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Vibrant Dance 2: Panel Discussion 1: Strengths and Tensions in Each of These Interpretations

{RJW Note: The second day of the conference was basically four panel discussions followed by another breakout session. The moderator for each panel was Dr. Craig Blaising (CB). I was able to get the gist of nearly all of the comments, and so will present them as a pseudo-transcript. The panel members were:  TB(eall), JD(uncan), WK(aiser), JR(eynolds), BW(altke), JW(alton). Also Genesis 1 and 2 are abbreviated as G1 and G2 respectively.}

CB:  Do you see G1/2 as one or two accounts? How do they interact?

BW: Agrees with WK on idea that G2 is a continuation and refocus of G1. He discussed the 12 waw’s {a letter in the Hebrew alphabet with a disproportionately large impact on verb tense and meaning with the corresponding controversy as to how it impacts our understanding of the text. It can imply ‘and’ indicating a continuation of activity or thought, or it can change an imperfect verb to perfect and vice versa, akin to making past tense future and vice versa.} as continuous narrative, that there is a creativity present in the narrative and in God’s actions. G1 and 2 are an account based on historical fact, not myth, using creativity to convey spiritual truth.

JD:  G1 gives the “big picture,” and G2 “drills down” to the unique relationship between God and Adam, and said that all of the components of a covenant relationship are there.

JW:  The two chapters are talking about function, order and sacred space. In G2 we don’t need to worry about days, as time is not communicated in the text. God is setting up His center of sacred space in the Garden and setting up the relationships between us and the ground, plants, animals and each other, and setting us up as priests in sacred space where in G1 we are made rulers.

TB:  G1/2 are not two accounts by two authors, because the Redactors {Literary critics theorize that there were one or more editors (the Redactors) that assembled the Biblical text from various ancient sources.} would have done a better job of harmonizing the two accounts. He maintains that G2 has a different focus than G1, but same author. He suggested that if one finds that difficult to believe, we should try going just from G1 straight to G3. We will find it doesn’t make sense. G2 talks more of purpose compared to G1’s ‘straightforward narrative.’ He compared differences in accounts in G1 and G2:19 with the different resurrection accounts in Gospels {discussed the difference between the perfect and pluperfect tenses in Hebrew. Apparently pluperfect corresponds to the English past perfect tense. Please consult a colleague in the English department for further clarification. This chemist refuses comment on the technicalities of grammar.}

JR:  There is a problem with using clever interpretations of ancient texts not familiar to contemporary traditions; so questioned later clever interpretative frameworks and suggested that we consider ‘myth’ as ‘archetypical narrative,’ and is not all bad. Myth can be a technical term for a traditional story, not necessarily a fictional or fabled account implying that the story is not true in the modern sense.

TB:  Doesn’t like that concept of myth, and sees it as not true.

JW:  Just because we don’t like myth, doesn’t mean that ANE didn’t, but he still doesn’t like the term applied to Scripture. Also, the rabbinical scholars and Church fathers were Hellenized so didn’t understand fully ANE literature as they were no longer the same culture as the ANE peoples.

JR:  We need to be careful of demonizing Hellenizing because that is the origin of New Testament work and the Septuagint.

WK:  Two (of the panelists) got it right, two are coming around and one is still thinking about it. We are deeply dependent on philological studies to understand ANE literature, yet in trying to find cultural references, we can lose sight of revelation and the supernaturalism in the text. We’ve tipped our hat too much to ancient traditions and we will be sorry for it. Real battle is not between the Bible and science, but within Christendom over interpretation of the text. The real hope is that as we understand G1, 2 better, we can disengage age of earth from length of day, and reduce tension. Part of the problem is that the laity have become reductionist and therefore less able to discern nuances. But we can all agree that God is Almighty maker of heaven and earth.

CB:  How do you read G1:1—is it creation ex nihilo? If not, discuss and explain.

BW:  Hebrew doesn’t explicitly have pluperfect in the grammar, but context does. He agrees with JR, saying that Hellenization brought in harmonizing with science. He does hold to ex nihilo from G1:1, otherwise matter is eternal, but God/spirit is the only thing that is eternal, matter is secondary. God uses matter to create life. G1:2 –the whole situation is wrongly framed—the earth is already here and created. Evidence for this is that the first command is for there to be light. He questions where are the origins of chaos, evil and darkness, but knows it is bounded by good and that God is in control. He said we should frame debate in terms of age of fossils

JD:  Yes, ex nihilo.

BW:  Yes, ex nihilo, and God is the only self-existent one, so everything else had to be created by Him, but G1 is not telling that part of the story.

TB:  barah does not necessarily mean ‘create from nothing;’ and that there is no pluperfect in Hebrew, so we must infer it at times, but that is acceptable. Look at G1:1, 2,3: BW says that it implies old earth, but creation begins in v1 and continues through v3. He was dismissive on gap theory. “Unformed and unfilled” is a neutral statement, not a negative. {This statement is a response to JW’s functional ontology arguments.} Ex20;11—for in six days God made the heavens and earth, so first day started w G1:1 and that’s why he holds to young earth.

JR:  He reads the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, so assumes G1 is ex nihilo. We need to account for original inspired authorship and to account for what the Hellenized people and authors of the New Testament understood. {In other words, we aren’t getting an unfiltered understanding of the original text, and so to get there we need to dig through millennia of evolving understanding of it.} The Hebrew of G1:1 does not require ex nihilo, but God’s providence led to that understanding.

TB:  There is a methodology problem—he’s not comfortable reading through a Hellenistic lens even though we may come to the same place ultimately.

CB:  The Septuagint, which is a major basis for many modern English translations of the Scripture, serves by offering an interpretation of the Hebrew text by an intermediate culture unless we go through the Masoretic text, but it is likely a minor issue.

WK:  G1:1 is an absolute beginning. He thinks we can’t say the New Testament reinterprets the Old Testament—it supplements, not supplants, otherwise we get in methodological deep water.

CB:  There was no day-age view expressed yesterday, and all speakers saw the days described in G1 as 24 hour days, so is day-age falling out of favor?

WK:  Holds day-age, and sees 3 usages of yom in G1-2, yet doesn’t see concordism {the idea that the proper interpretation of both modern science and Scriputre will completely harmonize.} evidenced in Scripture so not worth pursuing. He used the example of Christ’s Resurrection:  3 days and nights was not 72 hours; and in Samuel, it talks about the Egyptian found after sacking of Ziklag, and how a full 24 hour interpretation of yom doesn’t jive with that account. Therefore we should listen with care to various interpretations of yom, but how important is the question, really, in the big picture?

CB:  Does text say anything about age of earth?

JW:  No. but he’s happy to take 7 24 hour days as account of a functional creation, not a material creation.

BW:  3 things: 1)G1:1 is a summary statement of the other verses 2) official translations don’t take G1:1 as part of first day 3) has issue with forcing interpretation of yom to fit science.

CB: What do you think JD?

JD:  The debate between Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism is a matter of indifference except to the extent that it affects other doctrines. Students today find literary interpretations easier to reconcile with science than day-age.


Day 11 Praise:  Praise to the Eternal God who refuses to fit into any box that a finite being can create.


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