The Ark Experience…
Questions to Ask Before Asking Questions – About Genesis
I know that there are people who visit this blog that will take issue, but I have to call it the way that I see it.
Before asking any questions about Genesis it is best to first ask yourself a few questions.
1. Who wrote the Bible?
More specifically, who wrote the book of Genesis? The easiest thing to do is assume that it was Moses. But how does that fit with what we know?
This all of course assumes that Moses was the one who wrote the version that we have in Genesis. If you start looking into that question just realize that the answer gets very complex very quickly, and it does nothing to make the question “Who wrote the Bible?” any easier. A number of Jewish scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls point to the mention of a book, “The Book of the Generations of Humanity” (remember in Hebrew “humanity” = “Adam”) that pre-dates Moses’ book of Genesis.
We may fairly assume that the story of the Garden of Eden was not written down by Adam. The story of the flood wasn’t written down by Noah. If we assume that Moses wrote Genesis, and there are arguments that he may not have (or there may have been many editorial revisions), then whoever wrote Genesis in the form that we have now was writing 1,000-4,000 years after the events in the Book of Genesis.
In so many ways the question of who wrote the Bible leads to the next major question that you have to ask.
2. What language was the Bible written in?
Anyone who has learned a second language knows that translation is not always as simple and straightforward as you might think. I speak Spanish and Spanish is not translated English.
Yes, words like “que” are usually translated into English as “what”. But “que” does not mean “what”. The word “que” has its own meaning and use in Spanish that does not always correspond to “what” in English.
But it gets more complex from there. In most universities, and even in some high schools, students are required to take a few classes in a foreign language. In some cases taking advanced math classes counts towards the foreign language credit. This actually makes sense because as anyone who has suffered through math classes knows, math is a foreign language. So is music. You have to learn how to read, write, and speak math (and music). It’s deceptive because math can use all English words and numbers, yet still be a completely foreign language.
Science has its own language. Many people are completely unaware of this because if you pick up a book on physics or chemistry there will be mostly English words in there (or Spanish words in Spanish speaking countries, or Mandarin words in China, or etc.). But learning the language of modern science is literally like learning a foreign language.
So this brings us back to the question of what language was the Bible written in. Was it written in English? Why not? Other than the obvious fact that English didn’t exist yet. Back when Moses was alive alphabets were still being invented.
Not only did Moses not write the Book of Genesis in English, but God didn’t even speak to Moses in English. God spoke in a language that Moses understood.
God didn’t speak to Moses in modern English because it’s not something Moses would have understood. In the exact same way, God didn’t speak to Moses in the language of modern science. He spoke to Moses in a language that Moses could understand. Many people will say that if God had shown Moses the creation in vision, then God had to have shown Moses “the correct” way creation happened. Anything else would mean God was deceiving Moses.
But these things were shown to Moses in a vision. In the Book of John’s Revelation, John saw many things, all of which were symbolic. Did God deceive John by showing him symbolic events about the end of the world?
Furthermore, what is the “correct” scientific understanding that God is supposed to have shown to Moses to not deceive him? The scientific understanding during the 18th dynasty in Egypt? Or was it the science of 7th century BC Babylon? The science of 3rd century BC Greece? 3rd century AD Rome? 11th century China? 16th century Europe? Science of the 19th century? The 20th, or the 21st? Perhaps better the 22nd? Or the 31st?
It’s presumptuous of us to think that God should have explained things to Moses in a way that Moses couldn’t understand just so that we could. It’s presumptuous to think that we currently understand the universe correctly. That the way we see things is the way God sees them. It’s presumptuous to think that God can only explain things to people in a way that fits with our understanding of reality. Anything else is wrong and would mean God is deceiving them. That’s a prideful way of looking at things.
Perhaps we should keep that in mind as we use science to learn things about the universe and how vast it is. When we consider the size and the true scope of reality that we are just now beginning to understand through science, we learn things we never thought possible. Just think about just how big the universe really is. I think about how complex it is, from the creation of elements, the formation of stars and galaxies, the complexities of nuclear reactions, neutron stars, gravitational collapse, supernovas, neutron star mergers, basic chemistry, the time it took life to evolve, the complexities of life, the intricacies of evolution, evolutionary niches, the complex reactions that govern our bodies, the chaotic neuron cascades in our brains, not to mention the complexity of history, language, science, culture, and human societies. And there at the center of it all a God who knows and understands it all. Whose hand can hold millions of Earths like this? Who watches as millions of earth come into being and millions pass away. God is someone who can know all that and wants to teach us all of that, but first, we have to learn how to understand what He is saying.
In all the vastness of creation, it is awfully presumptuous of us to presume that we know how God made the earth because we read something in a book and assumed that we understood what it was saying.
Before we ask questions from Genesis, perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions.
And because we need a map:
Pretty deep LL, did you get into the pie again?
No, but I try and present “food for thought” in the Sermonettes. And you can make of it what you will.
