I once heard that there were four complementary ways of reading
Biblical text. They are literally (or something actually occurred),
allegorically (what was the meaning of passage), morally and
anagogically (what does it lead us to do). If this is the case,
then the literal or physical aspect of Gen 1-11 can't be completely
I agree that the way premoderns thought of the physical world
did not disagree with the Genesis stories, but with modernism,
our idea of the physical world has changed. That's why I think
that Morton is right in pointing to a research program that
reattaches physical meaning to Genesis. The idea of objectivity
and subjectivity in our experience of nature plays a role
(Voeglin used the ideas to analyze civic theology and we
are looking at natural theology here).
A good book for appreciating the differences in thought between
modern and premodern (hence the dilemma) is Lewis Wolpert
The Unnatural Nature of Science.
At 07:30 AM 11/10/98 -0500, you wrote:
>> 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
>> 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."
> I think this is right, with the qualification that there was more than one
>"penman" & apparently an active editorial process involved as well.
> 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
>> 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
>> penwomen of Genesis?
> Until fairly recently, "ordinary opinion" didn't differ radically from the
>best scientific opinion. I.e., science was in accord with "common sense."
It isn't any
>longer, & that's one reason there seems to many to be dissonance between
>> Seely wrote, "But did not the writer of Gen. 11:1-9 intend to teach
>> 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
>> 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."
>> Would it not be more appropriate for us to stress this "theological"
>> 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
>> basis for the story? The theological meanings are as relevant today as
>> were in early biblical times, and put the discussion on an entirely
>> and sounder basis.
> Yes. It is always the theological meaning of the text which is important,
>whether the text is an accounting of straight history or not.
>George L. Murphy