Monday, October 19, 2009

Confusing Coversation 6: Must a real event be told in an unstylised narrative?

When people are trying to pin me down exactly where I stand on a lot of the questions concerning the historicity of Genesis 1-3, I'm often asked, "Do you believe in the special creation of man."

The simple answer to the question is, "Yes, absolutely." It is very clear to me from Genesis 1:26-31 that there is the WORLD of difference between human beings and the other creatures. We are specially and uniquely created in God's image. I preached on this a couple of weeks ago at Twynholm.
However, what is often meant in the question behind the question is this: "Do you believe in the special creation of man, and none of that nonsense about shared descent from apes?"
Here is another issue where I think there is unnecessary division between Christians who have the same anthropology of believing that all humans are made in God's image, no other creature is, and would have a very similar theology of what that means.
We all believe that human beings are not made "ex nihilo" but from pre-existent material. We are made from the dust; but God has so breathed life into us that we have become living beings of incredible value and worth. We all agree that we are "descended" from dust physically, but spiritually specially created. Does it diminish the value of human beings if God took his time in bringing us from dust to image bearing just as he took his time in forming and filling the universe?

I can understand the arguments on both sides when it comes to whether Genesis 2 should be taken as an entirely literal historical account in every detail. I am not yet utterly persuaded either way.

Take the rivers for example. Some people take those to be a sign that we could actually fairly accurately locate Eden to somewhere near the source (and others suggest near the mouth) of the Tigris and Euphrates. We can then make some guesses as to which rivers the Pishon and the Gihon are (or suggest that they no longer exist as their course was so altered by the flood.) If this is the reading, the point being made would be that this is a real place that existed at a real time, yet, due to the expulsion we cannot return there (though, why not, if we can locate it - would we still find a cherub stationed with a flaming sword, or has the tree of life died? or been removed permanently in order to be planted in the New Jerusalem?).

Others believe that Eden is much more of an idealised picture of the original dwelling place of man with God, rather than a literal account. The four rivers then might be Tigris, Euphrates, Nile (making a much more straightforward reading of 'Cush' as its normal location in Ethiopia) and Indus. The whole land - the whole ancient near east - thus receives its blessings from the place where God dwells with his people.

I think that there are New Testament controls that make it essential to believe in a literal Adam and Eve from whom are descended all people (I disagree with Denis Alexander on this). Just as we all sinned in the one man Adam, so in the one man Christ we are all made alive. Also, even if one takes much of the detail in Genesis 2 as figurative, the genealogies in Gen 5, and particularly the assertion in Gen 3:20 that Eve would become the mother of all the living, convince me that we have real events being described, even if the description is stylised.

It is possible for real events to be described in a stylised fashion; one might think of the description of the stars fighting against Sisera in Judges 5:20. Was it a real event? Yes! It's just been described in a more literal historiography in Judges 4. Does that mean that it cannot be described in stylised terms in chapter 5? Do we have to rethink our cosmology in order to accommodate fighting stars? No!

Christians can disagree as to the genre of Genesis 2, and still agree on its theology of man, of marriage, of the relationship between man and God, of work, of worship, and a hundred other central things. Let's not make it an issue to divide over.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks for an interesting series of posts Mike. I look forward to more.