11/15/16

Genealogies in Genesis

© sylverarts | 123rf.com

© sylverarts | 123rf.com

One of the fundamental issues in the dispute over a Biblical understanding of the age of the earth is how the genealogies in Genesis should be interpreted. Bishop Ussher’s chronology dated the creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 to a very specific date in 4004 BCE. Editions of the King James translation of the Bible (KJV) began to disseminate his chronology in the 1650s. Then beginning in 1701, William Lloyd’s annotated edition of the KJV included Ussher’s chronology within marginal annotations and cross-references. The popular Scofield Reference Bible (1909/1917) also used it, which helped establish Ussher’s chronology as one of the key theological pillars of modern young earth creation belief.

Intriguingly, Ussher appears to have done his work in the midst of a dispute over biblical chronology in his time. According to The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Modern England, c. 1530-1700, Robert Carey believed that errors in standard accounts of biblical history, relying on the apparent chronology of the Hebrew text, had provided the opportunity for some to attack the integrity and truth of the Bible. “He was critical of those who wanted to use apparent technical problems in biblical chronology to cast doubt on doctrinal certainties.” Cary and others believed that using the records of alternative sources could help resolve some of the apparent discrepancies. This was later referred to as scientific chronology, using the records of ancient history to make sense of the Bible.

Ussher’s conclusions seemed to bring a greater degree of certainty to a biblical chronology derived from the Hebrew Bible and orthodox readings of the text. His writings did this “at a time when chronology had become one of the most important determinants in a serious debate about the transmission and authority of the text of the Old Testament.” He was one of the first individuals to be fully aware of the variety of manuscript witnesses for biblical history “and the discrepancies in ancient testimony regarding the Old Testament.” His solution was to affirm the authority of the Hebrew Bible by his own extensive inquiries into the preservation and transmission of alternative textual witnesses, such as the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint.

So Ussher’s affirmation of the creation of the world at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BCE, occurred within the context of disputes over the apparent chronology of the Hebrew text. At that time, certain individuals used these discrepancies to cast doubt on the transmission and authority of the text of the Old Testament. Today, holding to Ussher’s chronology is still seen as an integral part of affirming the authority of Scripture for many who hold to a young earth creation viewpoint.

Writing for the Institute for Creation Research, John Morris noted the association of Ussher’s chronology with the KJV in “Can the Ussher Chronology Be Trusted?” Morris clearly accepts Ussher’s dating for “all important historical events, beginning at creation and extending to the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.” He noted where an ICR colleague had modernized the language of Ussher’s original work, and hoped it would re-establish Ussher’s chronology as a standard research tool and restore for some, “their confidence in the Biblical record.”

In another ICR article, James Johnson used ‘simple math’ and the data provided in Genesis to conclude there was no good excuse for doubting the biblical chronological data. He rejected the “irrelevant” issue of whether Genesis genealogies were open (whether they skip generations and have gaps) or closed (the genealogies are complete). Upon completion of his own interpretation of Genesis timeframes, he said there was no good excuse for doubting the biblical chronological data as he presented it.

Yet biblical scholars beginning with William Henry Green in 1890 have continued to raise questions regarding the validity of Ussher’s chronology. Green’s article, “Primeval Chronology,” was published in the journal, Bibliotheca Sacra. He said the biblical genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended for the construction of chronology.

It can scarcely be necessary to adduce proof to one who has even a superficial acquaintance with the genealogies of the Bible, that they are frequently abbreviated by the omission of unimportant names. In fact, abridgment is the general rule, induced by the indisposition of the sacred writers to encumber their pages with more names than were necessary for their immediate purpose. This is so constantly the case, and the reason for it so obvious, that the occurrence of it need create no surprise anywhere, and we are at liberty to suppose it whenever anything in the circumstances of the case favors that belief.

Several modern evangelical Old Testament scholars concur with Green. C. John Collins, as he discussed the biblical evidence for a historical Adam and Eve in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, noted that the genealogies in Genesis 4-5 do not claim to name every person in the line of descent from Adam, and therefore aren’t aimed at “providing detailed chronological information.” He added there was no way he knew of to assess what size gaps these genealogies allow. “It does not appear that they are intended to tell us what kind of time period they are describing.”

