Archives May 2013

The Value of Literary Genre (The Language of Creation Part 5 of 5)

the language of creation

A consideration raised by the Clergy Letter Project is that the creation account is not to be read literally but allegorically or figuratively. The Letter states: “Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation…Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.” (Clergy Letter Project, 2004) People holding to this view often claim that the literary genre of Gen 1 and 2 is poetic rather than prose. They therefore suggest the account cannot be a literal, accurate, straightforward, and chronological summary of the actual events; it is simply using figurative, allegorical, metaphorical language to teach us “timeless truths.”

 

A survey of parallel accounts written in both prose and poetry, however, demonstrates that regardless of a passage’s literary genre, (poetic or prose), it is still to be understood in a literal fashion. For example, God’s commanding of Moses to strike the rock so that water would come out of it (Exod 17:6) offers an example of prose that was retold in a literal but poetic fashion by later, biblical writers. Asaph uses very concrete words to describe the historical fact of the rock being struck and water coming out, such as: “we have heard”, “our fathers have told us”, (Ps 78:3) “(God) appointed a law…to make known”.  He makes it abundantly clear that striking the rock was a very real, historical event and that the events occurred as stated. There is no sense of allegory whatsoever in his language even though he retells the account using poetic parallelism (chiasmus A, B).

  • Give ear, O my people, to my law; (A) Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. (B)
  • He divided the sea and caused them to pass through; (A) He made the waters stand up like a heap. (B)
  • He split the rocks in the wilderness, (A) and gave them drink in abundance like the depths. (B) He also brought streams out of the rock, (A) and caused waters to run down like rivers. (B)  (Ps 78:1, 15. 16)

 

The striking of the rock and water coming forth is reiterated in Psalm 105:41 where another Psalmist states: “He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.”  Both of these writers have interpreted the events in Exodus literally and straightforwardly. (See also Paul’s recounting in 1 Cor 10:1-6)

 

Exodus 15:1 is another example of poetry as historical fact a song (poetry) to the Lord: “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying…” Exodus 15 is the poetic form of chapter 14 which was written in prose – that is, a plain straightforward kind of language. What we must not miss, however, is both the prose in chapter 14 and the poetry in 15 tell a true and historic account of what happened at the crossing of the Red Sea. A historic account expressed in poetry in no way precludes it from also being an accurate and true account.

 

Therefore, whether or not Genesis creation account is poetry or prose or even a mix of both makes no difference. We see this proven by looking at other biblical passages that speak of creation. For example, after taking the children of Israel out of Egypt, God led them to a place called Mount Sinai. We read in Exodus 20 which is written as prose, He gave them the law and therein he states that he created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.” (Exod 20:9) Certainly God is talking about a regular workweek. The people were to work six (literal) days and then they were to take a day off, something very different from the custom of the peoples around them, who generally didn’t take any days off. God gives the reason and history behind the seven-day week: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.” (Exod 20:11, 31:15, 17) God unequivocally declares that He created everything in only six days. Like the other times that a cardinal number appears before the word day (yom יום), here too it is used as a literal 24-hour day. God makes perfectly clear how long he took to make the universe (just in case anyone should be confused). If these days are not taken as literal days then neither can the Sabbath be taken as literal. Yet the Sabbath as a literal day, starting at sunset Friday evening and lasting until the following Saturday evening, has always been considered a literal span of 24-hours so we can safely conclude that the six days of creation are also to be taken literally.

 

There is no way to circumvent this declaration: the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, observed for 24-hours every week, is a sign between the Jewish people and God. The Israelites knew exactly how long it was – for not knowing would cost them their life. The Sabbath was/is 24 hours and therefore, so are all of the other days of the week, which is how long it took God to create the heavens and the earth. Hence God himself interprets the former revelation given in Genesis one and two as literal.

