First, I would like to make the point that if someone was confronted with the text of the first two chapters of Genesis and had no preconceived notions about it, he or she would come away with the idea that this text asserts that in the space of six days God created time, matter, and space, organized those elements to form the earth, moon, stars, etc., and made the earth's plants and its animal and human life. This is what I will refer to as a natural reading of the text. This is different than a literal reading of the text. If I said it was raining cats and dogs, a literal understanding of that would be absurd. However a natural reading of that statement is to recognize an obvious metaphor, or use of poetic speech, and understand that it is raining heavily. I do not believe that Scripture should always be read literally, however, I would assert that it needs to be read naturally. Determining what is a natural reading of a text can be complicated by cultural differences and translations. This is a common problem with Westerners reading the visionary, and to a lesser extent, the poetic portions of Scripture, as we are not as well exposed to these Eastern literary forms. (We need to improve our education on that, I believe.) Westerners reading the Psalms, for example, generally fail to see the intricate internal structure of these poems unless they are first trained to do so. However, the first chapter of Genesis is not in a poetic or visionary form. The creation is set out as a straightforward history with a chronological structure. There is the beginning, first day, second day, third day, and so on, and then a declaration that the work is complete, followed by rest. To insert a gap into a text that is so focused on a time sequence, seems to be straining the text quite a bit. Anyone asserting that this is necessary ought to bear the burden of proof and show why such a reading is warranted. What could justify a day-by-day rendering of creation events leaving out millions of years?While I agree with Dory that a natural reading of the text, in the proper context, is essential for understanding the text, I would argue that, within the context of the 21st century West, a natural reading of Genesis 1 and 2 could lead to exegetical error. The reason for this is that our "natural reading" of the text is bounded within a 21st century mindset. The very notion of asking "how long did Creation take?" betrays our tainted viewpoint. The ancients would not have asked that question because that was not the point of the text. In other words, although the text describes successive time periods for the Creation, the point of the narrative was altogether different. Consider the narrative describing the Ten Plagues that God brought upon Egypt through Moses. I've written before that the point of the account was to demonstrate God's supremacy over specific deities within Egypt's animistic religious system. The Nile was worshipped; Heqet was a goddess of childbirth and depicted as a frog; Ra was the Sun god. These, and other deities, were systematically defiled by God - who was demonstrating to the Egyptians and to the Israelites that He was sovreign over His creation. A 21st century reader needs to have the specifics of that narrative explained to them - but an Israelite (or an Egyptian) of the period would have clearly understood what was happening. In this case, our natural reading of the text deprives us of the deeper truths intended there for us. In virtually every discussion I've had with a young-earth proponent, the major hurdle I see them approach is the apparent fact that the "plain reading" of the text tells them that the Creation occurred over the space of 6 24 hour days. Perhaps a bit more attention should be given not towards a plain or natural reading, but for the most in depth reading of the text?
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Dory, over at Wittenberg Gate, is in the middle of a series of posts dealing with Death before the Fall. As part of her argument, she addresses the various interpretations of the Genesis 1 creation account with regards, mainly, to whether or not the text indicates 6 24 hour days or 6 long periods of time. She refers to the concept of "natural reading" and states,