Thursday, July 16, 2009

Commonly Asked Questions about Genesis

Today a reader of Just Genesis e-mailed a list of nine meaty questions. She is a very sharp lady, a medical doctor and Jill-of-many-trades, living on the KY/OH/VW border. I asked for and received her permission to post the questions here:

1. What do you believe about the age of the earth? (Answer is here.)

2. Do you believe in a literal 6-day creation? (Answer is here.)

3. Do you believe in evolution of man or was he created out of dust, fully formed? (Answer is here.)

4. If there were several original human couples, were they all involved in the fall? (Answer is here.)

5. Do you think the fall was eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or was that just symbolic for some other disobedience? (Answer is here.)

6. I don't read Genesis 1 and 2 as two separate creation stories, but rather chapter 2 as an expansion on the outline laid out in chapter 1.... what do you think? (Answer is here.)

7. If marriage is between one man and one woman, as Gen. 2 seems to be saying....what is all this about men having two wives one North and one South? Is this disobedience or part of God's design, and if so, why doesn't Christianity accept polygamy now? (Answer is here.)

8. Did I understand you to say the Orthodox don't believe in inherited (original) sin? If so, how you they explain David saying he was conceived in sin, and sinful from birth? (Answer is here.)

9. What about the garden of Eden, real place or myth? (Answer is here.)

I love meaty questions like these! God willing, I intend to provide answers to each of them.

Before tackling the first question, I invite readers to address any of the questions that may interest you. What do YOU think? Please provide support from Scripture and Holy Tradition (which never contradict each other) in explaining your position.


Michael said...

Since no one is answering, you might as well get started. :-))

Alice C. Linsley said...

Okay! I'll address the first question on Monday.

Anonymous said...

1. Age of the Universe is not inconsistent with my answer to 2 below. (it can be very old).
2. The Creation is a literary description of the creative ordering of the universe and not a description of how the universe was created. Note that light exists before the Sun is created.
3. This is a literary description: man is formed from the materials of this world and given God's image and life breath.
4. The first humans refused to obey and say they're sorry. Only two humans were needed in forming the human race.
5. The fall is a description of failing to obey and call on God for help in obeying. The real fall is not saying they're sorry.
6. That's well within the literary reading of the book. The second description tells it from a different point of view: God's while the first tells it from man's view.
7. The two wives are after the fall, and are not recommended by God.
8. Neither do the Catholics: original sin isn't about missing (the target of love) but about missing the ability to get to the eternal life of heaven. You can't give what you don't have.
9. The garden is a literary device symbolizing the perfection of our nature and life with God before the fall. It is based on a real place.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Good stuff! I hope that you will comment on the following as well:

Mairnéalach said...

Please pardon my overlong comments, pasted in two separate entries. I am not Orthodox, so my knowledge of their holy tradition is lacking, I say ruefully. But I will offer my two cents at any rate.

3. This question poses a false dichotomy, because it wants to insist a man cannot be created out of dust nor fully formed if he evolved. This is not true. An evolved man is still made out of dust, and he is still fully formed, as long as God's breath is in him. If there were creatures who were genetic precursors to the first real man, then they were not men, not in God's image, nor fully formed. They were mere beasts, until God finished their full formation with the gift of his breath. This is why scripture speaks of ungodliness as being "as a beast", because it is a rejection of the gift of God's breath, and an insistence on behaving in the crude manner that we were before he put his breath in us.

4. Given the depressing lack of recorded information (biblical or otherwise) about righteous deeds being done by any early people, it seems certain that any original men and women in addition to Adam and Eve must have been as broken and disobedient as them.

5. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is a symbol. Until men get deceived by Satan, they enjoy a naive freedom from shame. Once they listen to Satan and disobey God, they have guilt and shame. The reason I say this is symbolic is because human experience recapitulates this disobedience and this revelation of shame constantly. Therefore, I may as well be Adam myself. The tree is the source of my tragic sympathy with the first man.

6. The two narratives may be reconciled, but any attempt to do so in a consistent manner will also fatally damage the remaining modernistic/journalistic interpretation of Genesis. This is proper and to be desired. If one attempts to maintain the modernistic/journalistic hermeneutic, their rules of interpretation are much like Calvin ball. (This is the game that Calvin and Hobbes played together, where Calvin gets to change the rules on the fly as he wishes, so that he can win the game no matter what happens.)

