Apologetics and Genesis

Tue, 10 Nov 1998 06:31:06 EST

We are engaged in the struggle to find an acceptable framework in which to
interpret Gen. 1-11 so that it is not discredited by science and yet is true
in its own terms.

I find a paper by Paul Seely to be helpful in doing this ("The Date of the
Tower of Babel and Its Implications"). Following Warfield in principle, he
introduces the concept that the penman of Genesis wrote "in the ordinary
opinion of his day." That strikes me as a crucial concept. The penman did
not write as if he were writing allegory, poetry, myth, parable, novel or
scientific history. Nor did he write as God's secretary. He wrote in terms
of what was the ordinary opinion (cosmology, pre-history, geography) of his
day. What else could he do? What would we have done if we were the penmen or
penwomen of Genesis?

Seely wrote, "But did not the writer of Gen. 11:1-9 intend to teach history
also? I think it is more accurate to say that as with the cosmology of the
times, the writer simply accepted the historical tradition and motifs of the
times, the ordinary opinions of his day about prehistory with no critical
concern about their historicity, even with a certain willingness to remold
them for theological purposes."

But is God not the God of truth, and would he lie to the penmen about the
Noachian flood, the Tower of Babel, etc? First, God had to work with the
culturally limited human instruments (by our standards) at his disposal. They
knew nothing, as I understand their situation, about objective scientific
history that we take for granted. Thus they could not even understand what is
a primary concern of ours, for scientifically accurate history. Second, who
says that the first priority of God was to teach our kind of history? And who
says he is lying if he doesn't? About the Tower of Babel, Seely writes that
in Genesis 11:1-9, God is revealed "as Judge of collective human pride with
its determination to find security apart from submission to the one true God
told in the Near Eastern understanding of the prehistory which supposes all
mankind perished in a great flood except for a few souls on the ark." The
stories of Gen. have a meaning that probably was not lost on early readers as
it seems to be today.

Would it not be more appropriate for us to stress this "theological" meaning
in dealing with biblical critics--that God is the Judge of collective human
pride--rather than falling into their trap of trying to justify a historical
basis for the story? The theological meanings are as relevant today as they
were in early biblical times, and put the discussion on an entirely different
and sounder basis.

Hope this helps,