Sunday, 26 August 2012

From Genesis to Jesus: Eve in Christian perspective

The narrative of Genesis 2 leads to the creation of the woman, Eve, from the man, Adam, and up to this point is largely rooted in its immediate, local context.
Like the narrative of Genesis 1, however, there is a trajectory that leads into the far future. Public debate about the creation narrative tends to focus very much on the issue of the ‘six days’. Indeed ‘six-day creationist’ has become a particular kind of theological label (or insult, if you are differently inclined).
However, the rest of the Bible takes almost no interest whatsoever in these six days. Indeed, they are only ever mentioned twice in the rest of Scripture, and then to highlight what does concern the Bible, namely the seventh day on which is based the institution of the Sabbath.
In this regard, the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 points beyond the local context to the future — from this climax of divine rest will flow the future ‘mini-rests’ of the weekly break from human labour. As Christians, however, we see an even more significant sign, pointing not to a day in the week but to Christ. As Colossians 2:16-17 puts it,
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (NIV)
As with the similar ‘shadows’ of Old Testament priesthood and sacrifice (Heb 8:5), and indeed the Law itself (Heb 10:1), Christ is the substance who provides the reality foreshadowed in the earlier ‘types’.
But as J V Fesko has identified in his Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007) this means that Christ is also the hermeneutical key not just to the types in general, but to Genesis in particular. When we are asking ‘what does this mean?’, we must also ask, ‘what meaning does Christ give to this?’
That approach may seem controversial. Indeed some would assert that it will lead us to misread Scripture. But it is actually fundamental to our faith. In the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”, and when the eunuch describes his difficulty in deciding to whom Isaiah is referring in speaking about one “led like a sheep to the slaughter”, we are told that, “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Thus, whilst the interpretation of Isaiah may still be a matter of academic debate, it would be perverse for a Christian to do anything other than follow Philip’s example — certainly if confronted with the same question.
When it comes to Genesis 2, therefore, we need to be aware that the text also has a trajectory leading into the future and that its final destination is Christ.
The trajectory begins with 2:24. From the Garden, we suddenly move to every future marriage;
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)
But it does not stop there, for as the Christian reader will probably know, this verse is picked up by the Apostle Paul and applied, once again, to Christ:
... for we are members of his [Christ’s] body.“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph 5:30-32, NIV)
This is not, however, an application that Paul produces out of nowhere, like a rabbit out of magician’s hat. On the contrary, the link has been implicit throughout the Old Testament, where God’s relationship with Israel is commonly depicted in marital terms. On the one hand, unfaithfulness to God is described as ‘fornication’, ‘prostitution’ or ‘adultery’:
Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same. (Ex 34:15-16)
On the other hand, Israel’s own relationship with God is typically described in marital terms:
For your Maker is your husband— the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. (Is 54:5)
Indeed, the life of the prophet Hosea is a ‘worked example’ of the difficulties of this relationship (and a reminder that God’s plan for our lives may include marriage but not necessarily a happy one).
Perhaps the most remarkable depiction of God’s marriage to Israel, however, is found in the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, where the nation is depicted as a foundling baby girl whom the Lord first rescues and then, when she reaches sexual maturity, marries:
... you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:5-8, NIV)
By contrast with the negative denouncements of Israel, therefore, her redemption is depicted as the renewal of the marriage covenant:
“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. (Is 54:6-8)
In the New Testament, then, this marital imagery is simply picked up and applied to Christ, most dramatically, perhaps, with the wedding scene that comes at the end of Revelation. The end of all things is hailed as “the wedding of the Lamb” (19:7), and then in 21:2 we have this vision:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (NIV)
At the close of the book, therefore, we see the present-day church longing for this event:
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say ‘Come!’”
To the alarm of some, this invocation is followed by an imprecation — a curse:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (22:18-19)
In a most bizarre piiece of editing, the latest lectionary of the Church of England actually omits the verses telling us not to omit verses! But this is then followed by another invocation:
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (22:20, NIV)
The interesting point comes when we compare this with the words in 1 Cor 16:22. The NIV translates this as “O come, Lord!”, but the Greek text preserves the fact that this is actually an Aramaic phrase: Marana tha!
Being in Aramaic, the dialect Jesus and his disciples spoke, rather than in everyday Greek, we must assume that this phrase came into use in the church from the very earliest times. As with Revelation 22:18-20, however, the invocation is again preceded by an imprecation: “If anyone does not love the Lord — a curse be upon him!” (NIV). Given the parallel between the two texts, we may therefore wonder whether the invocation should be understood the same way in both cases, not just as calling on the Lord, but specifically (as in Revelation) as a longing for the arrival of Bridegroom on the part of his Bride, the church.
Certainly Paul viewed the church in this way. In 2 Corithians 11:2 he writes,
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. (NIV)
But for Paul this is much more than a metaphor. On the contrary, the effectiveness of Christ’s saving work depends on the parallel paul draws between Adam and Eve on the one hand and Christ and the church on the other, centered on the idea of ‘one-flesh union’ expressed in Genesis 2:24.
For Paul, the benefits of Christ to the believer come about through our union with him. Thus he writes in Romans 6:3-5,
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (NIV)
And the benefit of this union is seen in other areas as well:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:9-12)
Circumcision is not merely discarded. Rather, it is fulfilled in Christ, so that we who are ‘in him’ are also circumcised with him!
And all this comes from the application of the physical language of Genesis 2:24 to the spiritual life of the believer. Thus paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:16-17,
Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
