*This is the first part of a paper I wrote for my Old Testament Theology class. Please don't freak out until you read all of it ;) I'll be posting it in short readable sections.
Whenever I sit down to watch a movie or a television program (which is becoming increasingly rare), I try to pay attention from the second the story begins. I consider the beginning to be key to understanding the rest of the story. This seems to be a minority opinion. I am frequently frustrated by people who talk through the opening moments or aimlessly fidget with other things, waiting for the story to “grab them”, only to be hopelessly confused later in the film, or worse yet, to thoroughly misinterpret the plot or characters due to their own inattention to the opening scenes.
Approaches to the Biblical narrative seem no different. The first 3 chapters of Genesis are perhaps among the best known texts in the Bible. They are also among the most misunderstood and misappropriated. Many Christians today seem to read Genesis only as a proof-text in arguments about the need for atonement and/or to counter certain scientific theories that they perceive as contrary to the Biblical account.
In making an analogy between Biblical interpretation and reading a novel, Peter Enns rightly suggests that
“…the first reading of the Old Testament leaves you with hints, suggestions, trajectories, and so on, of how things will play out in the end, but it is not until you get to the end that you begin to see how the pieces fit together. And in that second reading, you also begin to see how parts of the story that seemed wholly unrelated at first now take on a much richer, deeper significance.”1
It is certainly appropriate, from a Christian perspective, to reinterpret Old Testament texts in light of the Christ event. However, this must be recognized as reinterpretation and not as pure exposition of the author’s original intent and understanding. Further, we must let the text initially give us “hints, suggestions, trajectories and so on” before we apply our re-interpretive lens, lest we apply the wrong lens altogether by mistake. For this reason, as we approach the task at hand, we must consider what the text is not before we explore what the text is.
Missing the Point
In spite of all Evangelical claims to the contrary, one thing that the first 3 chapters of Genesis are “not”, is a refutation or a pre-existing contradiction of the theory of evolution. Without putting too fine a point on it, such a reading does violence to Scripture by misappropriating the text, thereby distracting us from its true intent. Even the conservative scholars Longman and Dillard point out that in spite of all of the “discussions and debates over the last century,” these texts are surprisingly unconcerned with “the process of creation”.2 Enns unambiguously contends that not only were ancient people not concerned with explaining the universe in scientific terms, such a means of investigation was “unavailable to them”.3 The point is that when we try to use the text as a treatise refuting a scientific theory that would not exist in any form for at least several millennia, we subvert the text in the pursuit of anemic goals. Brueggemann asserts that these texts leave open “all scientific theories about the origin of the world,” and take “no stand” in these matters. He further proposes that “Such a way of treating the grand theme of creation is like reducing the marvel of any moving artistic experience to explorations in technique.”4 Additionally, John Mark Hicks contends that in essence, these particular texts aren’t even written in theological terms, but rather are offered as a “relational narrative.”5 Perhaps this reveals the ugliness of what is generally done with the Creation narratives in Genesis. The narratives are generally stripped of relationship in favor of an exploration of mechanics. They are thus effectively reduced to the narrative equivalent of pornography (mechanics devoid of relationship).6