11/15/16

Genealogies in Genesis

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© 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.”

09/23/16

The Zenith of Rest

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© grace21 |stockfresh.com

According to John Walton, the seventh day of the Genesis creation account can be something of a theological afterthought. “It appears to be nothing more than an afterthought with theological concerns about Israelites observing the sabbath—an appendix, a postscript, a tack on.”  There is a literary structure to the first six days in Genesis 1 that C. John Collins called “exalted prose,” but the pattern ends there. Then we hear that God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day. But what does God resting have to do with creation? And why would God rest? It’s not as if He was actually tired from all his creative activity. Then what does it mean for God to rest?

Walton believes that rest is the objective of creation. In fact, without the seventh day of rest, the other six days of Genesis 1 don’t achieve their full meaning. “Even though people are the climax of the six days, day seven is the climax of this origins account.” To make his point, he turned to Scripture. The Hebrew word for “rested” in Genesis 2:2 is šābat, which means to sever, put an end to, cease. The English term “Sabbath” is derived from it.

In Deuteronomy 12:10, God told the Israelites that when they crossed over the Jordan and lived in the land He was giving them, they would have rest from their enemies and live in safety. After Moses died and Joshua was preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan, he told them to remember what Moses had told them about the Lord providing them a place of rest. As Joshua was about to release the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return across the Jordan to their lands, the narrator said the Lord had given them rest on every side, just as He said He would (Josh 21:44). When David saw that the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies, he thought he would build a house for the Lord to dwell in (2 Samuel 7:1-2).

The rest that God offers his people is freedom from invasion and conflict. Now they can live at peace and conduct their daily lives without interruption. “It refers to achieving a state of order in society.” When Jesus invited those who were weary and burdened to come to him, he offered them rest (Matthew 11:28). He invited people to participate in the ordered kingdom of God, where their yoke would be easy and their burden light. The author of Hebrews looked to a future rest, where anyone who entered it would rest from their works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:10-11).

In light of this usage, we can discern that resting pertains to the security and stability found in equilibrium of an ordered system. When God rests on the seventh day, he is taking up his residence in the ordered system that he has brought about in the previous six days. It is not something that he does only on the seventh day; it is what he does every day thereafter. Furthermore, his rest is not just a matter of having a place of residence—he is exercising his control over this ordered system where he intends to relate to people whom he has placed there and for whom he has made the system to function.

God was not only making a home for the people He created in His image when He created the cosmos, he was making a home for himself. But in the ancient world, the temple was not only the residence of a god, it was the throne room from which the god ruled and maintained order. So an ancient reader, according to Walton, would have recognized Genesis 1 (referring to Genesis 1:1-2:3) as a temple story or text. Temple-building accounts often accompanied cosmologies. After he established order, which was the focus of ancient cosmologies, the deity “took control of that ordered system.” When the deity rests in the temple, he is assuming his rightful place and his proper role—he is assuming the throne.

This is the element that we are sadly missing when we read the Genesis account. God has ordered the cosmos with the purpose of taking up his residence in it and ruling over it. Day seven is the reason for days one through six. It is the fulfillment of God’s purpose.

God built the cosmos to be sacred space, and the account in Genesis 1 is an account of the origins of sacred space rather than an account of the origins of the material cosmos. Rather than an ancient temple where people could relate to their god by ritually meeting his needs, “God built the cosmos to be sacred space and then put people in that sacred space as a place where he could be in relationship with them.”

What I’ve presented above are ideas and quotes from John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. His views of Genesis 1 and 2 have their critics, but I’ve found his argument stimulating in a number of different ways. You can introduce yourself to his thought here, in a series of articles and even a video series on the evolutionary creation website, BioLogos. His interpretation of Genesis is certainly consistent with evolutionary creation, but exists independent of it. You can accept his understanding of Genesis without becoming an evolutionary creationist.

I think his sense of Genesis 1 as a temple text fits nicely with a redemptive historical understanding of Scripture as a whole. And I think it could fit there as follows.

Walton sees Genesis 1 as God building a sacred space, a temple, in which He would also place people so He could be in relationship with them. In Genesis 2 and even into Genesis 3, we see the reality of this fellowship with God. Then as a consequence of their sin, God drove Adam and Eve from the sacred space of the Garden (Genesis 3:23-24). However, this was not the end of his plan to be in relationship with people. Even before their sin, God had already begun to point them to the work of redemption He would accomplish in His Son.