For Paul, however, the significance of this extends even beyond our own personal salvation. Ephesians 1 presents a a review of God’s plans and purposes from before creation to our full redemption:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love (1:3-4, NIV)
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession —to the praise of his glory. (1:13-14, NIV)
As vv 20-21 indicate, the those plans and purposes are being worked out through Christ’s resurrection and heavenly ‘session’:
That power [working for us] is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (1:19-21, NIV)
But though Christ’s rule is ultimately to be established over all things, he does not rule alone, as we read in the next two verses:
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (1:22-23, NIV)
There are those, however, including Ian Paul (Women and Authority: The Key Biblical Texts Cambridge: Grove Books, 2011), who deny that Christ’s ‘headship’ here is a matter of rule:
In Eph 1:22 and Col 2:10 he [Christ] is head ‘over all things’ in most English translations. But the Greek cannot mean this, since word [sic] translated ‘over’ is huper, which everywhere else in the NT is translated ‘more than’ or ‘beyond.’ To express rule or authority ‘over’ something, Greek uses another word epi (as in Luke 19:14 and 27 ‘we will not have this man rule over us’). (16)
There are, however, a number of problems with what Ian Paul says here. First, huper is simply not translated “everywhere else in the NT” by ‘more than’ or ‘beyond’. A key meaning of the word is ‘for’ as in ‘on behalf of’: “pray for [huper] those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Another is ‘for’ in the sense of ‘on the same side’: “whoever is not against you is for [huper] you” (Lk 9:50).
Moreover, the sense of huper cannot always be conveyed by the two alternatives Ian Paul gives. In Matthew 10:24, for example, the NIV’s “A student is not above [huper] his teacher, nor a servant above [huper] his master” is clearly preferable to saying the student is not ‘more than’ his teacher or the servant ‘beyond’ his master.
‘Above’ is clearly a legitimate translation of huper, particularly in spatial terms. Thus the LXX of Deuteronomy 23:23 refers to “the sky which is above [huper] your head”. It would seem perfectly legitimate, therefore, to translate Ephesians 1:22 as “head above everything”. But in any case, the meaning and implications of this phrase would still have to be derived from more than just the single preposition.
Ian Paul inadvertently illustrates this by his reference to Colossians 2:10, for in fact this does not contain the word huper, even though the NIV reads “Christ, who is the head over every power and authority”. The Greek simply uses the genitive: “Christ, who is the head of every power and authority”.
But the sense is not merely that Christ is the ‘origin’ or ‘source’ of powers and authorities — Ian Paul’s preferred options. In the preceding verse, the Apostle writes that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (2:9). And in v 15 he observes that the powers and authorities have been disarmed, made a public spectacle of and triumphed over. Christ’s ‘headship’ in this regard is surely one of being ‘over and above’ as both the one who embodies the fullness of deity and the one in whom the usurping powers of the universe have been put down.
Regarding Ephesians 1:22, both the language and the biblical background make it clear that ‘rule over’ is indeed in view. First we read that God placed all things “under” Christ’s feet. To pursue the physical metaphor, and speak of Christ as the head and the church as his body, thus naturally puts him ‘above’ all things. The theological perspective is the same as that found in Philipians 2:9-11:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above [huper] every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
Furthermore the background to the Apostle’s thought in Ephesians is reflected in Psalm 8, especially v 6:
You made him [ie ‘man’ and the ‘son of man’, v 5] ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. (Ps 8:6-8, NIV)
And this Psalm is itself picking up what we read in Genesis 1:28:
God ... said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NIV)
The language of ‘filling’ in the LXX of this passage is picked up in Ephesians 1:22, which now uses the same verb (plēroō) to describe Christ as “filling everything” (cf 4:10, “He [Christ] who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe”).
Thus there is a parallel between Genesis 1:28 and Ephesians 1:22-23. In Genesis, mankind is to “fill the earth and subdue it”, ruling over the other creatures of the world. This is picked up in Psalm 8 as a hymn of wonder, but as the writer of Hebrews observes, although we do not see this in human reality we can see it applying to Christ:
Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him [man]. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour ... (Heb 2:8-9)
And the same thought is expressed in Ephesians. It is Christ, filling everything in every way, who fufils the mandate of Genesis 1 to “fill the earth”, and it is Christ, who reigns over all things, who fulfils the mandate to “rule over” the works of God in creation.
But as have said, he does this in combination with the church and he is able to do this because he does it in union with the church. Christ is the head, and all things are under his feet, but between the head and the soles of the feet is his body, the church.
Thus the argument of Ephesians 5, concerning husbands and wives, is not a mere haustafel — a set of household rules setting out an early (and possibly unenlightened) Christian ethic. Rather, it give human expression to the divine principle undergirding not just our salvation, but God’s entire purposes in creation. Christ rules, but not ‘Christ alone’. The plans of God depend on the union between Christ and the Church, and everything that he has done in Christ with regard to the creation is for the church, and finally will be through the church.
No wonder Paul writes as he does in Ephesians 3:20-21,
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:20-21, NIV)
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  1. Only read down to the 3rd para and I have already had a revelation (I'm a Biblical Creationist), having never put 2 and 2 together on where else the creation story is mentioned, other than Genesis 1-3.
    Consider me suitably uplifted and and encouraged just from the first bit of this!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. With 'sola scriptura', there is always the problem opf how to deal with myth. To try to defend any one of the Creation Myths is to court theological disaster. Why not just accept what the Holy Spirit has already revealed - through objective scientific discovery - and try to relate that to the phenomenon of ancient texts. Otherwise, there is just too much confusion - e.g; did woman come from Adam's rib, or were male and female created simultaneously - as most modern scholars would aver? What does '7 days' really mean - in terms of the evolution of the cosmos? We know that 'for God all things are possible'. But would God act in a way that contradicts observable phenomena?