Framework Hypothesis

The framework hypothesis posits that the layout of the creation events is not chronological but theological and thus we cannot understand the days (and creative events) as being literal. For example Gordon Wenham, a proponent of the framework hypothesis argues that, “…the distribution of the various creative acts to six days, has been seized on and interpreted over-literalistically…The six day schema is but one of several means employed in this chapter to stress the system and order that has been built into creation.” (Wenham 1987: 39, 40) Yet the fact that the Genesis creation account is beautifully written does not detract from the author’s intent to convey a literal and factual account.

 

This is confirmed by many biblical scholars, who do not believe that Gen 1:1-2:3 is the actual scientific explanation of where we came from, yet nevertheless argue on the basis of linguistic and literary criteria that the Genesis creation account was written as a literal rendering of what the author believed to have truly happened and hence the days of Gen 1 and 2 are literal, definite periods of time. Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad states, “The seven days are unquestionably to be understood as actual days […]” (von Rad 1972:65).

 

Oxford Hebrew professor James Barr, who does not actually believe Genesis as factual, states emphatically concerning the writer’s intent, “the creation ‘days’ were six literal days of a 144-hour period” (Barr 1978: 40). Barr later adds in a 1984 letter:

…so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: 1) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience, 2) the figures contained in the Gen genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story, 3) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’ (Barr 1984)

Gerhard F. Hasel in his article The “Days” Of Creation in Genesis 1 likewise notes the conclusion of liberal scholars:

 

the creation “days” cannot be anything but literal 24-hour days. They are fully aware of the figurative, non-literal interpretations of the word “day” in Gen 1 for the sake of harmonization with the long ages demanded by the evolutionary model of origins. Yet, they insist on the grounds of careful investigations of the usage of “day” in Gen 1 and elsewhere that the true meaning and intention of a creation “day” is a literal day of 24 hours (Hasel 1994, emphasis mine).

 

Hasel further argues how:

 

the ‘literary genre’ redefinition of the creation account is intended to remove the creation account from informing modern readers on “how” and “in what manner” and in what time God created the world. It simply wishes to affirm minimalistically that God is Creator. And that affirmation is meant to be a theological, nonscientific statement which has no impact on how the world and universe came into being and developed subsequently. (Hasel 1994)

 

Thus what Wenham and others have discovered about the literary style of Genesis only serves to magnify its author, God, and the literary considerations in no way detract from a literal interpretation of the days and events contained therein. Furthermore and for the record, Walter Kaiser states in his study on Genesis 1-11; “we are dealing with the genre of historical narrative-prose, interspersed with some lists, sources, sayings, and poetical lines.” (Kaiser 1970: 61) Therefore the attempt to relegate it as non-literal literature is an unwarranted effort to dismiss the biblical cosmology as myth.

Conclusion: The Language of Creation Proves a Literal Seven-Days Creation

The biblical creation account can only be describing a period of seven literal 24-hour days. The linguistic foundation is found in the usage of the word day (yom יום) because every time it is used in conjunction with a cardinal or ordinal number, the meaning is always and without exception limited to the period of a regular and literal 24-hour day. God Himself reiterates that He created the heavens and the earth in six days, which is why He instructs man to work six days and then to take the seventh off. We know from history that the Hebrews have always taken the six-day workweek literally and have considered the seventh day to be a day of rest. Because God tells us twice in Exodus (20:11 and 31:17) that those were literal days, our only plausible conclusion regarding the six (plus one) days in Genesis is that they are to be taken as literal, 24-hour days. There is wide acceptance that the writer of Genesis believed that God created in six literal days. We need not and cannot conclude that they were six indefinite periods of time, at least not if we are to take everything else in the Bible seriously.

 

The only reason to conclude that the six days of creation were long periods of time is if we seek to harmonize the Bible with the model of (geological, chemical and biological) evolution. However, if we simply seek to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, then the interpretation of Genesis 1 is clear: God created the heavens and the earth in six literal 24-hour days and rested on the seventh. We therefore conclude that there is no room for a biblical interpretation which includes an evolutionary process of billions of years during creation; God emphatically declares to have done it in six, literal days.

