Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation (Review)

Published: RTR 72, no. 2, 2013

Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation

Edited by J. Daryl Charles (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2013), 300pp., $US24.95. ISBN 9781598568882

The conversation takes place between five evangelical scholars, each wellpublished in the field. Averbeck (Trinity, Illinois) speaks of non-literal days, in a view akin to the framework hypothesis. The creation week is analogical, and the ancient Israelites understood it as such. Adam and Eve are affirmed to be real, historical individuals, though. Beall (Capital Bible Seminary) takes ‘a literal approach’, for there is ‘no hermeneutical basis for separating Gen. 1:1 – 2:3 from the rest of the book’ (p. 48). C. John Collins (Covenant) believes in ‘analogical days’. Furthermore, Genesis 1–2 is not a cosmogony, and the first six days ‘are not necessarily the first six days of the earth’ (p. 88). Longman (Westmont) asserts that since Gen. 1–2 is ‘high style literary prose narrative’, Adam is ‘not necessarily…a historical individual’ (p. 122). Finally, Walton (Wheaton) carefully explains that when seen in its ANE context, Genesis 1–2 is cosmic temple language, and says very little about cosmogony.

The book evidences that ‘the ANE context’ is the currently favoured way, not of reading evolution into Genesis 1–2, but of marginalising Scripture from the creation-evolution debate (and therefore leaving only one belief standing). The biblical text is said to enter into the ANE milieu of ahistorical cosmogony texts, but, despite claims to the contrary, this is not a bias-free, evolution-free assumption. The alternative belief is that one ANE culture stood within the stream of divine revelation, and that the cosmogony it was entrusted with (probably at the earliest stage of history—and it is noted that the book has little interest in the question of date) was not derivative of non-revelatory ANE cosmogonies. The latter are rather parodies (consciously or unconsciously) of the truth of the former.  

On the ‘analogical’ reading of Genesis 1, it is difficult to believe that the ancient Israelites effectively read with the hermeneutical proclivities of 21st century academics. For them, day meant day, and it is special pleading to say that this was anything but their cosmogony. This is not to be thought of as an unsophisticated belief, either. Genesis does not claim that God’s actions are precisely like ours, or that our knowledge of God is univocal. That ‘God said’ and ‘rested’ are analogical (certainly not equivocal), but the infinite and eternal one who is beyond our understanding does work within his space and time creation, such that a succession of archetypally royal commands were issued within six non-analogical days. The whole of Scripture insists that God revealed himself within history, both in creation and redemption. He is the God who gets his hands dirty, as it were. He works not only above his creation, but within it. The ‘analogical’ reading is Alexandrian, Origenistic and Gnostic in its tendency, pushing God away from his creation—not to safeguard him from impure physicality, but to keep him from being unscientific. We can have a distant, ‘scientific’ God, or an involved, saving God.  

The intention of the book—an irenic, evangelical conversation—is problematic. As to conversation, in matters of truth it is not merely the journey that counts. As to evangelical, a plethora of reimaginings of the biblical cosmogony does not strengthen evangelicalism, and when do such views cease to be connected with the evangel? As to irenic, the reader is advised that all the authors are orthodox, and that it would be unfortunate to question that. However, this kind of ‘political correctness’ inhibits a truly robust and honest debate, in which one is permitted to point out grave theological inconsistencies and consequences. An ahistorical Adam, in particular, does not arise from historic Protestantism or Augustinianism. It is heterodoxy, and is a basis only for Christological and soteriological disaster.