I need to consider this more but it sounds reasonable (-:
10 posts were split to a new topic: The Location of the Flood
Nice. And to continue with the water theme you’re developing, those in my confession would say that baptism would be how the Cross gets applied (Rom 6:4 and 1 Pet 3:21-22), or put another way how God gets us into Christ. So yes, that chain tracks well. Creation to Flood to Basket (Moses) to Exodus to Jordan to Baptism, wherever God births his people he seems to do it through the water.
Back to the topic of reconstruction, I found this blog offered good advice:
Basically, he states that we while doubt is normal, we should not wallow in it, but feed our souls and grow as well.
There is truth in there jpm, but one famous guy I know said one thing I think is very true. “the heart cannot rejoice in what the mind says is false.” My period of wallowing in doubt was about 10-12 years long depending upon how I mark the start of it. But it led to my flood view that no one likes, and eventually led me to our arguments for the existence of the immaterial soul. Good did come out of that period, but I have lots of scars from the atheistic questions that still rattle around my mind–not of doubt but of wondering why Christians keep giving out apologetics that won’t answer those atheistic questions. Questions like LostnFound has in the opening post of this thread.
Hi there, @Lostnfound. It is a pleasure to meet you. Like you, I am also new to these forums. (This might be my third post, I think?) But I came here for reasons that are a bit different from yours. I’m here because I enjoy having my ideas tested and refined through the fires of this layman’s version of peer-review. Exploring and explaining my beliefs to others forces me to really understand them, a level of familiarity and depth that breeds a highly developed perspicuity and intelligibility. As someone once said, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it.” And my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ keep me on the straight and narrow with their intense critical scrutiny, ensuring that my beliefs remain consistent with a biblical faith and evangelical theology. (By the way, it’s really nice to meet a fellow skeptic and advocate of the scientific frame of mind.)
1. Jesus and the New Testament authors seem to believe in a literal account of Genesis.
I know that young-earth creationists make this argument routinely enough, but is it true? When their argument is examined closely, I cannot help noticing that they stretch the conclusion beyond the supporting evidence. As I understand it, what Jesus and the New Testament authors took literally was the existence of Adam (and Eve), as well as his federal headship over all mankind in covenant with God by which he plunged us all into sin when he fell. Does accepting those points commit someone to only a young-earth creationist interpretation of Genesis? Hardly. Somehow they believe that a literal Adam means that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, but that’s simply false. As others have pointed out, there are many evolutionary creationists who hold to a literal Adam and Eve. I am one of them.
“But,” someone objects, “the genealogies.” I know. More on that later.
2. If Genesis is not to be taken literally, the rest of the Bible is open to question.
I highly recommend John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1 (2009).  After studying Gregory K. Beale and his argument on temple imagery throughout the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve in the garden,  I was reading Walton’s book when their exegetical arguments coalesced into an epiphany that hit me hard. More on that later. But it was Walton and his exegesis of Genesis 1 that really brought it home for me, namely, that none of the young-earth creationist material I’ve read over the decades has ever interpreted Genesis literally. I’m quite serious. They say they do, of course, but look again at what their arguments involve. It’s always a plain or straight-forward reading of Genesis 1 from an English translation using modern categories of thought. All of that makes a literal interpretation impossible.
In order to take Genesis 1 literally, what is needed is a robust historical-grammatical exegesis of the text in its original language and ancient cultural context, to be immersed as much as possible in what the human author and his audience would have understood (which wasn’t English, for starters). We quite naturally think that to create is to bring something into existence, which is understood in material terms, but that is precisely the problem. “We” are the ones who think that way, and it’s so intuitive and ingrained that we’ve never thought to question it. Worse still, we simply imposed our modern categories on this ancient text without a second thought, taking it for granted that people over three thousand years ago thought in the same terms. But maybe there are some important questions we need to ask related to responsible and meaningful exegesis, important historical and grammatical questions. The ancient Israelites didn’t view the world (as we do) in terms of its material structure and properties, as if it was a vastly complex machine engineered by a transcendent designer. They viewed it in terms of its order and function, as if it was a sacred kingdom with a sovereign ruler.
“The most respectful reading we can give to the text,” Walton explained, “the reading most faithful to the face value of the text—and the most ‘literal’ understanding, if you will—is the one that comes from their world, not ours.” This goes far, far deeper than looking at the Hebrew word for “day.” And it is what Walton has done in the book that I (and others) have recommended to you. For the first time ever in my life, I was presented with an authentically literal interpretation of Genesis 1. And it threw open so many doors on numerous other scriptures, tying them together into a coherent temple image with a Sabbath rest awaiting the people of God. (Beale is indispensable here, too.) It also inspired within me a deep reverence for nature, for it became impossible to view any part of it in secular terms. As Walton said, we don’t have natural resources, we have sacred resources. All of creation, including everything in this world, belongs to God. We are stewards, not consumers. We must care for creation, not exploit it. And so on.
