the earth or the universe or origin of life) but want desperately to hold onto their faith in Christ as their Savior. They (like many unbelievers as well) have turned a great deal of “science” into a religious belief and care little for the facts of the matter.

We will continue to show the absurdity of the polemic idea and also that of the poetic idea in future writings. I hope you'll stick with us. Thank you for your interest.

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