In Genesis 2, He made a helper for the man because He saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Presented with the woman, the man said: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Here God instituted biblical marriage. The following comment on this action by God—“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)—will later be quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31. Paul saw this action by God in Genesis 2 as a mystery referring to Christ and the church. The coming of Christ revealed that God’s establishment of biblical marriage was a protoevangelium, if you will.

In Genesis 3, is the judgment statement against the serpent has been understood by many since Justin and Irenaeus in the 2nd century as the protoevangelium: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The protoevangelium is the first (proto) gospel (evangelion); the first reference in Scripture of the idea of a Messiah. So before God put the man and the woman out of the Garden, He gave them two hints of his future plans in Christ.

After Moses completed the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and when Solomon had finished his prayer dedicating the temple ((2 Chronicles 7:1-2), these structures were filled with the presence of the Lord and became sacred space. In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the temple and the Lord said the place of his throne and the place where he will dwell will be in the midst of the people forever (Ezekiel 43:4-7).

Then in Christ, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus called people to Him that they might have rest (Matthew 11:28), for he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). When he ascended into heaven, he sat at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). When he returns, he will return the same way as he left (Acts 1:11). His return will be to fulfill the mystery of Genesis 2:24, revealed in Christ (Ephesians 5:32)—the marriage supper of the Lamb, and his bride, the church (Revelations 19:7).

In the new heaven and new earth, in this new sacred space, God will fulfill His intent to dwell with his people: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelations 21:3). There will not be a temple in this New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, because its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb (Revelations 21:22). The Sabbath rest of Exodus 20:11 will be made manifest. The seventh day of the Genesis creation account will have reached its zenith.

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

09/15/16

What’s in a Day?

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© 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.”

 

 

05/24/16

Why is the Sky Blue?

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© Pakhnyuschchyy | stockfresh.com

Some biblical scholars hold that Genesis 1 either used the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma elish, or was generally dependent upon it and other Mesopotamian traditions. Drawing on the work of Alexander Heidel in Babylonian Genesis, we find both parallels and differences between the Enuma elish and Genesis 1. Ultimately Heidel felt that the differences were far too great and the similarities far too insignificant. “In my estimation, no incontrovertible evidence can for the present be produced for either side.” Poetically, he said: “the resemblances fade away almost like the stars before the sun.” However, some of the similarities are striking.

In the Enuma elish, we find a story of how the earth came to be. In the beginning there was only the divine parents—Apsu and Tiamat—and their son, Mummu (Remember, this was ancient Babylon. Maybe Mummu was a popular name back then). Apsu was the primeval sweet-water ocean and Tiamat was the primeval salt-water ocean. Mummu was the mist rising from the two bodies of water and hovering over them. When Apsu and Tiamat comingled their waters, they gave birth to Lahmu and Lahamu, two silt deposits who eventually formed land. The three types of water were mingled together, forming an undefined mass in which were all the elements from which the universe was later made. But as yet, there was no heaven or earth.

In time, Apsu and Tiamat had more children, Anshar and Kishar. Together they had a son named Anu, who was the sky-god. Anu’s son was Ea, who became the god of the subterranean sweet-waters, the god of magic and eventually the mastermind of all the divinities. “He had no rival among his fellow-gods.” The younger gods were noisy and loud, disturbing the older gods, Apsu and Tiamat. When peaceful attempts to quiet them failed, Apsu determined to destroy them. But Ea through the power of the spoken word of a magic spell put Apsu to sleep. He then took Apsu’s royal tiara and supernatural radiance for himself and killed Apsu, the father of all the gods. Ea then established a spacious place for himself and all the remaining gods to live, calling that place “Apsu.”

So far, there is no real parallel between the two accounts, but we now come to the time of Marduk the son of Ea and “the wisest of the gods.” Tiamat resented the death of her consort, and sought revenge against the other gods for killing Apsu. So she decided to revolt against the other gods, but was defeated in battle by Marduk. He divided her body in two forming the universe, “with one half he formed the sky, with the other he fashioned the earth.”