An engineer who wrote science fiction came out with a book that asked several questions, one of which dealt with Darwin’s theory. He said it fit in well with the western civ. mentality of the time, that they were the epitome of human development. We still have to struggle with that mindset today as well – ‘of COURSE things are to be done our way…we’re PERFECT’.
As to translations – one Cchinese ganghua I tried watching for a bit(gave up, too juvenile) had two young, single men who razzed each other regularly. One sometimes called the other “Brother Green Hat”. The literal translation does nothing to convey the meaning of that.
Enjoyed this article immensely, two things stood out for me:
1.”It’s presumptuous of us to think that God should have explained things to Moses in a way that Moses couldn’t understand just so that we could.”
2. “God is someone who can know all that and wants to teach us all of that, but first, we have to learn how to understand what He is saying.”
I am reminded of the ending of Job, where Job understandably has questions, but as is human nature he thinks that his inability to understand God’s plan are questions that God should answer, just like at times I feel that I also Deserve answers from God (presumptuous much?).
I remember clearly when I realized that I was learning a foreign language instead of what I assumed I was supposed to be learning. I had been pounding my head against the wall trying to grasp the current block of instruction on atmospheric physics. When it finally clicked I could see the interrelated dynamics of the atmosphere in a way that I never imagined before and suddenly the physics and measurements connected to the words and I could see the world through a different filter, a new language!
While I rejoiced in this new found language, I was by no means the best Forecaster, my best talents lay in other areas. But, I will always remember that moment that I went from doubting I could ever learn the material, to the epiphany that I could understand the language that spoke of the power and mystery of God’s Creation.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
I’ve had similar “epiphanies” with Technical things. The first one was the relationship between Voltage and Current, and I had others in high-school when I first studied Chemistry, and then -whoa, dude!- PHYSICS.
My first wife had some very religious cousins, and they accused me of being an “atheist” because I had a strong Science background. I tried to explain to them that I saw our Creator’s hand behind everything I did, the intricacies and complexities of even the smallest thing, but they wouldn’t accept it. I’ve had the same reaction from other “religious” people, and I never understood it…..
Many scientists, Newton among them, believed that science reveals the hand of God.
I see no conflict between Science and Religion, except those caused by man…..
“When we consider the size and the true scope of reality…”
Does a person who is agnostic, dyslectic, and an insomniac sit up nights wondering if there really is a dog?
I have a simple mind so a simple picture helps me realize where we are in God’s universe. I have 2 pieces of a 5000 piece multidimensional puzzle. God has all the pieces all put together.
Thanks for the sermonette! I needed the reminder.
I trust that God wanted to get something across. To communicate to us through these words. I also believe that he knew the limitations of these words. Therefore, he gave us something else to help us interpret these words and that would be his indwelling holy spirit.
Very much on point.
x2 all of you above.
Good speaks truth. Man does not always have the context to understand. My father has been fond of pointing out that while “evening and morning were the first day,” the Hebrews and pre-Hebrews understood and marked such things by the setting and rising of the sun, which isn’t marked until the 3rd day of creation. So what made it evening and morning? And especially since Man wasn’t around yet to mark it until the 6th day?
I have my own theories, but that is all they are – my postulations in order to explain that for which I lack context. I need know only one thing – that In the Beginning, GOD Created.
The rest of Creation I hold as truth, but I do not understand, much as I know gravity exists but I dont know how it works. I can only theorize, and maybe get right, but never preach as gospel. Those who claim special knowledge or discernment are immediately suspect to me.
People get weird about the Bible, because it is “the Word of God”. They really need to remember that it’s “the Word of God, as transcribed by fallible man”.
Stipulating the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent God, obviously the Bible could be made in a way that gave clear, undeniable understanding to anyone reading it – however, that seems to go against the whole “wanting humans to have free will” thing, at least to me.
I was having a similar thought yesterday. If He hadn’t left room for doubt, would there be room for faith?
Best expalantion I’ve ever heard, Ed. Thank you…
Ditto! I have had that conversation with others. Some Books of the Bible were probably passed down orally for centuries. Then written down in old Hebrew or old Aramaic, then translated to Greek, then Latin, and only then into 17th Century English.
The most obvious example of this is the 5th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill. A more literal translation would be: Thou Shalt Not Murder. Anyone who has actually read the Book of Joshua should realize that.
I got into serious “trouble” in Catholic grade school by questioning the interpretation of the 5th Commandment.
If you’re not supposed to kill, how do you protect your family in extreme circumstances? What about soldiers in combat?
The nuns were NOT interested in discussing such things with a 5th grader…..
Disparage ‘Genesis’ all one wants, but if you look at each ‘Day’ of Creation as a huge stretch of time, each logarithmically shorter than the previous ‘day,’ then, according to our current understanding of the ‘scientific’ creation of the Universe, then, well, Genesis fits rather well into current theory.
As to, well, who wrote the Bible. From a strictly religious stance, God did. Man (or men or whatever) just either remembered the words or wrote them down in the language of the day or wrote down the words in the language of the day that had been handed down orally. So, well, translation bias indeed.