 

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

Bibliography

Barr, James (1978). Fundamentalism. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Barr, James (April 23, 1984). Letter to David C.C. Watson: Oxford.

Bozarth, G. Richard. (Sept. 1979). The Meaning of Evolution. American Atheist Magazine.

Brown Driver Briggs (BDB), (1996).  Hebrew Lexicon. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Buth, Randall (1994)."Methodological Collision Between Source Criticism and Discourse Analysis, The problem of 'Unmarked Temporal Overlay' and the pluperfect/nonsequential wayyiqtol" in Biblical Hebrew and Discourse Linguistics, ed. Robert Bergen, (S.I.L., 1994: 138-154).

Buth, Randall (2005).  Living Biblical Hebrew, Introduction Part Two, Mevasseret Zion: Biblical Language Center.

Clergy Letter Project. Retrieved August 20, 2006, from www.butler.edu/clergyproject/religion_science_collaboration.htm

Collins, C. John (1995). The Wayyiqtol As ‘Pluperfect’: When And Why Pages 117-140 Tyndale Bulletin Vol.46.1 (May 1995).

Fields, Weston W. (1978). Unformed and Unfilled. Collinsville, Illinois: Burgener Enterprises.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L Archer Jr., & Bruce K. Waltke, (1980). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.

Joüon, P., & T. Muraoka (2005). A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico.

Kaiser, Walter C. (1970). The Literary Form of Gen 1-11, New Perspectives on the Old Testament. ed. J. Barton Payne Waco, TX: Word Books.

Kautzsch, E. and A. E., Cowley, eds (1910). Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2nd. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Keil & Delitzsch (1866). Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids (1973 reprint).

Hasel, Gerhard (1994). The “Days” Of Creation in Gen 1: Literal “Days” Or Figurative “Periods/Epochs” Of Time?  Retrieved September 5, 2006, from www.grisda.org/origins/21005.htm

Orr, James ed. (1913) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. (electronic version: The Word Bible Software).

Pipa, Joseph A. Jr. From Chaos to Cosmos: A Critique of the Framework Hypothesis. Westminster Theological Seminary/California. (Draft January 13, 1998). Retrieved March 12, 2007, from http://capo.org/cpc/pipa.htm

Ramm, Bernard (1950). Protestant Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Roberts, A. & J. Donaldson, eds. (1885). Translations Of The Writings Of The Fathers Down To A.D. 325. Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company. The Word Bible Software.

Ross, Hugh (1991). The Fingerprint of God. 2nd ed. Orange, CA: Promise Publishing.

Von Rad, Gerhard (1972). Gen: A Commentary. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Wenham, Gordon J. (1987). Gen 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1. Waco, TX: Word Books.

 

Are Genesis One and Two Contradictory Accounts? (The Language of Creation Part 4)

The Language and Grammar of Genesis One and Two

The claim is often made that the creation accounts of Gen 1 (really 1:1 – 2:3) and Gen 2 (really 2:4 – 2:25) are contradictory. Thus, it is suggested that even if chapter 1 had been written with a literal intent, chapter 2, with its supposed contradictions, would render a literal reading impossible. The principal difference in the two chapters is that chapter 1 deals the language of creationwith creation from a panoramic view while chapter 2 is concerned specifically with the how of the creation of man and the what of man’s role in God’s creation. Let us analyze biblically and linguistically the key passages the full range of the key Hebrew words in Gen 1:1–2, the grammar of chapter 1 and also 2:4, 2:5-7, and 2:19.

 

Genesis 1:1 is the first act of creation and not simply a title which is substantiated by the Hebrew grammar. The typical sequence of a narrative is to start with a verb in the simple past tense. (Buth 2005:52) Gen 1:1 begins with bara – created in the simple past tense thereby signifying something new or dramatic to the story.  Verse 2 is a parenthetical statement explaining what is meant exactly by the creation of the “earth”. The action picks up again in verse 3 with the use of a sequential past tense (vayyiqtol). The use of a different kind of Hebrew verb marks quite clearly that the writer understood the actions of verse 3 to be a continuation of the previous two verses. Dr. Randall Buth notes that this is the normal storytelling construction in biblical Hebrew.

