Re: Genesis and inspiration

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Mon Jun 23 2003 - 00:45:02 EDT

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    thank you for your comments! At a few points, you still don't seem to
    have understood our (A.Held & PR) intentions - lack of clearness on my
    part (combined with the length restrictions on the PSCF papers) may be
    to blame. Let me try and deal with these questions:

    "Don Winterstein" <> wrote (DW):
    DW: First, I hadn't fully realized from your paper, Genesis
    Reconsidered, that your age-days were intended just to give an
    origin-sequence of categories of things, such as plants of any kind
    coming before animals of any kind. This would mean, of course, that
    many of the age-days would have huge overlaps. Your scheme thereby gets
    close in some respects to the one proposed by Glenn Morton on his
    website. But this kind of interpretation seems unnatural to me in view
    of the simple linearity of the simple Genesis narrative.

    PR: A key point of our paper was the distinction between "creating" and
    "making", the latter implying the further development (evolution) by God
    of the entities he created much earlier. And we argued the view that
    even for the first readers, such an interpretation would not have been
    too difficult to understand, as genealogical trees (at least within the
    human domain) were perfectly familiar to them [toledot]. On this basis,
    it would have been quite natural for them to view a continuation of each
    day's novelties to continue later (such as (1) light, (2) atmosphere and
    water cycle, (3) firm land and plants, (4) visible celestial bodies, (5)
    "soulish" animals, (6) land animals and humans). If they understood the
    days as long periods of time (which looks likely from the details of
    what is reported), they certainly would not have insisted on all
    different kinds of plants to have been produced (by the land!) at the
    same time, and similarly for animals etc. So, in this sense, overlaps:
    yes, but still a simple linearity of the main novelties characterizing
    the different days/epochs - both creations and new developments. There
    is a clear order that not only fits today's knowledge, but also
    represents an inherently logical sequence, which could therefore be
    understood by the ancients, as well.
    DW: I still think your assignment of /oph/ to insects is at the very
    least inconsistent: Previously you'd said the text failed to mention
    invertebrates because they weren't "living souls;" so why would God
    suddenly assign winged insects, which are mostly "unclean" invertebrates
    and presumably also not living souls, such importance?

    PR: We wrote: "In the waters of the oceans, the second act of creation
    produced 'living souls' [nephesh ghayah]. This designation apparently
    implies sensation, instincts, and deliber-ately con-trolled movements.
    The soul represents a fundamentally novel dimension, the psychological
    domain. Accord-ing to biblical un-der-standing, such animals are the
    first genu-inely living beings; plants are never called 'living'. Noah
    and Israel were forbid-den to eat blood, because 'the soul is in the
    blood', which is 'given for atone-ment'.(1) Ap-parently, only what we
    loosely call 'higher' animals, with a blood circulation and with a brain
    serving more than minimal sen-sory functions, are 'living souls', unlike
    most invertebrates. Although some sensory functions directing movements
    are found in all lower organisms, the integrated set of sentient
    capacities characterizing 'living souls' originated perhaps with rapidly
    swimming cartilaginous fish, about 385 Ma ago.(2)
    (1) Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11-14.
    (2) Carroll, R.L. (1988), Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution
    (Freeman, New York), 16-61; Margulis, L. & Schwartz, K.V. (1988), Five
    Kingdoms (Freeman, New York); Cappetta, H. et al. (1993),
    'Chondrichthyes', in: The Fossil Record 2, note 25, 593-609."