 Next, he created stations in the sky for the great gods; he organized the calendar, by setting up stellar constellations to determine by their rising and setting the year, the months, and the days; he built gates in the east and in the west for the sun to enter and depart; in the very center of the sky he fixed the zenith; he caused the moon to shine and entrusted the night to her.

The story continues with a discussion of the further creation acts of Marduk. They have some similarity to the biblical account in Genesis as seen in this chart reproduced from the Babylonian Genesis. Note that in both accounts, light is created before the luminaries. But even in what follows, there is not complete correspondence. In fact, “the differences far outweigh the similarities.”

Enuma elish

Genesis

Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternal

The divine spirit creates cosmic matter and exists independently of it

There is primeval chaos; Tiamat is enveloped in darkness

The earth is a desolate waste, with darkness covering the deep.

Light emanated from the gods

 

Light is created

The creation of the firmament

The firmament is created

The creation of dry land

 

Dry land is created

The creation of the luminaries

The luminaries are created

The creation of humanity

Humanity is created

The gods rest and celebrate

God rests and sanctifies the seventh day

If Genesis 1:1-2:3 really was influenced by Enuma elish, then it is reasonably certain that at least the following elements go back to the Babylonian epic: (1) part of the outline; (2) the conceptions of an immense primeval body of water containing the component parts of the earth; (3) the idea of the primeval waters; and (4) the existence of light before the luminaries.

There were also parallels with other Near Eastern cultures and their own creation stories as well. The Egyptians and the Phoenicians referred to a watery chaos in their cosmologies. There was primeval darkness within the cosmologies of the Greeks and the Phoenicians. However, in his commentary on Genesis 1-15, Gordon Wenham seems to capture the right view. He said the known links of the Hebrew patriarchs with Mesopotamia and the other areas of the Near East make it improbable that the writers of Genesis were completely ignorant of Babylonian and other similar creation stories.

Most likely they were conscious of a number of accounts of creation current in the Near East of their day, and Gen 1 is a deliberate statement of the Hebrew view of creation over against rival views. It is not merely a demythologization of oriental creation myths, whether Babylonian or Egyptian; rather it is a polemical repudiation of such myths.

Drawing on Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood, Brad Kramer elaborated on the similarities between Hebrew and other Near Eastern cosmologies. The people of the biblical world assumed that rather than what we think of as “outer space”, there was a universally-wide cosmic ocean. For them this was an entirely rational belief based upon everyday observation and intuition. Why was the sky blue? Where did rain come from? “Ancient people figured that the sky was blue because there was a giant cosmic ocean high above the earth.” And rain came in through the windows and doors of a heavenly dome.

It was a nearly universal belief in biblical times that the sky was a solid structure, serving as a barrier for the upper waters. Aligned with the common experience of finding water deep in the ground, “The ancients conceived of the earth arising out of primordial waters, called the cosmic ocean…the earth was thought to be surrounded by these cosmic waters.” So the ancient Hebrew understanding of the universe looked something like the following:

Hebrew conception of the universe

Biblical evidence for this ancient cosmology exists within Genesis 1 itself. Genesis 1:6 through 9, covering the second day and part of the third day of creation, described how God created an expanse or firmament (rāqîaʿ) in the midst of the waters. This firmament separated the waters above and below. This firmament was thought to be a beaten metal plate or bow; a gigantic heavenly dome. Kramer concluded:

These verses only make sense if the whole universe is filled with water. The picture here is God blowing a bubble of habitable space in the middle of the cosmic sea and placing a barrier to keep the waters from crashing down onto earth. Interestingly, the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars) are “set…in the dome” (1:17), under the “waters above”, rather than above them. So again, the picture is of cosmic waters encircling the entire universe, including stars and planets (which ancients assumed were attached to the solid dome). Greenwood concludes: “As was the case with ancient Israel’s neighbors, the land mass they called earth was thought to be surrounded by water—east and west, above and below.”

Further Biblical evidence that the Hebrews seemed to have a three-tiered cosmology of the universe, with the earth situated in the middle between the heaven above and the deep beneath can be found in passages such as: Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:13, and Psalm 135:6. This three-tiered cosmology continued even into the early days of the church. To give but one example, in The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which Augustine wrote in 416 AD, he discussed why he thought the “star” Saturn was actually cold and not hot, as others speculated.

