Re: Genesis and inspiration

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Tue Jun 24 2003 - 00:43:02 EDT

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    Don Winterstein wrote (DW):
      In both your responses you went to far more trouble in rebutting than
    my criticisms merited! But in doing so you've given me a better
    appreciation of the depths of your thinking on the subject. However, as
    you might have expected, while I accept many of your detailed arguments,
    I remain unconvinced of the general thrust.
      Just a few more comments for clarification and possible further
      We wrote in part:
      DW: ...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
      is often a question of judgment....
    DW: I agree with your extended comments (see below) on this topic of
    "literality." However, it's still really hard to see how a
    literal-minded person could interpret Gen. 2:7 as meaning that God
    brought Adam forth via gestation in some woman's womb. God formed him
    from the "dust of the ground." In the Hebrew, dust is /aphar/ and
    ground is /adamah/--both widely used, common words--and taken together
    they seem to mean precisely what they say: God made Adam out of
    something like ordinary soil. To make the words mean "a woman's womb"
    exceeds the limits of literality in my opinion.
    PR: In "Genesis Reconsidered", we wrote: "In Genesis 2:7, God did not
    create man, but 'formed' Adam. Yatzar means to form, design and com-mit,
    plan and realize.(1) When used of God, it may be a 'technical term' for
    formation in one's mother's womb, suggesting that Adam had parents.(2)
    God 'com-mit-ting' to re-aliza-tion his spe-cific 'design' does not
    exclude Adam's descent from earlier hu-mans. He was formed of _^afar_,
    used of any kind of un-struc-tured matter,(3) referring either to the
    physi-cal matter at the origin of life 4 Ga ago, or to the chemicals
    forming the basis of his own body. In any case, his whole pre-para-tion
    was God's work...
    (1) Claeys, K. (1979), note 34, 513-556: Hebrew _yatzar_ = German
    'entwerfend festlegen' (to commit by designing).
    (2) Literally, Genesis 2:7 reads: 'And God Yahweh formed [yatzar] the
    Adam, dust [^afar] from the ground [Žadamah]', i.e., the Adam who _was_
    dust, de-rived from the ground. God did not form him _out_ of dust. In
    Genesis 3:19, God tells him: 'dust [^afar] you _are_ [present tense!],
    and to dust [^afar] you will return'. The same thing is said in
    Ecclesiastes 3:20 of _all_ humans and animals. Psalm 103:14 reads: 'He
    knows our frame [or formation, _yetzer_, derived from _yatzar_], he
    remembers that we _are_ [present tense!] dust [^afar]'. Isaiah 64:8
    says: 'We are the clay [not _^afar_] and you are our potter [participle
    of _yatzar_], we are all the work of your hand'. And Job agrees: 'I too
    was taken from clay' (33:6). He pleads with God: 'Your hands shaped me
    and made me ... Re-member that you molded me like clay. Will you now
    turn me to dust [^afar] again?' (Job 10:8-9). But he also specifies:
    'Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form
    [not _yatzar_] us both within the womb?' (Job 31:15). Similarly,
    Jeremiah (1:5) was formed [yatzar] in the womb by God. Thus, 'to be
    formed out of dust' by God, or 'formed out of clay' (as a potter does)
    was a customary metaphor for growing in one's mother's womb. The
    formation of Adam's body is couched in the same terms. Whatever
    constitutes the bodies of each human being is ultimately derived from
    non-living matter, 'dust' of the ground.
    (3)cf. Proverbs 8:26: '... before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the _^afar_ of the world ...'"
       PR: I'm not sure what you mean by taking the Tree of Life literally
      its potential consequences. Are you talking about the belief that all
      humans must biologically descend from Adam to "inherit" "original
    DW: My mention of the Tree of Life was not intended to have anything to
    do with original sin. I was thinking mostly of Gen. 3:22, where God
    mentions that Adam must not eat of the tree of life lest he live forever
    after sinning--as though the tree had big magic that God himself could
    not override. Such language flashes "MYTH!" in neon. But suppose Adam
    never sinned and partook of the tree's fruits. While this supposition
    is theologically useless--as you've pointed out, a literal-minded
    interpreter I think would need to consider the possibility and its
    implications. One who is not literal-minded can ignore it.
    PR: If it was a literal tree, maybe God did not _want_ to override its
    effect, just as he does not override "natural evil" in creation. I would
    not call the effect "magic", as it was something God made (Gen. 2:9),
    even if we don't know what it is. But remember, my kind of "literalism"
    just means taking seriously every word and expression, and then trying
    to find out in what way it has to be understood. It may be that taking
    some expression literally will clearly not be the author's intention,
    such as with Jotham's trees wanting to anoint a king among themselves
    (Judg. 9:7ff). Nevertheless, I do find it more difficult to determine
    what this "tree of life" means. Rev. 22:2 apparently hearkens back to
    it, describing something similarly unfamiliar to us. In any case, I
    would not call something a "myth" when I don't understand it. With
    Jotham's tree story, we clearly have a parable, with Jesus' Good
    Samaritan probably also, even if it begins like a narrative: "A man was
    going down..." (Luke 10:30ff). But how would we delineate a parable or
    parables in Gen. 1-3?
      PR: ...I don't know of any indication that Abraham made up his own
    DW: Neither do I, of course; but doesn't everyone need a myth and
    formulate one if he doesn't have one? Abraham came out of a
    polytheistic culture, he must have known what the polytheists were
    saying, he must have known their myths were not useful for him, so I
    assume he modified theirs to make one that was compatible with the God
    he knew.