 

The sequential past tense is used to present the next event in the story or the next event in a sentence. If the writer wants to mark a break in the flow of the story for any reason, then they do not use the sequential past tense. For a past event they would need to put something other than the verb at the beginning of the sentence and then use a simple past tense (Buth 2005: 52).

 

Not only is verse 3 a continuation of verse 1, but the entire creation account of Gen 1 uses the sequential past tense. Consequently, according to the grammar, there is no break between verse 1 and the rest of the chapter and hence no gap of years between any of the first three verses since they are all part of that first day. Light was created on the first day, along with the very building blocks necessary for even the light to shine, which was energized by the movement of the Holy Spirit over the face of the deep. There exists, therefore, no reason to believe that the length of the first day was any different than that of any other, neither was there a previous world that fell only to be recreated, nor was there even a geologic creation some billions of years earlier (as the Gap Theory suggests). The first three verses of Gen 1, the first day, all occurred within 24 hours just like the rest of the days.

Bara and Asa

Before God created anything, there was only God. There was no universe, no vacuum of space, nothing whatsoever. There was only God. He created something completely new (bara), a space/dimension (from nothing) called שמים shamaim (heavens) which he filled with ארץ eretz (earth-material) which was in the process of being formed and was not completed. Keil & Delitzsch underscore the connection between verses one and two “it is evident that the void and formless state of the earth was not uncreated, or without beginning…the heaven and earth, as God created them in the beginning, were not the well-ordered universe, but the world in its elementary form; (Keil & Delitzsch 1866: Gen 1:1) God essentially created the building blocks before beginning construction. The term “earth” here must be directly interpreted by verse two and hence understood as the raw material, the elements that God created out of nothing that He would form and fashion later to His liking. The creation of light was the third creative act.

 

A key word in Genesis 1:1 is ברא (bara) created and is used a total of 53 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The basic and most widely used form of the word (used in Gen 1) has the general meaning of create, shape or form. It has been suggested that the word bara used here in Gen is a different type of action than the word עשׂה (asa – do, make, fashion or produce) used in Exodus 20:11 where God says that he made the heavens and earth in six days.

 

Bara and asa are for the most part synonymous with one important distinction between them: bara is used only of God’s actions and never of man’s. There are countless examples of where man can asa (do or make); however, only God can bara. There is by implication creation ex nihilo, but the major thrust of the word bara lies in its use by God only and on the initiation of something new. The TWOT notes concerning asa and its distinction from bara: “The word bara’ carries the thought of the initiation of the object involved. It always connotes what only God can do and frequently emphasizes the absolute newness of the object created. The word ‘asa is much broader in scope…“’asa may simply connote the act of fashioning the objects involved in the whole creative process.” (TWOT: 1708 asa)

 

As the TWOT notes, the use of asa is a broader term than bara, but we see from the context in which the words are used that they can be used interchangeably to a large extent. Perhaps the best example is Isaiah 45:18 where the three words that are used, create, form and make all describe the same event – God’s creation of the heavens and earth. “…who created (bore בורא) the heavens, who is God, who formed (yotzer יוצר) the earth and made (oseh עושׂה) it, who has established it, who did not create (braha בראה) it in vain, who formed (yatzarah יצרה) it to be inhabited…” (Isa 45:18)

 

This verse is incredibly specific in regards to the creation of the earth. First of all, God declares that He is the one who created (bore בורא) the heavens – which could also be translated as Creator of the heavens. Next He says that He is the former (yotzer יוצר) and the maker (asah עושׂה) of the earth, a seeming confirmation of the supposed distinction of bara and asa. However, God continues by saying that He created it, where the word it, is the third person singular feminine possessive suffix (the word it is attached to the word created). The word it must refer to earth because the earth is a singular feminine noun and heavens is a dual masculine noun. Clearly and unmistakably God declares that He created, formed, and made the earth. Thus, to suggest that Exodus 20:11 (“For in six days the LORD made [asa] the heavens and the earth…”) is not parallel in thought to Gen 1 is to ignore the evidence in favor of one’s own theory.