In fact, Genesis ought to be taken literally. But don’t be taken in by what young-earth creationists pretend is literal. It’s nothing of the sort.
3. Understanding different views in order to discuss them in a study group.
I don’t know what views you have been examining but I would nominate evolutionary creationism, and for several reasons. First, it is rapidly becoming popular within the Christian community of faith as an old-earth view that accepts the theory of evolution and its relevant sciences (viz. paleontology, population and developmental genetics, biogeography, evo-devo and so forth). There are a couple of different old-earth views on offer (such as progressive creationism) but none of them accept the theory of evolution. This is the only old-earth view that does. (There is theistic evolution, of course, but its inherent deism is contrary to the trinitarian creator God of the Bible. It also takes for granted that there are “purely natural processes,” but the Bible clearly teaches that there is no such thing.) Anyway, since it is rapidly becoming popular, it is worth taking seriously and learning about. For this I (very) highly recommend Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution (2014). 
Second, it situates the science and history of evolution within a biblical world-view. Many evolutionary creationists, myself included, are evangelical Christians who have a firm commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture as the enscripturated Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and life. As a theological perspective on the science of evolution from a biblical world-view, evolutionary creationism does not subject the Bible to the authority of science; it is rather the other way around, science is subject to the authority of the Word of God revealed in Scripture. All things are under Christ’s authority, including science. This means a lot of different things, too much to get into in this thread, but it’s fleshed out really well in the apologetics of covenant theology. 
Third, it allows for Adam and Eve as historical figures. My own evolutionary creationist perspective doesn’t just allow for it but demands it. However, I am compelled by reality to acknowledge that there are evolutionary creationists who feel at liberty to dispense with a historical Adam. I don’t get it, I think that generates a host of profound theological problems, but that’s a different discussion for elsewhere. Nevertheless, for Christians like me who consider a historical Adam to be vitally important theologically, it is nice to have an evolutionary view that welcomes that doctrine.
4. If Adam, then young Earth, because genealogies.
Anyway, back to the epiphany that resulted in a massive, seismic paradigm shift for me. It was after reading Beale and Walton that it suddenly occurred to me:
- Natural history and redemptive history are not necessarily the same thing.
Theologians have been so clear that the Bible is not about science but about salvation. From start to finish, it’s about Christ and his redeeming work, his life, death, and resurrection. After he was raised from the dead, he encountered those two men on the road to Emmaus and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). In the theological circles I travel in, it’s referred to as redemptive history, that moment when God entered into covenant relationship with mankind through Adam as our federal head. In other words, what we find in Genesis is the dawn of redemptive history.
Does that mark also the dawn of natural history, the origin of the natural world? Young-earth creationists would say it does, but they’re relying on a plain or straight-forward reading of an English text using modern categories of thought. So what happens when you interpret it literally using a robust historical-grammatical exegesis of the text in its original language and ancient cultural context? Walton showed us. Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins but of functional origins as God established the cosmos as sacred space (temple) for his presence and rule, creating the functions and assigning functionaries over a six-day period and resting on the seventh. (On this view, that seventh day is no longer a footnote to creation week but arguably the most important day.)
“I understand that and it makes sense,” someone might say, “but couldn’t Gensis 1 be about material origins as well?” Yes, it certainly could. But is it? That’s the question. Such a conclusion must be drawn from the text responsibly, not imposed on it because that’s a view with which we are most familiar. And Walton observes an important point: “Viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins—it only contends that Genesis 1 is not that story.”
So, on my view of evolutionary creationism, which consolidates the theological work of Beale and the exegetical analyses of Walton, the dawn of natural history occurred several billion years ago (i.e., the “construction phase” of the cosmic temple) whereas the dawn of redemptive history reaches back to the garden around seven or eight thousand years ago (i.e., the “inauguration phase” of the cosmic temple). The days in Genesis 1 were normal 24-hour periods, Adam and Eve actually existed as real people, the events in the garden actually happened and it was only a few thousand years ago, etc. Also, the earth is over four billion years old, dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago, descent with modification from a common ancestor is a thing, the universe is roughly 13 billion years old, etc. Redemptive history on the one hand, natural history on the other. Both are true. The key is realizing they are not the same thing. Natural history is disclosed through general revelation, the meaning and purpose of which is unveiled in redemptive history disclosed through special revelation.