    We didn't exclude the insects from the "living souls", only "most
    invertebrates" (as most species on earth are insects, we probably should
    have said, "many"). We characterized the "living souls" as having
    "sensation, instincts, and deliber-ately con-trolled movements... a
    blood [or hemolymph] circulation and... a brain serving more than
    minimal sen-sory functions". That "'living souls' originated perhaps
    with rapidly swimming cartilaginous fish" was not meant to exclude all
    invertebrates, but only to indicate an approximate time-point. Referring
    to the Precambrian animals (and implicitely to many later "primitive"
    animals), we wrote, "all these lower animals are not explicitely
    mentioned in Gene-sis, not being 'living souls'", but again we didn't
    exclude insects from being "living souls".
    DW: You wrote: "God did not shape Adam as a potter forms the clay, but
    formed him in his mother's womb and then called him as an adult and
    filled him with his spirit for a specific assignment among the
    preadamites." But aren't you doing considerable violence to the clear
    meaning of the text? What justifies rejecting a literal meaning here
    when you're taking such pains to be literal elsewhere?

    PR: What is the "clear meaning of a text" and what does "violence" to it
    is often a question of judgment. And the argument is certainly not very
    impressive when we are dealing with translations, because these can be
    misleading or even plain wrong. What is a "literal meaning"?
    "Literality" is not an either-or, black-or-white proposition. The actual
    words and expressions used in the original are important for finding the
    meaning of a text. In this sense, the "literal" is very important. But
    we clearly need to determine what is the best interpretation overall,
    and this often requires a lot of work. Each word or expression has an
    extended and fuzzy field of related meanings, depending on the context
    and even farther environment. In this sense, "literal" may be
    meaningless, and different readers often disagree about it. Such
    considerations don't contradict each other. My sentence you quote above
    represents a condensed statement of a lot of discussion in our paper, as
    well as further considerations. In order to deal with it, we would have
    to go into more details.
    DW: You wrote: "If Adam hadn't sinned, what would God have done? I
    think this is an inappropriate and useless question; the bible never
    considers it." Yes, but if one wants to take the text literally, one
    must take the Tree of Life literally and its potential consequences. So
    while I agree that the question is theologically useless, it's not
    inappropriate. The question is appropriate for making the point that
    the text is not to be taken literally, and that myth is a good

    PR: I'm not sure what you mean by taking the Tree of Life literally and
    its potential consequences. Are you talking about the belief that all
    humans must biologically descend from Adam to "inherit" "original sin"?
    I believe nothing in the bible implies this. It just is a fact that Adam
    sinned, as well as all humans (defined as in God's image) before, in,
    and after Adam's time. There certainly is a biological tree of life, and
    Adam is somewhere in it. But this doesn't imply sin "evolved" or is
    natural, because it is intimately linked to the creation of (biblically)
    pre-humans into humans (in the image of God) at a very precise moment
    perhaps 100,000 years ago (I don't insist on this figure, only on the
    fact of Adam being much more recent). This doesn't imply that sin is
    "the Creator's fault", but its possibility is inseparably linked to free
    will, personality, and responsability.
    DW: You wrote: "The great problem I see with considering them [Genesis
    creation accounts] modified myths is how to distinguish gold from straw.
    What is inspired, what is not?" It's all inspired, but "inspired" in
    this case means true to what God wanted people to get out of the story
    at that time, and not true in perhaps any other way. Like it or not, we
    all must continuously decide as we read in what sense the biblical words
    are to be understood. Furthermore, those myths probably weren't pagan.
    They could have originated with Abraham, as he certainly did not
    subscribe to the local polytheistic myths as he received them.

    PR: I'm glad you accept it all as inspired, and I would also agree that
    "inspired" means true to what God wanted people to get out of the story.
    But I wouldn't restrict it to "that time", but consider it to be for all
    times and cultures. I also agree that we must continuously decide in
    what sense the words are to be understood. The Babylonian myths we do
    know (and with which the Genesis stories of creation and of the flood
    are routinely compared) are definitely pagan, polytheistic, and of a
    very corrupted character. They are the most unlikely sources for
    Genesis, but some Genesis stories may very well have been one of the
    sources for them. I don't know of any indication that Abraham made up
    his own myths. In this case we would expect to find some indications,
    perhaps indirect, in the stories we do have about him and his time.
    DW: You wrote: "The OT does sometimes picture God as husband (or
    father) to Israel, but in the NT, it's Jesus who is the bridegroom to
    the Church as his bride, whereas God is consistently referred to as our
    Father." Granted; in NT times God was the Father and Christ was the
    husband. That was a perspective constrained by the historical proximity
    of God the Son.
      It's now 2000 years later, a lot has happened, but one thing that has
    not happened is the second coming of Christ. This means God had
    objectives other than just a quick consummation of history in Christ.
    It is then quite natural for God to have reassumed his OT role as
    husband of more than one earthly wife, the wives in this case being
    something like the various branches of Christianity. The future bride
    of Christ will be the unified organism comprising the individual humans
    that make up the various wives of God. The various branches of
    Christianity these days are far from united and thus are more
    realistically seen on Earth as several distinct organisms than as a
    single bride of Christ.