    PR: On the basis of what would he have modified them (apart from a
    monotheistic faith)? Just his fantasy? If he knew that his Sumerian or
    Accadian sources were unreliable, on the basis of what did he know that?
    Did he have his own sources which were older and not yet degraded by the
    polytheistic culture? Perhaps they were written in cuneiform on on clay
    tablets, like the ones we know? The Sumerian and Babylonian narratives
    were unmistakably myths. But this cannot be said of the Genesis stories:
    these are neither myth nor just poetry or allegory. "There is no trace
    of the hymnic element in the language, nor is anything said that needs
    to be understood symbolically or whose deeper meaning has to be
    deciphered." (Gerhard Von Rad, "Genesis, a Commentary" (London: SCM
    Press, 1972), 47; Umberto Cassuto, E.J. Young and others make similar
    points). The text just doesn't look like a hybrid of purified myths and
    well-meaning storytelling, even if formulated by a remarkable believer.
      PR: ...[God] 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.
    DW: What "one flesh" means is certainly not obvious. I don't see the
    Bible ruling out polygamy except in nations where it would violate civil
    law. It doesn't violate any spiritual law.

    PR: In W.A. Elwell (ed.), "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology" (Baker
    Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1985, ISBN 0-8010-3413-2), L.I. Granberg
    writes under "Marriage, Theology of" (in part): "Biblical teaching on
    marriage is epitomized in the statement, 'Therefore a man leaves his
    father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one
    flesh' (Gen. 2:24). This sentence is quoted by our Lord (Matt. 19:5) and
    the apostle Paul (Eph. 5:31) as authority for their teachings on
    marriage. The key phrase is the expression 'one flesh' (basar 'ehad).
    'Flesh' here implies kinship or fellowship, with the body as a medium,
    thus setting forth 'marriage as the deepest corporeal and spiritual
    unity of man and woman.' On the occasion of Eve's creation God observes,
    'It is not good that man should be alone' (Gen. 2:18). In this way he
    indicates the incompleteness of man or woman apart from one another and
    sets forth marriage as the means for them to achieve completeness.
    -_An Exclusive Relationship._ Marriage is an exclusive relationship. The
    total unity of persons - physically, emotionally, intellectualy, and
    spiritually - comprehended by the concept 'one flesh' eliminates
    polygamy as an option. One cannot relate wholeheartedly in this way to
    more than one person at a time.
    It is also plain from the words of our Lord, 'What therefore God has
    joined together, let no man put asunder' (Matt. 19:6), that marriage is
    to endure for the lifetime of the two partners. Only under certain
    special conditions may the principle of indissolubility be set aside.
    Promiscuity is likewise ruled out. Such unions are neither exclusive nor
    enduring. Moreover, they violate the holiness that inheres in biblical
    (By the way, I hadn't ever read this contribution before, but had come
    to the same convictions, on the basis of biblical teaching).
      PR: ... 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
    DW: There never was a pre-Christ economy. People of God who lived
    before Jesus' sojourn on earth owe their status as people of God to
    Christ every bit as much as those who came after. So God's "economy"
    has never changed. But some emphases have changed.