In his Genesis commentary from The Story of God Bible Commentary series, Tremper Longman said not all the genealogies in Genesis are of the same type or purpose. They are “ancient Near Eastern, not modern Western, genealogies.” The two main kinds of genealogies found in the Bible are linear and segmented. Linear genealogies go from father to one son (or ancestor), while segmented ones name a number of sons (or ancestors) from one father, as in Genesis 10. “Ancient genealogies are fluid.” They can skip generations. “They can change in order to reflect contemporary social and political realities.” According to R. R. Wilson, they are not normally created for historical purposes or intended to be historical records.

In the Bible, as well as in the ancient Near Eastern literature and in the anthropological material, genealogies seem to have been created for domestic, political-jural, and religious purposes, and historical information is preserved in the genealogies only incidentally.

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary had a similar view on genealogies. It too said linear and segmented were the two major types of biblical genealogies. “Both types show fluidity among the middle names; names may be omitted or rearranged, or relationships changed.”

The Hebrews, like other ancient Near Eastern peoples, used genealogies to authenticate rights of inheritance (Num. 27:1–11), enhance the social position of outsiders (e.g., Caleb, son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite [Num. 32:12; Josh. 14:6; 15:13], becomes a son of Hezron—part of Judah; 1 Chr. 2:18), establish royal and cultic lineages (e.g., David, 1 Chr. 3; priests, 2 Chr. 31:16–19; Levites, Neh. 7:43–45; temple servants, vv. 46–56), and organize their social geography (Gen. 10). Usually only men are recorded.

Genesis 10 provides a list of the descendants of Noah. Many of the names in what is called the “Table of the Nations” have been identified with racial, geographical and political entities outside of the Bible. The following map, based on the Table of the Nations in Genesis 10, was taken from the New Bible Atlas:

nationsIn his Genesis commentary, Bruce Waltke said genealogies serve several purposes in Genesis—purposes which depend in part upon the nature of the genealogy itself. Broad genealogies present only the first generations of descendants (the sons of Leah or the sons of Rachel in Genesis 35:23-26). Deep genealogies list sequential descendants, usually from two to ten. Linear genealogies display only depth (Genesis 4:17-18). Segmented genealogies display both depth and breadth (Genesis 10:1-29; cf. 11:27-29; 19:36-38). “The distinctions of broad, deep, linear and segmented genealogies help explain the various functions of genealogies.”

By tracing their lineage back to a common ancestor, broad and segmented genealogies show the existing relationships between kinship groups. Genealogies were used in tribal societies to express the rights and privileges within social relationships, rather than strict biological kinship. The Table of Nations noted above expressed the kinship and distinctions between Israel and the surrounding nations. “The segmented lists of tribes in Gen. 46:8-25 display both the unity of all Israel and the distinctness of its tribes.”

However the linear genealogies in Genesis 4:17-18, 5:1-31; 11:10-26 are used to establish continuity over time without narrative. “Because the genealogies are concerned to propel the story and establish relational links, they cannot be used to compute absolute chronology.” For example, although the pre-flood genealogy of 5:1-31 and the post-flood genealogy of 11:10-26 record the ages when an individual fathered a son and then died, they don’t give the complete sum of time for the life spans of the individuals. If the narrator intended to establish an absolute, or “closed” chronology, this is a surprising omission.

Comparing shorter and longer genealogies that cover the same time periods elsewhere in the Bible suggest the shorter ones contain gaps. We see this in Exodus 6:14-25 with four generations from Levi to Moses, while 1 Chronicles 7:23-27 gives ten. Similar to the division of history into three periods of fourteen generations in the first chapter of Matthew, the division of history between Adam and Abraham into two equal divisions of ten generations (5:1-32 and 10:10-26) seems “artistic.”

Linear genealogies also demonstrate the legitimacy of an individual in his office; or give a person of rank connections to a worthy family or individual of the past. “This purpose was unaffected by the omission of names.”  We see this in Genesis 5, which showed that Noah was the legitimate descendant of Adam through Seth. “By beginning Noah’s ancestry with Adam, whom God created in his image, this genealogy represents Noah and his ancestry as the worthy bearers of the divine image mandated to rule the earth.”