Tohu Vavohu

The matter God created in Gen 1:1 was still in no particular shape or form: “The earth was without form, and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu)” (Gen 1:2a) There was no planet earth as we know it today, but the raw material that God had created (according to Gen 1:2b) was still in no special shape. It was still unformed and unorganized. These words do not in any way suggest that there had been an earlier creation, as proposed by the Gap Theory. They do not suggest that the earth was a wasteland waiting to be recreated. The word tohu in Gen 1:2, according to the TWOT: “Refers not to the result of a supposed catastrophe…but to the formlessness of the earth before God’s creative hand began the majestic acts described in the following verses.” (TWOT Tohu)

Furthermore, the text says that the earth “was without form and void” and not “became without form, and void” as the Gap Theorists argue. (See also: Fields 1978:58).  The Hebrew והארץ היתה vehaaretz hayta is what is known grammatically as a copulative clause. (See Kautszch and Cowley 1910:484) The Hebrew letter vav (or waw) attached to the noun (the earth) acts as a type of parenthetical statement (See: Joüon, P., & T. Muraoka 2005) that is to suggest a reading: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Now the earth was without form, and void.)” Thus the earth was desolate and void (tohu vavohu) at the very beginning of God’s creation and did not become (per the Gap Theory) as a result of God recreating it.

Genesis 2:5 – 2:7

A casual reading of Genesis 2:5 to 2:7 “Before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown…there was no man to till the ground…” in English it appears to critics to indicate that man was created before plants and shrubs. Is this referring to all of the vegetation on the entire planet or is it more defined? The vegetation referred to is designated by the word field, which appears twice in the text. שׂיח השׂדה (siach hasadeh) plant of the field and עשׂב השׂדה (esev hasadeh) herb of the field are the technical terms that we must not overlook. Both of them are in the construct state, which simply means that two nouns are considered one unit. It is very similar in English where bicycle tire is not referring to bicycle and tire, but a type of tire, that is, the tire of a bicycle. So too, we could just as well translate these as field plant and field herb – two specific items. Keil & Delitzsch clarify that the planting of the garden, not the creation of the plants, is what is being referred to:

 

The growing of the shrubs and sprouting of the herbs is different from the creation or first production of the vegetable The language of creationkingdom, and relates to the growing and sprouting of the plants and germs which were called into existence by the creation… שׂדה [sadeh] is not ‘the widespread plain of the earth, the broad expanse of land,’ but a field of arable land, soil fit for cultivation, which forms only a part of the “earth” or “ground.” Keil & Delitzsch 1866: Gen 2:5-2:7)

Genesis 2:19

Genesis 2:19 is frequently considered to be a contradiction to chapter one since it would seem God first formed Adam and then the animals “God formed every beast…and brought them to Adam…” (Gen 2:19) The Hebrew word formed (ויצר vayitzer) is in the past tense. This form, however, can potentially express a simple past tense and the past of the past, known grammatically as the past perfect (see: Buth: 1994 and C. John Collins 1995; ESV, NRS use this form as well). The past perfect is used to express any action that happened prior to another, both occurring in the past. For example, Johnny had eaten three hamburgers before he ordered dessert. The past perfect, had eaten was finished before the action of ordering. Thus the word vayitzer can signify either the simple past or past perfect and formed could just as well have been translated as had formed. (See Pipa: 1998) The Hebrew supports either which would then yield a plausible translation, “Out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field…and brought them to Adam…” The use of the past perfect here, grammatically speaking, clears up the order of creation events perfectly: God first created the animals, then created man and then brought the animals that He had created to man.

 

Part One Part Two Part Three

Bible Study with Douglas Revelation 17 April 18 2013

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, (Rev 17:1) “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (Rev 17:2) So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. (Rev 17:3) The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. (Rev 17:4) And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Rev 17:5) I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. (Rev 17:6)