In the Present Tense

August 24, 2009

Not for scholars

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 7:25 pm

One thing that strikes me over and over again, is that not a single book of the Bible was written for scholars. I’ve just finished my final manuscript review (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!) for my book on the life of Jacob, entitled “Torn: Jacob’s Story” due out from Pacific Press in October. At the same time, I’m preparing to present training sessions on the South Pacific Division’s new Revelation Seminar in Ohio this fall.

You might think that delving into Revelation’s densely encoded text would make me more sympathetic to the notion that real Bible study is for scholars. But exactly the opposite is the case. John addressed Revelation to “the seven churches in Asia.” These were not congregations filled with Rabbinic scholars.

In this respect, it reminds me of the early debate concerning the language of the New Testament. Early on, scholars recognized that the Greek of the New Testament was different than the classical Greek of Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, et al.  So the first conclusion was that it must be ‘Heavenly Greek.” After all the Word of God was written in that style of Greek.

Continued research, however, turned up increasing numbers of manuscripts written in the same Greek as the New Testament, what we call Koine Greek today. Much to the scholars’ surprise, it turned out that Koine Greek was the opposite of ‘Heavenly.’ I call it ‘Grubby Greek,’ because it was the language of the workplace, and the marketplace, the language used among family and friends. It was, in fact the language of the common people.

In Revelation 1:3, John says, “blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it,” clearly indicating that he expected the members of the churches to understand it– for no one can “take to heart” something they don’t understand.

And the key to understanding the symbolism of Revelation is remembering the stories of the Old Testament. That’s right, the stories. Because, above everything else, the Bible is a story– a story about how God acts in history for the salvation of those that love Him.

As a Christian, the Bible was written for you; it is your birthright. So read the stories and enjoy this great treasure.

August 18, 2009

It Is Written. . .

Filed under: Bible study, Culture and the Bible, Inspiration — edoutlook @ 11:56 pm

No, this is not about the television program. Actually, my previous post concerning harmonizing Genesis 1 and 2 provided the stimulus for this post, and for its title.

When I was 21, I come to the place where I found typical Bible study insufferably boring. To this day, I cannot explain what I did at that time. Frankly, my Christian experience was not such that it would explain my request. Because what I did was to ask God to give me a hunger for his word. It never ceases to amaze me how God responds even to the most shallow believer, which is what I was at the time. Through a series of events, many of which I am probably unaware, that’s exactly what he did. He gave me a passion for understanding and sharing the Bible.

And after decades of Bible study and teaching Sabbath school classes, one of the most important insights that I have experienced is in the title this post: it — the Bible— is written.

Now, some of you are probably scratching your heads, wondering how that can be such an insight. It comes down to this: the Bible is a work of literature. Yes, I know it is made up of many different books, and these books were written at different times and places. Yes, we can talk about “oral traditions” all day. But time and again, the Bible demonstrates that it is a work of literature — that a human author carefully and with deliberate intent, crafted a work of literature.

While that may seem obvious, in fact we seldom treat the Bible that way. Many of us treat the Bible as though it were a sort of religious and ethical encyclopedia, where we can simply look up answers to questions that we have about God and about how to live. Many scholars treat the Bible more like a geological formation, with layer after layer having been laid down through the ages. Increasingly, contemporary audiences, including many Christians, treat the Bible as a sort of quaint artifact, a primitive book of theology and/or philosophy, which we have outgrown.

But for me, the most fruitful study always comes when I ask a few simple questions. First, what was the author trying to say? Not in my terms, not in terms of the questions I have today, but in terms of the issues he was facing, his audience was facing at that time. Secondly, what did this author believe and understand about God? Only after I answer those two questions can I think about what it means for me today.

And that very first question, what was the author trying to say, comes back again and again to the text itself, to the literary production. For example, a great deal of ridicule has been piled on Genesis 1 and 2, and those taking a “literal” reading of the text over at Spectrum magazine, and in a number of other online forums. Without exception, those ridiculing the biblical account have superimposed their own contemporary assumptions on the text. They assume that to read Genesis 1 and 2 literally results in nonsense, and they go about poking holes based on that notion.

Partially, this comes from a common scholarly view that Genesis was redacted several times. But suppose we begin our study with the simple notion that Genesis is indeed a literary creation which intended to communicate a message to the audience for which it was originally given. That’s what my diagram came from.

When we go back and study the worldview at the time the book of Genesis was written, the context into which the book was sent, then the two accounts don’t seem contradictory, but complementary.

Genesis 1 shows us the cosmic order; heaven and earth, land and ocean, creatures and creator. Genesis 2 shows us — let’s call it the domestic order — the relation of humanity to their home.

Now, of course, if you believe the book of Genesis was simply thrown together over a period of centuries by different sources, then you will find reasons to demonstrate that. But if it was written, if a human author crafted this message to explain the fundamental order of things, then we find a coherent, symmetrical, and I think beautiful exposition.

August 15, 2009

Harmonizing Genesis 1 & 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 4:14 am

Over at Spectrum Magazine, there’s a debate about how Genesis 1 and 2 can be harmonized– with the going assumption being that it is impossible.