By linking the genealogies by tôleō [generations] and connecting the twelve tribes of Israel to Noah’s son, Shem, the narrator demonstrates the legitimacy of the twelve tribes of Israel as image bearers, destined to subdue the earth, and as the worthy seed of the woman that will vanquish the Serpent. From those tribes Judah emerges as leader at the end of Genesis. His eternal son will rule forever over the nations (Gen. 49:8-12).

With all due respect to Bishop Ussher, his chronology has outlived its usefulness. Young earth creationists seem to be trying to affirm the authority and infallibility of Scripture by holding onto it. But they err in assuming the authority of Scripture is undermined if alternative ways of interpreting the genealogies are held. And it seems to me that they undermine their witness of the gospel by insisting their interpretation is the only valid one.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

10/25/16

The Handiwork of God

© Andrey Armyagov | 123rf.com

© Andrey Armyagov | 123rf.com

The modern Christian, believing that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, His special revelation to us, will inevitably have to wrestle with whether or not the creation and flood accounts in Genesis are scientifically accurate. It can appear that they are being challenged to “choose whom they will serve”—the revealed God of Scripture or Science. But such an either-or presentation of the issue is a false dichotomy. And the first clue that this is so is found in Scripture itself. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

This is the first verse of Psalm 19, which goes on to assert that this declaration is throughout all the earth. Day and night the creation pours out this knowledge, this general revelation. It comes to all human beings simply because they are alive. The Reformation Study Bible said: “God has revealed Himself this way from the start of human history.” Then there is a shift to declare the perfection of God’s word, His special revelation starting with verse seven: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”

So there is no dichotomy between God’s two books of revelation. Abraham Kuyper asserted this truth when he said: “God is honored not by those who close the second book of nature to ponder Scripture alone, but by those who in quiet obedience zealously study the two books of Scripture and nature.” And if there is no dichotomy between God’s Word and his creation, the problem must exist in how we have interpreted Scripture.

An American scientist and Christian named Richard Bube observed in his 1963 essay, “A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,” that orthodox Christians have been so intent on defending the divine origin of Scripture, that they tended to overlook its relationship to those for whom it was intended. He said we tend the treat the Bible as if it was “dropped down from heaven in one piece, transcribed by the finger of God.” He suggested that a view of Scripture that he called “arbitrary inerrancy” was at fault for this problem. By arbitrary inerrancy, he meant that: “the Scriptures must be inerrant with respect to any criterion applied to them to test their inerrancy.”

Oftentimes conservative theologians have spoken out in defense of Scriptural inerrancy as if there were only one kind of inerrancy imaginable-a kind of all or nothing inerrancy. They argue that the Scriptures are either completely inerrant in every way and with respect to every criterion for inerrancy which may be applied, or they are not inerrant at all. This is the viewpoint of “arbitrary inerrancy.” The term “arbitrary” does not imply that the motives of those who hold to this point of view are arbitrary, but rather that inerrancy must be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria.

He said there exists a fear that we subtract from God and from His glory when we ascribe His operations in creation to natural mechanisms. There has been a human tendency “to ascribe to the direct and supernatural intervention of God” all those things for which we have no natural or rational explanation. Unfortunately, as time passes and scientific knowledge increases, the unexplained in nature decreases. So there is a tendency to marginalize the relevance of God and His work. “As we find out more and more about His creation, we see less and less evidence of the Creator!”

The problem identified here by Bube is particularly evident when Christians seek to faithfully understand the creation and flood accounts in Genesis. His sense of arbitrary inerrancy would apply to questions raised by science about the age of the earth and process of creation, as well as the reality of a global flood. The relatively recent creation of the earth in six twenty-four hour days, and its later destruction by a worldwide flood was unchallenged for centuries. Then modern geology and Darwin happened.

Christians attempted to harmonize the biblical teaching in Genesis to the developing scientific theories, in a process called concordism. An example of this given by C. John Collins in his book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, was how in the nineteenth century the days of Genesis 1 were said to have anticipated findings of modern science in the geological ages of the earth, “even down to details of sequence and timing.”

