Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hermeneutical Devolution: A Mutated Approach To Genesis

The following is a response to an article in Joy Magazine here in South Africa. The pastor I am responding to was trying to make a case for a figurative interpretation of the Genesis creation account. His point was that it is theological and poetic in nature, therefore one does not need to interpret it literally. This was in the context of whether or nor children should be taught evolution in school. Here is my response:

After reading Pastor Howard Wylie’s letter in favor of evolution, I would like to respond primarily to Wylie’s contention that not “…every part of the Bible should be interpreted literally.” This unsubstantiated statement is as disturbing as it is dangerous because it leads to an arbitrary hermeneutic (interpretation).

My question for Wylie is how does he know where to draw the line between a literal approach verses a figurative approach, unless the Bible itself gives us direct warrant for such an approach? If Genesis 1 is taken figuratively, then what about Genesis 2 or 3? Then, what about Genesis 1-11, is it all non-literal? How does Wylie know, especially when this whole section of Scripture is written in normal Hebrew prose, not Hebrew poetry.

If Genesis 1 is to be taken theologically, as Wylie insists, does that necessarily mitigate against any scientific implication the passage might unintentionally allude to concerning creation? In the end, isn’t the whole Bible theological in one way or another?

If the Genesis account of creation is not to be taken literally, than what about the many passages throughout the Bible that view the Genesis 1-11 account as real historical events and actual people? The following four examples illustrate the literality of the creation account:

• In Exodus 20:8-11, when dealing with the 4th commandment, Moses declares that our 7 day week is predicated upon God’s creation week. The Hebrew word used for ‘day’in both Genesis 1 and Exodus 20 is yom and clearly indicates a 24 hour diurnal day is meant. Moses certainly did not see billions of years in Genesis 1, and yet, he was under the same inspiration Wylie professes to believe.

• Jesus referenced the creation account in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8 when he answered the Pharisees concerning divorce. In so doing Jesus cites both Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as literal and authoritative, just as He articulated the veracity of Noah and the flood (Matthew 24:37-38), as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28-29). If Jesus, who was a participant in creation, regards Genesis 1 and 2 as a literal account, who are we say otherwise? Who is the authority on the subject, Christ or Darwin?

• The Apostle Paul verified the reality of the first Adam in contrast to the second Adam—Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12-21), he promoted a literal approach to creation (Ephesians 5:31; 1 Timothy 2:13-14), as well as the certainty of the fall (Genesis 3 cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3). No one was ever more theological than Paul, yet his theology did not dismiss his literal belief in the Genesis 1 account.

• The writer of Hebrews believed the whole Old Testament was historically accurate, even the statements regarding creation (Hebrews 11:3-7). How can we believe the people and events of Hebrews 11:8-32 are literal, but not those of 11:3-7? To make such a distinction would evidence an arbitrary method of interpretation that lacks hermeneutical brakes.

The real question that confronts Wylie is, if the ‘days’ of Genesis are figurative, then why not God? Why not the fall of man? For, if the fall is figurative, then there is no need for redemption i.e. Christ. To dismiss the authority and literality of Genesis 1 in such a subjective fashion runs perilously close to denying the miracles and the bodily resurrection of Christ. It is but a step or two from denying the one to denying the other.

As for the H1N1 virus being an example of evolution, as Wylie maintains, it is not. Rather the H1N1 virus is a classic example of a mutation. Mutations never result in the addition of new information, which would be needed for evolution to be true. Instead, mutations always result in the loss of and rearrangement of existing information, which is often harmful, sometimes static, and at other times beneficial. But this illustrates the adaptation of kind that the Bible speaks of, not evolution.

Even though I believe evolution has more in common with a man-made religion than true science, I certainly do not mind if my children learn evolution as long as the horrific social and moral consequences of this dogma are fairly and honestly taught. Young people need to be reminded that the logical outcomes of evolution made the 20th Century the bloodiest and most immoral century in the history of civilization. Let us learn from this sad saga of history. Let us teach our children that evolutionary theory, combined with German existentialism, led to the nefarious deeds of a Hitler and World War 2. Then let us prepare them to answer the critics they will encounter in their tertiary education.

To depart from the plain sense of God’s authoritative word, as Wylie has done, will only lead to further concessions down the line. To oscillate between a figurative and the literal approach ultimately turns the plain sense of God’s word into nonsense.

Pastor Mark

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