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Traditional and Non-Literal Interpretations of Genesis

Introduction

Within the framework of this essay, it is required to critically interpret the unconventional criticism of the passages about the creation of the world from the Book of Genesis. The literal interpretation of this text implies that man inhabits the Earth for only a few thousand years – as long as the planet exists. This position seems unscientific and contradicts academic ideas about big history and evolution, but strives for full compliance with the content of the Bible. A number of theories have been developed by various theological schools seeking to link the Old Testament text with developments in the scientific and archaeological disciplines. In the process of discussing interpretations about the creation of the world, it is necessary to criticize non-traditional approaches from the standpoint of creationism. Based on the logic of the Young Earth interpretation, the Old Testament contains inferential evidence for the natural course of history.

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Non-Traditional Views

Of the non-literal theories, two should be noted – the day-age theory and the so-called gap theory. In general, these theories have been in close rivalry in American and Jewish academic communities throughout the 20th century, but their sources are rooted deep in the history of the early church. The first theory likens days to epochs and centuries, looking through them for an explanation of the connection between science and religion. According to the first theory, one can find a correspondence between the gradual evolutionary creation of the world and its biblical version.1 The gap theory also claims that the Earth was first created, which was subsequently devastated by God, disappointed in its wickedness.2 Only later the whole world was created from the formless Earth – in exactly six days. Such interpretations imply that there is a particular date in which the world was created and imply historical correspondence between Biblical events and reality.

Based on the statement about the creation of the world in six days, there are attempts to non-literally interpret the meaning of the word “day” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament there are several senses of the word yom, based on which the hypothesis of the creation of the world can be given different interpretations. This word means both literally “day” and the sunny part of the day, as well as more abstract and blurry periods of time. It is not the semantic significance of the word that is important, but the context. A day thus in the context of the Bible can be interpreted not as a literal 24 hours, but as thousands and thousands of years. Theologians point out that reading the Bible as a work of an indefinite but unequivocally literary genre implies more of a figurative reading and comprehension, but would limit the ability to trust the text as a historical record. The non-traditional views regard the Bible not as a purely historical representation of events. Thus, the correspondence between stated events and actual periods of time is more vague and implies the existence of ancient Earth.

The difference in approaches to the Biblical text – historical, analytical, literary, figurative approaches – makes it difficult to formulate a single non-traditional interpretation of the beginning of the book of Genesis, having different arguments. In other Psalms there are passages indicating that a thousand years in the power of the Lord may turn out to be a day, and vice versa. It is important at the same time that such a reading does not imply a certain passage of time – due to the lack of a comparative context. That is why it is difficult to characterize the day as a 24-hour passage of time, given that day and night, through the creation of the sun, appeared only on the fourth day. The logic of the natural flow of time makes it difficult to read Genesis literally, since the process of plant growth, for example, is quite lengthy. The same logic applies to the Sixth Day, during which man and animals were created, and Adam managed to name the animals. It is also assumed that the length of Sunday, the day of rest, is non-literal and means a long period of time.

Criticism of Non-Traditional Views

The literal, or concordist interpretation of Genesis states that everything in Genesis happened in the literal sequence of events. The Young Earth theory states that the creation of our planet actually took place 6,000 years ago in 6 days. Arguments put forward by supporters of the theory of deep time, who claim that the age of the Earth is billions of years older than indicated in the Bible, are often rejected by scientists who adhere to the Young Earth concept.

The main argument of the theologians of the Young Earth is the reliance on the biblical text as an irrefutable argument. The study of the book of Genesis in relation to historical events demonstrates a relatively accurate temporal correlation of words and historical reality. The creation of the Flood is proven to be in sync with biblical genealogies and real historical facts. 3 The genealogies of the Old Testament make it possible to count the course of generations in such a way as to reach chronologically until the appearance of the figure of Jesus Christ, which proves the correspondence of Genesis to the real course of time.