5. Additional questions.
(a) Yes, I think that there is a discernible shift from Genesis 1–11 to Genesis 12–50, but I will leave that argument in more capable hands.
(b) As you can see, on the view which I presented here there is no need to question “the precise stories, names, and timelines in the primeval chapters of Genesis.” As it turns out, Genesis does factually report history—but it is redemptive history, just as we find in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
© I have very little interest in prophecy. It has something to do with my personal life and a church that obsessed over that stuff.
(d) I think that Satan will make use of pretty much anything in order to undermine the faith. He can even use young-earth creationism to turn people away. That doesn’t make the things he uses evil or suspect, it just means that he is desperate and seizing upon whatever he can. But he is ultimately irrelevant, for we worship a sovereign God who has every authority over him.
 John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
 Gregory K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
 Denis R. Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Monarch, 2014).
 K. Scott Oliphint, The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004).
Welcome to the forum, John. We don’t usually get such nicely footnoted posts. You rock.
I don’t agree with everything, but for once I’ll forego nitpicking. Well said. Beale is a treasure. That book also blew my mind when it first appeared. I highly recommend his shorter commentary on Revelation (all the substance without the technical details) in conjunction with Middleton’s treatment of eschatology in A New Heaven and a New Earth.
Lostnfound and others in a similar state - I have a heart for folks sitting at the sharp edge, looking at what seems like a choice between Christian faith OR science. There is great material in these discussions and on the BioLogos web site, but it can be hard to pull all the pieces together into a coherent whole. At the risk of self-promotion, I have a new book coming out with Kregel Publications this Fall called _Friend of Science, Friend of Faith_that attempts to do just that. It walks readers through some history of how Christians negotiated apparent conflicts in the past, and how we can apply what was learned to navigate current conflicts. Spoiler alert - it affirms both conventional science and the truth of the Bible. If anyone wants to be put on a list to be notified when the book is released, send me a personal email to email@example.com.
(Ultra-short bio: I am professor & chair of geology & geological engineering at U. Mississippi, a BioLogos Voices speaker, author, …)
John, this was the best thing I’ve read all week–and I’ve read a lot this week! Very clear and thorough, yet concise. Thank you for taking the time to write all this up (complete with footnotes, wow).
Welcome to BL, @Lostnfound. I’m glad you landed here.
Your questions are on point and very important. Several people have already responded to some of them, I hope in helpful ways. I want to respond to the most basic thought you expressed in what I quoted above: why doesn’t a non-literal interpretation of [early] Genesis put everything else up for grabs?
I’ll make two points, then fade into the background.
(1) The first thing to do is to get the meaning of Genesis right. If we confine that simply to the first of the two creation stories, not the whole of Gen 1-11, then this is the single most important article I can recommend: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1984/JASA9-84Hyers.html
The author (now deceased) argued that the TRUE meaning of that story is simply that everything we see (not to mention some things we don’t see) is a creation of the one, true, invisible Creator. In its original historical, literary, and cultural context, the Hebrew creation story was saying precisely that much. Full Stop. This is the most helpful article I’ve ever read on this topic, yet I hadn’t heard any of this until I read it–several months after finishing my academic doctorate. Let me emphasize that again. Here I am now, someone who’s spent nearly 40 years studying Christianity and science (in one way or another), and yet I never heard these things until after my graduate studies were completed. This just goes to show how so many Christians have never been taught how to read Genesis One properly. That’s where the problem begins: we need to educate our young adults about how to read it properly, and why that matters.
(2) We need to stress the importance of a crucial principle of biblical interpretation–namely, that God meets us where we actually are, as historically and culturally embedded, finite and ignorant creatures. To put it bluntly, God “dumbs down” his knowledge in order that we might understand and lovingly obey the good news. It wasn’t God’s purpose to instruct us about the finer details of nature in some scientifically accurate manner. This is called the principle of accommodation, and it’s been widely used since Augustine and perhaps earlier. Calvin practically baptized the notion, it was so important to him; and Galileo couldn’t have kept his faith without it. In my experience, YECs reject this idea almost entirely. For them, if the words of the Bible don’t mean exactly what the bare words signify, then God becomes a “liar.” IMO, there is no more dangerous teaching (in the realm of science and the Bible) than this particular attitude.
