None of us have ever read anything entirely free of indoctrination. No man is an island and we are all nurtured by the culture in which we are raised. The Bible in particular cannot be read from a Martian point of view. It is about recovering or sustaining what is deepest in our humanity, about what matters beyond the banality of mere survival. Now science and mathematics can be navigated without tapping the depths of who we really are, but not much else. Not that the Bible has a lock on those depths. There are other wisdom traditions but if you have one that works for you why go to all the trouble of learning another? But where it doesn’t apply by all means set it aside.
The actual interesting thing is that you think anyone is trying to “get around” anything when what people are doing is actually taking the context of the accounts seriously – in my case, insisting that the scriptures have to be treated with respect by studying them in the original language used by the original writer and the literary genre(s) he chose and the worldview of the audience.
And that’s the approach recommended for Mycha: she plainly grasps scholarship, and thus probably can understand that the Bible, being ancient literature, has to be read in the context where and when it was produced, which requires scholarship – and also can grasp that to not approach the Genesis accounts using scholarship is insulting to not just the original writer and the original audience and how they understood the accounts but also insulting to the Holy Spirit Who chose that writer and moved him to write.
Mycha, some of us here have invested years in actually studying the Bible by learning the languages and the history and the rest of the extended context, and I think we all agree that serious scholarship is the most appropriate way to honor the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the text. It’s important to keep in mind that none of it was written to us, it was written to other people and we are in effect reading their mail. And just as if we want to understand something written by Chaucer we have to learn the meanings not just of the words but of the literary forms and the cultural context in which he wrote, and indeed do the same to understand any literature not written in our cultural context, so also we must approach the Bible the same way. As one of my professors put it, the Bible is more than human literature but it is never less than human literature.
Treating it as human literature also honors Christ by recognizing that just as God the Son came to us in human form, so the Bible comes to us in human form.
I have not responded because it appears that your intention is to create division. Your motives seem to be driven by an ulterior agenda, seeking arguments on this forum for personal gratification rather than a genuine concern for a fellow human’s spiritual growth. I’m sorry you need to justify yourself int his way. I hope you can find what you are looking for in a healthier way.
Excellent podcast for this topic.
I especially liked when he said Jesus was the first real human. That fits with a number of the church Fathers, BTW.
Given Mycha’s question, I think this would also be helpful:
He makes – among other items – the important point that “reading the Bible is essentially a cross-cultural experience”.
Well put, Mycha. I have moved a bunch of the off topic posts to a private message. Please keep comments here addressing the issues expressed in the original post, or they will be deleted when seen without comment.
The problem of evil is not a serious theological problem? The origin of sin and suffering is as tough as it gets. I’d say it’s not a special problem for Christians who accept evolution. Some young earth creationists try to use it to argue against evolution but at the end of the day all sin, death and disease stemming from two individuals who did not know good or evil eating a piece of fruit at the suggestion of a talking snake is hardly an obvious solution to the problem of evil. At least it’s not remotely compelling to anyone but Biblical literalists. It seems wildly unfair if literally true to start with. The problem of evil is real and genuine for virtually all theists and that applies equally to YEC, OEC, and theistic evolution. All Christians have to contend with Romans 5 and natural evil.
Thank you for doing that.
The position you’re stating here is the very position Mycha is now doubting at deep level.
The words of the Bible can be read and felt on different levels, just as everything in God’s Creation can be understood and felt on different levels. For us as humans to suggest that God speaks only in words (and not many words in total if you count up all the Hebrew words found in Genesis 1-11) and that God expects us to be able to unfold all the bends and turns of the orgami-like nature of Creation and Divine Love on the basis of a tiny handful of words in the Bible is an indication of several things, including an unwillingness to allow God to keep on talking through whatever means God deems fit.
You aren’t the arbiter of how God chooses to communicate with us, either through thought, word, or deed, and it seems somewhat uncharitable for you to claim that your interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the only possible correct interpretation that God would approve of.
The literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 starts with an assumption that God relies solely on algorithms and linear logic to establish the nature of God’s relationship with us and all Creation. But the patterns of relationships and the patterns of Creation demonstrate a clear preference for calculus – rates of change, rates of flow, the interconnection between space and time, and the changes within the Heart that lead to the emotional and spiritual experience of Redemption (not to be confused with salvific doctines).
The foundation of God’s Love is much greater than any set of words could ever hope to express, no matter how much we long to understand God through the medium of words. If you were to take every word that has ever been written about God – including all the words that claims to be revelatory – you couldn’t come close to capturing the true immensity and wonder of God’s Love.
But we’re human, and we stumble along as best we can in our need to express to God our own feelings of trust and gratitude for the gifts of faith, hope, and love. Sometimes we have to make do with words, but there are so many other ways for us to show God how we really feel in our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.
Thank you, God, for your patience!