  4. Father Ron/kiwianglo - God Himself said that He created the world in 6 days and then took a rest (Exodus 20:11). Are you going to argue with Him now?

  5. Andrew Godsall, Exeter27 August 2012 at 22:17

    Youthpasta you really believe that this is to be believed literally? The literal interpretation of creation is the only one?

  6. Youthpasta. I cannot believe you are pastoring youth - with your lack of understanding of the problems of biblical inerrancy. Do you really believe that each of the Creation stories is literally true? If so, you have real problems. Have you thought of the possibility that the writer(s) of the O.T. are endeavouring to explain their current understanding of the Creation of the World. Myth is not intentional untruth but merely a way of describing something inexplicable.

    If Adam and Eve were, indeed, the first inhabitants of the earth, literally; then whom did Cain marry? Was it his hitherto unknown sister? (And that's just one problem).

  7. Ron, to stick up for Youthpasta a bit....

    You may think YP is niave etc. but actually, these aren't new problems that people have never considered/discussed. Check out some of the issues on websites like John Frame (proper heavy weight - in both senses - theologian), or some of the very focused stuff like Questions in Genesis. They may seem a bit mental to you, but before dismissing someone, worth hearing out. At the end of the day, belief in God is to most a bit mental. Once we've accepted that there is a God and the Christian God at that, we have to be open to the idea that much of our received wisdom could well be wrong. You, know the Epistle of James stuff, wisdom from heaven, wisdom from earth kind of stuff.

    It is humbling stuff


  8. Andrew Godsall, Exeter28 August 2012 at 12:35


    Of course they are not new problems, but certainly there has always been latitude about their solution. Youthpasta's question was "God Himself said that He created the world in 6 days and then took a rest (Exodus 20:11). Are you going to argue with Him now?"

    This question itself begs so many questions, but a key one to Youthpasta is: is the literal interpretation the only one allowed? We wait for him to answer but Darren, as you have spoken up, do you think a literal interpretation is the only one allowed?

  9. I'll answer that in a second.

    1st, back to YP. The point I was making to Ron is that it is a very typical, "me clever enlightened person, you stupid literalist" approach, that just puts my teeth on edge. I assume the answer to all those questions from YP (& maybe I give him far too much credit... but he once had a good curate you know), will be yes, I have considered that & here are the answers. Now, you & Ron may consider those answers lacking in some way... but I'm sure YP has them, as I'm sure he's been asked them before & felt like the silly one in the room.

    From my point of view & I'm sure YP, of course there are questions of what kind of literature are we dealing with & there are some people I respect who I can learn lots from who don't take that line, e.g. Tim Keller, Peter Jensen.

