Sometimes I wonder why things are the way they are. Today I want to ask your thoughts on a particular question to see if you can help me understand. Why has it become so important that Genesis chapters one and two be interpreted literally? Why those particular chapters? This is not a science and religion question. This is a Bible interpretation question.

Many of us who take the Bible seriously believe that if our lived experience conflicts with what we believe a particular Biblical text says, we need to re-evaluate our interpretation of that text. It seems intuitively clear to us that there should be some congruity between the “real world” and what we believe God is communicating to us through the Bible. Of course sometimes the point of contact is that our ways and God’s way are quite different- but even then what is said about the human condition rings true to our experience.

Let me give you a couple of examples. A plain, literal reading of Mark 11:24 and Matt 18:19 suggests that if we and a couple of others, seriously, thoughtfully ask God for something or ask God to do something that those prayers will be answered. Now, I don’t know about you, but my experience is not that simple- I ask, God gives. It just doesn’t happen all that often to me or to anyone I know.

Now some of you are already forming a response to my example by thinking of an alternative understanding text. You might be thinking ,the plain reading of the text says this but it can also be read to mean something somewhat different, something more complex, more nuanced. And that is my point. When my experience of prayer doesn’t match what I think the Bible says, I re-evaluate my interpretation. I don’t assume my experience is false. I don’t assume the Bible is bunk. I assume my interpretation is flawed and needs to be rethought.

Here’s another example. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus says “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This statement is not in harmony with other things Jesus says. Such as blessed are the peacemakers. Love your enemies. And so on. Our experience of Jesus in the rest of the gospel doesn’t match with the plain, literal meaning of this text. So we have to think again about what Jesus might mean in Matt 10:34.

If you have spent much time in Bible study, it’s very common for someone at the end of the session to say something like, “I’ve read that story a hundred times. I always thought it was about A and today because of our discussion, it seems to be about B. I have never thought about it from this perspective before.” Someone thought they understood the meaning of a text and as a result of discussion and hearing other people’s experiences and their own experience, a new understanding emerges for them.

We change what we think various texts mean fairly often based on how our experiences and the text interact.

So here’s the question. Why are some of us so opposed to reinterpreting Genesis one and two? If a plain reading of the text doesn’t match with experience, in this case evolutionary biology and cosmology, why wouldn’t it be appropriate to adjust our interpretation of it? Changing our interpretation does not mean we do not take the Bible seriously. It does mean we don’t take our interpretation so seriously. We allow for interpretive mistakes, we allow for growth in understanding, we allow for nuance and complexity. Perhaps we even allow ourselves to say we don’t fully understand.

So here again is my question. Why, for some of us, are the first chapters of Genesis exempt from any re interpretation that moves away from a plain literal reading?

I’d like to know, what do you think?


Cross posted at Presbyterian Bloggers

9 thoughts on “Why?

  1. Makes sense to me! Sounds as though you are thinking along the lines of a book I heard about last week, The Lost World of Gen. 1 by Don Walton. Do you know it? R

  2. Brilliantly written as you put forth an interesting challenge and getting readers to think in a two-way street. But there lies the issue as when it comes to the Bible, people are selective to which passages are two-way streets and one-way streets respectively.

    Whether Shakespeare, the Bible, or any other literary work, one must examine the situation of the day and the author’s intended audience …. let alone the word usage of the time, especially if another language is involved.

    And at this moment, what pops into my head? … the Creation Museum located less than an hour from me.

    Sorry, I’ve been away as a work project has limited by journey through the blogs …and writing as well. Many thanks though for dropping by!

    1. Yes we are selective, all of us. I guess I’m wondering about the “selection process” and how the interpretation of some texts become set in stone and the interpretation of other parts of the text remains more fluid, or organic- able to grow and change. I suspect I need a sociologist to help answer that question.
      Thanks for your kind words.

  3. I think people don’t change it because most folks raised with the Creationist interpretation belong to the cult of “right”. They were raised to think their view of Genesis as a science text and this view is “Right”. Mistakenly, they think allowing an understanding that would encourage them to see Genesis as the “story of God with us” instead “Earth Science 101” means they will be tossed out of the cult of “right” to the barren lands of “Wrong”.

    My experience is when people are allowed to change ideas – and recognize that instead of right/wrong – that they are growing in their vision and understand of how God acts and interacts through scripture and through time – the are more likely to see Genesis with a clearer lens.

    If they are freed from the chains of thinking “all these years I was wrong” and allowed to think “I have journeyed with God long enough to see the trees and the forest differently” – there is an increased likelihood of their ability grow and change.

    1. Yes, Rather than right/wrong mindset, a growing/changing one is more helpful- more grace filled both for one’s self and for others. Thanks for coming by and leaving your comment.

  4. I think people dig in their heels on reinterpreting Gen. 1-2 (and I’d throw in 3) because they believe their theodicy is at stake. The narrative of God creating a perfect world and man messing it up is a nice, easy (although not problem free) theodicy. The moment God starts creating through an evolutionary process that involves suffering and death, you’ve got to completely revamp your theodicy.

    1. yes, I think that is part of it. I wonder if what you are suggesting is not part of a larger issue- a longing for a fairly simple worldview. Lots of us are not comfortable with complex, non linear ideas. God’s relationship to the world and to us becomes much more difficult to grasp cleanly when evolution enters your worldview. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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