Re: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically (was Re: [asa] (introducing... sin) "Evolutionary Creation" book comments)

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Fri Oct 02 2009 - 22:56:44 EDT

And to add one more thought to what I wrote below: I don't actually
think that Nicodemus was actually asking his question "Must a man
literally enter into his mother's womb a second time" as a serious
question, but more using it as a way of asking Jesus for clarification.
Sort of like when we have questions about something for a teacher but we
can't think of a good way to phrase or ask it, so we end up asking
something dumber than what we are really trying to get at as a way to
invite further explanation. But all this is just to speculate that even
Nicodemus was probably ahead of modern literalists who really do think
that everything serious must be literal.


Merv Bitikofer wrote:
> Actually, those who obsess on modern historiography overlaid onto
> everything ancient CAN hearken back to at least one person who gives
> them a biblical precedent for their vein of thought: Nicodemus. (in
> John 3) And do I hear echoes of Jesus' frustrated response to
> Nicodemus in Murray's repeated responses here? And to avoid singling
> out Nicodemus, the disciples all seem to specialize in taking Jesus
> literally --- sometimes forcing Jesus to spell it out for them as
> well. Sometimes we just don't have ears to hear.
> --Merv
> Murray Hogg wrote:
>> Hi folks,
>> Please bear with me as I try to, once again, steer us away from what
>> is a deeply ingrained habit of reading Genesis historically...
>> I think that all this talk of sin being a "free choice" is really
>> grounded in a rationalist, enlightenment anthropology which bears
>> very little semblance to the realities of human nature or, might I
>> add, the Biblical witness.
>> Here I have to say I find it curious that conservative evangelicals
>> maintain such a strong attachment to an Augustinian view of the
>> atonement whilst rejecting an Augustinian view of human nature - no
>> wonder there's confusion about the issue of sin and atonement!
>> Personally, I think Luther was right when he emphasised that our
>> choices arise not out of our free-will, but out of our enslaved will
>> - i.e. out of our desire to please ourselves rather than to please God.
>> I don't see ANYTHING which is contrary to an evolutionary history for
>> humans here: evolution is ENTIRELY about survival and reproduction,
>> hence entirely about self-preservation, hence guaranteed to produce
>> beings who are entirely self-concerned - goodness, even our natural
>> sense of altruism is nothing more than "redirected selfishness".
>> Thus: "The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of
>> God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because
>> they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14)
>> What is needed is something to get us beyond such self-absorption.
>> In consequence of this, I don't see the need to posit some point in
>> human evolutionary history when the capacity to make free moral
>> choices arose (either by emergence or by divine gift) and which then
>> was lost through an act of disobedience.
>> In this I'm simply going to push the line I've been taking: Genesis
>> 1/2 isn't about history, it's about the right ordering of reality.
>> Not about what WAS, but about what SHOULD BE (that's how pre-modern
>> origins stories function).
>> As such, it might talk about an initial state of innocence from which
>> humanity "fell" but this isn't to recount an historical detail. It's
>> to make a claim about the true basis of human morality (i.e. that we
>> ought to choose the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of
>> good and evil) and the consequence that arises in every person's
>> experience when they fail to follow this principle.
>> The clue here, I will urge, is Paul's personal experience and the
>> fact that it PRECISELY repeats the Genesis story, not as historical
>> event, but as the personal experience of the individual. Indeed, the
>> doctrine of original sin has ALREADY been "freed from the ancient
>> science and reformulated" BY NONE LESS THAN PAUL HIMSELF!!!!! Except,
>> conservative evangelicals have been so obsessed by the historical
>> issue, they have utterly disregarded the theological message, have
>> obsessed over Paul's use of the story "as if" historical (more on
>> which below), and have thus totally overlooked the relevance of
>> passages such as Romans 7;
>> I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin
>> revived and I died. (Rom 7:9)
>> In the light of which, I simply can't credit the claim that Paul was
>> naive enough to think that Genesis 1/2 was making a historical claim
>> - he KNOWS that the "death" of sin is something other than physical
>> death, he knows that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is
>> symbolic of the law, and he knows that "where there is no law there
>> is no transgression" (Rom 4:15). He KNOWS that sin has power only
>> when one seeks to live according to the law AND that the fundamental
>> issue is NOT whether I choose to obey God but that "in me (that is,
>> in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but
>> how to perform what is good I do not find." (Rom 7:18) and that the
>> ONLY answer to this problem is found in acceptance of the redemptive
>> act of God in Christ with the subsequent gift of the Spirit (Rom
>> 8:1-11) or, in the words of Jesus, "you must be born again" (John 3:7).
>> For those who want to argue that Paul, and Jesus, thought Genesis 1/2
>> was about history consider this: one of the realities of "myth" is
>> that you can NEVER tell by listening to somebody narrating mythical
>> stories whether that person thinks the story is "real" or not. We
>> REPEATEDLY make reference to all sorts of "fictional" stories-the
>> plays of Shakespeare, Aesop's fables, biblical parables, etc,
>> etc-without OUR thinking these stories actually happened SO (and
>> here's the critical point) why would we think Jesus and Paul talking
>> "as if" Genesis is history proves anything about what THEY thought?
>> No, just because Paul and Jesus talk "as if" Gen 1/2 is historical
>> proves nothing about whether they thought the story is historical.
>> Talking "as if" historical is PRECISELY the way such stories are
>> used-by tribal cultures, by Paul, by us, and, supremely, even by
>> Jesus himself.
>> So, there you have it-either one takes SERIOUSLY the genre of
>> Genesis, or one doesn't. And if one does, if one notes the details of
>> the text (a talking snake? a flaming sword to guard the tree of
>> life?) and the fact that Paul can "recapitulate" the story in his own
>> experience rather than seeing is as ONLY something which happens
>> "back in the day" THEN one should be able to get over the HISTORICAL
>> question of "when did it happen".
>> And THEN one need not respond to a claim that "the story is symbolic"
>> by simply reiterating the same hopelessly misguided question "Yes,
>> but WHEN did sin enter the world?"
>> So, again, and again, and again, and again: Gen 1/2 isn't written
>> according to the criteria of modern historiography and we really
>> must, I think, make a concerted effort NOT to put historical
>> questions to the text. Rather, we should head a remark that George
>> Murphy made some time ago and start thinking THEOLOGICALLY about the
>> fact that we are dealing with Christian Scripture-inspired by the
>> Spirit, chosen by the Church, and interpreted theologically under the
>> guidance of both.
>> Blessings,
>> Murray
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Received on Fri Oct 2 22:57:23 2009

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