    PR: Here, I have to disagree. Some early Christians apparently expected
    a quick consummation (probably even Paul at an early time, cf. 1 Thes.
    4:17). But we also have explicit statements by Jesus that (1) nobody
    knows the time of Christ's return (Mat. 24:36), and (2) before that, the
    gospel must be preached to every nation (Mat. 24:14), and by Peter that
    (3) God does not want that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). I don't
    believe that God would have second thoughts about his plans and return
    to some pre-Christ economy, even if it were only temporarily. He is
    capable to pursue his aims, but keeps respecting the willful
    personalities of his human creatures.

    The separation of Israel from Judah under Rehoboam and Jeroboam I was
    against God's will, but permitted as a judgment. It was the occasion for
    the later image of God having, in Judah and Israel, two wives. But
    that's not a normal situation after God's heart. He gave the blessing of
    marriage between one man and one woman, who are to become "one flesh".
    And this is to be permanent until one partner dies. He wants neither
    polygamy nor divorce.

    Now, in the christian economy, the bride of Christ includes all
    believers and no one else. Nonbelievers don't belong to it, even if they
    are members of some church. A local church or institutionally defined
    church as such does not belong to the bride of Christ. Most of them
    consist of a "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:38), which is not according to
    God's aim for his Church. None of them can be a "wife of God". He is not
    going to bless this situation of conflicting and contradicting
    denominations by a (polygamous!) spiritual marriage. And how could God
    "marry" parts of the Church (adulterated by a mixed multitude) while it
    is the bride of Christ being prepared to be the "wife of the Lamb" (Rev.
    21:9)? Mixing with nonbelievers is good as a means of drawing them to
    Christ, but not for pretending that they are all christians - when they
    are not. In God's sight, members of different church organizations - as
    far as these individuals are believers - even now belong to the same,
    one, inseparable, universal (spiritually defined) Church which is the
    bride of Christ. This means that the ecumenical quest of uniting church
    institutions is entirely beside the point. Any "success" they might have
    in this quest is spiritually irrelevant at best, corrupting at worst.
    DW: This idea in combination with the natural fit to scientific
    interpretations of the world makes God as husband truly a compelling
    theological thesis. The fit to science is good because, if God seeks a
    wife, he would want her to come into existence as independently from
    himself as possible--hence the lengthy and apparently unguided processes
    of creation.

    PR: That's exactly why it takes so long to reach the consummation. But
    there is only one wife being prepared - and that for Christ. And God is
    not going to consummate such a marriage early and partially and with a
    corrupt institution.

    DW: The problem of evil also disappears because God's priority is to
    create a "person" independent of any obvious attempts to shape
    her--hence her need to be subject to the laws of the world, which
    include natural catastrophes. As a rule the creation of an independent
    wife has higher priority for God than the physical welfare of any
    individual or group.

    PR: Here I agree with you.
    DW: After living many decades with these ideas I find them so
    compatible with God, history, science and general observations of the
    world that I feel they'll eventually become widely accepted, the more so
    as the time until Christ's second coming grows.

    PR: Fortunately, the time to the consummation doesn't grow, but decrease
    with every day!

    Grace and peace,

    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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