Thursday, June 5, 2008

Indiana Jones & The Raiders of Another Lost Ark

It was really fun to watch the latest Indiana Jones movie. I enjoyed it and the sense of being transported back to a younger age when I first watched Indiana Jones. Anyhow, it was a great break from research and reading. Lately I've been inundated by a flood of material on Noah's Ark and the Flood:

  • the Ryan-Pitman Black Sea hypothesis
  • geological surveys of Mesopotamia and evidence of flooding
  • Robert Ballard's (the Titanic guy) exploration of the Black Sea
  • theoretical considerations of what event(s) would be necessary to cause a global flood and more
  • ongoing reflection on how a little koala bear could make it all the way from southern Australia to the Ark even with 100 years to travel given the absence of eucalyptus trees along the way

Then a tidal wave hit me! What if Genesis 6-8 (the account of Noah and the Flood) is not primarily a polemic against 21st century science and geology in particular?

Just as Genesis 1-3 is not primarily an apologetic defense against evolutionism, so perhaps Genesis 6-8 is not primarily an apologetic defense against geology and the scientific dating of the age of the earth. (Making no assumptions here, I say this because in much of my reading the Flood is used to explain why the earth appears to be older than 6000 years as is claimed by those holding to a particular view of creation and a young earth.)

At the risk of being branded a heretic, I better explain what I'm getting at. After all, I am a conservative Bible scholar who believes that Scripture interpreted well can have a tremendous impact on our lives, the force of which most Christians today have barely felt. All too often we are content with splashes in a swimming pool rather than being radically showered by the full force of the Tsunami of Scripture. That said, why would I say that Genesis 1-3 is not really an apologetic defense against evolution and modern cosmology?

To interpret Genesis 1-3 well, it's vital to consider original intent. What was the inspired author of Genesis (Moses) trying to communicate in the telling of the creation account? What did it mean to the original audience who read and listened and believed Genesis? What was God telling his people? Though it is certainly common to view the early chapters of Genesis as a polemic against Darwinian evolution, we can be certain that this is not the main point. Genesis 1-3 had meaning for the people of God long before Darwin posited his theory of evolution. And while these verses may offer some corrective to some evolutionary ideas, that was not the author's original intent. I suspect the points Genesis 1 makes are more like:

  • ONE God created, not many gods involved in cosmic battles (like many pagans of Moses' day believed)
  • God created out of nothing , not out of some failed world of the gods (like many pagans of Moses' day believed)
  • God said his creation was GOOD, not evil or locked in battle between good and evil (like the pagans of Moses' day believed)
  • God created humanity in his own image, not as some kind of mistaken transmutation of deity to the animal kingdom (again like many pagans of Moses' day believed)
  • God made this world to operate in an orderly way, not in hopeless chaos unless the gods are appeased (as many believed in Moses' day)

This list is probably not exhaustive. What's important is that we begin with good interpretation, taking into account authorial intent and the original hearers of this Scripture. We must never forget that we are not the first to read any given passage of Scripture. Plus, it seems to me that this list of points has a lot more to say to people today than an argument as to why six literal days of creation is a powerful argument against evolution.

It seems to me that forcing Genesis 1-3 to be a biblical argument against evolution is just monkeying around with the Scriptural text. Forcing Genesis 6-8 to be an extensive argument as to why the earth really is younger than it appears contrary to the geological evidence is just constructing for the church a leaky boat doomed to sink in the floodwaters of science. Not only that, but it is also completely missing the point! "God remembered Noah" (Genesis 8:1). The rainbow is an affirmation of the covenant established with Noah by which God will find a way to work within humanity to redeem as many as possible. There is hope for humanity. Just as God "protected Noah" so "the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials" (2 Peter 2:4,9; see also 2 Peter 2:4-9, 1 Peter 3:20-22). Imagine that! The Apostle Peter did not consider the account of Noah's flood to be primarily about an obscure theory as to why the earth really is young contra the apparent geological evidence, but rather an affirmation of the hope of redemption when all the circumstances around us lead us to despair. The Bible has much to say to us and it says it best when we allow it to speak out of its own cultural situations rather than imposing our alien ideas on the text.

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