Friday, September 08, 2023

The Vision (9.8.23): Four Reasons Why Genesis 1 is History and Not Poetry


Image: Butterfly bush, North Garden, Virginia, September 2023.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Genesis 1:6-25.

Maybe you’ve heard someone suggest that the creation account in Genesis 1 should be taken as poetry and not history.

Reformed expositor John Currid, in his Genesis commentary offers at least four reasons as to why Genesis 1 should NOT be taken as poetry BUT instead as historical narrative. Here are his four reasons:

First, there is a literary devise in Hebrew historical narrative called the ”vav-consecutive-plus-imperfect.” That is, there is a conjunction “and” plus a verb in the imperfect (past) tense. So, historical narrative reads like this: “And this happened, and this happened, and this happened, etc.” Just look at Genesis 1:6-8 to see this pattern.  Currid adds, “this pattern is almost non-existent in Hebrew poetry” (38).

Second, “Genesis 1 contains little or no indication of figurative language. There are no tropes, symbols, or metaphors” (39). We do not read in Genesis 1 that God is like a potter, or that the earth was like a piece of clay, etc.

Third, “the most basic common feature of Hebrew poetry is line parallelism” (39). Think of Psalm 19:1:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament sheweth his handywork.

There is no line parallelism in Genesis 1.

Fourth, some have suggested that the repetitions which appear in Genesis 1 indicate poetry, like the repeated phrase, “and the evening and the morning were the ___day.”

Currid points out, however, that repetition is not necessarily a sign of poetry. In fact, it is actually common in Hebrew historical narrative. He points to the repetition of the phrase, “Now these are the generations…” (see Genesis 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2).

Genesis 1 is not poetry. It is historical narrative, and this is the way we should read it, if we are to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We accept this history, because we believe in an all-powerful and sovereign God, and because we have faith in him and his Word. As it says in Hebrews 11:3a, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.”

This means that the six days of creation are not meant as metaphorical references to long periods of time (the so-called “day-age” theory), but they refer to 24-hour days, just as the term is used in Genesis 1:14b.

Let me just add that it is actually a very liberating thing to trust in the Lord and to accept his word as it is without having to trouble oneself with the invention of clever explanations to get around the obvious meaning of things.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

1 comment:

Phil Brown said...

I agree with you. One of the things about this that people can get in the weeds about is studying ancient mindsets regarding the creation. It can be fascinating to some degree. In the Faithlife Study Bible and the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible and Commentary, the focus is on the Ancient Near Eastern conception of the world and the literary framework of the text. They will go into things like the oceans were viewed as a place of chaos, the world is God's Temple, and that the structure of Genesis 1 is a literary device to display a reality of Creation in a structured literary device to communicate a larger message, which isn't necessarily untrue. They also go to great pains to compare the Bible account to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient civilization of Ugarit, and many other Pagan sources to display that there was an overall mindset between Israel and other civilizations around them. It isn't directly stated, but it seems they have somewhat of a sycretist mind on these things, and even worse they sometimes imply the Bible borrowed concepts from these pagan outlets. Not all of what they say is necessarily wrong. I'm sure many in ancient times thought the sky was solid and it was held up by the mountains. I'm sure they thought the earth was a large disk. Many of the facts they share aren't really a problem, and I don't doubt that the pagan world outside of Israel had a lot of similarities to the worship of the one true God. In fact, I know that it is similar, because all of those pagan cults were deviations from the worship of the one true God into worship of angels, demons, and the creation itself. The facts aren't offensive, it's the interpretation that gets me. Usually they will use these ancient concepts to point to a more modern view of Theistic Evolution or some other idea outside of a historical view of Creation. All of that being said, even the evidence displayed by the scientific community in my opinion proves the truth of the point of view you are promoting. It's the theories and hypothesis's pushed by skeptical men which tend to muddy the water. Ironically, it's the same problem in Textual Criticism. How strange is that?