Then you have purposeful translation errors and rewordings for a political agenda and it’s interesting that we as humans have managed to keep the Word on track as much as we did.
Then you have conflicting stories in the Bible itself (more a problem in the New Testament than the Old.) Like, Jesus gets born in a cave in one story, then the Holy Family stops off at the cave to rest on the way to town in another story and then another doesn’t mention the cave at all, yet all three stories are ‘Canon’.
Not to mention that even if one has a good version of the Bible(s), it’s all about the interpretation and use of said religious works. My wife’s family were Church of Christ, where they only considered other Church of Christers to be actual Christians, everyone else was basically not a Christian therefore not a human therefore, well, less said about that the better. But that was their branch of Church of Christ, not an interpretation followed by all Church of Christers…
Gah. Just proves Man is fallible. Or corrupt. Or worse.
Knew a WWII vet (took a Japanese machine gun bullet to the knee) who traveled the Great Lakes region for a vacation sometime around the early 1960’s. They stopped at a building marked Church of Christ, and the woman who came out to greet them said she was the preacher there. From what I’ve seen, the churches of Christ have a wide variety of teachings from one location to another – some more in line with what I’ve read, and some that leave a big WTF in the back of my mind. As I understand it, they do not have a centralized hierarchy that tells all the locals what they are supposed to believe. This can be seen as a weakness, but it also is a plus when the Pope goes off the deep end.
I have found a web site called “Patterns of Evidence”. They put forth some very interesting propositions. One of those is the authorship of the Torah. They conjecture that Paleo-Hebraic existed early in the 2nd Millennium BC from some inscriptions left on mine walls and ostraca. One even mentions a certain “Moshe” and an astounding year. Moses as an aristocrat was probably skilled in some forms of writing and may well have known Paleo-Hebraic; therefore he would have been able to write the books in the Torah. I am not totally dissuaded from the suppositions that Moses’ original books were added to by some later writers. It was not an uncommon thing from other anthropologists’ research that this was done to attribute the new words to the old author. I fully believe even in this that it was Divine Inspiration that guided the additions.
He had at least 40 years….
Hank Hanegraaff (Christian Research Institute) writes this in his “The Complete Bible Answer Book”:
“With the discovery of the DSS we now have a virtual first-century Hebrew Old Testament library available at the click of a twenty-first-century mouse….predates the earliest extant Hebrew text – the Masoretic – by a full millenium. As such, everyone from scholar to schoolchild can determine whether the Old Testament Scriptures have been corrupted by men or miraculously preserved by God.”
Hanegraaff then cites this “preservation” using the Samual Scroll, Isaiah Scroll, Goliath Stature, “N” Verse, and Salem’s King, aspects I know little about but his commentary makes total sense.
My pastoral mentor once told me: “The longest distance in the world is between the head and the heart.” Faith is what we believe when we can’t know for sure, but we “just know in our hearts.” We think about it too much, like Templeton, we can lose it pretty quickly as our minds undermine what we know in our hearts verses what we can definitively prove in our heads.
Language is critical to the subject but not fully essential to “grasp” God’s word.
We all struggle between the head and the heart with our faith, but occasionally we do get glimpses of God’ hand, both in His Word and the physical world.
Really excellent thought-provoking Sermonette,
We need a “like” button here.
Watched a newish PBS documentary on Billy Graham this morning. One thing that he came to realize later in life was his job was “not to save people so they don’t end up in Hell”, but to present the Gospel…be the voice…then “leave the saving of souls up to God.” I found that profound. We do our unique individual part, God does the rest. The Bible says what it says, no need to overcomplicate it. Keep it simple.
Paul M nails this. We do indeed think about this too much. We are truly infants and cannot know all that God knows; also we see through the glass darkly. So we have to take it on faith. We are in fact instructed to come at this as children. When Christ said “suffer the little children to come unto me”, He wasn’t just talking about little children. He was talking about us and our development. It’s when we get too smart for our own britches that we get in trouble. Adam found that out the hard way…..
We need a “like” button here.
Is this speck of a planet the only place God created life? Are we “humans” the only life form God cares about? IMO, what we do know is a speck in the universe of knowledge much like our planet is a speck in the universe. Still, no excuse to wallow in ignorance and not strive to reach higher.
There is good reason to believe that we are alone in the universe.
Maybe we are the first life forms of what will grow to be many.
A great Multi Level Marketing opportunity!
Alone as far as *all* other life? Or alone as in what we laughingly call “Intelligent Life”?
I tend to think that “life” exists elsewhere, and perhaps even “intelligent” , or more precisely “sentient” life.
I liked “presumption.” As in, how dare we assume the minds of the Prophets, Lawgivers and Saints were somehow as two dimensional as our own.
Viz. Pentateuch etc and authorship.It’s clearly divinely inspired, the revealed Word. Did Moses write it or his inspired disciple(s)? No matter, there it is and there God is, He who is. Form criticism and all the rest of the now ancient teutonic attack on the Faith is irrelevant.
And I’ll bet the monkey on it.
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