Many of the atheists I converse with, ironically, sound just like my YEC friends. A famous example (though I do not know him personally) is astrophysicist Sean Carroll. I remember reading somewhere that he thinks the Bible is all fables b/c God got the science wrong. I hope I have not misrepresented his view, but even if I have I do know lots of people who believe just this. Those who say this are really being sophomoric, frankly: how could God (if he exists) communicate with us in any other way? Galileo understood this full well, but my atheist friends just don’t get this. Could God possibly explain quarks to ancient Hebrews? I very much doubt it. Furthermore, in a few centuries maybe no one will believe in quarks anymore–all we really know confidently is that science will surely change dramatically over time, such that many things in textbooks today won’t be in those future textbooks, except in historical sidebars, such as where one might find (say) the idea of an ether filling all of space in a sidebar today. So, on the premise that God must tell us the true truth about nature, how would we ever be able to believe that he did? Or, if we take it as axiomatic that he must do that, then how could we ever be confident that our interpretation of those texts could possibly be true, since God must know many things about nature that no human will ever know, let alone comprehend. So, you see where I’m going here…
Again I want to thank you ALL for your thoughtful and loving responses!
You seem to be taking a very all-or-nothing stance on things here. Whether or not the universe came into being in six short days a few thousand years ago — or longer still — has been on the table for a bit. And you could go on and on about that…I just got an earful from a young earther the other day and not sure where he got his facts. I took a course through a well respected museum specializing in ANE subjects. The course was nonsectarian. When we got to the part in the Hebrew Bible (as many call the OT in some circles) about Joseph, I noted the verse in Genesis that gives Joseph’s official Egyptian name. My instructor — seeing that verse for the first time — said, “Sounds Egyptian”. There are things in Genesis (and the books afterwards) that do have plausibility. Too long to discuss generally here. Hope others have more to say.
The Bible was not written to us but for us. I like yourself have always struggled with faith. So lets go over your questions.
1. How do you, friends, allow yourselves to question the precise stories, names and timelines in the primeval chapters of Genesis, while NOT doubting the even more miraculous stories of Jesus’s life, resurrection and promises? If Genesis is merely to convey ideas and not to factually report history, couldn’t the same be said of the Gospels?
Back in the times of when the Torah was written (the first 5 books of the Bible) it was common for stories or “myths” to be used to get a point across. Let’s take for example Genesis says “God created the universe in the Big Bang a very high density and high temperature state and it took billions of years for life to appear on earth”. It is still hard for modern society to comprehend the beginning of our universe think about trying to explain this to a group of people in the desert. So we can see that Genesis was a book written in a time when stories were meant to get a point across. You don’t find anything in Genesis about computers or Apple Watches but that does not mean we cant learn about God from Genesis that was written for the people then. The Gospels were eye witnesses accounts of Jesus and secular scholars and religious individuals know Jesus walked the Earth.
1. What about prophetic scripture? Can we take any of that as Truth and expect it to play out as reported? If so, why?
For this question lets look at the prophets describing Jesus. These prophecies were written centuries before Jesus walked on the Earth. The Messiah would be a Hebrew man (Isaiah 9:6) born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), a prophet akin to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18), a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Pslam 110:4), a king (Isaiah 11:1-4), and the son of David (Matthew 22:42) who suffered before entering his glory (Isaiah 53). Jesus met each of these messianic requirements and more.Mathematically speaking, the odds of anyone fulfilling this amount of prophecy are staggering.
1 person fulfilling 8 prophecies: 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 1 person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power 1 person fulfilling 300+ prophecies: Only Jesus!
Is this just another attempt by Satan to impede the spread of God’s Word? Why believe that there actually is a satan if Genesis isn’t taken literally? Perhaps every other reference to satan is also figurative?
You don’t need to know the correct meaning of Genesis to be saved. As long as you believe in Jesus and confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord you will be saved. Biologos teaches this and I don’t think Satan would want that to be taught.
Nicely put, Laura…and thanks for the reference to “No, Modern Science is not ‘catching up’ to the Bible” ----interesting thoughts in that article.
9 posts were split to a new topic: Are faith and reason opposite ways of understanding the world?
Many helpful comments have already been made, so rather than answer your questions specifically I’ll offer some general observations.
The tendency in dispensationalism, which is the dominant interpretive approach of conservative American Evangelicals, is to gauge faith by how literally someone is willing to interpret the Bible: the more literal they are willing to take any passage, the more faith they have. This is a horrendous mistake. It was not the approach of Jesus, who challenged the scribes to see Malachi 4:5 as fulfilled other than by the literal return of Elijah of old (Mt 11:14). Examples can be multiplied where Jesus was misinterpreted as speaking literally when he was speaking figuratively.
There is no rigid formula for determining where statements ought to be taken figuratively. It is a matter of assembling all the relevant evidence, both biblical and historical, applying God-give reason, and arriving at a conclusion that reflects spiritual discernment.