Mairnéalach said...

7. Christianity does not accept polygamy now in the developed world because the imprint of scripture and tradition have made such a big mark on this part of the world. Before Moses, God had not graciously revealed the details of his created will in a systematic way. As those codes were finally written down and imposed on the developed world over time, this idea was properly hammered into people's heads, as God intended. In the early days of the faith, there was much stumbling in the dark on the part of chiefs like Abram (who were in many other respects very righteous), and much patience and forbearance on God's part, with how men behaved, and what traditions they practiced. But human history (and therefore human customs and morality) is linear, because God designed it that way. Jesus illustrated this point when he expounded on divorce and marriage to the Pharisees. He and the apostles explained that humanity is shown more and more as we get older, and as a result, we are held to higher and higher standards as we learn. In the undeveloped world, I have heard that Christianity sometimes tolerates polygamy. But I suspect this is just for the purpose of being forbearing and Godly, as God was to all of us in the early days, rather than as a seal of approval.

8. I am not Orthodox, but I believe the term "original sin" was not invented in order to say that sin is genetically transmitted. It was invented in order to say that humanity was sinful from the very start. (After all, Eve transmitted sin to Adam, and she was not his mother. This demolishes the genetic argument). When Jesus healed the blind man, he also made this point. The man was born blind not because of his parent's sin, but because God's glory could be revealed. When David said he was "conceived in sin", he was probably pointing out that his mother and father's copulation, even if loving, was tainted and imperfect. When he says he was sinful from birth, he was probably pointing out that he began to act selfishly from the moment of his first wail. The text really doesn't indicate a mechanistic transmission model at all. It is actually an existential statement. After all, if sin is genetically transmitted, then that would indicate we could "fix" sin with medical tools, which we know is not the case. It is far worse than that. Therefore, saying that sin is inherited is actually a cheapening of the idea of sin.

9. Eden must have been the real world, because real people lived there and they obviously had pleasant memories of the place. However, there are highly symbolic elements in the idea of that garden, because it is clear from the text that it was some sort of refuge. This might indicate that there was warfare between God and Satan going on outside of Eden, and that Eden was specially protected by God as a safe place for his people so they would not get hurt (pure conjecture). We don't know the areal extent of Eden, whether it was as big as a vineyard, or as big as a continent. The scriptures also don't tell us that Eden continued to exist uninhabited, only that an angel guarded it at least long enough to keep Adam and Eve out. It seems lost to us forever, which is just as effective a method to prevent we modern people from getting back inside there, as the angel with the sword was effective for keeping Adam out of it.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Wonderful responses, Mairnealach. Thanks!

I offer a few comments in response to what you have written.

Man is the only creature made in God's image and this set humans apart from all other creatures. Behaving like beasts marrs the Diving Image, but never fully erases it.

The earliest humans were both fallen and seekers after righteousness. In that regard human nature has remained consistent. We sin, yet yearn for the fulfillment found only in communion with our Creator.

There is no need to reconcile the Genesis 1 creation story with the older account in Genesis 2-3. The first represents the eastern Afro-Asiatic priestly tradition (evidenced by the number 7) and the older represents the western (African) priestly tradition. The fact that there are 2 different narratives supports the claim that Genesis come to us from Abraham's Afro-Asiatic people.

The technical term for the ruler-priests taking of 2 wives is "polygyny" and it served the purpose of preserving the priestly lines from which Christ would be born, according to the ancient prophecies. Interestingly, after the time of Jesus this unique kinship pattern apparently disappeared, having fulfilled its function.

The word "Eden" is related to the African word "egan" which means virgin forest. According to Genesis 4 Cain wandered eastward and came to the land of Nod/Nok. Since Nok is in the Jos Plateau of Nigeria, Eden had to be west of there. According to Genesis, the garden would have been west of Lake Chad, Noah's homeland (Bor'No). It may be Eredo on the coast, south of Lagos Nigeria. This is the largest monument ever found in Africa with walls 70 feet high and running for 100 miles.

Steve said...

The Book of Genesis like human existence itself remains a fragmented and retrospective narrative - right up to Gen 1:26 - at which point everything is in "completion" (שלם) as God intended, in Himself.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Interesting, Steve. According to Gen. Rab. 8:5 the angels who were beholding the creation and debating the God's proposal to create "man in our image", were asked by God "Why are you debating? Man has already been created!"