Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Response to Paul Imbrone's Assessment of My Blog on Genesis 2

[Read Paul's response to John Daniel's blog here]

Paul,

I think my assessment does apply to authorial intent, because I think the author of the narrative's intent was to take ancient Near Eastern myths and use them to point to Yahweh, the incomparable one true LORD God.

To your question that I may be excluding divine revelation in the text by denying the narrative's literal history: I think the logic here is a little funny. We have to receive books of the Bible for what they are: Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Job--these are books that have to be received certain ways, and cannot all be treated the same way. When you say I could be excluding divine intention by denying the creation accounts any literal history, you're assuming the creation narratives might have actually been written to record literal history. When you study whether or not this is the case, it becomes obvious that that was not the author's intention at all. I am not going to make a full case for this claim, but I'll provide a couple examples to make the point: The Genesis creation accounts use mythical images that pre-date Genesis by hundreds of years. Also, the ancient Near East, including the Jewish people, believed in a structure of the world that we know now not to be true. For example, the sun, to them, was the thing that moved, not the earth (see Josh. 10:12; Ps. 104:5; 19:6; Ecc. 1:5, to cite a few). The picture above is an illustration of how ancient Israelites viewed the cosmos (I took the picture with my iPhone, it comes from Peter Enns' book Inspiration and Incarnation, haha).

These examples show that Israelites did not have a perfect understanding of the universe and how it operated/came into being. And why would they? These are ancient people who had nowhere near the scientific data that we have today (and I'm not just referring to evolution; I'm also referring to the earth's rotation around the sun, the fact that the earth is a sphere, the fact that the earth is not made up of a big piece of land surrounded on all sides by water, and others). Why should we expect ancient Israelites to know things they would have no way of knowing? Because they received revelation from God? Why was it important for God to tell them how the universe actually operated? Such issues were not concerns for them.

Oh, I get it; it's because the Bible has God as its ultimate author, and if he wrote things about the universe, then they have to be true. Well, a lot of the Bible is not going to make a lot of sense until we divorce ourselves from this concept. Not only is the belief not necessary, but it is nowhere taught by Jesus, or anyone else in whose authority we put our faith. My problem with inerrantists is that they expect way too much from the Bible. They are not realistic about what the Bible actually is, and in an attempt to make Scripture something in which people can put their faith, they over-step and make it out to be something it was never intended to be. Once you look at all the evidence, it is, in my mind, impossible to go return to the view that the creation accounts record actual history. If your view of Scripture doesn't allow for that possibility, I think you're expecting too much from the Bible, and not being very realistic about what it actually is.

There's my rant for today. Haha.

You asked, What is the purpose of attempting to show that the Genesis account is not completely unique? (I like your use of 'attempting'). The point of doing that was to set the stage for the purpose of my post, which was to show how Yahweh is unlike the gods of the ancient Near East. I wanted to show that the Genesis accounts are up to their neck in the ancient Near Eastern culture, so that I could point to the author's intent, which I think was to present the incomparability of Yahweh to an ancient Near Eastern people.

I wish you would have expanded on your claim that my open theist views were making their way into my interpretation of the text. You didn't give me an example. Maybe, if you had, I could have explained to you why the text leads me to make such a claim; or, maybe there was something with which I could admit that I was taking poetic license with the text (which is not impossible!).

I can see that, in a mythical reading of Genesis 2, it would seem odd to claim that the human participated in God's creation of the world. "Wait, doesn't he deny that this is actual history? What is he saying?" I think the narrative points to the reality that we were created to help bring creation forward. We were created to care for the earth, to procreate (which literally consists of humans participating in God's creative activity), and to reign over it. My point was that humans are the gardeners with God in the Garden of Eden, which symbolizes our duty to care for creation and help bring it forward. It also points to the power that God has given humanity. That the human in the creation narrative participates in the creative activity of God shows that God invited humanity to play a significant role in the production of human history.

When I said that God doesn't always get his way, I was pulling from Genesis 3. He gave them a command (which implies that they have the power to oppose his will, because his will is for them to follow his command) and in chapter 3, they break the command, opposing his will. Again, clearly this is a God that doesn't always get his way.

I find your comments on God's self-glorification...odd, to say the least. You're comparing God's self-glorification to selfies on Facebook? While I applaud you for realizing that the doctrine of God's self-glorification implies narcissism (or maybe your comment doesn't go that far), I find it funny that you don't see this as a problem. Do we really serve an ego-maniacal, self-obsessed God?

Also, your assessment of God creating humanity in his--or, better, their--image is presumptuous. The text does not imply self-glorification. God says, "let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness" (1:26). Christians can apply the Trinity to this statement, but even without the doctrine of the Trinity, a better (but not necessarily correct) interpretation would be that humans were created in the relational image of God, in which it is not good for us to be alone (2:18). But even if you don't like this interpretation, self-glorification is not in the text. God could be being narcissistic when he says "let's create humanity to be like us," but this is not at all necessary. If we do apply the doctrine of the Trinity to this scene (and why shouldn't we?), it would be much better to say that the Trinity wanted to create more participants in their relation of love. After all, God is love, so if God is to make humans in his image, love will be at the front of the list; and not love of self (if God is narcissistic, doesn't that imply that we should be the same way?), but other-focused love, Trinity love.

Finally, while I do think we should worship God, you impose on the narrative when you assert that there should be an emphasis on the human's call to worship God in an assessment of Genesis 2. Nowhere in this narrative is that call made.

Paul, this has been a lot fun. We should try to think of something else on which we can collaborate. Let's try a different format next time. Maybe a Q&A? Or maybe we put up a passage and post one blog with our initial responses to the passage, and then responses to each other. Let's brainstorm.

God Bless!

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