    I have however, increasingly come to a more literal view over time, having been a theistic evolutionist. Partly exegetically, especially Jesus way of speaking about Adam & Eve as real people and their place in Romans 5. But what really got me thinking was doing Geology as part of an Engineering degree. I'd never questioned evolution before! But my lecturers insistence of bringing it up drew something to my attention - you had to assume lots of things, based on yet more assumptions, based on yet more assumptions. In other words, if you are a naive literalist like YP (or me?) you will interpret the evidence that way. If you are an evolutionist, you will take it that way.

    I also noticed how we sat loose to all theories, accept that one, which was "gospel". And it was cool to through out whacky ideas about anything... except that. In fact, if you said, "we all came from aliens", people will have time for you. If you say, "God spoke", they laugh. I'm always suspicious of the overly hostile response. It usually indicates you're on to something.


  10. Andrew,

    As you are so keen on questions. Let me ask you a compound one back.

    How do you know what "truth" is?
    How do you know that your God is God and not a god of your own imagination?


  11. Andrew Godsall, Exeter28 August 2012 at 16:00


    I only have partial reflections of 'truth'. Only when I have passed through death to life will I know what truth really is. Until then I have to test all the reflections of truth that come to me. And like any good Anglican I test them against scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
    I think we are all in danger of making God in our own image. Again, those images need to be continually tested. And we need to know that God and God's word have got more truth still to be revealed.

  12. Test against what?
    We all use Scripture tradition, reason & experience. The question is which "wins" when they are in conflict?

    There is a problem with reason & experience. Scripture tells us that we are fallen in our ability to know (think James, wisdom from above v wisdom from ourselves, Romans 1 etc.) Experience is finite... I can't experience everything. I can be wrong. Tradition to, Jesus had plenty to say about, think Mark 7.

    The logical problem you've just raised is that if truth is only known after death, for a start how do you KNOW that you will know this after death, what truth claim lead you to that? & if you are uncertain about truth now, in what meaningful way can you say that you "know" God?

    That's not to say that you don't... not for me to say. But I ask the question, what basis can you say that you do?

    As John earlier mentioned Hooker (really there is no Anglicanism "proper" before him), he is worth looking at for scripture, tradition & reason. I think he used it differently to you. For the idiot guide, Nigel Atkinson's book is small & painless. Of course, it doesn't concern me, I'm a naive, just give me a Bible Presbyterian.

  13. Andrew Godsall, Exeter29 August 2012 at 06:53

    They only appear to be in conflict because we dont know enough Darren. The tension between them is what makes faith such an interesting journey isn't it?

    How do I know I will know after death? I don't. I have faith. And I have faith because scripture, tradition and experiences teach me to have faith. Like Paul, now I see through a glass darkly.....

    The bible is a record of those who had faith before me. The story goes on. God's revelation didn't finish when the canon of scripture was fixed did it?

  14. At the risk of adding to the 'off topic' comments (!), whilst we may discuss the extent to which God's revelation has continued, we must surely agree that his revelation of his written word has finished "when the canon of scripture was fixed", to quote Andrew. That is my first question.

    My second is this: does this not also means that the revelation objectively shared between Christians in 'constrained' - yes? We have the objective data of the written word to be interpreted in ways that are not entirely subjective (eg the meaning of words, the structure of grammar, the historical background, all affect the reading in objective ways - we can simply take our own view of what a tense 'means to me', etc).

    Thirdly, we have then to ask how subjective revelation not tied to scripture operates. How does 'revelation' differ (if at all) from 'insight', for example?

    Specifically, how (apart from scripture) does God 'reveal' himself? And let's not say 'Through the Spirit, because the Spirit is God. How does the Spirit 'reveal' things? One of the questions I raised a long while ago (not on this blog) was whether we are in danger of being ruled by our tummies - people say, "The Spirit is leading us to ...", but do they mean any more than "We feel ..."?

    So those are my three questions.

  15. Quite.

    Hebrews 11:1 defines faith, v2, THAT definition is what the "ancients were commended for", not just vague faith. Faith is a verb that has to be attached to something, not a noun that sits in a vacuum.

    In terms of incomplete knowledge, Deut 29:29 is helpful. God has given us all that we NEED to know, but there are lots of "secret things" that "belong to the Lord. So, sure, we don't have total knowledge, only God has that. But we can have true knowledge. God has, to put it crudely, come to our level. Otherwise is it God that we are knowing?

    By the way Andrew, I assume in your ordination you declared that Scripture was "sufficient" & to drive away strange teachings?

    Yes, at times interpretation can be hard work. But as John pointed out, language does have "rules", the point is to be understood. Imagine Andrew's reaction if I responded, "I agree with Andrew 100%, all C of E Synodical decisions
    should be ignored... that's how I interpret his words".