Indubitably, therefore, what makes it cold is the nearness of those waters set in places above the heavens, which these people refuse to believe who argue in the way I have summarized about the movement of the sky and the constellations. It is by drawing such inferences that some of our people meet those who refuse to believe there are any waters above the heavens and still insist on the coldness of that star whose circuit is nearest to the highest heaven.

For Christians with a modern scientific worldview such a cosmology is nonsensical. So they tend to import (sometimes unconsciously) the criteria of modern scientific accuracy into their reading of Genesis 1. This adds an “artificial middleman” to its interpretation. Attempting to combine an ancient cosmology with a modern scientific one will ultimately render both incoherent or out of focus at some point. And if we are attempting to convince a modern, science-minded person of the truth and authority of the Bible, “Do we really want an apologetic in which the truth of the Bible depends on the accuracy of scientific beliefs of ancient cultures?”

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

05/3/16

“The Deep” in Scripture

© aliencat | stockfresh.com

© aliencat | stockfresh.com

In the Mach 2014 issue of the science journal Nature Pearson et al. presented evidence from which they concluded that the origin of the Earth’s water was deep in the mantle of the Earth. The excitement was over the accidental discovery by Pearson and his co-authors of the presence of a mineral called ringwoodite within a diamond that been expelled from deep within the Earth’s mantle by a violent volcanic eruption. The researchers were looking for a way to date the diamond when they discovered a small piece of ringwoodite enclosed in the diamond. In a Live Science article, Pearson said: “It’s actually the confirmation that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth.” He indicated the volume of water deep within the Earth’s mantle approaches that of the mass of water currently present in all the oceans on the surface of the Earth.

Read the Live Science article if you are interested in more information on how the researchers got from the presence of ringwoodite in a diamond to the conclusion of all that water deep beneath the Earth’s surface. It was the first time that the mineral has been discovered on the Earth’s surface in “anything other than meteorites,” because it only forms under extreme pressure, like what exists at about 320 miles deep below the Earth’s surface. Then Christian media outlets like Christianity Today reported that the discovery confirmed the Bible’s explanation of where water on the Earth came from. “The Holy Bible is clear about water on Earth coming from below the ground.” But where did the waters below the ground come from?

The answer offered by Andre Mitchell for Christianity Today went on the say the book of Genesis tells us how God created the earth as a water-covered sphere and then separated the waters to create the Sky. He then gathered together the waters under the Sky to let dry land appear, which he called Earth (Genesis 1:2, 6-11). Further biblical support for this was noted by Mitchell to be found in the Flood account, where “the fountains of the great deep” broke open and covered the entire Earth with water (Genesis 7:11).

Writing for BioLogos, Brad Kramer commented that explanations like that given in Mitchell’s Christianity Today article stem from well-meaning but misguided efforts to show that the Bible is divine revelation, since it contains scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation—such as the presence of water with the equivalent mass of all the oceans 320 miles below the surface of the Earth. The issue Kramer points to is one where Christians, raised within a culture rich in the knowledge and evidence of modern science, will sometimes unconsciously impose their scientific worldview onto the Bible and its interpretation.

For Christians, the purpose of the entire Bible is first and foremost to reveal Christ. Therefore, it ultimately draws its authority from the fact that it truly speaks of God and his Son. Suggesting that the Bible’s authority rests on its scientific accuracy adds an artificial middleman to this chain of authority, wherein the Bible first speaks truly of science, and therefore is trusted to speak truly of Christ.

We can wander far into the weeds of disagreement over how to interpret Genesis one, but here I want to limit our discussion to idea of the deep. Kramer observed that young earth creationists and old earth creationists seem to share a similar approach to biblical authority and interpretation. While they disagree on exactly what the Bible reveals scientifically, “they agree that the Bible is full of science prophecies that can be used to convince skeptics of the Bible’s authority.” So by this interpretive and apologetic method, a person with a modern scientific worldview can be shown where the Bible contains references to scientific knowledge that could only be from a divine source.