The traditional proof of the theory of deep time, which refutes the ideas of creationists, is the study of stones and rocks. The multitude of historical soil layers and the presence of ancient fossils in them is traditionally considered scientific evidence of deep time. However, creationists stick to the version tied to the Great Flood. The biblical catastrophe that destroyed all life except Noah’s Ark, according to creationists, is the reason for the creation of rocks4. Most of the fossils are thus not evidence of the evolutionary approach, but its refutation – these are the animals that died in the Great Flood.

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When talking about the meaning of the word yom (a day), creationists require a strictly historical and literal approach, claiming its total accuracy and implying that non-creationist interpret the word incorrectly. Referring to stanza 14, creationists argue that the day can only be understood as the passage of time associated with the movement of celestial bodies. Accordingly, the extensibility of some days, such as Shabbat or Sunday, is rejected by Young Earth adherents. Also, evidence of a literal reading of Genesis can be found in the book of Exodus, which states that the Lord created the Earth in 6 days.5 This means that before the beginning of the creation of the world there were no other activities and that after that the start of biblical and, accordingly, human history was given.

Important in the debate between creationists and adherents of the scientific point of view is the fact of reliance on the Biblical text. It is in adherence to the logic of the Biblical text that lies the stumbling block over which creation theologians and other researchers are divided. Young Earth enthusiasts argue that in order to really make sense of the Bible, it must be taken strictly as historical truth, for it is the literal and unadulterated word of God. The departure from the traditions of Christianity thus consists already in exposing the religious text to doubt. Non-literal interpreters of Genesis, according to creationists, refute the very Word of God, saying that it requires additional contextual interpretation. According to creationists, this text cannot contain errors or inconsistencies in the process of cross-translations and should be taken absolutely literally.

Conclusion

In this essay, the main contradictory points between non-literal theologians and adherents of the Young Earth theory were analyzed. Based entirely on the sacred text, creationists have been able to deduce from it an explanation of the origin of the world that refutes many theological and scientific concepts. According to creationists, the Old Testament is fully consistent with the real flow of time, and this can be proved through key events in the text and their chronology. Other versions such as the gap theory try to explain the historical flow of time by saying that after the creation of the Earth there was chaos and then the creation of the world. The role of context and text interpretation seems to be particularly important in characterizing each of the theories. The semantic and contextual meaning of the words “earth” and “day” can completely change the theoretical interpretation of Genesis. Thus, the role of the text itself, in all its significance as a whole, is the main one for any theological interpretation of the creation of the world, regardless of the commitment to scientific discourse.

Bibliography

Larkin, Clarence. Dispensational Truth or God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages. Glenside, 1918.

Mclver, Tom. “Formless and Void: Gap Theory Creationism,” National Center for Science Education. Volume 8, No. 3 (1988) Web.

Mortenson, Terry. Coming to Grips With Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. Green Forest: Master Books, 2008.

Younce, Max D. The Truth About Evolution Or Don’t Let Satan Make A Monkey Out of You! Walnut Grove: Morris Publishing, 2009.

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Zoschke, John. “A Critique of the Pre-Creation Chaos Gap Theory,” The Proceedings of the International Conference on Creationism. Volume 6, Article 8, (2008) 55-70.

Footnotes

  1. Terry Mortenson, Coming to Grips With Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth (Green Forest: Master Books, 2008), 6.
  2. Tom Mciver, “Formless and Void: Gap Theory Creationism,” National Center for Science Education 8, no. 3 (1988) Web.
  3. Max D. Younce, The Truth About Evolution Or Don’t Let Satan Make A Monkey Out of You! (Walnut Grove: Morris Publishing, 2009), 11.
  4. Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth or God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages, (Glenside, 1918), 65.
  5. John Zoschke, “A Critique of the Pre-Creation Chaos Gap Theory,” The Proceedings of the International Conference on Creationism, 6, Article 8, (2008): 65.

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StudyCorgi. "Traditional and Non-Literal Interpretations of Genesis." December 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/traditional-and-non-literal-interpretations-of-genesis/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Traditional and Non-Literal Interpretations of Genesis." December 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/traditional-and-non-literal-interpretations-of-genesis/.

References

StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Traditional and Non-Literal Interpretations of Genesis'. 30 December.

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