Monday, December 05, 2011

Think: Did Humanity fall on Day 6?

A month ago I received some excellent training on Genesis 1-11 that helped us understand different view points and engage with different questions that people might have. Our speaker was aimed to make us agnostic about these chapters, or at least to not make any particular reading a necessary thing for someone to be a Christian.

Some approaches major on fitting the text with scientific approaches, others lean more to a literary approach to the text with less concern for fit with science. There are choices to make. Sometimes not much is at stake... sometimes a lot is at stake.

What follows is an argument I heard from a theology student last week, from the more literary approach to the text, approaching the question of when the fall of man happened.
The events of Genesis 2 occur in "the day" that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens (Gen 2:4). You could say thats some period of time, but what if a day is just a day. And if finished means completed then we can speak of what is finsihed on that day, 2v1.
When was this? Genesis 1 says the work of creation was completed on Day 6.  There is evening and there is morning, man is created. Animals are named. Woman is created. As that day comes to its close, The Word of the LORD prepares to come and walk in the garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8) before the beginning of the seventh day. But when he comes, man is hiding in shame... the fall has happened...

Why? Could it be that the serpent turns from God and strikes at humanity out of jealousy that man, God's image bearer, is receiving the love of God and ruling over the world.

And so it still remains for man to enter into God's seventh day, through Christ. And so to walk with God. 
Its good to have been able to wrestle with the text a little further. It's a challenge to interpret a text well but far from impossible - and its useful to remember what's at stake in an interpretation. The same student also put forward something like this argument that Melchizedek is Shem. and several other tasty morsels from the Pentateuch... thoughts to ponder, what do you think?

8 comments:

  1. I've found a "literary" approach very helpful - looking at how the narrator uses literary techniques to tell us about things that really happened. A couple of dangers though. One is that the presence of literary features can be taken as evidence that the things didn't really happen (e.g., some would say that Gen 3 is a literary picture of our fallen condition, not an account of a real event in history). The other is that if you look hard enough for literary features, you will inevitably find things that aren't actually there. (Maybe the 6th-day Fall and the Melchizedek=Shem arguments fall into that category?)

    I wonder if your speaker succeeded in making you agnostic about Gen 1-11? I try to be agnostic about many details of those chapters, but I struggle with this when I'm asked to be agnostic about whether human physical death is a consequence of sin (and therefore whether the physical death of Jesus is part of the solution to the problem of sin).

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  2. I think the agnostic thing wasn't "Don't have a view" but "Don't require a particular view of people". And, in fairness it was more "be agnostic" on day = day or day = period of time, various evolutionary approaches, but with a number of non-negotiable convictions in there too. So, more about distinguishing between which bits to take a stand on and which bits there are a valid range of evangelical viewpoints on.

    The literary approach can see things that aren't there and it can see things that we might overlook because of our presuppositions about thing.

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  3. Here's what I love: whether right or wrong, I love this because if I heard someone say that I'd say "NOW you're thinking!!". Far too often people are so dull that they dont even think - and for that reason people thus struggle too much, others dont struggle enough when reading scripture. That said I think synchronising the days of Genesis 1 & the experiences of Genesis 2 is a little bit crude as exegisis, although we can't do doctrinally bare exegesis - maybe worth checking out Irenaeus of Lyon on this one - he famously identified the 6th day as the ongoing work of God's creation, so man was made in the image but had to be perfected into the likeness (fairly doctrinally loaded exegesis of Gen 1:26 given Hebrew parallelism) - like Jesus who was made perfect "through suffering". That leant to what John Hick called Irenaean theodicy of an imperfect (ie unfinished) creation as the domain for "soul making", thus characterising Gen 2-3 as the felix culpa. That's too far for me.

    For what it's worth, I like this because the 7th day never ends and is referred to by Hebrews. I also note that John's gospel makes a very big deal about the 6th day "behold the man" and the 7th day "it is finished", and then very early in the morning on the first day of the week...when it was still dark...someone women came to the tomb...they thought it was the gardener". That said, I'd say it merges creation & new creation a bit too much, and I think the NT is very clear that the new creation is A NEW creation - when the creator spirit regenerated and refilled what he left in the fall. This reading would make Gen 2 where God exhausts & drains himself to breathe into man's nostrils the breath of life (which leaves him returning to the dust just like the animals - Ec 3) a parallel of the coming of the spirit in regeneration. That's too confused for me. Generation is not regeneration. Regeneration is a new creation.

    Anthony: I think you would find Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time is very helpful on dealing with modernity: ie on why we think the symbol ladenness of things somehow undermines the materiality. As is CS Lewis, "But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner…We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. It might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence" (the problem of pain)

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  4. I love the literary stuff, the symbols, the way things match up and bits of the bible explain other bits. It makes sense God's word would be wonderful literature, would be totally consistent, and be a cracking story; the best story, the true story at the heart of all other stories.

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  5. "Here's what I love: whether right or wrong, I love this because if I heard someone say that I'd say "NOW you're thinking!!"."

    Yes!
    And Schaeffer's Genesis commentary is great too.

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  6. Firstly, as an old 'Biblical Studies' Graduate (and I mean old!) I think a sensible combination of the literary and the scientific is very important, and too often lacking in Evangelical circles.

    e.g. the word 'day' has a range of meanings in OT Hebrew, allowing for a range of interpretations, not just a literal 24 hours. See: http://concordances.org/hebrew/3117.htm

    See also http://biblelexicon.org/genesis/2-4.htm in which the whole of creation is described as taking place in a 'day' i.e. defined period of time, not 24 hours.

    The Scientific definition of a literal 24 hour day involves the relationship of the earth and the Sun.

    So, on which 'day' was the Sun created?
    What was the literal definition of a day before that point?
    Can this word therefore refer to a literal 24 hour day?

    Secondly, your article for me pinpoints the weakness of using 'Creation Science' as an evangelistic approach, in that it adds a single interpretation of Genesis 1 to The Gospel, unnecessarily ruling all other opinions out, and creates a barrier to the Gospel, not an invitation to it.

    Thanks,
    Jez

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  7. Jez,

    First speaker, Andrew Wilson, was definitely out to make sure we didn't make an interpretation of Genesis 1 essential.
    Second speaker, James Patrick, argues that Gen 2:4 means creation "completed" in a day, not made in a day.
    Both are members of the Newfrontiers Theology Forum, and free to disagree on this stuff! Thankfully they're wrestling with it.

    Dave

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