    PR: In this, I agree with you. I should have said, "Old Testament
    economy". God's basic aims and attitudes never changed. But his way of
    dealing with humans in general, with his people Israel, and with
    individual believers before and after Christ's death on the cross did
    change. The most obvious cardinal change was the abolishment of
    sacrifices, after Jesus "entered once for all into the Holy Place,
    taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus
    securing an eternal redemption... Where there is forgiveness of these
    [sins], there is no longer any offering for sin" (Heb. 9:12; 10:18).
    DW: One of my basic contentions is that the consummation of the
    marriage of Christ and the Church is in the future, to take place after
    Jesus' second coming. I think conservative Christian theologians--those
    who take the marriage literally--agree.

    PR: Agreed.
    DW: I further assert that God is now acting as husband in marriages
    with Christian churches on earth, as he did with Judah and Israel in OT
    times. Members of such Christian churches will eventually comprise the
    bride of Christ, but not all such members, because earthly churches
    include unbelievers, as you point out. But the reality is that the
    various earthly Christian churches have "personalities" that often
    differ radically from one to the next. Hence the totality of earthly
    Christian churches does not fit well the model of a single, unified
    bride of Christ. A better model is that they are individually, in their
    earthly existence, wives of God.

    PR: We have no biblical warrant for such a model of the earthly
    christian churches as wives of God. It would conflict with the biblical
    concept of marriage (cf. above) and with the preparation of Christ's
    bride as seen, e.g. in Eph. 5:25ff: " Christ loved the Church and
    gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her
    by the washing of water in the Word, that he might present the Church to
    himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she
    might be holy and without blemish." None of the visible churches
    conforms to this picture - and never will. None of us believers conforms
    to it now, but the Lord is working on each one of us to bring us to this
    point. The "single, unified bride of Christ", as you call her, will be
    the totality of all these sanctified believers, without respect to the
    earthly churches in which they suffered. There may one day be a union of
    the earthly churches, but it probably is described by the "great harlot"
    of Rev. 17.

    In the Old Testament economy, God dealt with an earthly people, Israel,
    as a whole, although many or even a majority of the Israelites were not
    believers. In this situation God sometimes likened the relationship
    between himself and his people to the marriage relationship, and
    similarly in the divided monarchy it was his relationship with the two
    (faithless) parts of his people. What's radically different in the
    Church age is that it is always _individual_ believers only who make up
    the Church, never an earthly (political) people.
    DW: In NT times the historical proximity of God the Son shifted the
    emphasis to the future, to the time when the marriage of Christ with the
    Church was to be consummated. Regardless of when the second coming was
    to occur, the proximity of the Son made it seem as though the
    consummation was imminent or perhaps even already happening. We now
    know the consummation wasn't imminent as humans reckon time, so we need
    to fall back to a paradigm where God is husband of earthly churches
    (whatever they may be precisely is not our concern), and where the
    consummation of the marriage of Christ and the Church is still in the

    PR: The consummation of this marriage is certainly still in the future.
    But we are not to fall back on any other paradigm, but to watch
    faithfully and wait for the return of our Lord, no matter how long we
    have to wait. There will never be any time when we would know that his
    return is _not_ imminent. This is clear from some of Jesus' parables and
    other biblical teaching.
    DW: I have a difficult sales job ahead of me if I want anyone to pay
    attention to what I'm saying, and I don't want to try to make a lot of
    headway in this particular context. However, I do hope eventually to
    make my ideas seem less bizarre. Your willingness to consider them, I
    think, helps.

      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
      with every day!
      (The growth is with reference to Jesus' ascension as starting point.
    But you probably knew that.)

    PR: I knew it. Forgive my teasing you!


    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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