Thursday, January 05, 2023

Early Obstacles and Problems in Genesis (2022)


I first read "Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen in 1993 (it had been published in 1923) and I did a detailed study of it around 2010.

I got to where I couldn't read it at night, because I would lay awake until late haunted by the prophetic words Dr. Machen used in warning us about the sad consequences if the Orthodox faith slipped in our midst.

I am writing about Genesis in the aftermath of a theological war regarding the origin of the Pentateuch (the 5 Books that start the Old Testament that reference Moses as the author).

Influences of the enlightenment and the rise of science elevated scholarship and led many theologians to write apologies for the Scriptures from purely naturalistic theories. Studies in Theology are inherently difficult because our ‘subject’ is by definition above and beyond us. We can’t study God under a microscope, He is the One who stoops down to us.

The foul dust left in the wake of such ‘research’ has created a purely educational recap of presuppositions that leave no room for the supernatural or any notion of a real God. Critics attack the manuscripts saying these are the superstitious fancies that men carry prior to enlightened discovery, Skepticism 'feels' true because it assails belief and fastens theories as ‘facts’ because they sound scientific.

Without taking too long here- I reject many liberal notions such as Friedman’s Documentary Hypothesis because it is obvious these are logical conclusions of a purely naturalistic premise, but in the end, they take as much faith to believe in as Genesis 1:1.

This blog project starts with my premise, just as logical, that Moses is the primary writer. If there were other source documents at his disposal, that doesn’t negate Mosaic authorship, and the use of editors to assemble the ‘final’ version of the Pentateuch under the divine calling of Scribes who labored over every jot and tittle in reverent fear of the Almighty- WHO is called by MANY NAMES in Hebrew including one NAME that was too Holy to even speak (YHWH).

The source documents are in Hebrew. The reported author was educated in Egyptian schools. I am reading it in English. The original readers had almost no understanding of God’s ultimate plan. I look at it with 2,000 plus years after the cross of Jesus. The original readers had to scratch out a life in harsh and ancient conditions. I am typing this on a Mac in a time of ease and comfort.

But I am still drawn in at the complexity within a simple text. The confident truths espoused in these pages provide a wide canopy of protection and provides a meta narrative to make sense of human existence. The world view of Genesis allows my life to make sense. Without it, I would be aimless and hopeless.

Genesis provides origins of life, explanation of evil, the organization of the cosmos, and foundations of all that has value in our world.

Is it factual history? Symbolic? Fiction?

In a sense, the entire Book is BEYOND. It has poetic structure and narrative. When I skim Genesis, I find the storyline, when I probe it I see deeper structures. And when I encounter problems, I am reminded of how small I am and how grand God is. 

Do you find it strange that as we peer into the event horizons of black holes, the Genesis account is not undone if you really know how to read it? And by that, I mean read it carefully.

As I read it, it comes across initially as narrative. Each section has a special verb tense (wayyiqtol) that in Hebrew serves as the order and structure of narrative sections. Genesis isn’t poetic or preachy. It doesn’t present any main character as a superhero. The things these characters struggle with are the same in my day, They are the same in Shakespearean tragedies, and stir the heart in any generation.

Sure, we may feel like we are more sophisticated in the 21st century- but the story is the same.We have children, we desire security, we fear the future, and we crumble under the duress of living. We bury the dead and spill innocent blood.

Nothing in archeology DISPROVES the stories here. There is always room for the skeptic to reject the accounts. But we still have people who refuse to believe that men went to the moon. For some, it is easier to hold to conspiracy theories of aliens, Elvis, and Sept. 11 than it is to believe that all mankind descended from a common DNA and all living things were created already according to various kinds.

We also tend to neglect that this account was presented to Moses long after the real events happened. This written communication from God comes long after the laws of the universe had been put into place. Even before time on earth (as we know it) was established.

The original readers already knew of flood accounts.... which to me points to a real one. The culture had cities and covenants... they already saw creation and the evil heart of mankind.

So when the recipients received these words, it was a correction and a reminder.

The pattern of life shown in Genesis 8:22 was already in continuous cycles for generations- as we experience them even to this day!

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (ESV)

As we read, our world view overlaps with the original writer in a shared human experience. That is a miraculous experience in and of itself. I am reading a man who had a different language and experience. He lived thousands of years ago, completely on the other side of the world. But he and I are involved together with understanding of narrative, genre, communication skills, and common feelings, attitudes, and emotions.

The writer is also skilled enough to give cultural signals that we can study and organize. To the one willing to dig, we discover order, verb tenses and indicators, word play, drama, and humor. Don’t be fooled…. You are not reading an unsophisticated man here. The writer is highly intelligent- he uses Hebrew repetition, key words, categorical diction, and higher order concepts of comparison, cause and effect, and argumentative analysis. He uses allusions, analogies, and dramatic elements of setting, theme, symbolism, and stunning denouements.

Be careful before you dismiss.

In my own experience, I see logical applications to the Genesis account everyday. I have never felt that accepting the Book on face value is intellectual suicide.

I live in a world of the sun, stars, and moon. I see a multitude of living things that have uncanny markings of art and design. When I hike in the American west, the sandstone looms like the beaches in Destin just after a storm surge.

I experience day and night, the successive seasons, a seven day week, and a pattern of corporate worship. My work is often hard and my wife and I don’t always see eye to eye. I have a deep desire for justice and I have deep longings for love and peace.

Science tells me that the universe is in motion. I need an explanation why man can do great acts of courage and nobility and then turn and murder, exploit, or betray.

I need a story that tells me how things got to be the way they are. It needs to explain why I worry about what others think about me. It needs to give hints regarding my dreams and the evidence of common love, logic, law, and longing for liberty.

There are some who immediately throw it out. But they never stop to think of the motive. They also never question their own ability to judge without presupposition. I am too skeptical of my ability to be right…. Life has given me a healthy suspicion of myself.

I have great disagreements with others on the meaning of these texts… but in the end, Christians only believe in ONE big miracle… the existence of the God of the Bible. If you take Him according to His Word, then everything else isn’t really a problem. Once you reject Him, you also must trust in a story of many, many more unlikely miracles.

And last of all, the problems are not a problem. God allows us to question Him... His rainbow is not straining to shoot down at us. No... He is patient and loving. He is just wanting us to dig in and hang on.

Don't let pride or psuedo-sophistication pull you away from the only true Lover you have!

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