Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Most Basic Truths, part one

Here begins a series of brief studies on the first chapters of Genesis.

These texts have held a continual fascination for me since the days of seminary, when I studied Hebrew and OT under John Sailhamer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Much of what you will read here will reflect the approach (though not necessarily the details) he takes in his stimulating commentary on Genesis (Expositor's Bible Commentary), his work on the Torah called The Pentateuch as Narrative, and in his specific study of Genesis 1-2, Genesis Unbound.

A word about the nature of this study...I am interested in the meaning of the text, not in its application to apologetics. Many modern studies of Genesis are undertaken in order to help Bible-believing people understand the relationship between Scripture and science. That is the realm of apologetics and it is not unimportant. However, it is secondary. My goal is different, and more foundational. I want to know what the text says and means in the context of the Bible, and what the author wanted his audience to gain from reading this text.

With this in mind, here are three essential positions I believe one must take to approach this part of the Bible correctly:
  1. We must try to read this text through pre-scientific eyes. The author and original readers of this passage knew nothing of Ptolemy, Copernicus and Galileo, Newton or Einstein. They knew only the world they could observe. If you had spoken to one of them about something as basic to us as "planet Earth," he would have had no concept of what you were saying. When we as moderns read "heavens and earth" in our English-language Bibles, we have a much more sophisticated picture in mind than someone in Moses's day (c. 1200BC), who saw "the skies and the land."
  2. We must try to read this text through an earthly observer's eyes. The perspective I think many of us have in our minds when we read Genesis 1 is that of the Apollo 8 astronauts, who gazed at the magnificent blue ball of planet Earth while orbiting the moon. In other words, we imagine that the author is taking us to some divine balcony seat where we can view the action from a cosmic point of view. However, the chapter is actually written from the vantage point of an ordinary human being on the ground, hearing and observing the words and works of God.
  3. We must try to read this text as through the eyes of its first audience and as part of the entire book that was given to them. I take the traditional view of authorship and composition of Genesis and the Pentateuch. Genesis is part one of a five-part book, the Torah, put together by Moses and given to the generation of Israelites that was preparing to enter the Promised Land. If the early part of Genesis introduces this work that was written for them, how does it do that? What message, pertinent to those people, begins with Genesis 1?
Next Study: Identifying the text.

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