    Sorry, taken an off topic, just that little bit further in the detour. Back to John's 3 questions....

  16. Sorry to take it off-topic again, I will endeavour to return to the 3 questions after this. But I feel I should explain my understanding of Creation after all that's been typed. And thanks to Darren for sticking up for me in my absence.
    First off, I recognise that there are 2 stories of Creation. Second, I believe that God is unchanging and that because He says that incest is wrong at a later point in the Bible (Leviticus and Deuteronomy) that it is wrong eternally (though some would argue differently, and it is a very thought-provoking argument that they make) and so Cain and Seth need wives from somewhere.
    My understanding of the first creation story is that it’s not 6 consecutive days of creation, necessarily. They could, quite easily, have been millions of years apart. Equally, because God is so amazing, they could have been consecutive. Interestingly, though no one ever seems to think this idea out loud, each day could have lasted FAR longer than 24 hours! However it happened doesn’t really matter for salvation, but my belief is that God created and used evolution as His tool (there is too much evidence of things that aren’t around now and time passing to claim Young World Theory holds water) and that the bits where God says “Let there be…” is God dictating the next stage of creation. After all, how do the cells know they need to mutate to form the next stage of evolution without guidance?
    The second creation story is about the creation of a relationship as much as it is about the created order. We see God creates man and is in relationship with him. God then creates Eve and is then in relationship with both of them. I believe that Eden could have been created anywhere between the first and last point of the first creation story, and could have either been spread out at the same points as the first or created all at the same time (after all, if God knows how it’s going to turn out then He can set it up any time He wants, given that Eden is separate from the rest of the world). When Adam and Eve are kicked out of Eden they join with the rest of creation, giving Cain and Seth possible wives that are not related to them.
    Just to add to my comment about Young World Theory, the Bible does not say how long Adam is on his own for before God created Eve, nor does it say how long they were in Eden before the serpent tempted Eve and they got kicked out. It could have been hours, it could have been eons. It doesn’t say. The evidence would suggest that they could have been in Eden for some time.

  17. (...cont)

    Now, as to why I take Genesis literally, I believe that there are 2 very good reasons to take it literally. The first is that if you say that it isn’t really to be taken literally then where do you stop? Do you stop at Noah and say everything after is true? Why stop there? Why not say that everything up to Abraham, or maybe even Moses? And in the space of 3 logical jumps we have just dismissed any historic truth from the whole of Genesis. But why stop there? After all, if we can scrub 1 book that easily then why not others? After all, surely at least 1 of these so-called prophets was just hearing voices. And did the walls of Jericho REALLY come tumbling down? And so on. In the end we are left with a shell of the Bible, most of it being “useful guides on how to live and stories that explain what can happen if you do or don’t follow them”. There are bits that are obviously not to be taken as history, but that is because the Bible itself says they are not. Psalms, for example, clearly say what they are. The same with the wisdom books and the prophets (at least the prophetic bits) etc are not saying what happened (although the prophetic bits did happen, in that the prophecies were spoken) and they say what they are. But the Bible does not, as any point, say “This is not to be taken literally” of any part of the Pentateuch.
    My second reason for taking Genesis literally is that it is never said not to be taken literally in the New Testament. Even Jesus, who you would think would be in the know on such matters, never corrected anyone on taking it literally. Indeed, both gospels that mention Jesus’ genealogy go at least as far back as Abraham and 1 gets all the way back to Adam. Adam and Eve are mentioned in the NT and nowhere does it say “Adam and Eve, who by the way weren’t real people…” or anything to that effect.
    Finally, I suppose, I should refer to my original point which started all this. EVEN IF we were to take all of Genesis out of the equation for proof of how God created everything, my reference of Exodus 20 still stands. Unless people deny that God spoke to Moses, or say that Moses chiselled the first tablets wrong and then God made the same mistake with the second batch we are left with the Lord God Almighty Himself declaring that He created the world in 6 days and then took a rest on the 7th. The only way that this can be ignored is if you deny it happened (because, let’s face it, the mistake option is flawed from the start!) and then you deny the very foundation from which Jewish law originates (and thus our own).
    So, a bit long-winded, and I again apologise for the tangent it’s created, but there you have my theology on Creation.

  18. In response to your first question, John, I tend to think (though am in no way fixed on this view) that God's revelation ended at the point of Jesus' ascension. All the books in the NT up to Revelation are trying to explain that revelation to the world. Revelation, the book, comes into a different category as it is apocalyptic, speaking in images to try and explain something beyond our comprehension and pretty much beyond the realms of time.
    God's revelation throughout the Bible is Himself, which ultimately came in the form of Christ. All that comes afterwards is explanation of that which is already there.