An obvious problem with this approach is that geologists today do not describe the earth’s history the way they did in 1871. So does that mean “we should reject contemporary geology in favor of 1871 geology, or that the Bible was wrong?” Collins went on to say:

More significantly from an exegetical standpoint, the kind of concordism on display in nineteenth century studies of Genesis assumes that the Bible writer’s purpose was to describe the same sorts of things as the contemporary scientist does. This is a highly problematic assumption, when one considers the audience for whom Genesis was written—Old Testament Israel, whose main concerns were dominated by subsistence agriculture. Further, it assumes that truth and scientific detail are the same thing, which is absurd.

Another sense of concordism is held by Denis Lamoureux. He separates concordism into theological and scientific concordism. By theological concordism, he means “there is an indispensible correspondence between the theological truths of Scripture and spiritual reality,” which he affirmed. On the other hand, scientific concordism referred to the belief there is “an alignment between the assertions about nature in the Bible and the physical world.”

Lamoureux agreed it is reasonable to believe there is agreement or accord between science and Scripture.  That is what the sense of the two books of revelation means—the book of God’s works (nature) and the Book of God’s Word (the Bible). But he has something else in mind. By the term scientific concordism, Lamoureux means the belief that through the Holy Spirit, God revealed modern scientific facts to the biblical writers. Therefore, the statements about the physical world in the Bible are themselves inerrant—without error. So questioning these statements is seen as an attack on the belief in biblical inerrancy. This sense of scientific concordism does appear to underlie young earth creationism.

So when an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian seeks to understand Genesis 1, what are they to do? Are they required to take up the arbitrary inerrancy position or the scientific concordist approach of young earth creation and thus defend a strict literalist understanding of the text? Can they have a more relaxed understanding of concordism that seeks to harmonize Genesis 1 with the science of origins, recognizing that their harmonization may change as science develops? Or can they avoid the dilemmas of concordism entirely by approaching Genesis 1 as an ancient text devoid of specifics on how God created the universe? R. K. Harrison, an Old Testament professor at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto said this in his textbook, Introduction to the Old Testament:

Since the first chapter of Genesis is clearly not intended to comprise a scientific document—if only because of its sheer untechnical language—it is obviously undesirable to posit concordist theories of the relationship between the creation narratives and the findings of modern descriptive science. Having said this, however, it is necessary to remind the reader that the phases of development recorded in Genesis 1 are by no means as unaligned with the findings of modern science as was supposed by earlier writers on the subject. What is of primary importance for the Biblical student as well as for the scientist is to realize that the Genesis narrative must be interpreted from the standpoint of its anonymous author before pontifications are made as to when it is and is not “scientific.”

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

09/15/16

What’s in a Day?

© AnnaOmelchenko | stockfresh.com

© AnnaOmelchenko | stockfresh.com

Christianity sees the seventh day of creation tied to the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. Exodus 20:11 said God made the heaven and earth in six days and rested the seventh day. “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” C. John Collins observed that for many people, this implies that not only was the creation week “the first ‘week’ of the creation, but in fact it was of identical length to the week we are familiar with.” A day in Genesis 1 is twenty-four hours and a week is seven twenty-four hour days. Any other interpretation is a violation of the authority of Scripture and is forbidden. But what if that’s not what Genesis 1 means when it refers to days and a week?

In Redeeming Science Vern Poythress pointed out that although some people think that the length of a 24-hour day in Genesis 1 is obvious, “the text does not directly state how long the days were in terms of ordinary human measurement.” The use of the Hebrew word for day (yom) and the evening and morning refrain points to a correspondence between God’s work and the human sabbatical pattern, but it does not prove the correspondence is an identity.

The next thread to pull in the seven twenty-four-hour day understanding is that the seventh day doesn’t have the formulaic beginning and ending: “And God said . . . And there was evening and there was morning, the ______ day.” The usual reply is that seventh day in the creation week was the day God rested from all his creative work (Genesis 2:1-3). Since he completed his work in the sixth day, the seventh day would not have a formulaic ending because the creative work was completed. Nevertheless, this is a distinct break in the pattern of the workweek with the first six days.

