Re: Lack of Apologetical predictions

Jonathan Clarke (
Sat, 07 Nov 1998 18:54:37 +1100

Glenn R. Morton wrote:

> Hi George,
> Well, here it goes. Now I am really going to get people mad at me.....

There has been a lot interesting correspondence coming out of this post. I am not sure
whether we are at the stage of moving the discussion forward yet, so I will add my 1
cents worth in the form of some personal reflections.

The issues seems to revolve round how we are to read the text of Genesis 1-11,
especially Genesis 1-3. A theologian friend of mind put it much better: "Answers in
Genesis? -Yes! But are we asking the right questions?"

I have recently been wading my way through Augustine's 5 books that deal with Genesis
and have found it both heavy going and enlightening. One salient feature is the
different ways of interpreting Genesis he uses. The two main ones are reading Genesis
as history and as allegory. These two methods are not mutually exclusive. To Augustine
the allegorical reading is by far and away the most important. To historical and
allegorical readings we might add figurative as a third possibility. By way of
illustration, reading Genesis 3 as history would see it as a description of actual
events, with a real tree, talking snake, etc. Reading it figuratively would see it as a
re-telling of a real choice made by humanity back in prehistory, while an allegorical
reading would see it as a portrayal of something quite different - such as Everyman's
individual fall into sin (which was one of Augustine's readings).

Even in the 4th century a historical reading was not considered to be the only reading,
or even the most important reading of the text. Even reading it as history Augustine
recognised that the OT was not a philosophical or scientific treatise, and that it it
was written with many concessions to the knowledge limitations (not necessarily
intelligence limitations) of the bulk of its readers. Hence the use of
anthropomorphisms in speaking of God, a feature which greatly offended the Manicheans
who considered such language beneath them.

science or history (both much later inventions) but as theology. This does not mean
there is no objective reality behind the events of Genesis 1-11, but that if we treat
the passage as written in the same way as a modern scientific or historical text, or
even assume it is addressing the same questions, we are missing the point. The issues
addressed are theological, not scientific or historical. They are to do with God's
governance, human accountability and rebellion, God's judgement and grace. These
questions are much more important than ones of mere science and history. Just because
they are not directly amenable to historical or scientific analysis does not make them
less real. I refuse to concede to logical positivists that the only questions worth
considering are those which are amenable to scientific analysis .

We must also consider the way in which we can use extra-Biblical data to shape our
interpretation. We use read Biblical cosmology and physiology figuratively only because
modern cosmology and physiology show that the universe is built and the body works in
quite a different way to the way a direct reading of the Bible would indicate. I would
argue that modern historical research (in the broadest use of the word) constrains us to
read Genesis 1-2 in a like matter, figuratively and/or allegorically. The theological
truth the passage teaches remains unchanged. The human heart is desperately wicked (and
therefore in need of salvation) whether we believe that the heart refers to a particular
organ in the body or to the central being of a person.

This illustrates the difference between the Biblical world view and the Biblical word
picture. The world picture of the Bible is written in the language of the day - it had
to be, to be intelligible to its first hearers. The Biblical world view is expressed in
the language of the Biblical world picture, but stands as a radical challenge to the
world views of the Canaanites, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks, and Romans of the
ancient world. It is equally challenging to modern materialistic and mystical world
views of both east and west.

So, the challenge for us, as for every generation of God's people, is to present the the
Biblical world picture (which involves the gospel) in a way that is intelligible to our
era. I can't see how we can do so when we use Genesis 1-11 as a scientific or historic
textbook. That approach looked suspect to the church fathers in the 4th century, how
much more so now?

In Christ