Referencing a quote by Richard Bube, a theistic evolutionist, Kramer referred to the idea of “arbitrary inerrancy,” within this shared method of interpretation. In his essay, “A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,” Bube said the term “arbitrary” meant that inerrancy had to be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria. In other words, biblical inerrancy itself had an all-or-nothing sense:

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 then leads to the Christianity Today discussion that Pearson et al. confirmed the Biblical explanation of where water on the Earth came from—the Deep. But a truly modern individual with a scientific worldview would ask, “So then were did the waters below the ground come from?” And he or she would likely dismiss the answer of Genesis one described above by Andre Mitchell, that God created the earth as a water-covered sphere. This would be an example of what Bube meant by arbitrary inerrancy. Pearson et al. confirms the Biblical declaration that surface water on the earth came from beneath the earth. But the answer to the next logical question, where did that water come from, switches to the unscientifically unsatisfactory response that “God did it.”

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery indicated that the imagery surrounding the word deep in the Bible had five distinct categories, one of which meant “the literal, physical quality of being far below the surface of the ground.” So this sense would fit within the understanding of Genesis 1:2 given by Andre Mitchell. Scriptures where the Hebrew word for deep, tĕhôm, has that meaning are: Psalm 69:2 or Proverbs 20:5. But that is not how the word is used in Genesis 1:2.  Here is the ESV translation of Genesis 1:2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The more common sense for tĕhôm (around 30 or 40 references) is how it is used in Genesis 1:2, indicating the ocean or the sea. For the Hebrew people, the sea was a fearsome and alien place of monsters and storms. See Isaiah 51:10 and Psalm 104, especially verses 5-6, and 25-26. Some references to the sea as “the deep” appear to imply an ancient cosmology or ancient explanation for the origin and development of the universe. Some notable examples of where this ancient cosmology seems to be the subtext of a Biblical passage are Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 7:11 and 8:2, in the Genesis account of Noah and the Flood.

The authors of the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery acknowledge the difficulty in untangling the cosmological from the merely metaphoric statements on Scripture. Nevertheless, it does seem that ancient Hebrews saw the ocean as being fed by fountains or springs (Genesis 7:11, 8:2; Job 38:16; Proverbs 8:28). They also seemed to accept a three-tiered cosmology of the universe, with the earth situated in the middle between the heaven above and the deep beneath (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13; Psalm 135:6). And the “deeps” were believed to be the abode of sea monsters and forces of chaos (Psalm 74:13-14).

These and other oblique references suggest that there was one or more ancient worldviews or cosmologies behind these and other Biblical passages. This would reject a hermeneutical assumption that when discussing creation and the cosmology of the “heavens and earth,” the biblical writers were alluding to scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation. If you read Genesis 1 through an “ancient scientific mindset” for “an ancient audience” you avoid what Brad Kramer referred to as a false dichotomy between Biblical truth and its humanity. “If God chose to communicate through and to ordinary people in real human cultures, then we should expect the Bible be written in such a way that reflects the cultural mindset of its original context.”

So a Christian who is trying to be faithful to the authority of Scripture is not required to celebrate the news from Pearson et al.’s research as a confirmation that in the Bible, water on the surface of the Earth came from below ground. Brad Kramer said that biblical references to an underground ocean reflect “an ancient cosmology that is completely, categorically, and irreconcilably different than our own.”

Equating the “great deep” in Scripture with any scientifically detectable underground body of water is to fundamentally misunderstand the ancient world in which it was written.

There is a sense in Scripture when “the deep” references a literal, physical presence of water or some other quality existing far below the surface of the ground. But there is so much more to be found in its Biblical use. It can represent chaos, danger, and evil. Within apocalyptic visions, we see the deep as a combination of sea and earth. The beasts and the antichrist emerge from the deep in the end time (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 11:7).  After the ultimate defeat of Satan and the beast, there is no longer any sea (Revelation 21:1).

From the beginning of Scripture to the end, references to “the deep” and “the depths” are images of terror with associations of danger, chaos, malevolent evil and death. “The deep” is a major negative archetype in the biblical imagination-a place or state of mind or soul that one would wish to avoid but that no one can completely avoid.

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

01/9/15

Does Anybody Really Know What Time Is?