I’m with you on this, and I’ve tried to do the same (though my Greek is much better than my grasp of Hebrew). Just wanted to say, though, that not everyone can take this route because some people just can’t seem to acquire fluency in a new language once they reach adulthood.
My father, who died recently at the age of 99, was a well-educated chemical engineer who could talk scientific circles around most people he knew. But ask him to read the French language label on a Canadian cereal box and he was flummoxed. His mind didn’t think that way. He was a handy guy to have around, though, when you were trying to decipher the ingredients in a bottle of cough and cold syrup.
- Ha! you say that now, but if it were the case that you had to learn Sanskrit or Egyptian hieroglyphics to read the Bible in its original language, I suspect that you’d sing a different tune.
Mycha, I hope you recognize the above as the key point of YEC that leads people to your situation of doubt. But there are two big errors in the claim:
The Bible is a collection of books by many authors; just because one author doesn’t write in a way that a person doesn’t trust doesn’t extend that mistrust to the entire collection.
The Bible is a collection of writings in several literary genres; just because a person regards one genre as not trustworthy does not make the entire collection untrustworthy.
The Creation accounts are not the foundation of the Bible, the Incarnation is the foundation. We do not trust Christ because the Old Testament builds a logical argument pointing to Him, rather we trust the messages of the Old Testament because they point to Him.
The last one is related to how people thought of truth claims back when the Old Testament was written. I wrote in another thread here:
[factuality] is an element of a modern worldview that did not apply to the thinking of the ancient near east. Back then, if something came from a deity it had authority, and it was the authority that mattered, not the type of material. So if God inspired something, it made no difference if it was “literally” true or not because it came from God. The division was between things with divine authority and things lacking them.
Recognizing that the opening chapters of Genesis can’t be taken literally can be unsettling, but the opening chapters of Genesis aren’t where our faith rests; our faith rests on Jesus, on His life, His death, and His resurrection.
But we did learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphics; we also worked with cuneiform (which doesn’t actually resemble chicken tracks). How else to properly read the other Creation stories and flood stories and such in order to compare them with the Hebrew version?
We also read Hebrew as it was often written: no vowels, and no spaces between words, and often a long word would get split between two lines (and there was no marking to indicate a word had been split) [trivia: why write that way? so that every line has the same number of letters, and a copy of a text could be quickly checked by comparing the first letter on each line], plus some texts were scribbled onto broken pottery with all the differences in writing between individuals as occur today.
BTW, a bit of trivia concerning Egyptian hieroglyphics: they had no rule about which direction to write a line; it could go left to right, or right to left, or back and forth, and in inscriptions could even be written from the top down.
To drag this back to the topic – not everyone can learn the original languages (or others related to them), but a simple rule will help in this regard: if someone is insisting that their view is the only way to understand a text, if they cannot argue from the original language, the actual literary type, and from within the actual worldview of the writer, they’re generally not a reliable source.
= - =
That leads to an aside about YEC: I have listened to a number of YEC advocates who quote Hebrew words as though that gives them some authority, but have yet to come across one who actually understands the Hebrew and the literary type of what they’re quoting. Also without exception they make claims about logical connections where those connections don’t actually exist, the most common one being that since someone in the New Testament quotes a part of the Old Testament then the entire Old Testament has to be read literally (by which they always mean reading it in English from a modern worldview perspective) – this point being important to my above point; all such a quote actually does is show that the New Testament writer regards that part of the Old Testament as having authority.
Which is to point out that the entire YEC position is at root deceptive, which should make it automatically suspect.
I’ll concede here that I’m not addressing the science issues. I hope that at least I’m showing that scholarship is something that applies to the scriptures just as much as to biology.
Lovely post Mycha! I really value your honesty. Like you, I have also wrestled with origins, once being a young earth creationist, and now an evolutionary creationist. Here are a few papers you might find helpful:
Evolutionary Creation: Moving Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs ‘Creation’ Debate (2010)
Struggling with Origins: A Personal Story (2014)
And I have just published a book on my spiritual voyage. Here are covers, table of contents, and the first chapter. It’s on Amazon Kindle for only 99 cents.
Struggling with God & Origins: A Personal Story (2023)
When I was in training to be an art conservator (though I don’t work in the field now), our professor told us a very funny/sad story about an eager student who failed to understand how cuneiform was made. He didn’t realize the clay wasn’t fired, so he tried to clean some tablets with water and ended up damaging them.
The moral of the story for the conservation students was . . . Dirt + Water = Mud.
Hi, @St.Roymond. I think you may have been directing this post to Mycha rather than me. Just wanted to let you know.
The problem is that the issues have been wrongly defined. The Bible is composed of two parts, the Old Testament (Covenant) and the New Te4stamert (Covenant.) A Covenant is an agreement between two parties which defines the relationship between them.
GOD in particularly through Jesus Christ has invited us to become partners in building GOD’s Kingdom of Love on earth. If we believe that to be true, then that has little to do with science, except GOD does not try to force us into some predetermined designed forms, but works with us to determine what is best for all.