  19. YP,
    I think we can tidy that up a bit. Eph 2:20 & 3:5, Rev 21:14 & the way the Apostles are chosen by Jesus & their foundational role in Acts, I think means they (& for us their writings) are our connections to Jesus (note how John 14,17 follow on from each other, the role of the Spirit in them, so that we might know...). So, the last verse of Revelation does seem to close the canon. Which is why we say in the creed, "one holy catholic & APOSTOLIC" faith.

    The early chapters of Hebrews are helpful on this. Jesus = the last word from God, as it were. God speaks, finally through him, but that revelation comes to us by the Spirit, in the Scriptures.

    But, I was wondering if John was directing those questions at Andrew. Following Andrew's logic, doesn't this mean that John's questions have stumped him?

  20. But doesn't that still mean that God's revelation to us is ended, it's just that we still don't understand it yet so the Spirit helps us to do so?

  21. something like that.

    & I suppose we could say, 1 way he does that, is through the church, i.e. each other (NT one anothering), word Ministers (Eph 4:11) & the historic church (Heb 13:7-9). As well as his internal work of opening blind eyes.

  22. If I may then push my point a little further, one of the things about Scripture is that it gives us a 'restricted objective' set of data. It is not being added to (Andrew's point) and it is what it is in terms of the words on offer (bar generally recognized 'variant readings'). In this sense (at least) it is 'objective revelation'.

    Outside that there is some objective data (chiefly history and natural science) but it seems to me there is a lack of objective revelation.

  23. DO you mean there is a lack of objective revelation outside of the Bible or that the Bible is not enough objective revelation?

  24. I think neither.

    Romans 1, there is objective data, but we misinterpret it. It reveals God to us, but we distort that information. It may have been different pre-fall, or post-new earth. But we need revelation from outside ourselves, which is objective.

    Also, although there are variant readings, Scripture interprets scripture. So, if we see things in 1 part of scripture at apparent odds with another, the problem is with us and, as John Stott once put it, "The truth is often in both extremes". Think God's sovereignty, Christ's deity & humanity, Complimentarian issues etc. HERE is where the mystery issues lie, not WHAT truth is, but HOW can these things be so. Lots of revisionism inverts that. It looks at the mysteries and says, "that can't be", looks at the obejective stuff, subjectivizes it, throws it's hands in the air and declared, "it's a mystery!".

    Objective truth, isn't the same as objective revelation. But, to use a Van Til idea, is there such a thing as a brut fact? Aren't all "facts" to some extent interpreted & so will depend on our starting point and what we are already assuming to be true. Another time maybe?

    But that's what Andrew has to recognise. Not that we're thick or naive, but that we are starting from a certain faith position & assumption... & so is he. None of us impartially make judgements.

    Back to Romans 1, a non-Christian scientist could understand objective data, but a Christian observing the data can slot that into a wider world view of it's significance.

  25. Of course we all start from a faith position. Mine is that the bible is essential but not infallible.
    Revelation goes on through all kinds of things - the Church, the natural world, individuals, communities, non-scriptural writings. The scriptures are an invaluable record of the faith of our ancestors. Contemporary writings also reveal and give us fresh insights into the word of God

  26. But, Andrew, what are contemporary writings based on and compared to?

  27. Andrew Godsall, exeter29 August 2012 at 22:30

    They are based on experiences of the living God and of his son Jesus Christ youthpasta. Just like the scriptures. Try someone like Richard Rohr. Fantastic insights that help us know more about God.

  28. And how do we test that these writings are theologically sound?

  29. Andrew Godsall, Exeter30 August 2012 at 06:30

    You test them against other ways of revelation - scripture, tradition, reason, experience.
    A literal interpretation that sees scripture as inerrant does not always pass the test. Neither is it the only view.

  30. This is all very -- well, it's all one of those typical discussions on the Bible -- but can we all agree that the Bible is different from, eg, the writings of Richard Rohr or, say, C S Lewis. I know the latter would, and though I haven't read the former, I would be surprised if he wouldn't if he's a Christian author.

    So - agree, or disagree, to the following:

    1. The Bible is in a class of its own when it comes to revelation.

    And going a little further:

    2. The Bible is the primary and indispensable source for our knowledge of God in Christ.

    3. Without the Bible, we can have no real knowledge of Christ.

    Remember, agree or disagree, then further comment (how, why, etc), please.

  31. 1 - Yes
    2 - Yes
    3 - Yes, other than the fact He existed.
    No further comment needed, at least for the moment.

  32. Andrew Godsall, Exeter30 August 2012 at 09:03


    But it does not mean that the bible is to be interpreted literally or that is inerrant.