Maybe. Here’s my take on it from several years ago.
Genesis 1 and 2 do indeed record two different processes, but are actually part of one overall event.

Genesis 1 begins with total chaos, which is systematically organized into cosmos.

Light and dark;day and night; atmosphere and ocean;land and water; vegetation–which requires seasons; fish and fowl; finally land animals and humans.

Part of this ordering separates the sea–the realm of leviathan, from land, the realm of man. At the end of the first account, however, the land is still not fully ordered. As 2:1 states “the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.” The heavens and the earth had been sorted out, but there was still work to do in ordering the land itself.

The text informs us that when the dry land was created, “and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.”

So, until there was ‘a man to work the ground,’ the land realm would not be completed.

Genesis 2 then, outlines the the transformation of the land from chaos to cosmos. That ordering begins with the creation of the man to work the ground in v. 7 “the LORD God formed the man [e] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Immediately (v.8) the work of separating/ordering, parallel to the ch. 1 account, commences: “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.”

This garden is separated from the rest of the land. And immediately the water within the land realm is separated, mirroring the first account :”A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.”

It is no accident that it is in this land-ordering account that the animals come to Adam to be named. The first account says he was given ‘dominion.’ In naming all the other animals Adam exercises that dominion, for in the ancient world, to name something was to control it (hint: that’s why God’s name was not to be uttered).

The final act of ordering the land realm is in providing a helpmate for Adam. Together, they can be fruitful and multiply. And working with the land, Adam/Eve and the garden will now be able to multiply.

At the end of Gen 2, the Creation has been completed: the land/sea have been ordered, and the land realm is now ordered. It is quite reasonable that in the author’s mind, these two processes took place at the same time, but had to be explained separately.

This is not uncommon. A history book might well tell the political history of a period in one chapter, then backtrack and describe the technological history in the next.

This is diagrammed below:

Parallel Creation Accounts

copyright 2002, by Ed Dickerson

Genesis 1:2 And the earth was formless
and void
Declaration of Chaos Declaration of Chaos 5 … no shrub … no plant . . . God had not
sent rain upon the earth . . . no man to
cultivate the ground.
Gen 1:3-5 Creation of Light out of
Creation of Life out of Dust 7 Then the LORD God formed man of
dust from the ground
4 And God saw that the light was good;
and God separated the light from the
darkness. 5 And God called the light day,
and the darkness He called night. . . ..
Distinguishes between ‘Good’
light, and (potential evil)
Distinguishes between ‘Good’
tree of life, and (potential evil)
“tree of the knowledge of good
and evil”
And out of the ground the LORD God
caused to grow every tree that is pleasing
to the sight and good for food; the tree of
life . . . and the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil.
6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse
in the midst of the waters, and let it
separate the waters from the waters.”
Waters Divided Waters Divided 10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to
water the garden; and from there it divided
and became four rivers.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters below
the heavens be gathered into one place,
and let the dry land appear”
Waters Bound the ‘Land’ Waters Bound the ‘Ordered
11 The name of the first is Pishon; . . .. .13
And the name of the second river is
Gihon; . . .. 14 And the name of the third
river is Tigris; . . .And the fourth river is
the Euphrates.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout
vegetation . . .” 12 And the earth brought
forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after
their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with
seed in them, after their kind; and God
saw that it was good.
God brings vegetation Man to Order vegetation 15 Then the LORD God took the man and
put him into the garden of Eden to
cultivate it and keep it.
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in
… the heavens … for signs, seasons, days
and years” 16 And God made the two
great lights, the greater light to govern the
day, and the lesser light to govern the
night; He made the stars also.
God appoints “rulers” for
Man rules earth alone; not
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not
good for the man to be alone; I will make
him a helper suitable for him.”
20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem
with swarms of living creatures, and let
birds fly above the earth . . .” 21 And God
created the great sea monsters, and every
living creature that moves, with which the
waters swarmed after their kind, and every
winged bird after its kind; and God saw
that it was good.
God rules over even the chaos
Adam rules over the land
19 And out of the ground the LORD God
formed every beast of the field and every
bird of the sky, and brought them to the
man to see what he would call them; and
whatever the man called a living creature,
that was its name.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring
forth living creatures after their kind:
cattle and creeping things and beasts of
the earth after their kind”; and it was so.
God gives life to animals; they
can reproduce.
Adam gives identity to
animals; still alone
20 And the man gave names to all the
cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to
every beast of the field, but for Adam
there was not found a helper suitable for
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in
Our image, according to Our likeness; and
let them rule . . ..” 27 And God created
man in His own image, in the image of
God He created him; male and female He
created them.28 And God blessed them;
and God said to them, “Be fruitful and
multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it;
and rule over the fish of the sea and over
the birds of the sky, and over every living
thing that moves on the earth.”
God makes Male and Female;
they are to fill and order the
Male is joined by Female; now
they can fulfill commission.
24 For this cause a man shall leave his
father and his mother, and shall cleave to
his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
25 And the man and his wife were both
naked and were not ashamed.

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