Also. Darwinism teaches that life is conflict with others, while Jesus teaches that life is best lived through love for all. The interdependence of ecology fits into the Christian world view much better than survival of the fittest…
Been there done that…and I am not in grad school! Everyone should be thinking, rethinking, exploring issues…I am not sure, for one thing, that we should assume,—given the theories or speculation or 'current state of knowledge "-- that God was passively watching the Australopithecine
,(sp) evolve on their own, as you seem to wonder…You and I don’t know what God was doing…I have read and considered a number of “explanations” for the Genesis creation account…One argument that seems most sensible is that Genesis1-11 is written to people who lived long ago—millennia before Charles Darwin…they were interested in other issues…not the results of carbon dating, which they had never heard of. God was addressing THEIR concerns…not yours or mine, except to say that a single Creative Deiry— who must be beyond smart, all things considered --worked with intentions, creativity, and sometimes a sense of humor— and is aware of it all. Were God to tell us the full story today, even, it might make our brains explode…We still do not know everything…only God does
Congratulations on a journey well begun. Having only a bifurcated BA (Math, English) “I am not worthy” sounds correct. That being said I’ve devoted the past three years of retired life to drafting an answer to your specific quandary.
Converting 99 pages to a couple of paragraphs:
Genesis 1:1, 3 declare that I AM cause the Big Bang.
Genesis 1:2 on the other hand grandfathers in the prior pagan cosmology, for the simple reason was those issues of watery beginning and firmament with gates holding up an everlasting supply of rain had nothing to do with the Creator. Genesis presents God who is One (sort of - reference to Spirit brooding over the waters, and let US make man in OUR image) powerful enough to speak the universe into being, intentional since the universe’s purpose was to house US and for us to have dominion. God is pure and holy, wishing us to be the same.
Here’s the sticky part; the Big Bang isn’t something anybody ever conceived of prior to the 20th Century, and it took us into the 21st to commit to a number [13.78 billion ± 20 million years] Our sun is a 4th(ish) generation star, age 5 billon years. All of the planets in the solar system seem to have congealed about 4.5 billion years ago. Life began ~3.8 billion years ago. Evolution is God’s palette, and abiogenesis is the primer coat (so to speak).
This means that every forbear all the way back to that first cell managed to survive and “reproduce” - nobody has a direct ancestor that died an incel, eh? We thus are hypertuned to survive and reproduce.
Greater love hath nobody than to lay down His life for another - Jesus. Every other human is sinful by default.
OK so far? Genesis is, exactly like all other first-roots Beginning Legends, crated with enormous logical holes yet condensing profound notions to the point where Sunday School children get the idea, as well as illiterate ordinary folk. Story’s power is to be crisp, simple, easy to remember, and show a pointed lesson or outcome or result. The Fall is just such. Due to events long before our time, we are born compromised and corrupt.
Final test of Chapter 1: Day Two sets the vault of the sky (firmament) to separate the waters from the waters, with seas left below and vast waters (why is the sky blue? hint hint) above it. Then Day Four places the rest of the visible universe (sun moon stars) crossing the heights of the vault of the sky, thus necessarily beneath all those waters. Creation cannot lie and does not mislead, yet features Planet Earth orbiting the nearest star, with the moon orbiting earth.
Those dots do not connect.
Genesis is truth yet not fact.
Facts have no value until a mind conjures up meaning, importance, and/or consequence.
Truths are believed else they, too, would be fact.
Belief unites us with God. Truth in Genesis is God’s great self-reveal: it is about the Creator desiring us and wanting to relate to us. The Creation itself is fact.
Mycha - I’d be happy to help, having been down the same roads you have (and I too have ended up in the Anglican camp - that is, high church Episcopalian). If you will write to me at email@example.com I will be able to send you some helpful material.
Roy Clouser, Prof Emeritus
The College of New Jersey
A comment on each of the questions you asked:
- I think we must consider the possibility that God did more than watch, that there was occasional direction — just as the Holy Spirit sometimes directs people in the church. Yes, much of the activity and history of the church appears to be evolutionary also, but the activity of prophets and dreams and miracles still occur.
- I think much of the early chapters of Genesis were designed to teach spiritual truths and supplant pagan myths. The first creation story, in addition to replacing pagan myths, tells us we are to care for creation. The second creation story tells us we are to take care of your families. The fact that the two creation stories have different orders and methods of creation tells us they are not to be taken as literal history.
- Certainly humankind has fallen, in that we tend to sin, but a fall with a fruit-eating event is not literal — just as we know that the first two creation stories can not both be literal (since one has man created after plants and animals and the other has man created before plants and animals).
- Sin is real.
- Sin is doing something that harms other people, creatures that God loves.
- It is difficult to say about the Old Testament, yet the gospels are meant to be read as history.
- Yes, you can trust the Bible. That doesn’t mean it is inerrant, but it is reliable.
I hope this helps.