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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Every Thing Old is New Again.

Both six-day creationists and scientific materialists approach Genesis 1 as if the original author had intended to narrate the mechanics of creation in historical prose. I believe this is a mistaken, literalistic reading. For over a century now, a great many biblical historians have detected in the Bible’s opening words a style other than simple prose and a purpose other than to explain how the universe was made. These two issues, genre and purpose, are critical for understanding this foundational portion of the Jewish and Christian Bible. In what follows, then, I want to unpack what many modern scholars are saying about these issues and demonstrate that, properly understood, Genesis 1 teaches nothing scientifically problematic for the modern enquirer. I emphasize the adverb ‘scientifically’, since there is plenty in Genesis 1 that is theologically and existentially confronting. That is the aim of the text, as I understand it.

Such is extract of a writer's opening words in his publication "The Genesis of Everything" posted to the ISCAST website in 2008.

I couldn't help but be reminded of that demolition job on evangelical Christianity's position on Origins when recently reading part of the writings of William Henry Green, a contemporary of Charles and A. A. Hodge on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary in the late Nineteenth Century. The highly respected Theologian, E. J. Young, said the following of Green - "Green's learned works, without doubt, constitute the most thorough and convincing refutation of the development hypothesis. The Church of God may ever be grateful that He has given to her such an apologete!"

I provide herewith some extracts from William Henry Green's work "The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch" (1896):

"The study of the Bible on its purely literary side has many and strong attractions for men of letters. But, with all the admiration that was bestowed upon it [The Bible], the unique character of its claims was lost sight of. Its inspiration and divine authority did not enter into the account. The immediate voice and hand of God, which rule in the whole, were overlooked.

[Yet] There are three evident indications of God's immediate presence, which pervade the Scriptures from beginning to end, and are inwrought into its entire structure, and with which they must reckon who recognize in its contents merely that which is natural and human. These are miracle, prophecy, and revealed truth.

Three different methods have been devised for getting rid of these troublesome factors. One is that of a scoffing deism, which sets aside the supernatural by imputing it to deception and priestcraft. It is all held to be traceable to impositions practised upon the credulity of the uninstructed vulgar in order to exalt the ministers of religion in their eyes, perhaps for the promotion of selfish ends, perhaps with the worthier motive of obtaining sanction for useful institutions or gaining credence for valuable teachings, which they could not otherwise have been induced so easily to receive.

A second mode of dealing with the supernatural, without admitting its reality, is that of the old rationalistic exegesis. This regards it simply as oriental exaggeration. It is looked upon as the habit of the period to think and speak in superlatives, and to employ grandiloquent figures and forms of expression. In order to ascertain the actual meaning of the writer these must be reduced to the proportion of ordinary events. Thus Eichhorn, the father of the higher criticism, had no difficulty in accepting the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and defending its credibility, while at the same time he discarded the miraculous. This work, he contended, must be interpreted in accordance with the spirit of the age to which it belonged. Its poetic embellishments must not be mistaken for plain prose, and its bold figures must not be converted into literal statements. When the oriental imagery is duly estimated, and the elaborate drapery in which the imaginative writer has dressed his thought is stripped off, it will be found that his real meaning does not transcend what is purely natural. There was nothing miraculous about the plagues of Egypt; it was only an annus mirabilis, a year of extraordinary occurrences, remarkable in their number and severity, but wholly traceable to natural causes. There was nothing miraculous in the passage of the Red Sea, or the events at Sinai, or in what took place during the forty years in the desert. The apparently miraculous features belong merely to the style of description, not to the facts described. There was in this no intentional falsehood, no attempt to deceive. It was the well-understood way of writing and speaking in that age. And thus the supernatural is evaporated by hermeneutical rules. But this un-natural style of interpretation could not long maintain itself. The attempt to reduce heathen myths to intelligible history, and to bring down the miracles of the Bible to the level of ordinary occurrences, proved alike abortive. The hypothesis of rhetorical exaggeration, fashionable as it was at one time, was accordingly abandoned. The rule of common-sense must be applied to Scripture as to any other book, that the writer must be understood to mean what he says, not what some interpreter may fancy that he ought to have said.

The third mode of banishing the supernatural from the Bible is by subjecting it to the processes of the higher criticism. This is the most plausible as well as the most effective method of accomplishing this result. It is the most plausible because the animus of the movement is concealed, and the desired end is reached not by aiming at it directly and avowedly but as the apparently incidental consequence of investigations pursued professedly for a different purpose. And it is the most effective because it supplies a complete antidote for the supernatural in each of its forms. Every reported miracle is met by the allegation that the record dates centuries after its supposed occurrence, leaving ample time for the legendary amplification of natural events. Every prediction which has been so accurately fulfilled that it cannot be explained away as a vague anticipation, shrewd conjecture, or fortunate coincidence, is met by the allegation that it was not committed to writing till after the event. Revelations of truth in advance of what the unaided faculties of men could be supposed to have attained to must be reconstructed into accordance with the requirements of a gradual scheme of development. The stupendous miracles of the Mosaic period, the far-reaching predictions of the Pentateuch, and its minute and varied legislation are all provided
for by the critical analysis, which parts it into separate documents and assigns these documents severally to six, eight, and ten centuries after the exodus from Egypt.

These critical results are based professedly on purely literary grounds, on diction and style and correspondence with historical surroundings. And yet he who traces the progress of critical opinion will discover that these are invariably subordinated to the end of neutralizing the supernatural, and that they are so managed as to lead up to this conclusion.

They are in acknowledged variance with the historical truth of much of the Bible, and require, as is freely confessed, the complete reconstruction of the sacred history. They require us to suppose that the course of events and the progress of divine revelation must throughout have been very different from the representations of the Bible.

Within a very few years professedly evangelical men have ventured upon the hazardous experiment of attempting a compromise in this matter. They propose to accept these hypotheses in spite of their antibiblical character, in spite of their incompatibility with the historical truth of the grave questions which they raise respecting the fallibility of our Lord own teaching; and they expect to retain their Christian faith with on such modifications as these newly adopted hypotheses may require. They are now puzzling themselves over the problem of harmonizing Christ's sanction given to false views respecting the Old Testament with implicit faith in him as a divine teacher. And some of them in their perplexity over this enigma come perilously near impairing the truth of his claims. Would it not be wiser for them to revise their own ill-judged alliance with the enemies of evangelical truth, and inquire whether Christ's view of the Old Testament may not, after all, be the true view

Perhaps with only the exception of the third method of diluting the Bible of its historical truth, the author of The Genesis of Everything, takes a similar route to the proponents of Higher Criticism more than a century ago. But then even the third method is not without some relevance because the device of timeliness is again used to undermine the historical narrative of Scripture, albeit in the subject author's case the expiration of time since the Creation event and the influence of the current world's view on the reading of Genesis. For that author (and many who endorse his paper) literary devices, alleged contemporary Middle Eastern writings as well as early Christian and non-Christian writers strongly influenced by an allegorical approach to Scripture are cause to apply a higher critical hermeneutic to the Creation account.

Upon entering the Twenty-First Century we find Higher Criticism as healthy as ever and making another assault on the evangelical church.

I write this in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:25-26.

Sam Drucker

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