But how long is the seventh day? Poythress said the seventh day has a special blessing and holiness because God rested on it from all his work (Genesis 2:3). God’s rest is the pattern for human rest, as we see in the fourth commandment. Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, He blessed the Sabbath and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). The holiness belongs to God’s rest, not the day itself. “The holiness extends to the day precisely because it is the day of God’s rest.” In order to deserve the holiness it receives, the seventh day must be linked closely to God’s rest. So he concludes that since God’s rest goes on forever, “God’s day of rest also goes on forever.”

While God’s work of creation was finished and his rest from it lasts forever, our rest on the seventh day isn’t absolutely finished yet. We begin again on the first day of the next workweek. But our work is heading towards the coming time of absolute, final rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). “Our human rest on one day of 24 hours looks not only backward to God’s rest from creating but also forward to our final ‘day’ of rest.” Human 24-hour Sabbath rest both foreshadows our final rest, and imitates the final rest of God, into which He has already entered. “This foreshadowing involves analogy to the reality to which it points, rather than pure identity of length.” So again, God’s seventh day in Genesis 2:2-3 is unending.

“And if this is so, then it is analogous rather than identical to a human day of 24 hours.” If the seventh day of the creation week is analogical, then the pattern of God’s entire workweek forms an analogical pattern to our work and rest. God’s workweek is not the same as a human workweek, but they correspond to one another. They are analogical. Now look at this conclusion another way.

An original reader of Genesis 1 would recognize and relate to the rhythm of God working with a rhythm like that of a human work week rather than a description of His activity segmented into 24-hour days. “The pattern that strikes him is the rhythm of work, not the question of the ticking clock.” The Israelites did not have mechanical clocks, so measurement by clock time (i.e., 24-hour days) makes no sense to them. The time pattern of workdays, followed by night—evening and morning—would make the most sense to them.

Poythress said in Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 the analogy in Genesis 1 extends to the entire week, including the evenings and mornings, and isn’t just focused on the word day. “God pauses between his works from one day to the next.” This reflects the human work pattern noted in Psalm 104:23: “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.”

Now look at the pattern of evening and morning, repeated in the six days of creative work in Genesis 1. God is working during the day and “resting” during the evening, just as man does in his work. The lack of “evening and morning” for the seventh day in Genesis 2:3-4 indicates the continuation of his day of rest from the work of creation. “God’s rest from the work of creation is everlasting.” He no longer “creates” animals or plants or humans —the conception and birth of Christ being the only exception. So by inference, the day of God’s rest is everlasting; and not 24-hours long. So when Exodus 20:8-11 establishes a 24-hour Sabbath day of rest imitating the day of God’s rest from his creative works, it is analogical to God’s rest. “So again the salient factor is not the length of time, as measured by a clock of some kind, but rather the kinds of activities that take place during the day.”

We see God having the same pattern of work and rest, moving towards His Sabbath. The first day is God’s workday, followed by rest; and another workday and rest; continuing until the Sabbath day of rest. God cannot be literally said to “rest,” since he cannot get tired, so the language of his workweek and Sabbath is once again analogical and not literal. The narrator of Genesis “wanted primarily to tell us about the making and shaping of the earth as a place for humans to live in fellowship with their Maker.” See this link for free ebook copies of the two works referenced above by Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science and Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1.

C. John Collins said the best term for the formulaic language used in Genesis 1 was “exalted prose.” By this he meant the language is “higher” than ordinary language, as is the language in a very traditional high-church liturgy. “The language here is stylized, very broad-stroke, and majestic in its simplicity.” It makes the same truth claims as traditional prose narrative. But “we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.”

The alternative understanding proposed by Collins and Poythress for a literalistic sense of the days in Genesis 1 is called the analogical days view. There is an analogical, but not an identical correspondence between God’s workweek in Genesis and the human workweek of six 24-hours days and a day of rest. The days in Genesis are structured to set a pattern for our own rhythm of rest and work. The length of time for the creation week, either before or after it, is irrelevant to the purpose of the account. Poythress closed his discussion of the analogical day view in Redeeming Science with the following:

Thus, when some advocates of the 24-hour-day view claim to have specific information about the length of the days, they fall short in hearing what Genesis does and does not say. They sincerely desire to honor God’s word, and to follow God wherever he leads, but they have not done full justice to the passage. In harmony with the analogical day view, the passage simply teaches that God made the world in six days but does not provide details about how to measure the exact length of the days by some objective, nonhuman standard.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”