The original intent or understanding of the human writers of Scripture, so far as it can be inferred, is no guide. Many prophecies concerning Jesus, including those of the virgin birth, childhood sojourn in Egypt, and resurrection, certainly were not understood by the human writers or their contemporaries as they were later in light of the events of Jesus’s life (Isa 7:14-16; Hos 11:1; Ps 16:9-10). Daniel claimed not to understand what was revealed to him (Dan 12:8). Understanding of Scripture is progressive as God allows deeper or greater meanings to be discovered.
Concerning genealogies, you will notice in 1 Chron 2 that places such as “Behtlehem” are listed along with what appear to be actual persons without any distinction between them, as if they were all individuals. Clans are interspersed with individuals in the same way. In Genesis 10, the table of nations, clans and individual descendants are mixed, and it is not easy to tell in some instances whether individuals, groups, or simply inhabitants of certain geographical areas are being identified. These examples show that genealogies are not necessarily straightforward and leave lots of room for purposes other than family trees as we would construct them today.
On a plain sense reading of Genesis 3, no fallen angel is identified in the garden. The one who speaks to the woman is the serpent, one of the beasts of the field, period. There is not the slightest suggestion of “ventriloquism”; the serpent’s power of speech is left unexplained. When Jesus himself speaks of the cautious or shrewd nature of snakes, he is obviously refering to animals that naturally shy away from humans, not to demons (Mt 10:16). The curse on the serpent, which repeats the identification of it as an animal, is on the surface simply an explanation of the strange nature of snakes’ locomotion and their fraught relationship with human beings. Human beings find snakes weird and threatening, since some are venemous, and kill them by striking or crushing their heads. Snakes strike at humans most often in the lower leg or foot. Simple and plain.
Paul does not clearly identify the snake with Satan where he might have done so (2 Cor 11:3). Revelation 12:9 calls Satan “the old serpent,” but clearly he is figuratively, not literally, a dragon/serpent. The Pharisees were “serpents” because of their scheming and malicious natures. Satan is called a serpent for the same reason. Of all serpents in this figurative sense, Satan is the first and the original. Revelation’s identification need not be taken farther than that.
This does NOT mean I don’t see Satan implicated in Genesis 3. I absolutely see the devil implicated on a figurative level that is deeper than the surface story. The serpent is an appropriate symbol for wicked persons, whether spirit or human, because the animal secrets venom from the mouth, and intelligent deceivers secret their spiritual poison from the mouth, i.e., through lies. Somehow evil spirits are able to project evil suggestions toward the human mind. I don’t pretend to know exactly how this works, but obviously the first instance of it caused humans to turn away from God. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, whether this turning away from God involved a literal piece of fruit I don’t know, and I don’t think it is crucially important to know.
I love your points about how we tend to gauge faith by how literal we are willing to interpret scripture, and that the original understanding of the authors is not the be-all-end-all of scripture’s meaning. Thanks!
Hi Ted, long time no see, since I was thrown off the ASA list. lol
Accommodation is logically unnecessary. First, neolithc farmers had the same IQ as we do. They were fully modern humans. Secondly, There are always ways to tell true but simplified scientifically accurate accounts. God could say, “Let the Earth bring forth living Creatures…” Which can be interpreted as the earth evolving life. When describing the solar system one doesn’t have to talk about geodesics of gravitation to simply say the earth goes around the sun.
One can claim that the Fall is not real because snakes don’t talk, but do we really believe that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.? If we don’t believe that, then certainly talking snakes are impossible. If we do believe that, then one must ask what powers do these spiritual forces have? Can they make a snake talk? Can God make Balaam’s donkey talk? If He can’t, then how can we believe that he can raise a man from the dead?
What I find lacking in accommodation is faith that God doesn’t tell falsehoods, and a wrong idea of the intelligence of humans in the Neolithic.or Iron age.
Intelligence would have nothing to do with it. Culture and knowledge is what necessitates accommodation - to all of us. If a math teacher uses calculus concepts to attempt to teach a group that hadn’t yet even heard of algebra, the teaching will be useless. If the teacher is attentive they will work first on arithmetic and then algebra foundations before proceeding to more advanced things. It isn’t that the pupils were less intelligent. They just hadn’t yet had the opportunity to know the more advanced things yet. Just as the ancients did not yet know what we now know about astronomy.
Thank God for accommodation. Without it we would not have a bible and any revelations we did “get” would be indecipherable to us as it would probably involve concepts we would have no idea about yet now. Accommodation is absolutely necessary and unavoidable in any relationship that involves communication … i.e. all of them.