I have at least one clock in the five main rooms of my house—for a total of eight if I count my computer, cell phone and wristwatch. Today, when I opened my eyes, the first thing I did was look at my clock: it was 6:36 am. After drinking my morning coffee and reading the online news, I fixed my breakfast and read my morning devotions and daily bible passages. About two hours later, I took a shower, dressed and gave my brother a ride to work. He was early, because I had to drop him off on my way to church. I too was early, getting there about twenty minutes before the 10:30 am service. There was time for another cup of coffee.

My life is very time-oriented. Even the counseling I do typically has a time-orientation: sessions are scheduled for an hour. Focusing on the “objective” passing of time as shown by a clock is what Vern Poythress described in Redeeming Science as a clock orientation. Another, more subjective experience of time focuses on the rhythms of human events. Here, we interact with one another or with created things (like now with my computer). These interactions have natural groupings of beginnings, middles and ends; and they end when they are over. Poythress called this an “interactive orientation.”

All human beings are aware of both kinds of time orientation. We can have interactive experiences of time in which we “lose track of time” and then realize it is later than we thought. I have been in counseling sessions where I lost track of time and felt I had to apologize to the next scheduled person who I kept waiting 10 or 15 minutes. Poythress said this is a consequence of our postindustrial American culture, which has a strong clock orientation.

Preindustrial societies have an interactive time orientation. Meetings start when everyone is there and end when the participants are “finished.” There isn’t an overt or implicit attention to objective time. Robert Levine commented in his book A Geography of Time that “life on the clock is clearly out of line with virtually all of recorded history.” Poythress said in Redeeming Science:

Clock time is more merciless than nature’s obvious rhythms. In the ancient world before the arrival of mechanical clocks, you experienced the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of day and night, but not the mechanical rhythm of the ticking clock.

Parallel with the progress of science and technology, a clock orientation has increasingly become an integral part of how we view the world and even how we read our bibles.

Poythress noted that if you went to Genesis 1 with a clock orientation, your focus would be on how long (according to a clock) it took to complete the creation account. But if you approached Genesis 1 with an interactive orientation, you’d ask what important events took place, and what their meaning could be. Remember that humans don’t appear until day six. But God was present “working with a rhythm like that of human work.” Immediately he’d know that it took six days; “six human-like cycles of work and rest, followed by a seventh day of longer rest.”

The pattern that would strike him would be the rhythm of work and not the rhythm of the ticking clock. And the days are truly days because of their correspondence to the human rhythm of the workday: “And there was evening and there was morning …” How long the days took as measured by a clock was a secondary issue.

Americans, because of their strong clock orientation, have a tendency to press the “question of clock ticks” since it is so much a factor in American culture. So when someone is asserting that the days of Genesis 1 were “ordinary days,” the person “is claiming the days were ordinary by clock time.” A person with an interactive time orientation would never call them “ordinary.” In terms of what took place within them, “they were among the most extraordinary days in all of history!”

Poythress suggested that when insisting upon a strict 24-hour-day viewpoint for Genesis 1, its proponents had adopted a clock orientation of time and perhaps “unconsciously given in to the philosophical primacy of a modern scientific orientation toward precise, quantitative measurement of time.”

Placing the 24-hour-day view of Genesis 1 as a cornerstone doctrine for conservative Christians has never sat right with me. So when I read the discussion of a distinction between clock orientation and interactive orientation by Vern Poythress in Redeeming Science, I wanted to make it available to a wider audience.

There can be a lack of grace and narrow-minded critique of individuals who disagree with a young earth creationist, 24-hour-day view of the Genesis days of creation. I see this in what Ken Ham wrote in his blog post about Hugh Ross, who has a day-age-view of the days in Genesis. Ken Ham is the president of Answers in Genesis, a self-described apologetics ministry with a young earth creation view. I think Deborah Haarsma, the President of the Biologos Foundation, has the right response, in her blog: have a gracious dialogue with those who differ on this view; it’s a disagreement among believers.

Vern Poythress noted how the Genesis account of creation and the Fall in Genesis chapters 1-3 provides a foundation for the doctrines of God, nature, humanity, sin and the Sabbath. And in terms of basic theology, the principal approaches to interpreting the Genesis creation account have the same outcome. They all affirm the same theological truths. And the exact amount of time that it took to accomplish creation makes no theological difference to these basic truths.

The theology of creation, and the theology of God’s control and goodness displayed in creation, remain fundamentally the same, however short or long the timing for the various acts of creation (Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science, 114).