  33. Good to see so much agreement! Perhaps that could be used to find agreement in more areas of methodolgy.

    Personally, I'd like to see a bit more subtlety about the use of the word 'literally'. Up to the Medieval period, it was generally acknowledged that the 'literal' understanding of a passage was necessarily part of our interpretation, but that it was not the only part.

    When Augustine wrote on the 'literal' meaning of Genesis, he was asking 'to what actual events does this text correspond?'. That, it seems to me, is something that no one could object to. His conclusions were very different from those of modern 'Six Day Creationists', but he was quite clear he was taking Genesis 'literally'.

    The challenge is that it calls all of us to have a 'literal' understanding of Genesis -- and every other part of the Bible. But then it also calls us to go on and ask what else the passage has to say -- what other levels of meaning it has. Some people will find the former challenge difficult to accept, others the latter, but it seems to me we should all be doing both.

  34. Quite - the Bible itself is blatant in offering different kinds of literature. Also, offers internal interpretations of itself.

    There are still some questions for Andrew's methodology. In it's lack of inerrency, who decides when "new" information shows us the Bible's error? For e.g. is it in error when Jesus says "love your neighbour"? I guess not, how about hell, mmmm. You see what I mean. Could it be, that evidence we use to highlight errors, are themselves in error, or misunderstood.

    Are you saying that you have enough intelligence, spiritual power & neutrality to work that out?

    Does this mean that the Holy Spirit isn't able to inspire Scripture, or he is but not able to keep the right bits in? In which case, who decides which bits he hit the target on?

    Back to earlier statement... I think there is a difference between "revelation" & "insight".

  35. Andrew, how do you suggest people decide which parts of the Bible to take literally and which bits to take figuratively?

  36. Andrew Godsall, Exeter31 August 2012 at 09:10

    So many things one could say. Time is short so here are a few:

    A crucial question is to ask - what did they believe then that made them express things the way they do? (That the earth was flat, and that the planets all revolved around the earth are two easy examples).

    'Proof texting' is a dangerous business, because you need to understand the context, not least the answer to the above question.

    Texts that are used to invite people into fellowship with God are at the heart of scripture. Texts that are used to beat people with probably have various other interpretations open to them.

    Biblical scholars are experts in their field. I'm not one. But I trust those who are. They tend to be employed in the world's universities or as freelance scholars and not conservative evangelical stables.

  37. Whooah! We reach agreement, and then everyone ignores what I say and goes back to polemic. (Much more fun, I suppose, but much less edifying - eg remarks about "evangelical stables".)

    The point I made earlier was that every text should be examined for its 'literal' meaning. We can always usefully ask the question "To what actual events and observable physical realities does this text correspond?"

    For example, people often cite the text about the mountains that "skipped like rams" (Ps 114:4) as an easy example of a text not to be taken literally. But if we ask whether the words have any reference to the physical world, obviously they do. We have not excluded a 'literal' sense by recognizing a figure of speech.

    Could we not have a bit of a discussion about that point? If not, I'm minded to shut the thread down because I do actually have to read this stuff and it gets a bit boring.

  38. PS I am taking 2 Tim 2:14 'literally': "Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen."

  39. Haha...and of course 2 Tim 2:14 needed to be taken litertally by those for whom it was written. It was not literally written for us - so we need to approach it differently. That is not to say it is not true. But it was written for a specific context.
    The bit of the Psalms you quote is a good and easy example. Lets go to something like the book of Job. Was there literally such a person called Job? Did Job have the exact conversation with God that is recorded at the end of that book? How did God speak?

  40. Andrew, I honestly think that although Job is a great book, which I've been studying quite a lot recently, a typical blog discussion such as you propose would serve no purpose. At whom is it aimed - you, me, Uncle Tom Cobley?

    How could we tell anyway? Do you know? Does anyone alive now, apart from God?

    No, I think I'll pass on that one.

  41. Andrew Godsall, Exeter31 August 2012 at 14:02

    Oh come on John. You can't ask for a discussion about literal interpretations and then back out. I'm raising very real and serious questions about an issue you asked us to discuss!

  42. Ok, another important question then:
    Which Bible scholars do you go to? After all, some will be at polar opposites to others on the interpretation of scripture. And what about when we are in the dark about the history behind the reasons for writing the letters, for example? Do we have to assume certain situations or can we simply say that we take what we know, ignore what we don't know and then read it in the context we have created?

  43. Andrew, for the record, I personally didn't want a discussion of literal interpretations - you started on Youthpasta about literal meanings, he responded, and I suggested some parameters which you might like to consider to lift the conversation out of the usual rut.

    I just don't think it is likely to be a fruitful discussion, but if you want to tell folks what you think about Job and see if anyone 'bites', go ahead.

