Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is Text "King?"

What does the text say? Pastors refer to the biblical text. They repeat this question when introducing their preferred pulpit topics. A favored topic giving voice to this question during pulpit studies on Genesis is the important question of origins. Not only do pastors deal with the question of the divine creation of the universe, but also time frames for the creation of the universe, the earth as a separate body, and the sudden appearance of complex bacterial earth life. More detailed studies deal with the onset of multicellular life during the Pre-Cambrian, the startling explosion of diverse, complex life during the Cambrian, the progression of animals and plants making their appearance on the planet in the eons since then, and finally the creation of humanity in God’s image. These topics are difficult, hot button issues.

In dealing with the question “What does the text say,” we offer a caution: Interpretation of the Bible text assumes even more importance.

Detailed textual treatment of any subject frequently opens with an introductory chapter. In scripture, nothing in the introductory statements is false or misleading, but the text may cry out for more detail. The introduction serves a specific purpose. Its purpose may be merely to provide an appetizer to set the stage for consumption of the main literary meal. Discovery of details of the creation story is still ongoing. 

Genesis 1-2 provides a brief textual account of the creation of the universe and the appearance of life on our planet. Verse 1 begins the account: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Chapters 3-4 follows with a chronicle of early human families. In terms of thoroughness, my personal desire includes a quantitatively expanded version of events in Genesis 1-4. Nevertheless, we do not second guess the human writer of Genesis or question the abbreviated length of the Genesis narrative. God inspired the human author to produce the desired length as well the appropriate content.

In terms of the origin of the created universe and operation of our cosmos as it continues today, we ask if the text of the first few chapters of Genesis should be regarded as king? What does “Text Is King” mean in this context? May we use the divinely inspired, authoritative text of the opening chapters of scripture to establish a detailed timeline for creation events, to determine if the creation days were 24-hours long, or to answer other specific questions about creation that occur to us? We respectfully state that in this sense, a singular interpretation of text is not king. We long to read extended additional chapters of the story of creation. But the Bible does not provide extended informational chapters on the subject. The authoritative meaning of God’s inspired introductory creation account in Genesis 1-4, however, is utterly undiminished. Genesis 1-4 reads as introduction to a wonderful creation narrative. It introduces fundamental truths.

Beyond the introduction of core truths of the creation saga in the early text of  Genesis, detailed truth discovery awaits us. The terms special revelation and general revelation are not used in scripture but these familiar concepts are derived from the Bible. Special revelation predominates in scripture—the message of God’s redemptive love for man and how he reaches out to humanity. In our day the Word of God communicates special revelation primarily through textual historic records of God’s dealings with humanity and the revelation of Jesus Christ to man by his incarnation. In contrast, general revelation is the message told concerning the Creator by his created works and clarified by our discovery of specifics concerning operation of the physical creation. Famous passages from Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 describe instances of general revelation.

Some theologians conflate textual special revelation with interpretation of details concerning physical creation events, linking doctrines of salvation and our relationship with God with general revelation. Some believe their favored interpretation of Hebrew language subtleties is beyond error with respect to physical creation events. The several meanings of “yom” (day) provide an example with respect to duration of creation days.

Is text “king?” Our multidimensional God reveals himself in multidimensional ways. We need not stop off at the text of Genesis 1-2 and pronounce our interpretation “king” with respect to topics of physical creation. To do so would limit our knowledge of both God and God’s created works. The above-referenced scriptures from Psalms and Romans refer to the general revelation of God in creation. It remains for man to discover rich information concerning details of creation events. In our modern age, plentiful knowledge has been gained from correctly interpreted science. Detailed specifics of Genesis 1-2 events are now accessible. As science methods improve we acquire more and more information concerning the age and history of the universe, our solar system, and Earth life. Our blog has stressed the sudden appearances of life forms and the basic changelessness of species after they appear. We have described these events in bio-history as divine creation events in conformity with the introductory chapters of the Book of Genesis.