Some Brief Thoughts on Genesis 1-11

I'm enrolled in an Old Testament survey course and had to post a discussion board in response to a question about the relevance of Gen. 1-11 for today. The basic angle of the question was something like: Many today, including many Christians, do not think the first eleven chapters of Genesis (creation, flood, primeval history) have any relevance for today, the idea being that they are assumed to be in conflict with "science." I have never written about my feelings on this here, and I am still trying to figure all that out, so here is what I posted. I welcome interaction.


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I am still currently working through my understanding of the relevance of Gen. 1-11 today. I readily acknowledge that Genesis is sacred and authoritative Scripture, but as I have progressed through my theological and personal education I have come to realize that it is often difficult for me to articulate what exactly that acknowledgement entails theologically, philosophically, scientifically, and historically.

To begin with, I still feel like an outsider to the many debates surrounding the linguistic, socio-historical, and theological interpretations of Gen. 1-11. I am earning an M.A. in NT studies; while that does not give me an excuse to be uninformed or lazy, I (only somewhat) jokingly tell people that I leave the M.A. in OT to those who are much smarter than I. I have simply chosen to devote the vast majority of my time and research to other areas of biblical and theological studies, and thus I continually feel like an outsider peering into the ring of firelight, listening in on a conversation to which I only rarely have something constructive to offer. I feel as though I'm good at spotting flaws in argumentation and unwarranted assumptions, but of course that's a far cry from building a coherent stance with regards to the many interrelated questions raised by these first chapters of the Bible.

In addition to all that, I often feel frustrated by the tenor and context within which many choose to deal with those questions. I did my undergraduate work at an institution for which a "literal," young-earth interpretation of those chapters was, essentially, an evangelical line in the sand, a mark of either good orthodoxy or highly questionable, perhaps even heretical or, at best, damaging, theology. I find many of these in-house debates frustrating and believe that they often reveal a lack of sufficient demarcation between what I consider first-, second-, and third-order doctrines (first-order being those doctrines necessary for salvation, such as belief in the deity and/or humanity of Jesus Christ). This is by no means the only area in which I find myself thus frustrated, but it is one of them. Again, this is not to say that I think such debates are unimportant, but I simply do not believe that differences with regard to this doctrine warrant the kind of separation and suspicion I've often observed when they are handled in-house.

I also find myself frustrated sometimes when considering the place these chapters often occupy in discussions / debates with adherents to other faiths or nonbelievers. It is my opinion that the starting-point for interfaith and nonbelieving dialogue should always be the resurrection. Paul's phrase "in Christ" essentially denotes the new reality made possible by Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, but the resurrection is that which essentially called forth the human responses we see in the literature of the New Testament, and without it the New Testament, and arguably the church itself, wouldn't exist. The resurrection is demonstrably central to just about every strand of Christian orthodoxy, and it is not difficult to learn enough about why we can trust the New Testament resurrection accounts to provide intriguing and humbly confident discussion material for interfaith and unbelieving dialogue partners. My impression is that the debates swirling around Gen. 1-11 are often obscure enough so as to enable participants to expend much air and ink while continually missing the point.

This is not an arrogant assumption of the superiority of the NT to the OT or anything like that. It is simply a realistic acknowledgement that the resurrection changes everything. And I understand that there are often contexts in which it has been agreed that Gen. 1-11 will be the subject of discussion, but what if all believers simply directed their time and energies toward understanding, proclaiming, and living into the resurrection? What if we decided, as a church, to simply refuse to change the grounds of discussion from that (again, demonstrably central) event?

Because - and this brings it back to the question of Gen. 1-11 - I have a hunch that once someone comes to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, and once they then consider the authoritative way he and his first followers, including Paul, handled the OT, it becomes much easier to believe that, interpretive minutia aside, God is indeed the sovereign creator, and Gen. 1-11 ought to be accepted as authoritative.