  44. Andrew Godsall, Exeter31 August 2012 at 21:17

    I think my questions are enough John. If Youthpasta or Darren or anyone wanting to suggest a literal approach wish to reply to them that's fine.

  45. I believe I have already given 1 literal understanding. My question still stands, though. If we are to rely on Bible scholars then how do we know who to go to, whether they be literal or non-literal?
    And I think this is very important because if we are to choose to read the Bible in the light of experts, rather than in the light of what the Bible says about itself, then we need to know which Bible scholars are right and which aren't, because some would argue as you do, Andrew, some would argue in John's favour and others would argue in many other different ways.
    And I don't think that an answer involving the Spirit can work, because this would be to suggest that wherever an individual was "led" would invalidate all other ways of understanding the Bible.

  46. Andrew Godsall, Exeter1 September 2012 at 11:40

    I can't see your answers about the book of Job YP. Where are they?
    As to which biblical to look at several... We all have our favourites...

  47. “And I think this is very important because if we are to choose to read the Bible in the light of experts, rather than in the light of what the Bible says about itself,..”

    YP, the second part of your statement above is in itself a very slippery one. Everything the Bible says needs to be translated. It was not written in English. The OT was not written to us but to Israel. It was the revelation of God to Israel and through Israel to everyone else. It is not just the language of the Bible that needs to be translated but also the culture in which it was written. Every language whether Hebrew or English operates in a culture and unless that culture is correctly understood then the likelihood of us misinterpreting scripture increases.

    The book of Job for example, which many evangelicals regard as a literal narrative is not regarded that way by Jews. In the context of the culture in which it was written then there are very strong arguments for it to be seen as a Jewish morality tale rather than a literal account. This does not in one whit diminish its divine inspiration but shows what the Bible says about itself is not so straightforward to interpret as it first appears.

    I meet many evangelical Christians who refer to the ‘plain meaning of scripture’ who are really making an underlying assumption that God actually spoke the Queen’s English in ancient times. He didn't.

    BTW I also know of some Anglicans who still think God is an Englishman and some evangelicals, that the early church was really comprised of middle class Baptists, but a discussion of that will have to wait for another thread at John’s discretion…

    Chris Bishop

  48. Andrew Godsall, exeter2 September 2012 at 19:27

    Wonderful post Chris. Many thanks.

  49. But none of this answers the point I make about differing understandings of Scripture. Andrew, you say that everyone has their favourites. What if my favourites are those who take the Bible literally?
    And you are right that I haven't put anything about Job, I was referring to my posts about Genesis since I read the comment to be about the general themes in this thread, not just Job.

  50. Andrew Godsall, Exeter3 September 2012 at 11:50

    I'd be glad of yours and John's answers to the questions about Job. I think they hold the key to quite a lot of this discussion.

    Chris Bishop's post above seems to me to be extremely helpful. Can you agree to what he says there YP?

  51. Andrew, like I've said, this is not a discussion I'm interested in on this blog at this time. If you want to post with your views of Job, go ahead and see if you can stimulate some discussion of those.

    However, I do not see either enlightenment or change as a likely outcome. Hence my backing off from it.

  52. PS, I don't see anything to disagree with in Chris Bishop's post, but there are now 53 comments on this thread almost none of which pick up anything in the original article.

  53. Andrew Godsall, Exeter3 September 2012 at 15:34


    If you agree with what Chris Bishop has posted then you have answered my questions about the book of Job havent you?
    My views of Job are implicit in my questions, and made more explicit by Chris's comment. I am glad to see that you do not take it literally. That is enlighthening in itself!

  54. I'm with John on that.

    Although as I cycled into Chelmsford today, I see that I have minority view on interpretation,as people brought their modern critical methods to the "Cyclists Only" signs.

    Really, I think Andrew's answer about Biblical scholars is a car crash. It produces a cast of Priests & keeps the Bible from the hands of ordinary people & still leaves the questions about presuppositions (scholars have theirs).

    It also shows a failure to see where Evangelicals come from. Dick Lucas, former Rector of St Helen's Bishopsgate, co-founder of the Proc-Trust used to say things like, "It's not written to you silly" & "You need to go back to Corinth". Of course not being written "to" & not being written "for" are different matters. Read a commentary like Carson's & you see that Evangelicals are happy to grapple with knotty issues & other traditions. Indeed in theological training they have to. It seems from some rather bland caricatures, the same doesn't happen the other way.

    Of course, perhaps THE distinctive thing about Bible interpretation for Evangelicals and does actually relate to the original post... Evangelicals do believe the the Bible is a whole unit, made up of parts. The knotty questions of how this bit fits with that-is where the hard work starts & the rewards found.

  55. Ok, we're back online after moving house. So, can we get back to the topic now?